Archive for October, 2010

Blurb Pop-Up London

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

I’m not exactly sure what a Blurb Pop-Up is, but we are getting one in London shortly, when Blurb launches its first-ever U.K. pop-up store on Wednesday, November 3. They say “It will be buzzing through November 14 with free workshops, guest speakers, and special events.” It’s at 22 Newman St,  a couple of hundred yards to the north of Oxford St and 5 minutes walk from Tottenham Court Rd tube.  See comment – now closer to Oxford St tube.

The events are listed on the web page, with links to click to RSVP if you want to attend, and everything is free. If you look through the programme you will find that I’m down to give a presentation on my Blurb book, ‘Before the Olympics‘ on Sunday 7th Nov at 13.00-14.00, but there are some highlights too!

© 1989, Peter Marshall
Pura Foods, Bow Creek in 1989. Now demolished.  © 1989, Peter Marshall

Later that day I’ll also be there to take part in the Self-Publishing Debate with guest panelist Bruno Ceschel of ‘Self Publish, Be Happy‘ at 3pm.

Although the main part of my presentation will be about ‘Before the Olympics‘ which gained an ‘Editor’s Pick’ on Blurb, I’ll also be talking about my two other Blurb books and a little about my plans for forthcoming publications, as well as my comments on Blurb and the whole idea of self-publishing and answering any questions people have. I hope it will be an interesting session so if you are in London and free around Sunday lunchtime you can book a free place on the web page.

Striking Firefighters March Against Cuts

Friday, October 29th, 2010

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I was pleased with this image of the fire-fighters at the front of the thousand or two trade unionists marching to a London rally against the cuts.  Framing was a bit tricky as I was holding the camera up as high as I could above my head and saying my prayers – a ‘Hail Mary‘ shot. I took several frames, looking at the image on the camera back after each and trying to get the distance between me and the closest man right as well as the angle of the camera, and this one seemed to work. The D700 does have a shutter blind which stops light coming in through the viewfinder affecting the exposure, but in practice it’s often easier simply to cover it with my other hand as I did on this occasion.

Either I’d misread the details or it started early, as I was expecting to be at the meeting point for some time before the march actually started, but I met it coming along the road a few hundred yards away.  It’s almost always a good idea to go early when photographing events but I’d had a few things I’d wanted to do first. Some days when I’m photographing a whole series of events it just isn’t possible. But often things are more interesting before the actual start.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

There were plenty of trade union banners and I particularly like this one from Islington Trades Union Council which commemorates the ‘Grand Demonstration‘ by the Metropolitan trades unions to campaign for the release of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1834, which gathered at Copenhagen Fields. I was there last year when TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady unveiled a plaque to commemorate the event.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

The image on the Islington banner very much reflects the current population of London, and there was a strong group of demonstrators at today’s event from the Refugee Workers Cultural Association Women’s Branch, carrying placards from the  AvEG-Com against Militarism, War and Racism, to which they had added the word CUTS.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I thought the Islington banner made a fine backdrop against which to mover closer to photograph an elderly woman, I think one of our new Londoners, in a flower-decorated scarf with its crowd as a backdrop.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Of course there were other pictures, including those of the two main speakers, the RMT’s Bob Crow and  FBU’s Matt Wrack, as well as many more of the crowd, all in Trade Union March Against Cuts on My London Diary.

A Place to Cut?

Friday, October 29th, 2010

I’d not gone to Windsor to take photographs, but for a walk with my wife, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter. Fortunately the latter of which finds beards fascinating, so when I was pushing her around in a push chair all I had to do when she got a little upset was to tilt the chair back to horizontal so she could see me making silly faces and she smiled back. She even seemed to enjoy my singing and whistling, which is more than I do.

But as we got off the train at Windsor, lots of men on horses started to come past and so I stopped to take a few pictures of them. And there were a lot of police around. Apparently it was all a rehearsal for the state visit a few days later of the Emir of Qatar, paying a visit with one of his wives to the Queen.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I suppose you can’t expect an Emir to pay for a taxi to take his suitcases up the hill, and the Queen could have sent a car down to meet him, but the scale seemed pretty obscene given the cuts we are going to have to make in other things. Keeping hundreds of horses isn’t cheap, and there seemed to be three carriages. The army are complaining about lack of manpower, so these guys could have been better occupied, as too could the police.

