Archive for November, 2010

Paris Photos Day 2

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Paris rises every morning a divided city, with workers rushing around in the early hours emptying rubbish bins and other useful work but many shops and other businesses not opening until 11am, Paris Photo (PP) among them.

Fortunately my hotel room was pretty quiet and I slept every morning until 8am or later, but that still meant that after showering and having breakfast I had some free time before I could resume work at the Carrousel du Louvre, and I had time to wander a little and take some pictures.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

So on Thursday morning I took a leisurely walk that took me across the 9e and 10e and through some of my favourite Paris arcades, leading me to the Jardin du Palais Royal and then on to PP, arriving just in time to walk past the long queue building up for tickets and into the exhibition halls just as it opened. There are definite advantages to press accreditation, and not just the cost, though a VIP pass would be even better!

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It was also a useful walk for Linda, who called in at a hardware store on the rue Cadet and found exactly the rotary grater she had been searching for months without success in England. In France they still cook rather than stick prepared meals in the microwave.

In PP, my immediate destination was the toilets, where I found a man taking a picture of himself in the mirrors, and having photographed him I took a picture of myself too – on My London Diary later.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Then it was down to the real business, and I started on the central block of stands in the Salle le Notre. All of the galleries had some work of interest, but one that stood out for me was Bruce Silverstein, with a fine set of pictures by Robert Doisneau. I was specially pleased to see a set of four images from a taken from inside the gallery with a painting of a nude woman displaying her ample derrière, the best-known of which, usually called ‘Sidelong glance‘ shows a man and wife, she talking animatedly about the picture in front of her which we can’t see while his attention is clearly drawn to the nude. My favourite of the others was of a gendarme pretending not to be looking at those curves; it’s an image I have seen before, but it was good to see them again together, along with a good number – perhaps 20 prints in all of other images by the photographer, a mixture of familiar favourites and some I don’t think I had seen before.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

With so much big bad colour on show at some of the stands (there does seem to be something of a rule that the bigger pictures are the more likely they are to  be hideous) it was a delight to come across the little precise observations of Jessica Backhaus at the Robert Morat gallery from Hamburg. Backhaus grew up in Berlin, studied photography in Paris where she made friends with Gisèle Freund, and now lives in New York. Her series “What still remains” which she started in 2006 “explores the question why forgotten or abandoned things turn up in certain places and how they seem to develop a life of their own.” These  prints, roughly 11×14″ are obviously both taken and printed with a great deal of care and feeling and have an intimacy with the things and places they depict. The colour is natural, with normal saturation (a fairly rare thing in PP) and the printing just sings a true and beautiful tone.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
An ingenious solution by Photoport from Bratislava about what to do with your packing case

Magnum‘s display I found disappointing. Not that there were not some fine images – for example by Bruce Davidson – but that it was just too bitty, and some pictures, both old and new work, were I felt not well printed.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
La France – Depardon

Perhaps the most interesting pictures for me were two of the three prints by Raymond Depardon, from his La France (you can see 5 minute film in which he talks in French about the project as the images slide slowly by on the BnF web site.)

I stopped off at the Purdy Hicks stand to take another look at the two large images by Tom Hunter from his Unheralded Stories. One that I was familiar with was Anchor and Hope (2009) taken on Walthamstow marshes looking across the Lea Navigation towards that Fullers house in Upper Clapton, and based on one of my least favourite paintings, the 1948  Christina’s World by US painter Andrew Wyeth, while The Death of Coltelli (2009,) also on show, is based on a detail from a painting by Delacroix, The Death of Sardanapalus, hanging in the Louvre just a few yards away. Hunter has chosen just one figure from the chaos in the painting, the king’s mistress, arms stretched out apparently unconscious at the feet of the king who sits up on his bed apparently unmoved by murders and other violent activity around him as the massacre he ordered of his women, slaves and horses takes place before he by his own choice is to be burnt to death on a sacrificial pyre.

Hunter’s picture, charming though it is, takes the pose of the woman and little else, setting her in a quiet domestic bedroom, looked down on by a photographic portrait of an elderly woman, a plaster religious statue, two framed religious images and a few other knick-nacks. Her eyes are open and she looks fairly unconcerned in what is a mildly erotic image with some rich colour.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Ellen Kooi

Minutes later in the Salle Delorme, I found myself standing in front of another photographic reprise of Christina’s World, this time on the Beaumontpublic stand and by Dutch photographer Ellen Kooi. Although I like much of Kooi’s work – and she is a photographer who like me has a great interest in panoramas – I found her take on Wyeth less interesting (and I think there is another version on her own site.) Of course that could be because of my particular interest in the Lea, having just produced a book about it. And although I like Hunter’s image, I couldn’t for long live with grass that was such an intense blue-green – really on Walthamstow Marsh it never looks like that.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
LumenGallery, Budapest

I haven’t mentioned so far the particular focus of this year’s PP on photography from Central Europe. Some of it I’ll write about in a later post on a book launch I attended the following day, and other aspects were already so familiar to me – the work of people like Sudek, Funke, Rossler and the great Hungarian exodus which took Kertesz, Brassai, Moholy-Nagy and others west and others are already so familiar that the show told me nothing new. Others I felt were very poorly represented here, including a number I’ve met and written about such as Antanas Sutkus from Lithuania.

