Archive for January, 2011

Pillow Fights

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

On Saturday I photographed my second pillow fight. The first was a couple of years ago, a flashmob in Leicester Square, and was really just for fun, although the pillows were flailed furiously and the air was soon full of feathers and a choking dust.

© 2008 Peter Marshall

What interested me about that event was that it was part of a global world-wide Global Pillow Fight, and one of the earliest examples of such organisation over the Internet.

Saturday’s protest in Walthamstow was smaller and more sedate, though there did seem to be a few grudge matches taking place, particularly among some families.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

But it was chaotic and fairly short – all over in a little under 4 minutes, and again I longed for a viewfinder that gave a view outside the frame – as in a rangefinder camera. Most of the time I was working close to the fighting (and I did get hit a few times, but fairly gently) with the 16-35mm at its widest end.

Possibly a higher ISO than the 800 I was using would have been better as it was rather dull, and a few pictures were too blurred to use. As often I would also probably have been better working on manual exposure, but I’m getting lazy, and usually prefer to make use of the ‘flexible program.’ The normal program gives speed/aperture combinations that are good for static subjects, but simply by using the thumb wheel you can set a bias either towards smaller apertures (for greater depth of field) or faster speeds to stop action. That bias then remains in force until you alter it with the thumbwheel or switch the camera off.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I also opted to use balanced fill flash with the flash unit as usual for me in the hot shoe. Fortunately flash synch is no longer a problem at faster shutter speeds, with auto FP high speed synch kicking in at 1/250 or 1/320 second and faster and normal synch at slower speeds. I think the difference is that with aFPhss the flash always uses a long enough output to cover the whole time the exposure slit is moving across the sensor, while in normal sync shorter flash durations are possible as the flash occurs when the sensor is completely uncovered, but in practical terms there isn’t any visible difference in the results. Presumably using aFPhss drains the battery more, so there is a longer time before the flash has fully recovered for the next exposure.

The SB800 has a reasonably fast recovery, particularly with the rechargeable NiMH cells most of us use, 4 seconds if the flash uses full output when using just the 4 batteries that fit inside the body. Usually using fill flash, it is ready much faster. You get a noticeably snappier response if you add the 5th battery in the ‘Quick Recycling Battery Pack’ but I find it harder to fit the flash into my bag with this attached, as well as more fuss changing batteries – and the spare battery packs hold 4, so carrying 5 means using two containers.

[Incidentally, next time I buy a flash for the Nikon, I wil look carefully at the Metz models which seem to offer similar features at a lower price, and also have upgradable firmware, which may offer some protection against obsolescence.]

© 2011, Peter Marshall

This time the pillow fight was to gain publicity for a campaign against a high rise commercial development where it was taking place. So as well as trying to capture some of the action I also wanted to find images that had some connection with the campaign. There weren’t many people with placards taking part in the fight – it’s hard to swing a pillow and hold one, but I did take a few pictures including them and the banner, as well as trying to get the Victorian station buildings in the background of some of the pictures.

More pictures and more about the event and the campaign in Pillow Fight Against Solum at Walthamstow on My London Diary.

Dancing at the Bank

Monday, January 17th, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Last Friday I was at Bank at lunchtime, along with perhaps 80 demonstrators and what seemed like at least as many photographers and videographers.  It perhaps attracted so many cameras because it was really the first well-publicised event against the cuts and the fees rise since students came back after the Christmas break, or perhaps it was because it was a demonstration particularly by those involved in the arts and so would have been well publicised in all the art colleges. Of course everyone has a right to come and take photos, but it does make working a little more difficult, both as they get in your way and I try to keep – as much as possible – out of theirs.

Despite the murky weather with the occasional drop of rain it was a lively event. I started off working at ISO 1000 without flash, and using the Nikon 16-35mm there didn’t seem much reason to stop down below its maximum aperture of f4  – it’s sharp enough wide open and at 16mm you have pretty decent depth of field, while at 35mm you can certainly make fairly close subjects stand out a little against a slightly blurred background.