I’m not entirely against a little pageantry, and I’m sure it does tourism no harm, though I doubt if too many actually get to Windsor to see it, but couldn’t we make do with just a dozen or two guys and some inventive filming to create a  bit of spectacle?

I wasn’t at my best that day, and at some point managed to switch the camera to manual by mistake and didn’t notice. It’s fairly easy to do, holding down the wrong button with your first finger when trying to dial in some exposure compensation. When I’m very much engrossed in looking at the scene (as I usually am)  I can be completely unaware of the viewfinder display – sometimes I think it was better when cameras didn’t have one. Of course camera designers can’t win. Reviewers would grumble if they made changing the mode settings hard to do and I’d like them to make it harder.

When I’m going out to take pictures I always like to do a quick check through the settings for A, S and M modes and set them to sensible values before I start taking pictures (things like f8, 1/250 second.)  It’s one slight disadvantage of using Auto ISO as I was that however silly the settings you make there is a good chance of getting an image that looks OK at a glance on the camera back. On the way to Windsor I hadn’t bothered, and the manual setting I’d engaged – 1/60 f6.3 – was actually perfect for taking a few family pictures later inside the pub where we had lunch, but pretty hopeless for galloping horses, where a considerably faster shutter was needed to stop movement or a much slower one for arty blurs. At 1/60 what I got was slightly unsharp images – sharp enough for the blur not so show at a quick glance on the camera back.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I was standing right next to the road as the cavalry came back and galloped up the hill, and it was an impressive sight. If I was an infantryman on the opposite side with only a musket and a short sword I would have felt pretty scared at the crashing of hooves and the shaking of the ground as the troop passed. But those days have gone and its perhaps time to move on too. These guys really are real soldiers, but we are still getting them to dress up as if they were fighting Napoleon, to carry swords and to shine their boots so they can see their faces in them.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

There are just a few more photographs on My London Diary.

Rivington Place & Photomonth

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Monday was an interesting day for me. After a few hours work on the computer I had a very nice lunch at a small restaurant in Tolworth with a couple of friends then went with one of them to London to spend an hour or so looking at some of the other shows in the East London Photomonth, (and one was in a pub) before going on the the Photographers Social in a bar in Soho. A minutes walk from a decent pub.

The following day I had a bit more time after a meeting with a friend at a London hospital and was able to see far more, including two of the major galleries taking part in the event, Flowers East and Rivington Place, before rushing to a union meeting where a distinguished and knowledgeable panel discussed the question whether street photography would still be around in five years time.

But some of the experiences finding shows were rather like those I had visiting the Brighton festival a couple of weeks ago. Galleries that according the the leaflet should have been open at the time we called but were not, one address that was a locked building with no indication that there was even a gallery there, as well as several places where a quick look through the window told us it was not worth entering. But I did find some work worth looking at, particularly on the Tuesday.

The oddest experience came when I went into a gallery on Rivington St, and asked one of a small group of people sitting around and talking there where the exhibition was. It seemed to be quite a large space, and all I could see were fairly empty walls with the occasional poster.

At first there was some laughter as I’d obviously picked exactly the wrong person to ask, but then one of the men asked to see the programme where the show was listed. He scratched his head and told me he knew the photographer, would have been happy to put on a show of his work, but that he knew nothing about it, and the show didn’t exist.

He then said that someone else had come in and asked about it a couple of weeks ago. This was a shock, apparently only two visitors in more than three weeks, and was also rather a surprise. My own show, Paris – New York – London, with Paul Baldesare and John Benton-Harris, only a couple of hundred yards away, tucked away in a side street and not the easiest place to find has been attracting quite a few viewers over the weeks as well as the normal visitors to the Juggler café it is part of. Surely it can’t just be because I’ve mentioned it here most days!