There were three of the galleries exhibiting as a part of ‘Statement’ on Central Europe that particularly interest me. One was Galeria ZPAF from Krakow (The Association of Polish Art Photographers, web site in Polish), the  which I’ll write about when I’ve had time to have a good look at the CD they gave me. A second was Lumen Gallery from Budapest, and you can read about their show at Paris Photo on their site, but I’ll mention them again in a post about the book launch there on Friday, and the third was another Hungarian gallery, Zsofia Faur. The work that most impressed me on their stand was by Anna Fabricius, on her web site as ‘Tigress of Housekeeping.’ There was only room on the stand for 8 of the nine pictures from this series which were displayed as large colour prints. Although these were fine, I still felt it looked better and was better suited to the presentation in the book of her work.

Finally for this post, I’d like to mention my favourite print of all those I saw at Paris Photo, on the Johannes Faber stand. It was a pigment print made by Josef Sudek, Three glasses (1951) unfortunately not shown on their web site. One tall glass in the centre of the image is half full of a dark beer and there are empty foam-stained smaller glasses in front and behind. It is a dark image, one that I don’t think I’ve seen before and that doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the web. If I had a spare 48,000 Euros I might have considered buying it. There were other Sudek images in the show – including two more on this stand, but compared to this they were ordinary (and some rather poor, probably proof prints.) While PP was taking place, Sotheby’s were running a photography auction in Paris, where one Sudek print sold for 300,750 Euros (the estimate was 18-23,000) and another for 228,750 (estimate 14-18,000) and this was in my opinion a rather better image. So it could have been a bargain.

But by this time my feet were getting tired and it was time to meet Linda for a rather late lunch in a cafe near Filles de Calvaire, from where I’ll take up my Paris wanderings in another post.

More pictures now on My London Diary.

Paris Day One

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Our Eurostar train got through London from St Pancras at an impressive lick and soon we were at Thurrock before diving down under the Thames to stop at Ebbsfleet. Where almost every passenger probably looked out of the window and said “Where the hell is this?” as we stopped in a deserted station. But soon it was on its way, sweeping across the Medway and on, and we were in the tunnel and arriving in France before I’d had time to finish my sandwiches and the small bottle of red wine I’d taken for the journey.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
England – Tunnel – France

Getting to Paris took a little longer, but we were pulling into the Gare du Nord just around 138 minutes after leaving St Pancras, a couple of minutes early, and hurrying along to the RATP ticket office to get ourselves a Navigo Découverte card which would carry us around Paris on buses and Metro for what seemed a rather small sum for those accustomed to London fares. So my next significant photograph was a rather small  – 25x30mm one of myself, which I slid across the counter and was then attached to a card in a thin plastic sleeve.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Navigo Découverte

Once you’ve paid 5 euros for the card, you can charge it with a week’s travel across the city of around 18 euros. Unlike London’s Oyster card there are no arcane regulations, although it is less flexible in that the weekly season can only run from Monday to Sunday, and you can only buy it up to Wednesday in any week. But all in all it’s a much better system.

We didn’t need the Navigo to get to our hotel – it was just a short walk – but I wanted to rush off for Paris Photo as soon as we had booked in. This took a little longer than expected as when we arrived we were taken a quarter of a mile to another hotel for our first night as maintenance work meant our room would not be ready until the following day. Fortunately the new hotel was equally close to the metro and soon we were able to rush out to take the train to Paris Photo (PP).

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Salle Delorme, Paris Photo

PP takes place in a subterranean shopping and conference centre, Le Carrousel du Louvre,  underneath the Louvre and the Jardin du Carrousel. Two short escalators take you down from street level on the rue du Rivoli or you can exit directly from the line 1 Metro station and walk a couple of hundred yards to the show. From the ticket hall you enter into a central area which includes a number of smaller stalls for publishers, a cloakroom, a bar area, offices and a small exhibition area as well as a stand featuring a BMW or two – BMW are the major sponsors of the show. They provide the money for the BMW-Paris Photo Prize, the short-listed entries for which are up some wide steps on a mezzanine floor above the rear of the central area.

Off three sides of the central area are three exhibition halls with the stand of the various galleries and larger publishers taking part. The stands vary in size, and even more in the number of photographs on show, with some having only a few mural size images and others being crammed with much smaller work – even done to some showing small contact prints.

The only way I can cope with such a huge show – 106 exhibitors from 25 countries – is to approach it in a systematic way, working around the 3 major exhibition halls. I started during the press launch and opening on Wednesday by working around the outer stands of the Salle Le Notre, then moving on to the outside of the Salle Soufflot and finishing with a part of the outside of the Salle Delorme, and coming back in later days to finish the circuit and do the inner blocks of each room. It was the only way I could be sure of seeing everything.

Of course some stands did not detain me long. Many had work that either did not interest me, or that I was already very familiar with. It is sometimes nice to see work you really like “in the flesh” like the Kertesz image Martinique (on the Stephen Daiter Gallery stand and later I found it elsewhere) I’ve written about at some length from its reproduction, though just occasionally the experience can be disappointing, but I’m really more interested in discovering new work that excites me.

Another of the good things about PP is that virtually everyone seems quite happy with people taking pictures of the pictures, unlike many museum and gallery shows – though the only place I went to during the six days I was in Paris where photography was explicitly banned was the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP), though with almost everyone now carrying a camera-phone such bans are virtually impossible to enforce.