Once the dancing started I began to add some flash, as although I was getting a shutter speed of around 1/200 there can still be a little blur with close subjects, and the flash also brings the main subject out just a little.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
ISO 1000 1/160 f4, balanced flash fill, 16mm

Once the break dancing started, I decided I needed a faster shutter speed and increased the ISO to 1600:

© 2011, Peter Marshall
ISO 1600 1/320 f4, balanced flash fill, 16mm

© 2011, Peter Marshall
ISO 1600 1/200 f4, balanced flash fill, 23mm

Without the flash, this ‘terrorist’s’ head would have been too blurred as he was dancing pretty energetically – you can see the slight double exposure effect there, while his torso was moving less rapidly and has remained sharp. I think the blur adds to the image, but it needs the sharpness of the flash exposure too.

The shutter speed changed a little frame to frame, as I was working using aperture priority auto-exposure.  It might have been better to switch to manual exposure, as the lighting was pretty constant over the area, and the shutter speed changes probably just reflect the amount of sky in the image. But I prefer to work on auto when covering events, as I seldom have time to think about exposures, and if for some reason the light does change can get images that are too far over or under-exposed.  All of the pictures I took were more or less correctly exposed – well within the limits of simple adjusted in processing the RAW files. If I was taking pictures of landscape or some other subjects where I would always have time to think I’d stick to manual and work to get the exposures spot on (probably using spot metering too) every time.  For photographing events I normally stick to matrix metering.

When using flash, the camera metering system doesn’t seem to compensate for the extra light, so most of these pictures are taken with exposure compensation on both camera and flash at -1/3 or -2/3 stop to avoid burning out the highlights.

Almost all of the time I also use autofocus, and with rapidly moving events like this that usually means the continuous servo autofocus (C) mode that will attempt to track a moving object.  The D700 (and other Nikons including the D300) has three autofocus area modes, and I often find myself switching between these while taking pictures. Probably the most useful is the Dynamic Area AF, where you select the focus point (I normally use 51 points) but when things get very hectic I sometimes switch to auto-area and let the camera decide.  The danger in using it is that it may focus on close foreground which you would happily leave blurred. But if you use autofocus on a selected area, it is all too easy for that area to be the background when you are working rapidly.

Back in the old days of range-finder cameras with manual focus when I was working on film I would always rely on ‘zone focus’  – setting focus and aperture perhaps so that depth of field covered everything from 5-8 foot. Occasionally I still do so, though it’s less convenient with zoom lenses and no (or inadequate) depth of field scales, as once set, it is faster than the best autofocus!

You can see more pictures from this event – and read more about it –  at Dance Against The Deficit Lies on My London Diary.

London Tunisian Protest

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Yesterday I went to a meeting of photographers where a freelance who works for one of the tabloids was showing his work, and was profoundly depressed. Not by the quality of his photography but by the kind of assumptions that underlie photography for the press, and not just the red-tops.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Opposite the Tunisian Embassy in London – 13 Jan 2011

It wasn’t just the attitudes of the speaker, but also some of the other photographers in the audience who at times seemed clearly to be justifying some of the work they did by simply denying responsibility for it – they were just following the orders of the editors.

Of course it is almost certainly right that if you want to make a good living from press photography you have to take on some fairly doubtful jobs from time to time, although there are some photographers who seem to have managed to avoid doing so.

Of course there was some questioning and discussion of the issues at the event, though I couldn’t bring myself to take part in it, partly because I’ve always chosen to remain on the periphery of the mass media. Teaching of course had its own moral problems, although I tried always to make it very clear to students that photography was only a directly vocational course for a tiny minority of those who studied it. There were quite a few students at the meeting, but most will find there is no – or not enough – work for them in photography after they graduate. I think we currently train more people every year than work in the whole “industry.”

On the way to the meeting I’d gone to photograph a demonstration opposite the Tunisian embassy against the killing of protesters on the streets. It wasn’t a huge event, but given the publicity that the events in Tunis and other cities in the country are currently getting I think it is genuinely news – rather more so than the minor misbehavour of minor “celebrities” that fills much of the press. But I think the only newspaper that had a photographer there was Al Jazera – and he, a friend of mine, had earlier in the day circulated the details to a number of photographers including myself. My report and pictures -including the one near the top of this post – appeared on Demotix around 11pm (and was selected for the front page), and on My London Diary the following day.

