Archive for February, 2011

Egyptian Embassy Protest Continues

Friday, February 11th, 2011

After the rally at the US Embassy, the Stop the War Banner led off the march to the Egyptian Embassy deliberately in exactly the opposite direction, going north past the US Embassy before turning east along Brook Street.

This footsore photographer felt no need to follow them, and limped his way the 400 yards or so to the conveniently located Egyptian Embassy – far too short a route for a protest march – where Egyptians have been keeping up a more or less permanent protest in support of their compatriots back home who have so far liberated Tahrir Square but are staying there until that extends to the rest of their country.

Their protest in the mews directly opposite the embassy was a good-natured volatile crowd, people jumping up, shouting slogans, climbing on other’s shoulders and making a great deal of noise, just the kind of situation where a wide angle lens such as the Nikon 16-35 really comes into its own.  The only problem was that there were too many other people there taking pictures, and at times it was difficult to avoid them crowding into my view (and doubtless I was often very much in theirs.)

© 2011, Peter Marshall

So, as you can see, at the left of the picture a camera and flash pokes its way in (I’ve burnt in hands on the edge of the frame to make them a little less obtrusive) and less obviously,  the woman in the white jumper is also taking pictures, though the central figure’s arm almost obscures her. By now it was beginning to get dark, and my exposure was down to 1/60 f8, with the flash giving as I hoped a rather nice sharp image to those blurred the hands.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Ten minutes later the same man supplied me with another image, and there were several others that I quite liked, including a very different mood from one young woman:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I’d taken quite a few pictures of her before this, starting with one when I glimpsed her on the edge of the crowd, but she had immediately turned around and walked away to the barriers at the front of the protest. I’d followed her to take some more pictures, but half a dozen other photographers were crowding around there photographing her, and although I took several, I wasn’t sure that I had what I wanted. I went away and took some more pictures, then came back and said to her that I would like to take her picture with the embassy in the background.  So this is, in a way a posed, set up picture, though quite similar to that first image I made of her, which wasn’t quite as sharp as I would have liked:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

It was a picture I grabbed very quickly, and has suffered a little from camera shake. With the default sharpening I use in Lightroom it is definitely un-sharp, particularly when compared to the posed version above. But some careful sharpening  using Focalblade on the full-size jpeg has improved it greatly. (A new and apparently improved version Focalblade 2 is now available but I’ve not tried this.)

Egyptian Embassy Demonstration on My London Diary

US Embassy Egypt Protest

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Tariq Ali is really a gift for photographers:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

© 2011, Peter Marshall

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Three views of Tariq Ali speaking

And I could have chosen a dozen or more other frames from the many I took as he spoke with great passion outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, a place which brings back many memories for those of us involved with protest since the sixties.

One of the problems of photographing speakers is always the microphone, making its presence felt in many shots, often getting in the way of the picture you would like to take.  There are relatively few occasions on which it really improves an image to have it in front of someone’s face, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.

The  hardest people to photograph speaking are those who get really close to the microphone, speaking quietly into it and always looking in the same direction. Most of them never open their eye too!  Tariq Ali speaks with great force, making full use of dynamics, and although he took the loudspeakers rather beyond their rated limits, most of the times there was at least a small gap between him and the microphone. And as you can see he has quite a range of gesture and expression, looking around the crowd.  Actually rather more than my pictures here show, as probably around four fifths 0f the time he had moved so that the microphone was obscuring too much of his face for my liking.

There was also space for me to move around, though I had to take care doing so to avoid getting in shot too much for the several video cameras and other still photographers also taking pictures. But I’d started by choosing the position from which I’d taken these shots – usually around my favourite angle for such pictures, and after trying from a few other angles, came back to it, just moving slightly.

These pictures were taken with the D300 and the Nikon18-105mm, and most of the time I was working at its full stretch, equivalent to 157mm.  It is a little long for portraits, but a decent compromise, as I’m looking up at quite an angle to the speakers on a small stage.  I’d set ISO 1000 to give me shutter speeds and apertures around 1/250 f8, though with the camera on P setting they were changing a little frame to frame. But you do need a fairly fast shutter speed both to avoid camera shake with the long lens and also to avoid too much blur with those highly controlled ‘wild’ gestures. And of course they all use flash, which really helps to bring the face out of the shadows.