One thing that struck me on that first night – and a partial look at PP, was there number of pictures by Bernard Plossu, with a particularly nice set on the stand of Galerie Le Réverbère, Lyon. Plossu is a French photographer whose work has long interested me, and I have a couple of his books including perhaps his best work, ‘New Mexico’. There is a large amount of his work on the ‘documentsdartistes’ web site – click on the images on the thumbnails page to see more.

The work shown by dealers at PP relates to that on show elsewhere in Paris, so Plossu is the major artist in a splendid free show, part of the Mois de la Photo (MdP), ‘Nous avons fait un tres beau voyage‘ at the Hotel de Sauroy (58 rue Charlot, Paris, 3e) until 15 December 2010. It’s a show I very much enjoyed when I saw it later in the week.

There was a lot of Kertesz’s work throughout PP too, to link with his major show at the Jeu de Paume (1 place de la Concorde, Paris 8e) until 6 Feb 2010. Although I’m a great fan of Kertesz, I have seen his pictures so many times. I also have several books of his work and although I enjoyed seeing the many prints of his on display at PP didn’t feel any need to spend time going to see another show of his work as well.

I was particularly struck by a small set of 5 pictures by Lise Sarfati on the Brancolini Grimaldi stand, from her series ‘She‘; the two images of ‘Christine‘ one in a wedding dress and the other apparently in the middle of a desert in California stood out for me.

It’s always good too, to see work by photographers I’ve written about before – and especially if I’ve actually met them. There were some of Vanessa Winship‘s pictures on the ‘Vu Galerie‘ stand (and more of her work from Turkey on ‘The Empty Quarter‘. Vu also had some pictures by John Davies, particularly one from Widnes and another from Blaenau Ffestiniog that I admire. They were also showing the work of Denis Darzacq, although I found these images from his ‘Hyper‘ somewhat less striking than his earlier work in ‘La Chute‘.

But the most striking of all the new work that I saw on that first evening were a large set – around 16 – prints by Lee Friedlander from his ‘America By Car’ series of 192 prints showing at the Whitney Museum in New York until 28 Nov 2010 and at PP on the Janet Borden stand. You can watch the pages of the book of the work being turned on YouTube.

This is inventive and well-printed work that really fits well into the square format and came as something of a shock in the middle of a show rather dominated by very large (and often poorly printed colour images. Much of the black and white work around the show – with notable exceptions – isn’t well printed either, so it was a delight to come upon this set.

Just how many ways can you make use of the structure of a car – its door posts, mirrors, fascia , window – in a photograph. Certainly on the evidence here, rather more than sixteen. Of course the content framed by the car is also both vital and in Friedlander’s case superbly matched, the two integrated into a vibrant whole by the work of the printer.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
QQQOC counter-event outside Paris Photo

Having seen this, it seemed a good time to leave PP for the day on a high note, and in any case I needed some dinner, and it was time to meet Linda again. On the way out from PP we were greeted by several women in long coats who were rushing up to people and ‘flashing’ open their coats to reveal an illuminated photograph. This was a ‘CONTRE évènement’ against Paris Photo, inspired by its Central European theme and the clandestine circulation of ideas necessitated by state censorship. You can read more about that – in French – and watch videos of the QQQOC artists confronting those leaving and entering PP.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

We took a short stroll through the centre of the city to enjoy a leisurely and pleasant cafe meal. Afterwards we strolled again through the Isle St Louis and then looked in vain for a bus back towards our hotel. Fortunately we were still in plenty of time for the Metro.

A few more pictures are now on My London Diary.

Not Quite News From Paris

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

First an apology for not posting here for almost a week. I’d hoped to make at least some brief initial reports while I was actually in Paris at Paris Photo (PP) but several things defeated me.

One was the Internet provider. I use a BT-provided service which claims to give me access at thousands if not millions of locations around the world. It links to a map of them, and zooming into the part of Paris around where I was staying shows them crowded around it, but it proved to be more of a virtual network than I expected, as on the several occasions I tried none appeared to be in range.

The hotel I was staying at didn’t offer Internet access, except through a special and rather expensive terminal for checking e-mail. It’s cheap hotel I’ve stayed in previously and is basic, but reasonably comfortable, close to a useful Metro station and an easy stroll with luggage from the Gare du Nord where my Eurostar arrives. The kind of place where half the rooms don’t have a plug for the sink (and this year we forgot to take ours) and small children would quickly electrocute themselves from the socket hanging off the wall or the open tops of bedside light fittings. But the rooms we’ve stayed in there have been warm enough, unusually quiet for central Paris, had plumbing that works, plentiful hot water and comfortable beds, and it provides a basic breakfast all in at a price less than the admittedly rather more sumptuous breakfasts at some luxury hotels.

But the real reason I didn’t post was simply a lack of time. There was just too much to do and to see, and most of it connected with photography. PP itself, with stands from over 90 of the best-known galleries from around the world – some with large collections of work on show, as well as all the best-known publishers and magazines was just a start.

It was also the Mois de la Photo (MdP) in Paris, with its long list of shows in galleries around Paris – almost 60 of them, and the Mois de la Photo-OFF which sensibly limits itself to a hundred shows. But these things are just the tip of the iceberg, and on almost every occasion I was making my way to one of these listed shows I came across two or three others.