Demotix doesn’t make me a living, though recently it has been making me a little, selling my work on to papers etc, but I like it for the freedom it gives me to write my own articles and select my own pictures. Though in the rush to get work on line I don’t always make the correct choices. By today’s standards of course posting a story six hours after I took the pictures is incredibly slow, but it did at least give me a little time to review the images, both on the camera while travelling home and then larger on my computer screen. I also had time to process the raw files and make the necessary adjustments – exposure, contrast, a little burning and dodging and even a small amount of cropping to some. The result is all my own work and I take responsibility for it, mistakes (and I make quite a few) and all.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Opposite the Tunisian Embassy in London – 13 Jan 2011 – not originally selected

Looking at the work again this morning, I’ve found some decent images that I passed over last night – including those shown here, and decided to make a few more minor adjustments to some I did use, and selected roughly double the number of pictures to put onto My London Diary, and written most of this post before I had to rush out to photograph two more events.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Opposite the Tunisian Embassy in London – 13 Jan 2011 – not originally selected

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Opposite the Tunisian Embassy in London – 13 Jan 2011 – not originally selected

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Opposite the Tunisian Embassy in London – 13 Jan 2011 – not originally selected

Perhaps these pictures don’t add a great deal to the story, and several are very similar to pictures that I did use. But one of the things that the web allows us to do is to use images to tell stories in depth, and it’s a possibility I’ve been exploiting on My London Diary for some years, but which I think the conventional media outlets have been slow to grasp – outside some multimedia presentations.

Notting Hill, 1987

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Portobello Road, Notting Hill, April 1987      Peter Marshall

In a later post I’ll write about the problems I had in finding this image in my rather large collection. It’s a picture I took in the 1980s in Notting Hill, on a weekday in the market along the Portobello Road. There were two men – a trumpeter who you see – just about – in the middle of this picture, and hidden to his right, a saxophonist. Between them a music stand with some music neither was looking at, on the floor their instrument cases, one open for donations from the passing crowds, and a fairly small radio-cassette playing providing some backing.

They were playing outside a pub, and I stood for a while listening – they were good, but the first three frames I took of them were rather ordinary. They showed the scene, but it was somehow a little empty despite the people. I moved slightly closer and put the trumpet player in the centre of the frame, taking a slightly lower viewpoint. Fortunately he was getting more into his solo, pointing his horn down to the ground (I don’t think he had noticed me, but he could have been posing for the camera) and I took two more frames as  people walked between us.

This is the one I like most, partly because while the child at left seems to be dancing to the music his mother (I presume) appears to be grimly ignoring it.  It gets the feeling of the music playing and a crowd walking past. Lots of hands and arms and gesture. I like too the contrast between the suits of the two men in the right foreground, and the really tight framing of the trumpeter, almost hidden. The next frame showed him more clearly, and contrasted nicely the indifference a man and a woman walking past with his intensity, but lacked the complexity of this image.

I hadn’t gone to photograph the market, but had been working on a project photographing the buildings of London, and just happened to walk through the  street. The pictures were taken on an Olympus SLR,  probably with the 35mm f2.8 shift lens I used most of the time. I was also taking colour images on a second Olympus body, and here’s one from Talbot Rd,  not far away, probably taken on the same day.

© 1987, Peter Marshall
Tailor’s window. TalbotRd, NottingHill. 1987 Peter Marshall

Britain – What Lies Ahead

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

I’ve been spending many rather dreary hours recently retouching my black and white pictures from Hull in the late 70s and early 80s, including this image of the Humber Estuary, taken looking towards Hull from New Holland.

© 1981, Peter Marshall

It’s one of several hundred images I’ve recently rescanned and am working on before making a final selection for my next Blurb book, ‘Still Occupied, A View of Hull’, which will include images made between around 1975 and 1985. This is only one of a number of pictures I took of the channels in the Humber mud, though most were on the other side of the estuary.  This was made before the Humber Bridge opened, and we’d taken the ferry from Hull across the river. There wasn’t an awful lot to do on the other side – we could have taken a train to Grimsby, but decided against it, just walked around, took a few pictures and got on the ferry back.