I tried to keep the focus on the eyes – and to make sure they were open, and generally succeeded. It’s great having the preview button set up to zoom right in during image playback so you can check that these things are right.

Backgrounds are often a problem, and sometimes – as in this case – there was not a great deal I could do about it. I did take a few pictures from a different angle with just a white sky as a background, but again it wasn’t a great background. It would have been nice if the stage had been set to have the embassy US flag and that big eagle hovering above him as he spoke, but it was actually directly behind me as I too the pictures

Of course I photographed others as well,  the protesters as well as most of the other speakers.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Muslim woman in headscarf holds red rose& photo of Cairo victim Sally Zaharan

And of course I had to have at least one picture showing that embassy, eagle & flag.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

More at US Embassy Rally For Egypt on My London Diary.

Islington on the March

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall

One of many protests against the cuts in public services was a local march on Saturday in Islington. As local marches go, there was pretty strong support, but not as strong as one web report suggested in its headline One thousand march in Islington against cuts.

I often complain that the figures given by police and particularly the BBC (who shouldn’t have an axe to grind) are ridiculously low, though the BBC often play safe, with phrases like ‘Hundreds marched’, which is still rather misleading if – as sometimes – it was really around 25 hundreds. But this time I’d written a report before I read that on the web, and I’d used the actual figure in it.

Unless another 600 snuck in over the last half-mile after I had left to go elsewhere the actual figure was around 400. Just before Highbury and Islington station I stopped and counted as the whole march went past me, and I got to 397. Of course there is a small margin of error in such counts, however carefull you are. But I would be reasonably confident that there were between say 380 and 420 people marching (including a few very young children who were actually being carried.)

It is fairly easy to count a smallish march like this with some accuracy by actually counting individuals as they go past, though just a little tedious. It is easy to miss the odd one or two, and equally easy to count a few twice, but the errors tend to cancel out. Larger marches I count as batches of roughly twenty people, and above a couple of thousand I usually give up and rely on a rough estimation.  Years ago I used to stand two or three mornings a week looking down at around 1200 students in a morning assembly, which still gives me a rough idea of what that kind of number looks like, though protests are sometimes rather more spread out.

It may not be vital, but numbers are a fact which is often commented on and reported, and part of the job of a journalist is to get the facts right.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

It wasn’t the most interesting of events to photograph, but people are always interesting, and I found some that  I hope express something of the spirit of the event.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

You can read my report and see more pictures at Islington Strikes Back. Like many of the posts on My London Diary it was first published on Demotix, where I managed to upload the image above in a rather dim and dark version, having somehow failed to correct it in Lightroom. All my images get corrected on import using a standard preset which I have set up and this includes having Lightroom automatically adjust ‘tone’ – exposure, recovery (highlights), fill light, blacks, brightness and contrast. But this ‘auto tone’, which is the same as the button in the Basic section of the Develop module, is one area where Lightroom definitely needs some improvement.

Of course there is always some room for interpretation, but a good starting point for most images is to set shadows and highlights at the two ends of the histogram, and ‘auto-tone’ sometimes simply fails to do so. This image was such a case; Lightroom inexplicably made an exposure adjustment of -0.15 to leave a large gap at the highlight end of the histogram – and the corrected version above has an exposure adjustment of +0.57 – a difference of 0.72.  Normally I improve on the auto settings before sending pictures out, but somehow I missed this one in my late-night rush.

Demotix does a certain small amount of editing on the reports sent with pictures, though the changes made to mine are usually minimal. This time an editor had noticed that I had said that the march started at the Nags Head, and thought it would help to add the words “public house” after it. Unfortunately it’s some years since the Nags Head has been a public house, but it has bequeathed its name to a road junction and the area around it.  Fortunately I was able to log in and add my own correction, but it was a little annoying to have to do it in all the picture captions as well.

Demotix itself is in the news, having struck a deal with the Press Association (PA) which will now distribute some at least of its images.  It is really rather misleading of the report to say that Demotix “receives contributions from amateurs across the globe“, as although it does, it receives contributions from professionals around the world too, as well as some based here in the UK. But it certainly draws on photography from a wider base than existing agencies such as the PA, and often shows the strength of work from people with local knowledge rather than those flying in for short periods from abroad to cover stories. The best work on Demotix is as professional as that from any other agency.