Last Friday afternoon, after a rushed lunch, I hurried to a book launch at a stand in PP itself for a glass of champagne and a copy of the book (more on this and most of the other things I mention here later) before spending a few minutes looking around the dozen or so stands of the show I’d not managed to see in my previous two visits. The I let myself wander a few minutes around the Jardin du Carrousel before strolling along by the Seine and across the Pont des Arts to the Institut de France fore the superb landscape show there – part of the MdP.

Leaving this I looked briefly at several other shows as I strolled down to St Germain des Pres, where I’d arranged to meet my wife who had been watching a film somewhere in the 5th arrondissement. Together we went to the Magnum gallery to see the MdP show there, mainly pictures from his new book ‘La France’  (Bruce Davidson had just arrived there to start a book signing) before going to a cafe for a beer – or a cofee for Linda. Magnum had been our first stop on ‘Le Parcours Photo Saint-Germain-Des-Pres’ and in the next couple of hours we looked in at the other 30 shows on a trail around the area, as well as two more in the MdP – Eikoh Hosoe and Ralph Gibson – in the area but not part of the walk. We didn’t go in everyone of those 30 on the trail – most specially open that evening until 7pm – there were a few where a quick look through the window confirmed it wasn’t worth stopping, but most of them, and there were a number of highlights, including a small show of the work of Marc Riboud which had a very nice picture of a street in Leeds.

By then it was time for a little more refreshment, after which we took a late evening trip to Montmartre – just a short walk and a funicular ride from our hotel. Then a bus ride down to Place Pigalle and a walk back – by the time we arrived in our room I was too tired and it was too late to do anything but sleep.

Next time I go to Paris, perhaps I’ll be better equipped – one day I’ll surely buy a new phone that does more than make telephone calls – and less ambitious and simply try to make the occasional tweet about what’s going on.

Over the next few weeks I’ll gradually work through the copious notes I made during my trip and get working on the many pictures I took. There are certainly many stories to be told and quite a few will appear here before too long.

UPDATE:

PARIS PHOTO is now on MY LONDON DIARY

OFF to Paris

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

I’ll shortly be on my way to Paris, travelling of course by Eurostar – the only sensible way to go from London, so it seemed appropriate to write a little about what I’m going for – and the Mois de la Photo-OFF in particular.

© 1988, Peter Marshall

Every two years, November is the Mois De la Photo in Paris, and the Photo-OFF is a parallel fringe festival, which aims – according to the one page in English on their web siteto offer a dynamic selection of emerging photographers exhibited in young galleries and unexpected spaces, like a train station.”

Basically anyone apply to have a show in the OFF, so long as they can find a space in Paris to show their work. It differs in one important way to the East London Photomonth – which this year particularly promoted such places – in that bars, restaurants and cafés are excluded. But any other indoor or outdoor space can be used. In previous years I’ve seen shows hung on railings along a street, in the windows of a community centre on a street (and of course inside such places), in a disused hospital, in a butcher’s shop, on the doors on the landings of a staircase on a high rise block, on station platforms and in various small galleries and other spaces. All the shows have to be free and accesible to the public and in places that can show work in a proper fashion.

I’m not entirely sure what I think about the ban on bars, restuarants and cafés, although some of the least satisfactory venues in shows like Photomonth and the Brighton fringe were in such places, and even when these places were fairly empty they were often very limited and difficult to view. But there are exceptions, such as the superbly appropriate show of pictures from the US by Kit Fordham in JB’s American Diner on Kings Road in Brighton, or my own shows in the Shoreditch Gallery, which is a gallery space in what is really an overspill area for the Juggler café – such as this year’s Paris – New York – London. Would even London’s V&A Museum, which at one time advertised itself as an ace caff with a gallery attached, be allowed?

Once you’ve found a site and arranged your show you can apply  to take part in the festival at a nominal cost, and then have to send in a portfolio to the selection committee. If your show – which has to be open for at least 15 days in November – is one of the total of 101 that can be accepted to take part you then have to pay a further fee of 85 euros. One further rule is that although you can take part if you were included in the previous festivals, you are not allowed to show at the same venue as in 2008, although this does not appear to be strictly applied as I’m intending to visit one listed show by an artist in the same gallery as then.

The festival produces a well-printed program which arranges the shows into different areas, and one aspect I’m sorry to have missed is that each of the 8 or 9 areas of the city has a Saturday afternoon guided walk around all the spaces where you can meet the photographers and gallerists. Each area also has a special night when the galleries are open so you can walk round on your own.

The web site is pretty clear if you have a slight knowledge of French, and you can download the complete programme or if in Paris pick up one of the 10,000 pocket sized printed copies. Or you can make use of the Twitter feed, the Facebook page, your iPhone and Google maps, and there are Flikr pages and videos on Vimeo….

My only problem is knowing which of the 101 shows to see, and how to fit them in with Paris Photo and also the Mois de la Photo, which started in thirty years ago in 1980, though as it only happens every other year I’m not sure if this deserves to be called its 30th anniversary.

© 1988, Peter Marshall

And of course I’ll take a camera and perhaps find times to take a few pictures. It might be nice to revisit some of the places I photographed back in 1988 which appear in my Photo Paris, though the weather forecast isn’t too promising.

© 1988, Peter Marshall

If I get a moment there may even be the occasional short post from me in Paris here, but I suspect I may find I’m just too busy until I get back home and sleep it all off for a day or two. So if you don’t see any new posts for a few days you will know why.

