Archive for December, 2010

Morel Case Continues

Friday, December 31st, 2010

I’ve written previously about the dispute between Agence France Presse (AFP) and Hiatian photographer Daniel Morel in two posts, Agence France Presse v Daniel Morel and More on AFP v Morel Copyright Theft.  Basically AFP saw the pictures on Twitter and decided to use them, selling them to multiple clients and then not only claimed that they didn’t need to pay the photographer because he had put them on Twitter, but sued him for claiming copyright, asking a New York court to dismiss his claims.

An article on the NUJ Freelance Branch web site by Mike Holderness reports the result of that hearing, held on Dec 23, and it is generally very good news both for photographers in general and Morel in particular. The piece also links to the blog post giving details of the case by Associate Professor of Law Eric Goldman, of Santa Clara University School of Law, an expert on both cyber law and intellectual property law. Both posts link to the transcript of the proceedings. The court dismissed AFP’s suggestion that it could make free use of material posted on Twitter – AFP just didn’t have a case, as the judge makes pretty clear to their lawyer in the court proceedings, and it’s hard to see why they bothered to go to court on that issue.  So Morel can pursue his case and if AFP have any sense at all they (and Getty) will come to a settlement with him without a further court case.

Perhaps more importantly for the rest of us, the court  looked at Morel’s claim that AFP had breached section 1202 of the DMCA by removing copyright management information (CMI)  from the pictures. On Morel’s own page on Twitpic he had included his own name next to the images. AFP argued that CMI had to be actually included in the images, but the court decided otherwise. So even if you have images on line which don’t have metadata or a watermark, so long as your name is there on the page you probably have a claim under the DMCA if that information is not also kept with the images.

Things didn’t go entirely Morel’s (and Corbis’s) way. The court rejected the vicarious infringement claims against CNN and CBS because of a failure to plead any direct financial interest in their use of the images, and also their attempt to use trademark law.

The court transcript I think ends with the judge telling them it would be a good idea to come to an agreement, and if they cannot do so that the case could be brought back to him.

I still find it very hard to understand why AFP felt it could get away with this.

Photographing the Vigil for Gaza

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I sometimes wonder if the impression that people get from my pictures of an event is a false one, and that they might find the actual events rather less interesting. As photographers we highlight certain aspects – those with visual interest – and ignore others. The viewer might sometimes get the impression that every person on a protest is in some way beautiful or eccentric or exotic or whatever the photographer’s particular obsession is.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

There are moods I get when everyone (or almost everyone) I see is in some way beautiful – and I get this without the aid of drugs! And if I’m able to take their photographs, these generally reflect at least something of that beauty that was in my mind as the beholder.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Perhaps the first and most important aspect of people that I’m drawn to is their eyes, whether natural or artificially enhanced. There are relatively few portraits that I like –  photographic or otherwise – that don’t show the eyes, and long ago looking at my own work photographing people I decided that the pictures that for me did not work were largely those where I had neglected the eyes, either avoiding them on leaving them in deep shadow.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Of course there are exceptions. The image in a whole series of my granddaughter I took recently that gets the biggest response from my family members is in the middle of a set showing her eyes wide open with that baby wonder of viewing a fresh world. Then comes the one when Rose screws up her eyes in a cry of frustration. It would not work as well on its own as it is partly the contrast with the other images that makes the response. Seen as an isolated image we would perhaps be worried about her anguish.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

What – or rather who – I photographed at Monday’s demonstration was partly determined by where exactly I was during the event for different reasons. I spent much of the time in front of a small bench on which from time to time people stood to speak, to sing and to lead the chanting of slogans. There I was in the middle of a crowd of people and it was very difficult to move, and many of the pictures I took were of those relatively few people directly around me, mainly young women and girls in head scarves.

In some of these images it looks as if there was rather more space then there really was, as most of the time I was working with the 16-35mm lens.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Of course as a still photographer there are many aspects of a protest that are not truly reflected in my images. You don’t hear the sounds or really see much of the movement, you don’t directly feel the crush of bodies, smell the fear or anger or sense the mood in the same way as if you were there. We have to try and find ways to convey some of this in our still images.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

So photographers try to capture (and thus overemphasize) the action that takes place, rush towards the noisy areas where people are most animated in an attempt to give an impression that reflects what happened.

One of the great things for me about My London Diary (and also Demotix, where I currently post my stories first) is that on both I can cover things in depth both with pictures and also in text.  There you can read about the London Vigil For Gaza and see a rather large selection of my pictures from the event.