I was surprised again later, visiting one of the more interesting shows on at Rivington Place, a superb well-staffed gallery space – the first new-build public gallery in London for 40 years when it was opened in 2007 –  to find that I had both shows to myself (and in each case an attendant) while I spent some time looking at ‘Ever Young’, showing 60 years of photography by  James Barnor, born in 1929 in Ghana (he tells about his early career here on ‘Nowness‘) and now living in London.

Much of his studio photography from Ghana seemed a little ordinary, but there were a few images that stood out, and in the 1950s his ‘Ever Young Studio‘ was visited by many leading figures around the time that Ghana, in 1957. As well as the studio photography he was also working for a newspaper, The Daily Graphic, and later for Africa’s most popular magazine Drum.

In 1959 he came to England where he studied photography and joined the staff at the Medway College of Art in Rochester. In the 1960s he continued to photograph, including a number of pictures of cover girls that are included in the show, but also covering other stories of African interest including Mohammed Ali in London for a fight and BBC Africa Service reporter Mike Eghan.

In London he was trained in colour processing by Agfa-Gevaert and returned to Ghana in 1969 as their representative to establish colour processing in that country. In retirement he now lives in London, not far from Agfa’s UK HQ.

Barnor was certainly a very proficient photographer and there are several very nice images in the show, including two of people posing in Trafalgar Square and at Piccadilly Circus. But the great interest in his work is more in the different cultures and changing times it spans and to which he had access to photograph some of the leading figures particularly in Ghana, and in the relationship his work embodies between the new Africa and the old colonial power. It’s certainly a show worth seeing, and continues until 27 Nov 2010 (closed Sun & Mon.)

Also on show at Rivington Place is a fascinating set of portraits collected by the leading black intellectual and civil rights activist of the era, W E B Du Bois for the book ‘Types of American Negroes, Georgia, USA‘ and exhibited in at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle in the ‘American Negro Exhibit‘. Consisting of pictures from various sources and in a range of styles, these images challenged the racial stereotypes that were a part of the scientific thinking of that age.

Looking at them brought a number of thoughts to my mind. One was of a job I did for an Indian friend perhaps 20 years ago, taking some pictures of him and some of his friends. They were unhappy with the black and white prints I produced, but he was very reluctant to explain why. Eventually I realised that the problem was in the skin tones, which I had printed as I normally did, with an accurate tonal rendition. I made some further prints, dodging the faces to lighten them considerably to a more ‘European’ tone and they were happy. Looking at some of these images it is clear that in some of them a similar process had been taking place, using either lighting or printing to create very light (in some cases very white) skin tones. Of course the  ‘ordinary’ or ‘orthochromatic’ emulsions in this era had a certain lightening effect on all portraits, whatever the skin colour.

Library of Congress Image
Image from the Du Bois album in the Library of Congress LC-USZ62-124654

Another thought I had was that many of these pictures could actually have been from my own family album. Taken away from their context there are many that would not be recognised as black. The gallery notes suggest that this collection “can be read as the origins of a visual construction of a new African-American identity” but it seems more to me to suggest that this identify is not greatly dependent on the visual. But Du Bois’s intention to produce ‘an honest straightforward exhibit of a small nation of people, picturing their life and development without apology or gloss, and above all made by themselves‘ has certainly resulted in a fascinating collection.

At the Library of Congress you can see the complete collection of 482 African American Photographs compiled by Du Bois for the Paris show online, and can download them as jpegs or tiffs (large enough to make the prints in the show.) The portraits start on the second page of thumbnails. The image here comes from that collection and may or may not be in the Rivington Place show.

It is a thought-provoking show, and other people with other backgrounds will certainly have different thoughts from mine, a couple of which I’ve shared above. In many ways the decision to present them all in the same format in two large grids on the gallery wall makes sense, but I did find myself asking what the originals actually looked like, and in some respects the online presentation does that better.

The other shows not to be missed are at Flowers East (also closed Sun & Mon)  and I mentioned them briefly in a post after the packed opening there but I hope to write more about them and some other shows from Photomonth 2010 another day.