This particular image is a distant vista of Hull, clearly recognisable on the far shore, but I also liked the crossing of the two gullies; most of the images I took showed single channels going out through the mud towards the distant water. One such image, taken by Vanessa Winship, who grew up a short distance upstream at Barton-upon-Humber, heads the FT Feature ‘Britain: what lies ahead?‘, in which she is one of ten photographers with connections to different parts of the country who were “asked to give us a glimpse of what the future might hold.”

Unfortunately, unless you subscribe to the FT you won’t be able to see the slide shows of their images, although you can read what they say and follow the links to their web pages, although the images that Winship took when she went back to her old school don’t appear to be either there or on her blog.  In the FT she writes that as a child she could look out of her bedroom river and see the lights on the other side – Hull – and would imagine that it was the end of the world.

I only crossed on the Humber ferry a couple of times, though I saw it many times arriving and leaving at the pier in Hull – perhaps even with Winship on board, travelling to college in Hull. Shortly after I took the picture above the Humber bridge opened, and the ferry stopped running, and I walked across the river to Barton. I’ve written previously in Sweet Nothings about Winship’s fine portraits of schoolgirls from eastern Anatolia.

Another familiar image on the accessible page of the FT came to me on a Christmas card from it’s author, John Davies and shows a scrap yard in front of a power station on the Mersey at Widnes. What you can’t see from the thumbnail on the FT page is that there is a St George’s flag flying above the top of the heap of metal in the middle-ground of the picture, put there by workers to mark their support of England in the 2010 World Cup.

The same picture appears in the ‘In Progress’ section of Davies’s web site,  and clicking on the link there takes you to a larger version and more information about this ongoing project “into the impact of waste disposal, landfill sites and recycling plants in North West England.”

Other photographers who feature in the FT article are Martin Parr, Patricia & Angus Macdonald, Simon Roberts, Simon Norfolk, Jem Southam, Hannah Starkey and Donovan Wylie.

I’m not sure that the piece as a whole has a great deal of insight into the state of the nation and its future, although perhaps some at least of the photographers appear to have a greater purchase on reality than  the FT’s comment and analysis editor Alec Russell who introduces the feature and reminds me that FT does after all stand for Fairy Tales.  I’m not sure that a world run by photographers would really be a good idea, but it could be a whole lot better than one run by bankers and economists.

Fay Godwin – Land Revisited

Monday, January 10th, 2011

On Saturday The Guardian in its ‘Review’ section published an appreciation by Margaret Drabble of the work of landscape photographer Fay Godwin – and you can read it online too. It’s better online, as the single image which accompanies it, although smaller there, stands out much better on the screen than in the muted greys of newsprint, which also splits it unfortunately across the two pages of the spread.

It is of course a well-crafted piece, presenting much of the relevant information, but rather lacking so far as Fay’s relationship to the medium is concerned, and it contains at least one statement that I am fairly certain would have enraged her, when Drabble talks of her 1983 The Saxon Shoreway as an example of her “author-led publications“.  Indeed perhaps her only truly author-led work was her collaboration with Ted Hughes, Remains of Elmet (1979) which was one of her first and I think possibly her weakest works as a photographer. Drabble correctly describes this as a creative partnership between poet and photographer, but despite some fine images it is perhaps the only of her works in which she is arguably the junior partner.

The rules and attitudes of the publishing companies, which resulted in her early works – books which she had conceived,  and photographed, being listed under the names of the literary figures whose contribution other than their name was often rather minor (I can’t vouch for the actual words she used, and the phrase ‘I did everything but wipe his sodding arse’ that comes to my mind about one of them may well just be my own précis of her argument) with her simply as an illustrator remained a continual irritation to her, even after she gained the clout to get books such as Land (1985) under her own name.