Vivian Maier

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

If you’ve yet to come across the story of Vivian Maier (1926-2009), a Chicago nanny whose photography was discovered more or less by chance around the time of her death, read the Vivian Maier blog, written by John Maloof, a young Chicago estate agent who bought a box of her negatives for $400 at an auction sale in 2007 after she had defaulted on payments to keep them in a storage locker. Another group of collectors of her work has set up a Vivian Maier web site as well as another blog.

It took Maloof a couple of years to find the name of the photographer who had taken the work, and when he did and Googled it, all that turned up was a death notice written a few days earlier. Maier had slipped on ice and hit her head, and spent some months in a nursing home before she died age 83.  Maloof has been working intensively on his collection of her work and he contacted the other buyers from the sale and bought their boxes of her work. He has also made contact with some of her former employers and charges, and has been given some of her former belongings, including cameras, her collection of photographic book, and some tape recordings she made.

I’ve occasionally written that what we know about the history of photography is perhaps only the tip of an iceberg, with many photographers from the past whose work has simply not become known (and there are some good examples from the past, such as Bellocq, Lartigue and Disfarmer whose work was only discovered long after they took it.) Its a question that Blake Andrews has written about at greater length on his blog in a post ‘The Flame of Recognition.’  I’ve not seen a great deal of Maier’s work but it does seem to be a substantial body of work with some fine pictures that bear comparison with many well-known photographers, and an intriguing example of how work can develop apparently completely outside the art/curatorial/academic establishment.

Perhaps the film and the book coming out shortly will answer some more questions about her – including the mystery of why she abandoned her work with some 20-30,000 pictures on undeveloped films dating from the 60s and 70s in a total of around 100,000 pictures, many of which have still to be looked at by anyone.  The film is seeking funding on Kickstarter and the video introducing it and appealing for funds is worth watching.

It’s been a relatively slow-moving story, developing over a couple of years, but growing to an impressive level. An article appeared in The Independent  in November 2009 and there has been a long and continuing discussion on Flickr. Recently Chicago Tonight broadcast a 9 minute TV programme about her and the discovery by Maloof, and the first US exhibition (some has been previously shown in Norway)  from Maloof’s collection opens in Chicago on Jan 7, 2011.

Making comparisons, as some have done, between Maier and great  photographers of the American mid-century such as Robert Frank is of course to miss the point. Although her pictures may at times remind us of his work (or that of Lisette Model, Leon Levenstein and others) Frank’s importance to photography was not so much in the pictures that he took – some good, some not so good – or even his attitude and approach, but in the influence that his work had on several generations of photographers from the 1950s on. Interesting though her work is, it does not appear to have been innovative, and has long lost any ability to alter the course of our medium. At best it can retrospectively broaden and enrich its history.

Photography is in a very real sense a communal activity, and sharing your work with others is a vital part of this. For reasons that are not yet clear to me, Maier chose not to do so.

Many who do try to do so find themselves ignored or rebuffed at an early stage by the photographic establishment, and at least in the past it is probably true that we have a history that has been dominated by the best-connected and the thickest skinned.

It is significant that Maier’s work has not so far been taken up by any of the major museums or galleries or academic institutions, but has largely been promoted by outsiders and through the Internet – and in particular on Flickr. Institutional photography has still very much to adapt itself to the ever increasing importance of the web as the vital centre of the photographic community, for sharing work and increasingly for exhibiting and publishing photography.

It was a future that I saw and began to grasp fifteen years ago when I set up my first web site (Family Pictures, still on-line in more or less its original state though at a different location), although it was perhaps this early acquaintance that led me not to fully appreciate the potential of sites such as Flickr, which seemed to me too primitive in the way that it presented work. But it’s importance – as its promotion and discussion of Maier shows – was in establishing a new channel for the photographic community. Perhaps had it been around 30 years earlier her work would have long been a part of our shared history.

Derbyshire Walks

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

We took a quick trip to Derbyshire for a couple of days before Christmas. It was a little disappointing to find it was the one part of the country virtually without snow, but that did mean we actually got there from the snow-covered south of England without any great hitches, even though we travelled up on the last train on Saturday evening.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The journey – a train into London, the underground to St Pancras, an intercity service to Derby and then a local train to Belper – takes around four hours. We booked a couple of weeks in advance and got cheap tickets. They cost about the same as the first stage – under 20 miles from Staines to London – costs in the rush hour on its own – without the underground, the 130 miles to Derby and the 10 or so on to Belper. Really ticket costs on our railways make no sense.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

We really went to see family, but the pictures on line are from a couple of walks that we did while there. From the windows of the bedroom we could see across part of the town to the hills around, and we walked around some of them. Pity about the lack of snow, but it was really cold out, and even in the town very different from being in Staines or London.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

More pictures on My London Diary.