National Anti-Fur March

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

After the egg on their face at Millbank last Wednesday, I went to Saturday’s National Anti-Fur march wondering if their was going to be some reaction.  Animal Rights protesters in groups allied to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) –  have carried out non-violent illegal direct actions and in some previous years this march has attracted some very heavy-handed policing. In 2008 I wrote:

I was several times impeded in my work by being pushed by police as I took photographs and being refused permission to walk onto the pavement, despite shoing a press card. Demonstrators were also prevented from going to hand out leaflets to people on the streets. It doesn’t seem to me to be a democratic way to police a protest.”

Last year, post Tomlinson, things had improved greatly, and I was pleased to find that again there were no problems this year.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

This was I think the best picture that I took on Saturday, although I didn’t spot it in my first quick look through the pictures when I selected twenty or so to upload to Demotix on Saturday night. But it’s certainly a picture that has grown on me since, starting with the word ‘CRUELTY ‘ in the top left and the distorted face below it (that distorted ‘R’ in the word helps too) then moving across to a second piece of text ‘Everyone Wants to Live‘ which perhaps asks rather more questions than it answers, then a group of three heads – a rabbit, a bear and a young woman whose megaphone both sweeps us on across the picture and for me links back to the open mouth at left.

There is also something about the placement of the other figures that I think could hardly be bettered, both the two men standing at the right and the two women in the background at left, and the banners behind. I’m not sure that the hands of the man who is looking a his pictures on the back of his compact camera are really what I would have wished for (it looks to me as if he is rolling a cigarette), but for it’s perhaps something that illustrates the real power of photography, coming up with things I would never have dreamed of, and part of the kind of ordered chaos that makes taking pictures exciting. They are also a part of a kind of swirl of hands around this picture – I start from the upraised paws of that bear and my eye works round through the hands of the two women, the rabbit, a hand holding a cardboard placard, the hands on the megaphone and then on to those holding the camera.

It also pleases me that this is exactly as I framed it in the camera – as indeed are most of my pictures, though I’m not a religious fanatic about it. Sometimes in the heat of the moment you don’t get it quite right, and I’ll happily shave off a few pixels if necessary. But this is exactly as I saw it.

Perhaps too, had I been arranging a shot like this in a studio or on location (it could never had been the same – why does Jeff Wall bother – it just shows up his limitations) I would have arranged for the text on the front of the rabbit to be more easily legible (it says ‘THIS IS MY COAT NOT YOURS’.)

This was taken on the D700 with the 16-35mm zoom at its widest, and it isn’t often that I get an image that works as well across the whole frame with that extreme a wide-angle.  The inherent distortion from such a wide view in a rectilinear lens helps her, exaggerating the pain and anger in the face at left and making what was a very large megaphone seem to loom even larger.

Of course I didn’t stand there thinking about all these things when I took the picture – but I did recognise something that made me press the shutter. Of course I always (well, almost always) have a reason to press the shutter, but things seldom work out exactly how I want. But its all part of training the mind (the ‘eye’) along with looking at the results afterwards. And just sometimes the arrow hits the target.

I can’t remember why I had the camera set to ISO360 at this point. There wasn’t a great deal of light and more typically I would have been giving myself at least a stop if not two more. I think I’d probably forgetten to reset it after taking a portrait earlier. But this was shot at 1/100 at f8, and everything is pretty sharp – 16mm gives fairly extreme depth of field.  But the two closer figures, where fill-flash was more noticeable have just a slight, very slight suggestion of blur along with the sharp flash image. It isn’t visible at this scale, but I think helps prevent the scene looking static when viewed at a larger size.

Using flash of course meant that the closer elements of the image were too bright as taken, and a little bit of burning down was needed. The flash is no longer obvious but it does really add to the picture.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A’ bloody’ hand and a tatoo (upside down) that reads A. L. F.

Most of the other images I liked from the day were really of single figures or concentrating on a single figure in a crowd. This image below was one, like the top picture taken outside Harrods, currently the only department store in the UK still selling fur, although the march organisers, the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, have hopes that the new Qatari owners will end this when they fully take over in January.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

More about fur, the march and more pictures in National Anti-Fur March on My London Diary.

Against Racism, Homophobia & Islamophobia

Monday, November 15th, 2010

The NO to Racism, Fascism and Islamophobia march on Nov 6 was a decent size and had rather more of a carnival air than most since it was organised by Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) as well as being organised by Unite Against Fascism (UAF). That did mean we got a DJ playing some very loud music, and when I found at one point I wanted to be right in front of the rather large speakers next to the lorry they were using I wished I had brought some ear plugs. It isn’t that I don’t like music, but when it reaches the kind of decibel level where all your internal organs vibrate it’s a bit too much. It used to amuse me when I saw the guys at Notting Hill Carnival photographing with ear-muffs on, but it makes more sense to me now.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Both the UAF and LMHR are widely regarded as being closely linked to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)  although both draw support from a wider range of people – and get funding from bodies such as the TUC which the SWP itself would not.  Many left-wing activists are SWP members and without the effort they put into organising things we would have far fewer demonstrations and they would be considerably smaller. Many of the more active members of Stop The War are also from the SWP.  I don’t suggest anything sinister here, it is simply a matter of fact and generally strongly evidenced by the number of people offering SWP petition forms and publications at demonstrations.