Downing St Art Direction

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Saturday at noon I was at Downing St to photograph a vigil. It marked 9 years than an innocent London resident has been tortured and kept, for most of the time in solitary confinement, at Guantanamo. Everyone who has looked at the case seems to come to the conclusion that despite what they may say, both US and UK governments do not want Shaker Aamer to be released where he could talk to the press and solicitors, give the evidence he has about how he was tortured – by Americans but with British secret service assistance – both at Bagram Air Base and in Guantanamo, and also how others there were treated.  His evidence would certainly be extremely embarrassing to both governments, but that cannot be an acceptable reason for keeping him incarcerated, and the governments need to be shamed into letting him free.

It wasn’t a big demonstration, and we had to wait until enough people arrived to take the picture that the event organisers wanted. It looked like this:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

The message is clear enough, and it wasn’t too difficult to take, but it just isn’t very interesting visually, often a problem when organisations think up what they think will be great ideas for a photograph. Still at least this was easy to take, and with the 16-35mm I could even stay on the pavement to get it all in, although the other couple of people taking pictures had to dodge the buses in the middle of the road. Sometimes the ideas that certainly untrained art directors (are there any other sort) have involve that curious camera that is able to point in two directions at the same time or somehow levitates at 20 metres above the ground.

It looked a little better from one side, for example like this:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

At least now the interest in the picture isn’t confined to a narrow strip across it – less than a quarter of the image area in the upper picture. Or I could put it into a better overall picture like this:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

though I should have compromised my principles and moved the woman with the placard closer to the slogan, enabling me also to get rid of that foreground post by moving up to it to take the picture.

But my favourite image from the fairly small number I took didn’t use that long long line of text at all.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Although it doesn’t mention the 9 years, the rest of the message is pretty clear, and it shows the two figures at the vigil who might be recognisable to a wider public, Kate Hudson of CND amd London’s Green MP Jean Lambert, along with one of the organisers.

You can read more about the event and see the few other pictures that I took on My London Diary in Shaker Aamer – 9 Years in Guantanamo.

Photography a Soft Subject?

Monday, February 7th, 2011

The advice to prospective students given in the Russell Group’s booklet Informed Choices which came out last week is of course a clear and excellent guide to making sensible decisions for those who want to study at one of Britain’s most prestigious 21 universities, and it naturally reflects their particular view of Higher Education  – which is also reflected in the government’s funding of UK education.

Perhaps because I have a couple of degrees from one of them and spent around 30 years teaching in secondary and further education I don’t have a particularly high opinion of our education system as a whole, and particularly not of certain aspects of our higher education system. Of course I have a great admiration and respect for many who work in them – and certainly parts of the system are only kept running by a great deal of largely selfless dedication, particularly by the classroom teachers, despite a great campaign largely orchestrated  by OFSTED to denigrate them over the years.

I started my teaching career as a science teacher, and science subjects rank highly for the Russell Group, hard, ‘facilitating’ subjects that will get you onto their courses, along with others that involve writing lots of essays (our education system still seems largely geared to produce civil servants.) One thing that characterises all these ‘hard’ subjects is that they reward the student who can summarise and regurgitate a large body of information and theories – and that they all discourage any original thinking and experiment.

This is actually a very successful strategy for a small minority of those who go on to study at university and finally perhaps get to do some truly original work, usually now well after their second or third degree, but I think fairly disastrous or at best stultifying in terms of personal development for the great majority who take these courses.

One of the more disappointing aspects of the education system for me has been the increasing tendency over the years of art courses, particularly photography, to jump on that same academic treadmill, neatly characterised by one of the comments to the  BJP’s feature, which read (in totality):



All fairly soft eh?

(sic, though I’m in no position to comment on typos)

Later I went on to set up and teach several photographic courses in the school and later college where I worked, and later still taught in a part of what I think is still on the leading edge of vocational courses worldwide, the Cisco Networking Academy programme.

Down in the lower depths of the chalk face, the great liberation for me (and my students) came not by the incorporation of tedious academia (with the pointless reproduction of tedious essays) but with art and design based photography syllabi which encouraged and rewarded experimental background work and projects which allowed students to research and develop their own ideas at an appropriate level in both level 2 and level 3 courses.