Housing Emergency

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

The current cold weather spell in the UK often makes us think of those without anywhere to sleep except on the streets and to be thankful that we have a decent place to live.  Our house may not be a palace, but at least we can usually keep warm and dry inside it, even if sometimes I sit at the computer wearing a scarf and hat and wondering if I could possibly type ok wearing gloves.

Before we bought this house, I’d spent around around four years living in a series of privately rented flats, then three years in public housing in a flat that would could never have afforded to rent privately.

Around thirty years ago, government basically abandoned the idea of public housing, selling it off on the cheap to tenants, preventing a sensible level of investment in the sector and later hiving it off to housing associations. The latest proposals will mean that many families in high rent areas such as London will be unable to afford to stay in their homes as low wage earners will no longer get the current level of support needed for them to pay market rents.

It’s a policy that makes no sense and in practice will not work, at least not in London and the south-east, but is likely to cause a huge amount of hardship and chaos before things get sorted out.  So  not surprisingly a wide range of people and groups are opposed to it, but the protest in Whitehall a couple of weeks ago was a small one – later if the policy is enacted we may well see riots.

For now there wasn’t a great deal to photograph, or at least I couldn’t find a way to really make strong images.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

This was perhaps my best attempt, and it was one where the image doesn’t really fit the 1.5:1 ratio frame – I think it would be better with a crop to the left edge of the red ‘Housing Justice’ banner.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

There were a couple of MPs speaking, and the obvious way to photograph them was over the pile of cardboard boxes, so I got into the right position for that only to have a couple of colleagues ask me politely if I would move a little so that they could get the shot (I think they probably thought “as well”, but sometimes that isn’t possible, and I think this was one of those times.)  Since I’d taken a few frames I moved, but I don’t think I’d got quite what I wanted.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Of course I’m almost always happy photographing people and gestures and this woman’s hands and expression I think express the worries of people well, and I almost managed to frame the placards  how I wanted them – just a little too tightly cropped.

You can see the rest of the pictures – with more about the event – on My London Diary.   Unfortunately although of course I also posted it to Demotix, I don’t think it made any of the papers; I think they were full of some royal nonsense and didn’t have space for anything serious.

Ivars Gravlejs – My Newspaper

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Probably like many others I first came across the work of Latvian photographer Ivars Gravelejs through his ‘Useful advices for photographers‘ also published in The Gawno Magazine as 78 Photography Rules for Complete Idiots.

In Gawno it has a warning at the top “Don’t take it serious, please“, although there are quite a few things my long dead Aunty Vicky could have benefited by following; her colour slides often shown at family gatherings often reduced me to uncontrollable giggles and could have provided some very splendid illustrations for the series. But Gravlejs’s advice is of course hilarious, not least for being so dead-pan.

For those of a rather perverse spirit (and like me, Gravlejs is obviously one) it would be an interesting extension of this work to produce an updated version in which the “wrong” images were all sourced from the work of the great masters of the medium – and certainly the odd Cartier-Bresson, Rodchenko, Friedlander and others sprang into my mind. There are also a few well-known photographers whose oeuvre would have been considerably improved had they ignored rule no 15 “Before you start photographing remember to take the lens cap off.”

But what I really wanted to bring to your attention is another work by Gravlejs, ‘My Newspaper‘, made while he worked as a photojournalist for one of the major Czech daily newspapers, ‘Denik‘, an example of “subversive art” in which he deliberately manipulated some of the images he supplied, starting with small unimportant details of pictures and then moving on to considerably more radical interventions.

He exhibited this work in Prague in 2009 where the text spoke not just about the way in which his work challenges the authenticity and objectivity of media information (and makes me think why, when I expect much of the text to be fabrication we expect more of photographs) but also of the frustrations felt by many press photographers in having to photograph trivia for the papers rather than working creatively as photographers. Although I think few press photographers actually play with their pictures in Photoshop as he did, rather too many probably set up fictions for their camera to record.

The rest of Gravlejs’s site is also worth a look, and there are quite a few images that brought a smile to my face, many of them in various ways ‘bad’ photographs, and some clearly breaking those 78 rules.

Reviewing My Photos

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I sometimes wonder how many good pictures I’ve taken and not noticed since I’ve moved to digital. In the old days, working on film I contact printed everything – including eventually colour as well as black and white, and the contacts went into a file. It was easy to sit down and leaf through these files, and when I went back to find a particular image I often be glancing through the pages in search of it and see other frames that looked interesting and mark those up for printing too.