I first met Fay at Paul Hill‘s cottage in Derbyshire, the Photographers Place in Bradbourne, where we had both gone to learn at the feet of Raymond Moore. She was then in her mid-forties and just becoming well-known in photographic circles as a landscape photographer. It was at the same place and probably the same time that I also met Roger Taylor who talks about her work  on the short video about the show, Land Revisited which continues at the National Media Museum in Bradford until 27 March 2011.

I never became a close friend, but we met occasionally at events and openings, and in many ways spoke the same language. Whenever we found ourselves together at a show we always took a tour around together, sharing our opinions (often unprintable) and enthusiasms about the work on the wall. We shared too some of the same influences – people like Moore and Bill Brandt who worked in this country, Paul Strand, and although we took it rather differently, the earlier US landscape tradition.

Brandt’s book ‘Literary Britain‘ was I think in many ways a fairly direct forerunner of much of her approach to landscape, and I think like me she would have preferred the perhaps rather gloomy 1951 original to the later more contrasty revision.

One of the texts on the National Media Museum site is by Fay, and in the previously unpublished ‘How Land Came About‘ her voice comes through very clearly, with a real sense of the frustrations she faced and felt in pursuing her work in an environment where photography was not valued by the UK publishing and media industries.  (Nothing has changed there!) There is also an interview with Fay from 2002 on the UK Landscape site.

Fay was fortunate in 1978 to receive a major award from the English Arts Council to photograph the British landscape during the brief period when they supported photographers rather than institutions. Work she produced from this provided the bulk of her show and book ‘Land’ (1985), perhaps the best of her books. The 2001 retrospective book Landmarks covers a wider range of her work as you can see her web site.

Fay died in May 2005, aged 74 (her website was updated to include some of the obituaries) and in 2008 “the entire contents of Godwin’s studio: negatives, contact sheets and exhibition prints (around 11,000 prints in total), as well as correspondence with some of her sitters including Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and Doris Lessing” was accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by the government and is held by the British Library. You can see 128 of her images on their site.

I’ve written about her and her work on various occasions, most recently in a post here, Copying, Co-Incidence or Cliché? where both she and I made almost identical images of a sleepy stone lion at Chatsworth. Along the bottom strip of images on the page I link to containing her picture are thumbnails of a number of her finest images, and there are several others that are similar to pictures I’ve made and a couple that – at a glance – could be by Brandt. It doesn’t in any way detract from here as a photographer that this is so, but it does root her firmly in a tradition that she would have been happy to affirm, even if it seems not to have occurred to Margaret Drabble.

© 1980, Peter Marshall
This is not a photo by Fay Godwin! Sleepy Lion, Chatsworth  © Peter Marshall, 1980

Nick Clegg’s Birthday

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

For some reason I didn’t get an invite to photograph the party, and I don’t think he has much to celebrate at the moment. But students seized on the opportunity to make a protest against university tuition fees, cuts in public services and in particular the loss of the EMA, the Educational Maintenance Allowance for 16-18 year olds, marching from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall and on past Parliament to the Lib Dem HQ in Cowley St.

Perhaps because of the weather it was a small protest, with only around a hundred taking part. It had been raining more or less all day, and perhaps the other nine hundred or so who had signed up to come on the Facebook page had decided they could wait until the next protest – which comes on Tuesday.  At 4pm when it was due to start there were probably more press than protesters in a wet Trafalgar Square, though a few more arrived a little later, and the light was already disappearing. So it was another day when I had to use flash.

The lens hood for the 16-35mm isn’t very effective at keeping off the rain – and I was holding a cloth over the lens between pictures, and wiping the UV filter as often as I could. But you still get drops landing on it while you are framing the image, causing blurred areas on the pictures.

Flash also lights up the falling drips, giving white spots on the images, an unnatural effect which doesn’t often improve them. I wanted to get plenty of detail in the background, so I was using slow shutter speeds with the flash, which tends to be rather hit or miss.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
ISO1600 1/13s f8

I soon switched to using 1/60 and had to put up with a rather darker background – it was getting around 2 stops less exposure.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

This was the call to start the march, and a picture I almost missed, very much grabbed on the spur of the moment, without time to think. This is actually the angle I took it as, though the picture is cropped at left and bottom, as there was too much of that close white coat in my way when I took it.