Many like myself and my colleagues developed new materials and methods – some of which have since in part been published (and notably by a former colleague of mine, Mark Galer.) Our students benefited both from the exploration of their own ideas and thoughts, and also from the CSE and A level grades their work  – both photographic projects and research presentations gained.

Among our students were some who had never previously passed an examination, working alongside some academic high-flyers, often out-achieving them, and most responded to our encouragement and the stimulation of following their own ideas. Photography became for a few years the most popular subject at our college and the subject in which students gained the highest average grades.

The high level of awards wasn’t a result of photography being a ‘soft’ subject, but of it being something that interested and challenged students. Challenged them intellectually in ways that many ‘hard’ subjects never do to think both for themselves and about themselves. And challenged them in a way that was apparently rare in those who went on to study photography further.

Our particular work in photography largely came to an end more than ten years ago with an increased emphasis on specialisation and the encouragement of students to concentrate on a core course leading either to university entrance or employment, very much the kind of thing that the Russell Group advice is not urging on students.

We were also hit by the changes in the curriculum, particularly from a two year A level to A1 and A2; previously we had run GSCE as a one year course which also served as the first year of A level, and we just did not fit into the new pattern well. And to introduce what was meant to encourage a broader curriculum, the college responded with a reduction in the number of timetable blocks that students were required to work, very much a cost-cutting measure.

Photographic education generally in the UK – with some rare exceptions (David Hurn’s Newport course springs immediately to mind – but it couldn’t survive) has never impressed. In the old days it was formulaic and largely technical, and after a brief period when things seemed to be looking up then became saddled with a largely irrelevant academic burden in an attempt to justify degree status.

Photography education now has an academic content largely unrelated to its practice, and produces many graduates who appear to have only a very hazy view of the history of the medium. From some courses they emerge with no great appreciation of its practice, while others insist on perpetuating the kind of craft skills (though usually at a fairly basic level) that are no longer relevant to current practice.

The academic study seems to do little to expand the horizons of those who undertake it, and fits them only to teach the same dull dry materials to others. But photographic education is curiously schizoid and at the same time pretends to be vocational, while we know that there is only work for a very small percentage of its output, who in most cases would have been better prepared for what work there is by actually going and doing the job rather than going to university.

Part of the tragedy is that there are many good people involved in photographic education, even some good photographers. Over the years I’ve met quite a few of them and often heard some bemoan exactly the kind of things that I mention.

Of course I used to talk to students and try to get them to study photography. At the start I told them that I thought they would find our courses interesting and rewarding, and they would learn skills that would continue to be useful in later life, and enrich their experience, whatever they went on to be or to do. And I think I was right. But I also told them that the chances that they would ever earn a living with a camera were extremely small.

Of course we should have abandoned A levels years ago and gone over to a system of education not based on filtering people for university courses but on broadening the person. A system that perhaps might end with a portfolio rather than a certificate with a few letters on it, something showing what people have produced and are able to do. Not unlike some of those courses I taught, where the real result wasn’t the A or B on the exam certificate but the the work – studies and projects – that the students took with them in their portfolios.

Paris Shows: Tendance Floue & Vanessa Winship

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Tendance Floue

I’ve spent some time searching without success for the first piece that I wrote about the French collective ‘Tendance Floue‘, a group of photographers who aim to explore their individual creativity in a dialogue together outside the normal limits of commercial media practice.

I think it was perhaps around five years ago, when their work was included in the Arles Rencontres and also gained an ICP Infinity Award that I became aware of the group on-line, and somewhere around the same time I saw a show of their work I think in the fringe festival during the Mois de la photo in Paris. Possibly it was in an brick arch under a bridge across the railway lines out of the Gare d’Austerlitz at Les Frigos, but I can’t be sure.

Tendance Floue (TF) literally means a fuzzy or blurred tendency or trend, and if the work of the photographers in the group does sometimes become a little too experimental for my liking, blur is not necessarily to be taken literally, but more as expressing a spirit of being prepared to explore outside the boundaries of particular  conventions – such as that of sharpness – that the commercial practice normally demands.