But it is bad news for photographers, as these organisations all share a style of stewarding that makes our job difficult. There is an obsession with control which seems to be central to the SWP mentality (and one reason why I’ll never join them.) Usually it is just a matter of keeping photographers away from the front of marches by surrounding the march with stewards who link arms to create an empty area in front of the banner, making it impossible to get within a reasonable working distance to the front of the march, or indeed to get good pictures of the front of a march from a longer view.

At one Stop The War march the photographers got so annoyed that we staged a sit-down in front of the march on Park Lane until we were allowed a few minutes access.  But it goes further and I’ve several times been assaulted by stewards at such events – although others have been more cooperative and have apologised for the  behaviour of others. During one march from the US embassy I was fortunate to escape serious injury when pushed violently backwards.  It’s not surprising that we sometimes amuse ourselves by making up other meanings for the initials SWP – such as ‘Sod Working Photographers‘.

There was some of that aggressive and obstructive behaviour at this event. One of my colleagues was assaulted and most of us were at times rather frustrated trying to get the pictures we needed. It just isn’t necessary and it certainly is counter-productive. Much larger demonstrations manage without stewards who think they are storm-troopers, and it is obviously in both the protesters and photographers interest to get the best pictures possible.

A little chaos really does work fine and it seldom gets out of hand, as photographers tend to regulate themselves though there are a few who don’t play the game – mainly those with big video cameras, like the guy who several times swung his round rapidly and hit me the other day. And there are those sad individuals who like to try and organise everything and everybody who deserve to be dealt with drastically by the stewards. But most of the time we get along OK, and if they stewards would just stand back and  let us get on with it unless a real problem arose we’d get better pictures without compromising the march in any way.

Fortunately I don’t often spend a lot of time at the front of marches where these things happen. Certainly on this one there didn’t seem to be any ‘celebrities’ who might occasionally need a little protection from a crush of photographers, and almost all the people I found interesting were further back in the march where I could wander around as I liked.  There the atmosphere was much friendlier.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

There had been some anticipation that there might be some trouble from members of the English Defence League during the march, but they had the sense to stay away. When we saw this dog, sitting with its owner watching the march go by, most of us probably drew the conclusion both from the St George flag and the appearance of the dog owner that this could have been one of them, but when one of my colleagues asked him he told us he had no sympathy for people who behaved like they do although he was proud to be English. It was a lesson about being careful not to jump to conclusions based on people’s appearance.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
For once the weather was good and I remembered to make reasonably sensible settings on my two cameras, and everything worked as it should. It does happen sometimes.

But by the time we got to Millbank, the light was beginning to fade and it was getting harder to work, and even at ISO 3200 people dancing just moved too much to be always sharp, so after another round of speeches I decided it was time to go home. There was actually another problem, which you can see in a few of the pictures on My London Diary  with light from a large TV screen, mainly filled with purple creating a rather unhealthy effect.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

But by then I was ready to go home anyway.

Jimmy Mubenga

Monday, November 15th, 2010

 © 2010, Peter Marshall
Members of the Mubenga family at the Home Office entrance

The UK Borders Agency (UKBA) generally doesn’t like to do its own dirty work. It is after all a part of the civil service and accountable at least in theory to government. Its own staff would have to go through proper training programs and be subject to various codes of conduct and so on. Not that all that means a great deal or offers us a great degree of protection. But much of the really dirty work is contracted out to private enterprise companies whose main aim is profit, and are often prepared to cut corners, use poorly trained staff and turn a very blind eye towards their actions so long as the job gets done.

One area of activity where this appears to be happening is forcible deportations. Private security guards are used to take people  – usually from privately run detention centres – to airports and put them onto flights back to countries to which they do not want to return. Often they have very good reasons not to want to go and a genuine fear of imprisonment, torture and even death awaiting them at the end of the flight.

We have an immigration policy which is driven by right-wing racism, in particular in parts of the press which has resulted in Labour and Tory parties engaging in a bidding war to show themselves to be tougher on immigration than each other. The rules have been revised time after time to make it harder for asylum seekers to pursue their claims, with fast-track procedures being used to prevent proper consideration of cases. Those working in the UKBA are under great pressure to play the numbers game, removing as many people as possible.

Deporting people like Jimmy Mubenga makes no sense. He’d been living in this country for 16 years,  doing a useful job and contributing to our economy, paying our taxes and bringing up a family, who only know England, having grown up and been educated here. Stupidly he got into a fight in a club – the first time in years here that he had been in trouble – and was sent to prison. Because of that, after serving his sentence, a short time later he found himself being forced onto a plane bound for Angola, the country from where he fled for his life. Had he arrived back there he was convinced he would be killed or imprisoned, and very probably he was right, but we will now never know.

It took three men to get him on that BA Flight at Heathrow, and the witnesses say that they held him down as he screamed “They will kill me” again and again, and they held him down more and he screamed that he couldn’t breathe and they held him down more and everything went quiet and still they held him. Finally they called an ambulance, but the paramedics were unable to revive him.

Few forcible deportations make the news, but this one did. Unusual because a man was killed in front of witnesses rather than simply disappearing in another country. This was news, at least for a few hours – and should become news again when – assuming the Crown Prosecution Service can’t find a way to brush it under their extensive carpet – the three men responsible come to court.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Jimmy Mubenga’s widow in tears supported by family

A month after the killing, Jimmy Mubenga’s family and various campaigners for justice for immigrants marched from the Angolan embassy to the Home Office to hand in a letter asking for a full inquiry not into this particular case – which is still the subject of a police inquiry – but the procedures used in such deportations, as well as asking that the Mubenga family’s immigration status be urgently resolved and that they be given indefinite leave to remain.