Again as I tried to photograph the start of the march, there was another photographer in the picture. I usually like to avoid other photographers in my pictures, unless there is a very good reason to do so, but sometimes there isn’t any choice. Possibly he adds something to the picture in this case. I’m someone who likes to work close to things, so I get in the way of other photographers trying to take pictures fairly frequently and they do the same for me.  But when everyone is trying to photograph the start of a march I usually work from one side (as I was here.)

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Apart from getting less in the way, I also usually find it makes the pictures a little more dynamic than a frontal view. There is usually plenty of time to get in close in the middle a little further on in the march without getting in other people’s way if I want to.

Of course we all get in each other’s way at times, and often other photographers will ask people to get back so that they too can get a picture.  But usually I’m happy just to work with what’s there – as in this case.

Trafalgar Square and Whitehall are of course fairly well lit, but the entrance to Cowley Street where the police had a barrier to stop the protesters was about as gloomy as it gets on London streets.

And it was here I made my big mistake of the day. I’d started taking pictures around dusk using  a mixture of available light and flash at ISO1200, and the D700 works fine in program mode for this, automatically altering the aperture when you switch the flash on.  But I altered the ISO to 3200 to cope with the lower light level and forgot to change to aperture (or shutter) priority mode. In ‘P’ mode the camera sets the aperture according to the ISO, and at 3200 it sets f10, which largely cancels out the advantage of  setting the higher ISO (see p382 of the manual.)  There must be a reason for this, but I can’t see it – surely it would make more sense to chose a single value – such as f8 -irrespective of ISO and to allow the aperture control to be used to vary this, as it does in non-flash P mode?

I knew I wasn’t getting what I wanted, but couldn’t work out why and how to put it right.  Of course the viewfinder display should have given me the information to work out what was happening, but somehow when I’m taking pictures it becomes completely invisible. Of course it’s usually there, but I just don’t see it.

I might have spotted my mistake, but it wasn’t the only problem I was having (along with the rain and being jostled by guys with big video cameras.) The D700 was in one of its moods where it wouldn’t focus, and half the time when I pressed the release nothing happened.  I started getting most of the information display blanking with a message [CHR] where the number of pictures remaining usually appears.

Turning the camera off and on didn’t help, but the error message disappeared for a bit when I opened the battery door and let the battery slide down for a few seconds then closed it up again, rebooting the camera. After a few exposures I had to repeat this.

Later, back home in the dry, I found on p413 of the manual that this indicates a memory card problem (so why CHR?) I hope it was just a dirty connection, and I’ve cleaned the card (a fast genuine SanDisk) as best I can, using a glass fibre contact cleaner brush and then pushing it in and out of the camera a few times. At home it now works perfectly!

I also cleaned the SB800 flash and hotshoe contacts, where there also seems to be a bit of a problem – I sometimes have to wiggle the flash a little after seating it to make a good connection.The cleaning doesn’t appear to have helped with this.

As you can see on My London Diary, I got some pictures, but they are not quite what I would have liked. By the time I finished taking pictures I’ve given up on the flash and was shooting by available light, largely provided by others using video cameras. But at ISO3200, 1/20,f4 few were as sharp as I would like and the colour with very mixed lighting was rather odd.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Available light: ISO 3200, 1/20, f4

At one point I changed the flash setting and tried a really long exposure with flash, 2 seconds at f10, deliberately not keeping the camera still. While the shutter was  open after my flash three flashes from other photographers fired, each adding it’s contribution to my exposure, along with some video lighting.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

The result was mildly interesting.

A Small Step For Women

Friday, January 7th, 2011

I looked hard on the Photo Boite web site, and on that of the Artbox (hold your mouse at right to skip the silly intro, but unfortunately the only way I could find to turn the annoying music off was at my speakers) to find information, but that isn’t what either of these sites are about. For me they concentrate too much on design rather than content and also get slightly up my nose by messing quite unnecessarily with my browser window, as well as being just a little on the slow side.