Then came digital, and I tend to take a quick look through the whole set of images and select those I think worth processing further, and sometimes that’s it. Anything that doesn’t strike me on that initial look may never be seen again, although it may still be on my disk or in my backup.

I try always to go back and take a second look, but it is easy to forget, and when I’ve taken a large number of pictures it is certainly easy to miss things. So this morning when I had a little time and nothing absolutely urgent to do I went through the whole  set of pictures from the last of the three days of student protests.

Mostly what I found were simple alternative takes of images I’d previously developed and already put on My London Diary. A couple might have been better than the ones that I’d actually used, but there wasn’t a great deal in it. But there was one which I’d missed completely.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It’s a picture I rather like of some of the students dancing in Parliament Square, and I took a dozen or so frames of this group, but almost all with the camera in portrait format. This was one of them, but the subject just didn’t fit the upright frame, with not much happening in the shadows at the bottom and too much blue sky on top.  Cropped to landscape in the normal 1.5:1 format I work in doesn’t quite work, and the image above is roughly 1.38:1, noticeably squarer. I usually like to get the framing correct in camera, but it isn’t always possible, and in this case the moment was just that and had gone by the time I took the next frame almost immediately afterwards.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

There were a few other things that I found that perhaps seemed more significant after I’d had time to consider the event more fully, for example the images showing the large padded placard book covers.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

As well as finding a few from early on in the march, I also found a few more of them in use against the police barricade in Parliament Square, although I hadn’t really been able to get into a good position.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It was also a chance to prune the hopeless images from the event from my hard disk, flagging them as rejected by pressing the ‘x’ key in Lightroom as I went through the images and then using the menu at the end of the process to delete the whole lot. It’s a faster method than deleting them one by one as you go through.

One thing I find slightly annoying is that I can’t find a simple keystroke to ‘unflag’ a rejected image. I’d prefer it if the ‘x’ key acted as a toggle rather than having to use the mouse and menus to do so. Perhaps there is a reason for this, but I can’t see it.

Tagging images with a colour tag does toggle on/off in this way, whereas giving them a star rating doesn’t. So I could use a colour tag to select images for mass deletion as an alternative.

Finally, Day X3 Pictures

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

 © 2010, Peter Marshall

Various things have stopped me getting my pictures from Day X3, the third large student demo organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts two weeks ago on My London Diary before now.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It’s only partly sloth and general laziness. Partly Christmas coming and one or two things I had to do for that (including the odd party!)  Going away for a few days didn’t help, nor did having a few other events to photograph. But more than anything it was the sheer number of pictures that I took on December 9th and the complexity of the event.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

I’ve now put around 150 pictures covering the day from around noon  in Malet St to when I left Whitehall and Parliament Square shortly after the vote.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

This was one of the few events I’ve covered this year where having a UK Press Card really made a difference. Without it I would not have got back into Parliament Square around 4pm to take more pictures, and had I stayed there from earlier would have been trapped in the kettle with the rest of the protesters, perhaps not getting out until just in time to run for my last train home just before midnight, after having had my photograph taken by police.

© 2010 Peter Marshall

Having a press card doesn’t stop you being threatened or assaulted by police, although unlike several of my colleagues on this occasion I only got threats, while they were hit by batons, kicked by police horses and had equipment smashed. At least one was convinced that he was picked out as a target because he was a press photographer.  This time I emerged unscathed, partly because I’d earlier got rather badly crushed by the crowd and decided to go somewhere a little less dangerous.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Of course I might have taken some better pictures had I stayed longer, but certainly I would not have managed to get an article on Demotix by around midnight that same day as I did. The text of that article is now (with some slight corrections) on My London Diary, along with the 30 or so pictures I posted with it and quite a few more.

Deutsche Börse Ditto

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

When I saw the four names shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse photography prize (DBP), Thomas Demand (b1964, Germany), Elad Lassry (b1977, Israel), Roe Ethridge (b1969, USA) and Jim Goldberg (b1952, USA), I decided it not to comment, because I could find little of any photographic interest in it.  It seemed very much the same dog bites man story as usual, and I couldn’t even find the energy to make my usually inaccurate predictions. The only satisfactory conclusion would surely be for the award to be ‘none of the above.’ But since others seem to be stirring up a little controversy, and critic is biting critic, here’s my own pennyworth.

Photographers are selected on the basis of a particular show, and the only one of the four that I’ve seen was by Goldberg at the Photographers’ Gallery. It wasn’t a show that particularly impressed me although I think some of his work and his approach is interesting – see the essay on AIDS in India I’ve mentioned previously. And certainly there is some fine work in his Magnum portfolio. I’d even be slightly happier if the nomination had been for the book ‘Open See‘ rather than the exhibition of that work. But even if he isn’t my favourite contemporary Magnum photographer (and I’ve seen more interesting shows by other Magnum names in the past year) you still don’t get into Magnum without being a photographer with something to say.