I was slightly surprised to learn that TF is celebrating its twentieth anniversary, with the original five photographers now grown to a dozen. And celebrating in some style with shows in five galleries in the Marais in Paris from Feb 5-22nd.

  • Baudoin Lebon : Thierry Ardouin, Flore-Aël Surun and Patrick Tourneboeuf
  • Galerie Les filles du calvaire : Pascal Aimar and Mat Jacob
  • La galerie particulière : Gilles Coulon and Philippe Lopparelli
  • La petite poule noire : Bertrand Meunier
  • Hôtel de Sauroy : Denis Bourges, Olivier Culmann, Caty Jan and Meyer.

In the French press release that accompanies the show there is a handy map so you can plan a walk around all five (they include one, La petite poule noire, on the Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire I’ve not visited.)

If like me you are unlikely to be in Paris before Feb 22nd, there is plenty of work to explore on the TF web site, though some of it isn’t that easy to find. Perhaps the web site too is deliberately fuzzy. I also found that to see the English version of some pages I needed to load the French version first.

Not Only Rare Birds Sing

And if you can get to Paris, another current show not to be missed is ‘Not only Rare Birds Sing‘ by Vanessa Winship, at Galerie VU’ until 19 March 2011.  You can see a selection of her work on the Agence Vu web site, as well as on her own site, where her blog shows her making the prints for this show.

Galerie VU’ used to be in the Marais too, but has now moved west to the 9th arrondissement, in Hôtel Paul Delaroche, 58 rue Saint-Lazare. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday from 2-7pm and you can leave your Velib handily close by at number 62. Do London galleries tell you where to leave your Boris Bike on their invitations?

London Arbaeen

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Last Sunday afternoon, several thousand Shia Muslims were at Marble Arch, celebrating Arbaeen, at the end of 40 days of mourning over the massacre of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet and his followers at Kerbala around 1400 years ago. This was the 30th such march in central London, and I’ve photographed the event – as well as marches on Ashura day at the start of the period of mourning – several times in the past, and I think rather better than I did today.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I arrived as the event was starting, with long sessions of recitation and community prayers, and then took an hour or so away from the event just as more was beginning to happen, rushing away to cover the UK Uncut demonstration half a mile away along Oxford St.

It isn’t possible to be in two places at once, and trying to cover both events on this occasion was almost certainly a mistake, as it meant I missed important aspects of both. But then I’m pleased that I did manage to photograph so much of both.

Coming away from UK Uncut one of the other photographers I know there came along with me – we’d both wrongly thought everything of interest was over. She hadn’t known about the procession and I told her briefly what it was about as we walked briskly towards it.

Like many Muslim events, men and women generally take part in separate groups and in different ways. Many of the men show their emotions more openly as well as being considerably more physical in their expressions, while the women are more restrained, but also more of them carry flags and banners.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

It is easier for women photographers to photograph the women at events such as this, getting in close while I was generally standing further back with a longer lens. Things have changed a bit over the years, but there is still a difference, although it is a few years since a steward came up to me and said “We do not photograph the women.”

© 2011, Peter Marshall

But of course I have, and some of them have thanked me for the pictures I’ve taken. Photographing the men presents no problems – for men or women photographers.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

When I looked at the pictures having imported them into Lightroom, for a few minutes I could not find some of the pictures I had taken. These were pictures looking down on groups of men beating their chests in mourning – I was standing on top of a low fence or wall and holding my camera out at arms length above them with the 10.5mm fisheye on the D300.

Then I remembered that the profile for the 10.5mm I have for Lightroom messes up the pictures by “correcting” the fisheye perspective to rectilinear. It’s something I keep meaning to find a way to edit but never get round to. I use the profile because it automatically more or less removes the rather noticeable colour fringing the lens gives, but this correction is just silly. The results are not usable – with extremely poor corner detail – and just look silly, as rectilinear perspective becomes hopeless at greater than around 90 degree angle of view.

If I wanted a rectilinear result I’d use the 16-35mm. I do often use some correction on the fisheye results, sometimes in Lightroom but more often in other software that tames its extremes, but never the full rectilinear effect, always ridiculous unless you crop drastically.