So I can’t tell you anything about how they selected the 30 women whose work is showcased on ‘30 Under 30 Women Photographers‘. Quite a few of them are French or based in France, some are Canadian or from the US, and a sprinkling from elsewhere. I didn’t recognise the names, but there were are few images I think I had probably seen before (and rather more very similar to others I’d seen before taken by other photographers, which is perhaps only to be expected in work by young photographers of either gender.)

Although I can’t say I found everything on the site of interest, and some of the work I found myself looking at rather more out of duty than interest, I think there are a few here that we may hear more of in the future.  The final item on each photographers set of pictures is labelled BIO and gives some information about the photographer – from just an email address to a page of text, sometimes in French.  But I think the site is , as it says on dvafoto, “Worth a look“.

So thanks to Matt Lutton and M Scott Brauer for posting a link to it, although I find their conclusion “It’s a great step in toward equality in the traditionally male-dominated field of photography” ridiculous. Although women are still under-represented in such surveys as PDN’s 30 (I think only around eight in the most recent selection) they have always included some of the best work there. A little over a third of the 30 Central and Eastern European photographers selected for the book ‘Lab East‘ were women. It may not be equality, but it is a very significant presence.

Of course, as Natalie Dybisz / Miss Aniela write in the foreword to ‘30 Under 30‘; “Visit a modern photography tradeshow like Photokina in Cologne, and most of the visitors you see swarming past are male, with their photography gadgets slung around their necks”. It’s a boy’s toy’s show which few if any serious photographers of either sex visit. There seemed to me to be a fairly high proportion of women among contemporary photographers represented by galleries at Paris Photo – and probably a majority in the people on the stands and in the aisles.

Women have been playing a vital part in photography for many years – even in Victorian times – although certainly very much under-represented until relatively recently and still to some extent, particularly in some fields now.  Almost all of my best students were women. I’ve known and worked with many women in photography and published many articles about women photographers – including some of what I consider my best writing on Julia Margaret Cameron, Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and many more. Of course I didn’t write about any of them because they were women but because of the contribution they had made to the medium.

30 Under 30 Women Photographers‘ is one of many, many small steps that have been made towards equality, and I welcome and applaud it for that, though also wishing some of the work on show had been rather better.

Dancing on the Street

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Thanks to Alan Griffiths of the Luminous Lint web site, which carries such a wealth of photographs for pointing out on Facebook a video interview with Joel Meyerowitz on featured on The New Yorker web site.

The clip is from a new 30 minute film by Cheryl Dunn,  on New York street photography, ‘Everybody Street‘, which was commissioned for the show the show ‘Alfred Steiglitz New York‘ just coming to an end at the  Seaport Museum  in NYC.

The Seaport Museum page on the film has links to the trailer and three clips which are on Vimeo. The trailer includes short comments from a number of the photographers, including Rebecca Lepkoff, now a remarkable 94 year old, who I wrote about some years ago as a part of a series on the New York Photo League, who has been documenting the city since the 1930s,  and as well as Meyerowitz there are also clips on Bruce Gilden and Mary Ellen Mark. Other photographers in the film include Tim Barber, Martha Cooper, Bruce Davidson, Jeff Mermelstein, Clayton Patterson, Ricky Powell and Jamel Shabazz.

Viewing Meyerowitz pretending to photograph on the streets of New York for Dunn’s camera made me very much wonder how that kind of behaviour would go down in – for example Peckham or Hackney, certainly without a film crew present.  But it – and his account of how watching Robert Frank at work – made him on the spot decide to throw up his job and become a photographer (he didn’t even own a camera at the time) also brought back some of my own thoughts and writing about photographing events on the street, and in particular this picture of mine from Notting Hill Carnival in the 1990s, about as a photographer becoming a part of the dance.

© 1991, Peter Marshall

London has also had its street photographers, and they too are to be celebrated later this year, although not so far as I am aware in a film. But ‘London Street Photography‘, opening at the Museum of London on 18 Feb 2011 (until 4 Sept) includes over 200 street images from 1860 to the present day, and includes  the work of 59 photographers – including around 47 still living, many of whom are still working. I’ll write more about this show – I have a colour  picture on the museum leaflet for it – and the accompanying book at a later date.