Lassry, nominated for his exhibition ‘Elad Lassry‘ at Kunsthalle Zürich, is also one of the four artists in the MoMA show New Photography 2010 and on the basis of his work on the web is someone whose images I find intensely pointless. According to an article in Interview, “he has already been claimed as a conceptualist, a realist, a neo-Pictures Generation artist, a pop recycler, and just about every other genre that has anything to do with objects and their consumption.” I don’t find any reason to want to claim him as a photographer.

Ethridge‘s work was shown at this year’s Rencontres d’Arles and is also included in MoMA New Photography 2010. He takes images from magazines or the out-takes from his own commercial work and puts them into sequences. Big deal. Frankly almost as interesting as tearing up a few magazines, shuffling the pages and pinning up a few of them. According to the MoMA text “Combining and recombining already recontextualized images, Ethridge at once subverts the photographs’ original roles and renews their signifying possibilities.” More scrapbooking than photography.

Demand is the best-known of the four, but sees himself as a sculptor rather than a photographer, using cardboard and paper to recreate images and then photographing these as a record before destroying them.  It’s something he does fantastically well, is incredibly clever but is not photography. His finely designed show (and book) Nationalgalerie combines works from the last 15 years which explore the image of Germany.  Just a shame he isn’t really a photographer and the work under consideration isn’t really photography.

You can read Sean O’Hagan‘s thoughts on the current DBP in his Guardian article ‘Do the Deutsche Börse prize jury really get photography?’
and Jim Johnson has commented in that in his ‘Does Sean O’Hagan Really Get Photography?’,  a response that surely doesn’t come up to his normal high standards.  Also worth reading is Abigail Simon’s ‘Nothing New Under the Sun?’ about the 2010 MoMA show.

It’s worth also thinking what the DB prize is supposed to be for, awarded to “a contemporary photographer of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution (exhibition or publication) to the medium of photography in Europe in the previous year.” I can’t think of a single award in this prize or its previous incarnation which has really been deserved on that basis, despite a few years when it has gone to those whose work I greatly admire.

As someone who has belonged to the Photographers’ Gallery since its early days I’ve over the years been reluctantly forced to the conclusion that it doesn’t much understand or care for photography, which it rather seems to hold its nose and handle with tongs while espousing what it thinks is ‘real art’.  Occasionally a little slips through onto the gallery walls although you almost always find rather more in the print room and bookshop. One halfway decent photographer in four nominees is probably batting above the gallery average.

The DB seems to be a cosy curator’s club prize, an opportunity for mutual back-slapping, which I think is a great shame. It would indeed be good to have a major prize for photography in the UK, and to have a major gallery that supports photography as well as eating a large portion of the public photography budget.

Local & International

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

It was a bitter afternoon as a few members from the local Brixton Global Climate action group met at the recently re-landscaped Brixton Oval between the library and the Town Hall at the major road junction in the centre of the town. Where previously there had been a small oval area with grass and flowerbeds around a central tree, there is now a large, flat and rather bare expanse bordered by the busy A23, and a cold wind was making the most of sweeping across it.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It was difficult to make much of the event photographically, but although it was small and local, it was one with a global significance. The Brixton group was one of 70 around the world, but apparently the only one in the UK, to respond to a call by one of the largest organisations in the world, La Via Campesina, representing 150 million people around the world, small farmers, agricultural workers, rural women and indigenous communities around the world for ‘Thousands of Cancuns for Climate Justice‘ to mobilise grass roots solutions and actions.

I’m not sure I made a great job of it, but I did my best, and put the story on Demotix, where it also got a mention on their blog, but not a great number of readers. Putting it on My London Diary and here on >Re:PHOTO will actually attract many more views.

There on My London Diary you can also read more about the event, and the call which arose from the ‘Cochabamba People’s Agreement’ produced by the 40,000 who attended the Cochambamba People’s summit for climate justice earlier this year and was brought to Cancun by the Bolivian Government but its concrete proposals for a sustainable future rejected.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

And there are a few more pictures, but I think by the time it came to break open the pink pig ‘World Bank’ piñata I was too cold to think straight and couldn’t quite get the timing right.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

The Nikon autofocus system is fine for things like photographing predictably moving objects – like racing cars – but with people taking rather random hits I would have been better switching to manual focus and avoiding any time lag as the camera tried to focus.  Almost every frame the actual exposure came too long after I pressed the release.