I was surprised to find that there was almost no interest in the event shown by the press. Apart from myself there was one other photographer and one videographer present; the only other journalist I saw was from a small left-wing daily. My story with some pictures went up on Demotix within 24 hours. A quick Google search finds no other report of the event (though the Guardian has covered aspects of the case well), other than a short note on BBC news obviously written by someone who wasn’t there that simply noted the march was taking place, and misleadingly refers to Mubenga as an “Angolan man who fell ill as he was being deported.” Asphyxiation as a result of having three men on top of you is not an illness.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
A Home Office official takes the letter. The family were upset that no-one could be let in to deliver it.

You can read more about the event and see more of my pictures in RIP Jimmy Mubenga – Killed at Heathrow on My London Diary. It’s the kind of story that makes me feel that what I’m doing is really worth doing even when I know I’m unlikely to sell any of my work from it.  I didn’t find it easy to take some of these pictures, and there were times I didn’t take pictures, but I think it was something that needed to be recorded.

Millbank & Misrepresentation

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

 © 2010, Peter Marshall

I’ve just posted my pictures from last Wednesday’s higher education march on My London Diary. The pictures I took tell a very different story from that which filled the news broadcasts and papers on Wednesday evening and throughout the next day or two. But of course most of those who pontificate about it weren’t there, and even those of us who were could only get a partial view. But I’ve talked to a number of others, read eyewitness accounts, watched the videos and seen the photographs taken by others as well.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
NUS President Aaron Porter passes Big Ben

The account I just uploaded to my web site – and this story here – both differ in some respects from what I wrote for Demotix on Wednesday night, because of what I’ve heard since from others who were there, but it was clear on the day that many published accounts were frankly sensationalism rather than based on fact. Even today the BBC continues to talk about the ‘storming’ of the building which just isn’t what happened. They are simply telling a lie on behalf of the political establishment and the government.

It wasn’t just the Met who got it wrong for the student protest on Wednesday; the journalists and photographers in particular did as well, which is why the editors and politicians got quite such an easy ride in making up their lies about what happened.

As the march came down Whitehall and we stopped to photograph it going through Parliament Square we’d talked about the possibility of trouble. And although one of the best-known anarchists had earlier told me “There’ll be plenty for you to photograph” I didn’t take the hint, or at least failed to understand it, though I doubt if he knew the details of what would happen.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Sit-down in Parliament Square

I’d thought that the glass-fronted Millbank offices outside which I photographed in May had only been taken over by the Conservatives as their temporary election HQ, and didn’t realise they were still there six months later. Had I known that – and if I was the officer in charge of the policing I would have known it – I might have followed the front of the march down just in case rather than keep on taking pictures in Parliament Square. But probably not, as there had been little indication that there was likely to be anything special to photograph. Certainly there had been no organised bloc that looked like causing trouble – though many obviously angry students – and I’d seen few of those that I’ve photographed at previous events who might be expected to cause trouble. Several photographers commented to me that it didn’t look likely that things would take off.

So I was a little surprised when I heard (thanks to a tweet read by one of the students I was photographing) what was going on. I’d stayed on in Parliament Square as I thought there would be a few things of interest there (and there were) while quite a few of the other photographers had continued down towards Tate Britain, outside which the rally was being held.

But few if any of them were actually there when the first group of students walked into the offices and occupied them – more or less non-violently. There are some people taking pictures on the short and fairly amateur video I’ve seen, but I didn’t recognise any of them as professionals. Rather more of the press were there when the police made their second big mistake, which was to try and forcibly remove the protesters when they had too few officers to do the job sensibly.

The photographers who were there at that point tell me that there was a great deal of indiscriminate violence by the police, much of it against protesters offering no resistance – and some photographers also have the bruises from the batons and riot shields to prove it. The said the effect of this attack was to enrage many of those who until then had been onlookers and produce an angry mob, which was the start the real battle that took place, with the breaking of windows and a fair amount of indiscriminate violence, in a second wave of occupation.  Had the police reacted more calmly and sensibly, waiting until they had the resources to properly protect the building there might have been only minimal damage.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

By the time I heard about what was going on it hardly seemed worth rushing to get there  – I thought I would have missed everything. So I continued taking pictures for quite a while around Parliament, and then decided to make my way home by a route that took me along Millbank.

I ignored the NUS/UCU stewards who where by this time turning away protesters coming down Millbank at the Lambeth Bridge roundabout, telling people that the protest was all over and walked down towards the Millbank Tower. As I arrived a group of riot police got out of several vans and ran past me and into the crowded area; I tried to follow them but soon found my way blocked by a crowd of onlookers, so I went back and round into the courtyard which was slightly less packed with people, some standing around a couple of small fires.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Not a riot!

Over their heads I could see a line of riot police facing the crowd with a small gap between. I pushed through the crowd and eventually got to the front and found myself with a number of other photographers, most of whom I knew, taking pictures.