Cuts And Chaos

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

We in the UK are in for a hard winter as following Wednesday’s Comprehensive Spending Review the cuts in public services begin to make themselves felt. Although we were expecting the Con-Dem coalition to make the most of the political opportunity to greatly reduce the public sector and the welfare state while blaming it all on the previous New Labour government, hearing the actual news still came as a shock, and there will doubtless be many more shocks as the planned spending cuts are introduced.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
The start of the student march

So far the official trade union movement response has been relatively quiet and low key – they are planning a national demonstration for early next year, many are calling for earlier and more decisive actions.

The demonstration at Downing St was called by ‘The Coalition of Resistance’ which describes itself as ” a broad united national campaign against cuts and privatisation in our workplaces, community and welfare services, based on general agreement with the Founding Statement” which appeared in the Guardian in August 2010, signed by Tony Benn and 73 other people including MPs, union leaders, writers and others. It is now supported by “thousands of individual supporters, together with national unions, union branches, anti-cuts campaigns, student, pensioner, unemployed, youth and other organisations” and is still growing.

It’s hard to get a large group of people to a demonstration on a Wednesday evening. Around 300 students set off from Malet St in the late afternoon and joined roughly twice that number of trade unionists and others waiting for them at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Doubtless others met them at Downing St, making this a significantly sized  event, but rather smaller than the 20,000 who marched in Edinburgh at the weekend.

It was a busy day for me – earlier I’d been listening to Jesse Jackson and lobbying my MP and afterwards I was giving a speech at the opening of our contribution to the East London Photomonth 2010 at the Shoreditch Gallery. I’d decided I couldn’t carry around my normal large camera bag all day, so was working with just a single camera – the Nikon D700 – along with my lightweight but slow 55-200mm Sigma and the SB800 flash.

Of course 24mm is quite wide, but I did find I was missing the even wider 16-35mm, particularly when working in the crowd. And having only a single camera meant I took very few pictures with the longer telephoto. I’ve rather got out of the habit of changing lenses when working.

Malet Street, where the student march gathered is pretty gloomy most of the time, with trees and tall buildings cutting down the  light, and by 4pm it was beginning to look like dusk. For some unaccountable reason I decided to leave the camera set to ISO 640 when the sensible thing to do would have been to use ISO1600 or even 3200.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Behind a banner in Lincoln’s Inn Fields

By the time I finished working at Lincoln’s Inn Fields it was really beginning to get dark. I took a few pictures without flash – at f2.8 which is a pretty useful aperture, but most were with the flash giving an aperture of f6.3 – in the earlier pictures the flash was a fill, but later on it was the main light source with fill coming from the ambient light. I still find the combination of two slightly complex electronic systems impossible to really understand, but mostly with a little fiddling on the flash setting it at different levels I manage to get the results I want.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
The march departs for Downing St

I had to leave as the march left for Downing St, and then needed to work out how to get to Shoreditch when the march was stopping the bus I normally take!

More pictures and text on My London Dairy.

Photographers Social

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Long ago, back in the days of film, every year around this time I used to lock away the colour stock and go out with only black and white in my cameras, as I knew otherwise I would waste far too much recording the changing colours of leaves. Had I got round to it I would have got around to printing a t-shirt for photographers with the message “Get over it – leaves turn brown in Autumn!”

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Stephen McLaren talking and showing photographs at the Social at Barrio Central – and as this picture suggests it was dark and crowded there. 20mm f2.8 Nikon D700

I felt something related to this as I watched Stephen McLaren‘s presentation of images by some of the photographers features in the book ‘Street Photography Now!‘ at the first Photographers Gallery/BJP Social evening at Barrio Central in Poland St this evening, though rather than Autumn colours my thoughts were about pictures mainly about and created by strong shadows and unusual lighting conditions.

Of course light is one of the basic tools of the photographer – where would we be without it –  but at least for me the aim isn’t to make pictures about it but to use it to illuminate (in every respect) the subject.

It would be wrong and impossible to propose a complete ban on taking such pictures. Books such as Trent Parke‘s ‘Dream Life‘ show how powerful they can be. But since Trent and rather many others have pretty well ploughed that furrow out perhaps we might turn to other fields?