Flash or Not?

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

On New Year’s Eve I went to photograph a demonstration at Holloway prison (or as it calls itself ‘HMP Holloway‘.) You can read more about the protest calling for the release of the Yarl’s Wood 3 and see the pictures on My London Diary (or Demotix); here I want simply to look at some of the photographic issues. It was an overcast winter’s day, and even in the middle of the day the thick cloud cover had made it seem dark. The protest was starting at 4pm, and I determined to get there early to make the most of the light. I don’t much like having to use flash.

So I arrived at 3.50pm, to find only two people there, though others were beginning to arrive. So I wasn’t able to start taking pictures until a little after 4pm, by which time it was getting to be definitely dark.

While people were standing still, working without flash wasn’t a great problem, using the D700 at ISO 3200 and the 16-35mm wide open at f4 gave shutter speeds around 1/20 second. But once people start getting a little animated, things were rather different, and I had to use flash to get sharp images.

Here’s an example: Two consecutive images as the action was repeated, the first with flash:
© 2010, Peter Marshall
1/60 f8, ISO 1250, SB800 flash on camera

the second without:
© 2010, Peter Marshall
1/40 f4, ISO 3200. No flash

I made an error in choosing a slower ISO for flash, as it has severely reduced the exposure in the background of the image. I should have kept the ISO at 3200 and also used a wider aperture, perhaps f5.6 which would have put the ambient just around a stop down from the non-flash result.

The closer you get the ambient to the flash exposure, the more the chance of getting a blur combined with the flash on the moving person, often a nice effect, but other times something to be avoided. It might have been better to use a faster shutter speed with the flash, perhaps 1/125, though that would obviously have reduced the ambient fill over the image.

I can’t actually remember what I thought at the time, in fact I think I turned on the flash for the first image and didn’t really have time to think about it. Always easier in hindsight.

Neither image really truly reflects what things looked like. It was darker than the ambient only image suggests (showing detail in the dark skin tones meant I couldn’t afford to cut the exposure) and when using flash there is always the problem of fall-off, which you can fight against a little but not eliminate in outdoor images such as this.

Using flash makes the man in the foreground and his gesture stand out rather better; without flash shows the overall scene better, but he is not quite sharp, possibly both because of the slower shutter speed and less depth of field at the wider aperture.

A further complication in this case was that much of the available light in the foreground area was from sodium street lighting, almost all in the orange-yellow range of the spectrum and quite different from the flash output.

Later, around the back of the prison, some of the most effective pictures Later when it was completely dark and the group was at the back of the prison, there was a different lighting situation, with rather lower light levels and the people much more spread out. Working simply by available light produced some effective near-silhouettes, but when it got really dark some of the better results came from working with a small amount of flash to give a little detail.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
16mm, ISO 3200, 1/13 f4 no flash around 30 minutes after “sunset”

© 2010, Peter Marshall
An hour later with just a tiny bit of flash fill: 21mm ISO 1250 1/5 f8

For this I was using the ‘slow’ flash setting which allows the use of flash with slow shutter speeds, firing the flash at the start of the exposure (the normal flash setting has a user selected minimum shutter speed in some exposure modes, which I normally have set to 1/60.) I had to make a few experiments to get the flash level low enough to retain the mood of the image.

The Nikon also allows you to set rear shutter curtain flash, when the flash will fire at the end of a long exposure. It’s main use is that it get motion blurs that lead up to the sharp flash image.  On this occasion I managed to set it by mistake but took quite a few pictures with it as I found it rather amusing (and there really wasn’t a great deal happening that I hadn’t already photographed.) Using rear curtain flash is, I found rather unpredictable when trying to capture actions, but I rather enjoyed the challenge. It’s rather odd using it, as you get a pre-flash before the exposure and then the working flash at the end of the exposure.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Using slow speed rear curtain flash: 32mm 1/5 f8 ISO1250 Rear flash

More pictures on pictures on My London Diary