By that time there wasn’t a great deal happening, and the police were adopting a low-key policy, at least outside the building, forming a line to prevent any further ingress. A few people in the crowd were still throwing the occasional piece of card or stick towards the police, and a number fell short on the photographers and crowd, and a number of those at the front occasionally shouted at the police. Generally it was almost good-natured – more a game than any serious attack by this time. The police certainly weren’t in any great danger and though a few looked a little stressed, many seemed to be quite enjoying it.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

A couple of fire-extinguishers were let off from the crowd, as well as from the roof and I got rather wet, and then covered with powder. Neither healthy for cameras. I wasn’t there when an empty extinguisher was thrown down from the roof, but on the video it’s clear that it caused an immediate angry chant from the crowd below as a stupidly irresponsible act. Someone – and and given the way it was lobbed it could have have been a protester rather than police – could easily have been killed,  was just luck that it missed everyone.

There didn’t seem to be a great deal of point in staying – there were hordes of photographers and videographers there and any pictures I got would be unlikely to add much to the coverage or even get used. Unlike some of the other photographers there I refuse to carry a helmet or hard hat, and this was a situation where I would have been happier with one on. So having taken a few pictures I left and walked across Vauxhall Bridge for a train home.

More detail about the event and more pictures on My London Diary.

Pictet ‘Growth’ Shortlist

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

You can see the shortlist for the valuable Prix Pictet which was announced today in Paris, where a preview of the work will open at the Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire on Sunday – and I hope to drop in and see it when I’m in Paris next week. The prizewinner won’t be announced until March, so there is plenty of time to place your bets.

In alphabetical order,a the runners are Christian Als, Edward Burtynsky, Stéphane Couturier, Mitch Epstein, Chris Jordan, Yeondoo Jung, Vera Lutter, Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo, Taryn Simon, Thomas Struth, Guy Tillim and Michael Wolf, and you can see their work that is in for the prize on the Pictet web site.

What is unusual for a photographic prize these days is that there are some pretty decent pictures among the lot, and seven or eight photographers whose work I might well have chosen myself. There are a couple I find ‘arty’ in a sense that would have been fresh in the 1930s, but now I just find pretentious garbage, and a couple that do things that I’ve seen rather better done by others (and in one case seems hardly worth doing), but it is good to see so much good photography up for a prize like this – though it remains to be seen what will win.

I probably shouldn’t condemn any of them to oblivion by naming them as my favourite for the prize, and in any case I think it should receive rather though more than my quick first impression. Particularly because it isn’t just a matter of a single image, but really of a set of pictures, and that does need more consideration. But Mitch Epstein has long been one of my favourite contemporary photographers, Guy Tillim’s work I always find of interest and the show by Taryn Simon was one of the best in recent years at the Photographers’ Gallery. The only work that really appeals that was new to me was by Nyaba Ouedraogo. So probably those four are now the outsiders in the race!

I hope I’ve more or less got everything sorted for my Paris trip now, and certainly I’ll be writing about it here. Unfortunately I’ve been having some problems with getting my notebook to connect to the Internet, so I may not be able to post until I return home and there may be a few days without posts on the blog. In any case I tend to be too busy and get too tired (and sometimes emotional)  to comment while I’m there.

Blurb & 893 etc

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The first presentation on Sunday morning on the London Blurb Self-Publishing day was given by Anton Kusters, a photographer who specialises in long term projects and is based in Brussels, where he runs his own web and interactive design agency and is also creative director of Burn Magazine, the online publication for emerging photographers curated by Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey, which I’ve mentioned a few times here.

Kusters won the 2010  Blurb Photography Book Now Editorial Prize for 893 magazine  on the 893 project which he has been working on with the help of his brother in Tokyo for a couple of years, making numerous visits there. It took lengthy and complicated negotiations, sealed with an impressive looking document to get the permission to document the Yakuza, a Japanese crime family that runs the streets of Kabukicho, the red-light district in the heart of Tokyo. The contract runs for two years and Kusters has committed himself to publishing 893 magazine twice a year to show his progress. You can also read more about it on his 893 blog where he posts work and discusses the project and his feelings about it.

This is fascinating and at times exciting work, with a real air of menace in some of the pictures, but Kusters is very much concerned with getting under the skin of his subjects rather than taking some moralistic stance. It is a study of a subculture made with their cooperation and collaboration, and every image used has to be approved both by the photographer and his subjects.

During his talk, Kusters talked a lot about the process and the various stages, particularly using printed ‘books’ that he has used to refine his work, and also showed a short film clip. His is work that crosses a number of media boundaries, with some exciting and fresh design.

I’ve never been to Kabukicho, but have seen many pictures from the area, which is part of Shinjuku, the stamping ground of several leading Japanese photographers, including Daido Moriyama (his own web site is slow to load and rather unpredictable)  and Nobuyoshi Araki – in 2005 they did a joint show Moriyama-Shinjuku-Araki.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
‘WassinkLundgren’
It was a hard act to follow, and so too was the presentation by the PBN Portfolio prize winners ‘WassinkLundgren’ after which it was my turn with a rather less dynamic presentation of ‘Before the Olympics‘.

Among those at the event was Pierfrancesco Celada, who had made a Blurb book using his pictures from The Bigg Market in Newcastle. You can see some of these in the two sections insideout and insideout on his web site – and I also particularly liked some of the images from the St James’s pilgrimage.

Unfortunately Bruno Ceschel was unwell and so the self-publishing debate was a little different from anticipated with Robin Goldberg of Blurb in the chair and myself, Anton Kusters and artist Jonathan Lewis of ABC Cooperative on the panel. More about my ideas on the future in a later post.