Stephen McLaren showed some interesting work (and I very much liked his own picture which made use of the low angle sun on a nearby street despite the comments above – from his series Coupling) with at least one image from each of the photographers concerned that gained my admiration, which isn’t a bad average, but I was left wondering if some perhaps showed too much striving after what might be called ‘Flickr approval‘ and that perhaps the hardest thing to learn as a photographer is the power of understatement. And to repeat one of my old refrains, that photography isn’t about making pictures.

I also found it disturbing that the images appeared to be projected on screen at the wrong aspect ratio changing images in a normal format into near-panoramics (I think actually from 1.5:1 to about 1.7:1 – it is a problem with some screen resolutions.*) There was too a problem with the colour, with some images at least being greatly over-saturated. I would have hoped that two of our major photographic institutions could have coped rather better with screen resolutions and colour management and hope it’s an issue they address for further occasions. Surely we should treat photographers’ work with much greater respect.

On the train home I was entertained to hear a lengthy report by a photography student on the evening, and at least he had gathered the main point from lawyer Rupert Grey (of photography specialists Swan Turton), that on the street you can legally photograph anything you like.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Rupert Grey talking at the Social at Barrio Central

Perhaps the only thing that he said that was new to me was his opinion that the police probably never have the right to demand to view your images; I’d been fairly clear about this so far as journalists are concerned, but he went further to apply this to anyone taking photographs.

Most of us also know that the police have no right to delete images or demand that you do so, although in a number of cases – and he mentioned that of Martin Parr – police have insisted that photographers do so. In practice of course it isn’t a great problem, as so far the police haven’t realised that deleting files from your card doesn’t actually remove them. So long as you don’t take any more pictures on that card afterwards, it is a simple matter to recover them.

There were a few things – particularly in response to questions – that he perhaps might have been clearer about, at times because he failed to make clear the distinction between taking a photograph and publishing it. Working in public places you never need permission or model releases to take a picture, although sometimes it may be sensible to get a release or polite to ask. But many of the best pictures come from situations where neither is possible. But what he failed to explore was the increasing threat to photographers that the legal interpretation of the individual’s right to privacy – even in the absence of UK law – is already having on court judgements in this country.

Using a picture without a model release becomes a problem in contexts where that use might be defamatory. So, for example, using a picture of a person on the street to illustrate an article on drug addicts would be ill-advised unless the picture or other evidence clearly showed that person to be a drug addict. There is so far as I am aware no legal requirement for a model release to use any photograph in an advert (or in any other way), but it is a normal commercial requirement as it should remove the possibility of legal action. Contrary to popular opinion not all adverts or commercial work needs photographs to have a model releases – the last picture I came close to selling  in that field was considered to be quite acceptable despite the presence of a recognisable person but no model release – but it is certainly normal practice to require one.

Grey also made it clear that there were no restrictions on photographing children – unless the images you produce are indecent. This can perhaps sometimes be a problem for street photographers in hot weather, when there may well for example be naked children running through fountains, playing in pools or running along beaches. To you or me, pictures of them might be perfectly innocent, but police and courts might take different view. And this is again an area where the privacy rights under European law are increasingly coming in to play – and at least one judge has made it clear in a judgement that the balance that has to be maintained between freedom of expression and privacy would be biased more towards privacy for minors.

I’ve heard Grey speak on various occasions before and he is obviously an expert in the field, but while it is good to know what the law is, we know that what police and others such as PCSOs, security staff and council employees try to enforce may be very much different – as examples such as the incident involving Parr demonstrate.

Perhaps the most useful and most sound piece of advice Grey gave about such situations was that photographers should be polite. I’d take that a little further and suggest that while where necessary insisting on our rights we should do so without unnecessary confrontation and where possible cooperate with the police and others. So I’m always happy to talk to any member of the public – whether in uniform or not – about what I’m doing, and where I think it appropriate to produce evidence of identity.

Commander Broadhurst at the NUJ photographers conference in May 2009 listens to photographers accounts of police violence.

Perhaps the most amusing part of his talk related to his conversation with Commander Broadhurst of the Met and a representative of ACPO. While it was good to hear of changes in their thinking about photographers, the suggestion from Broadhurst that police on the streets would all know about this seems laughable. It was Broadhurst who said at an NUJ photographers’ conference in May 2009 “can anybody apply for an NUJ card who has a camera?” shocking all present by his  total ignorance and lack of understanding of the UK Press Card scheme (more about this occasion here.)

So while there may well have been some changes, I think we can be pretty sure that most of the police on the street will know as much about these as they have about previous statements which gave essentially similar advice such as that sent by Assistant Commissioner John Yates to all MPS officers and staff last December.

I think there have been some indications of a better attitude towards photographers by police at demonstrations in London at least since their disastrous public performance at Bank in April 2009, and I welcome this, and hope that Broadhurst’s extreme optimism is well-founded. But I’m far from sure that this has as yet had any impression so far as the more general interactions between photographers and ‘officials’ of all types on the street away from protests.

Although the ‘Photographers Social’ seems a great idea, in practice it was too crowded, too hot and too uncomfortable, and the area was really not well suited to such a large event. Like quite a few others I left as soon as the two presentations were over for the comfortable bar (and real beer at rather lower prices) a few yards away.  Perhaps the BJP/PG might investigate other venues in the area.

*Display Aspect Ratios

You should check any screen (or projector) by finding the screen resolution in pixels and comparing the ratio between width and height with the actual width and height of the image. Most displays allow you to run them at  different resolutions, some or all of which may be unsuitable, but LED screens are best used at their native resolution, in the case of my monitor 1680 dots x 1050 lines.

So I’m writing this on a 1680×1050 pixel screen with an image display 454x 283mm, ratios of 1.6:1 and 1.604:1 – essentially identical.

Projector or monitor displays that give markedly different ratios for these two things are unsuitable for photographers.

Jesse Jackson & Christian Aid

Monday, October 25th, 2010

When I go to most of the political events that feature on My London Diary I’m going as a photographer rather than to take part in them. If you read what I write it is of course usually fairly clear whether I support them, or what reservations and disagreements I have. But last Wednesday morning it was a little different, as I was actually going to lobby my MP about action over trade justice in an event organised by Christian Aid.

For many years my wife has organised local events for this charity, including the annual house to house collection carried out by members of local churches. It’s a charity that I admire for its work with local groups of all kinds (certainly not all church connected) in the majority world, really tackling problems at the most basic level through working with cooperatives and other small organisations, as well as its relief work in disasters, where its local connections can enable it to be far more effective than some other aid organisations.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

So rather than attending as ‘press’ and going up  into the gallery, I went into the hall along with the crowds and was seated by a steward in the centre of the hall rather towards the back. I hadn’t actually intended to take photographs during the meeting, just to listen to the speeches, and I settled down in my seat, waiting for the event to begin.

But then I thought I had a decent view of the front of the stage and although the hall was fairly dim there was some spotlighting there, and I took out the D700 and fitted my Sigma 55-200 lens.  It wasn’t ideal – at 200mm the maximum aperture was f5.6 and really I could have done with another couple of stops. Exposures varied from around 1/50th to 1/250th working at ISO2000, and even at the slower speed some were sharp. Unlike most lenses I now use, this one doesn’t have image stabilisation, which might have helped, although some of the wasted frames were caused by the subject moving.

I stayed sitting in my seat to increase stability and also because I didn’t want to cause more annoyance to those seated around me. I also hoped that the tops of heads in some pictures would give a greater feeling of actually being there.

Jesse Jackson, the star of the show, spoke without gestures, just occasionally glancing up from the text he was reading with a penetrating glance over his glasses direct at the audience and in particular me in the middle of it – which I caught on several frames, including the one above. The message was in his words and not in his performance. Others, and Jackson himself when not speaking, as you can see in the pictures on My London Diary, were at times more demonstrative.

But as a set of pictures these are of course limited by the same viewpoint throughout, though there are some changes in framing.

Later, when actually lobbying my MP – we had coffee with him in a pub – I had more freedom, although I was also trying to take part in the discussion and really you can’t do two things at once. These pictures were taken with the 20mm f2.8 and the main problem was excessive contrast, with direct sunlight streaking in on one of those taking part and the dark skin of our MP in deep shade.

It was a situation I would have written off when working with film, even with colour neg – and perhaps used for graphic effect in black and white. But with a lot of work in Lightroom I managed to get usable results. I also had to give extra exposure to the Christian Aid logo and the blue background of the lectern, which was excessively prominent in the pictures, and was I think lit rather more strongly than the speakers.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

though getting Big Ben visible through the window was pretty tricky:

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Of course, using flash fill would have simplified things, but it would also have altered the whole atmosphere of our meeting, which I didn’t want to do. As we left of course I did take a few more boring shots outside to send to the local newspaper, who tend not to like any more interesting pictures.

Finally I photographed some of the younger Christian Aid supporters who were parading around the Westminster area.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

More on  My London Diary.

No Science Cuts?

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

I’m not sure anyone is entirely sure about Britain’s future investment in science after Wednesday’s speech in parliament  on the cuts. I was in Westminster to photograph other things, but caught a glimpse Chancellor George Osborne sitting in a car looking fairly pleased with himself as he left Parliament after giving the speech in a small part of which he confirmed that the government was going to protect the confirmed that the £4.6 billion per year science budget to make sure the country retains its position at the leading edge of technological advances.

I’d stopped to chat briefly with one of the group of photographers standing ready to grab pictures as the cars drove out, but decided not to get in their way as they leaped into action as the car approached. They had their job to do and I was in any case not ready for that kind of grabbed picture had I wanted to try. I don’t personally find such images of great interest, although the papers do often seem to use them.

It will have come as good news to the couple of thousand white-coated demonstrators I’d photographed ten days earlier outside the Treasury in London, but many of them will also have been worried by the 40% cut he also announced for teaching budgets in Higher Education, which may well mean fewer jobs in the sector as well as higher fees for students. So things may be getting pretty tough in the next few years in our universities.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The scientists had done their best to put on a show for the demonstration, with some placards with snappy slogans, some scientific celebrities and even two science comedians, but it was still a more subdued crowd than at most demonstrations, and perhaps lacked the drama that makes for the best photographs.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Of course one can’t tell if this protest had any effect on the chancellor, but certainly the media coverage it gained will have made it easier for him to make the decision to protect spending in this area. You can see my report which went on Demotix on the day of the demonstration and more pictures in Don’t Cut Science on My London Diary.

TINAG and Amy Whitehouse

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Spitalfields has changed dramatically over the years I’ve walked through it and occasionally taken pictures there. One of the places where the change is most apparent is Spitalfields Market. One of my most talented students went there years ago and did a fine essay on the guys who worked there, handling the fruit and veg.

Last night as I walked through, there was a small crowd around a shop and looking in through the window I saw a woman with an impossible wig singing. She didn’t have a bad voice either, which rather surprised me, as this was the opening of an Amy Whitehouse shop and the paps were busily papping. I thought about taking a picture myslef, but decided I couldn’t be bothered, and hurried on down Hanbury St to the Hanbury Hall, where the TINAG festival was opening.

It’s hard to describe what TINAG is. The letters stand for ‘This Is Not A Gateway, and it’s a three day annual festival which aims to provide a platform for artists concerned with urban issues and to encourage “interdisciplinary and cross-cultural exchange.” You can read more detail in the  ‘Background‘ page of their web site.

Last year, Paul Baldesare and I took part in TINAG, giving a presentation on our work then on show half a mile away in the Shoreditch Gallery, ‘Taken in London‘ and taking part in a group discussion on this and some other presentations. I’d thought about taking part again this year, as our  ‘Paris, New York, London‘ was obviously relevant to their programme, but there were too many problems in actually getting that show on the road for me to put it forward to TINAG.

If you are in London today, Saturday or Sunday (22-24 Oct 2010) it’s worth taking a visit to the Hanbury Hall at 22A Hanbury St, Lodnon E1 6QR. You can see the full programme of events and exhibitions on the TINAG web-site. So far as the photography is concerned there are very definitely some highs and some lows. Among those I really found worth looking at is David Boulogne’s ‘Confessions From The City’, with a presentation of black and white images, most of which are also in his Blurb book “MAKE IT A GOOD EXPERIENCE in the City“, although they look considerably better in the on-screen show. I also liked a series of portraits of workers in a South American market,  Jhon Arias‘s Portraits from Corabastos, the largest food marketplace in South America. Showing next to this is a 3-channel video by Juan Delgado who worked in the same market, with help from Arias who grew up working there, helping with his father’s business. I found his blog about making the film in some ways told me more than the actual presentation

More on this later when I have some time – and perhaps a few of the pictures I did take of this event, even though I couldn’t be bothered to photograph that young woman. I think she was the real thing, though I’ve seen more convincing Amy Whitehouse imitators.

The Three Cities of Photography

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

[Text of my speech at the opening of ‘Paris – New York – London‘ at the Shoreditch Gallery, London on 20.10.2010. The show continues until 29.10.2010.]

Stars of tonight’s show are the most vital cities in the history of photography, Paris, New York and London. As we know the twin birth of our medium was announced within a few days in Paris and London in 1839; New York was to dominate much of the twentieth century.

The most notable British photographer of the last century illustrates their relationship well. Bill Brandt was a German who re-invented himself as a Londoner, learnt photography in Paris, and when he had the first major solo exhibition by a living photographer in any of our leading art institutions, his Hayward Gallery show came from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

London dominated photography in the 19th century. One of our greatest photographers was Roger Fenton, honoured by a blue plaque on a fine house overlooking Parliament Hill Fields. But after a few years as our leading photographer he abandoned photography and went back to making some money instead – as a lawyer. Despite the strength of photography here, this country has never really accepted photography, never developed a culture, a community that supports it.

© Paul Baldesare
Sleeping vagrant, Davies St, Mayfair, London. Paul Baldesare

Paris’s great period was between the two World Wars; Atget was still working in the twenties, Henri CartierBresson was young and active in the next decade and others including Capa, Brassai, Kertesz and Man Ray flocked there. But photography was just one of the arts that flourished, and the inspiration for my own work on the wall here came more from Surrealist literature and in particular Aragon‘s ‘Paris Peasant.’

© 1988, Peter Marshall

One man almost single-handedly dragged the US to the forefront of photography around the start of the twentieth century, and Alfred Stieglitz in New York repeated his miracle when he published the work of Paul Strand in the final two editions of Camera Work in 1916-7. Later the city was the home for a hugely vital upsurge of photography in the form of the New York Photo League, closed down by McCarthyism at the start of the 1950s.

Alexey Brodovitch came from Paris to New York in the mid 1930s, becoming art director of Harper’s Bazaar and in the 1950s and 60s established a legendary laboratory for photographers. Two who went through that mill, John Benton-Harris and Tony Ray-Jones came to London in the late 1960s and helped to kick-start a decade of resurgence of photography here which lasted through most of the 1970s, particular through their influence on the magazine ‘Creative Camera‘, based in London, though its publisher, Coo Press was kept afloat by men in braces in the pigeon lofts of our northern cities who bought its other publications.

This was only a short-lived flutter, soon cut down to size and emasculated by a British establishment that refused to take photography seriously (and held its nose and kept it at arm’s length when it had to take it at all), and in particular the Arts Council and their ‘photographic flagship’ in London, the Photographers’ Gallery, or as I christened it a couple of years ago after its move to new premises, the zombies of Ramilees St. The gallery made only half-hearted attempts to encourage and nurture photography in this country, and these were abandoned completely  in the late 1980s.

I was one of the photographers influenced by that outburst of the 1970s, and Paul Baldesare‘s work developed particularly from that of Tony Ray-Jones and John Benton-Harris.

Although a photographic culture is still almost completely lacking here, there have been a few small glimmers of hope arising if sometimes rather dimly and uncertainly from a general pea-soup of indifference. Photofusion in Brixton, Host not too far from here, and, perhaps most notably, the East London Photomonth, now celebrating its tenth year. I’m pleased to have been able to be involved with it through shows here in the last three of these.

Peter Marshall 20.10.2010

[I ended with thanks to various people and also an advert for Photo Paris, which includes the pictures from Paris on show here, as well as mentioning that work from two of us was on sale. Pictures from the opening in a later post.]