Fortunately Lightroom makes it easy to select images by the lens that was used, and once I realised it was a simple and quick matter to do so, correct the problem in one and synchronise it across to all the rest, and there were my pictures back again.

My fuller report on the event with many more pictures is on My London Diary at Shia Muslims 30th Arbaeen Procession .

Boots Uncut

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Last Sunday saw another nationwide demonstration by UK Uncut, this time targeting Boots stores across the country. Boots have relocated their corporate HQ to a PO Box in Switzerland, and according to UK Uncut this tax loophole has reduced their annual tax bill from £100 million to just £14 million.

The money that isn’t now coming in as UK tax would, according to UK Uncut, pay the salaries of over 4,000 NHS nurses, now under threat from government changes in the way hospitals are funded.  UK Uncut, in their role as the ‘Big Society Revenue & Customs’ dressed up as doctors and nurses for a protest to make their point that the government are making savage cuts in public services to reduce the deficit while making no attempt to close the tax loopholes through which the super-rich and large corporations dodge £25 billion in taxes every year.

The protest started inside Boots main shop in the middle of Oxford St, but I didn’t arrive early enough to enter unnoticed and was carrying two cameras and a large bag, having been covering another event half a mile down the road, so failed to sneak in past the security guards. Some other photographers had got inside, but were soon escorted out by security and police when they started taking pictures, although the protesters and some shoppers were taking pictures on their mobile phones without being stopped.

Fortunately the shop has large glass windows, and although these are rather blocked with showcases, there were gaps through which we could take pictures – though each had a crowd of photographers around it. Reflections in the glass were a problem, and where possible we worked with the lens as close as possible to the glass to avoid them. If possible right up on the glass, but that does limit you to photographing at right angles to it. Back in the old days when I took a lot of pictures on film through windows I used to use wide-angle lenses with rubber lens hoods which gave a little more flexibility,  but I no longer have these.

Here is one of the pictures I took through one of the side windows:

© 2011, Peter Marshall
After post-processing in Lightroom

and you can see some reflections but they don’t really cause a problem.

Out of interest, I also exported a jpeg from the same image after automatic processing in Lightroom 3 and before I had done any of my usual post-processing on it – perhaps you can see some differences:

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Imported with my Lightroom defaults

The differences are perhaps a little subtle at this scale, though rather more obvious on the high res versions. At a pinch I could live with the lower version – on which Lightroom has applied both my default curve settings and its auto exposure – but to me at least there are clear improvements in the processed version.

I started thinking a bit more about Lightroom and raw processing again last week, after I’d had a request for a few pictures from 2005. I had the jpegs on my hard disk, but thought I would go back and reprocess them from the raw files; surely six years later I could do a better job.

So I worked away as I now normally do on these .NEF raw files in Lightroom until I was happy with them and then exported the files and compared them with those I had produced in 2005.  The differences were not that huge but were noticeable, and in every case the 2005 images I had produced using Pixmantec RawShooter, the software that was bought up and closed down by Adobe were the ones I chose in a ‘blind’ test.

Lightroom is a great programme, and it does more than RawShooter ever did, and it may be that these results are not typical. It might be the particular subject matter or the lighting, or (and very likely) the user having a bad day.

After around half an hour protesting inside Boots, the UK Uncut protesters decided it was time to leave and made their way to the front of the shop – where the security men promptly closed and locked the doors, so again I was shooting through glass. This time I was kneeling on the ground very close to the glass with a mass of photographers behind and above me blocking most of the reflections, so technically at least things were easier.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Some of the time I was having to take pictures between the legs of the security men though the policeman outside had kindly moved out of our way. When the protesters were finally let out of the shop they continued their protest on the pavement and I stayed until shortly before they were due to leave.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

The protesters had thanked the police for the way they had behaved during the protest – and everything seemed very calm and orderly and there seemed little point in staying until the bitter end, and I wanted to return to the other event I was covering. You can read more about the protest and see my pictures in UK Uncut Protest Boots Tax Scam on My London Diary.

But the end turned out to be very bitter, and provided the main story from the event – which I missed.  As UK Uncut were getting up to leave, one of the women protesters pushed a leaflet through the gap between the glass doors of the shop, and was promptly arrested for alleged “criminal damage.” An argument between police and protesters ensued, in the course of which one officer used a CS spray on twelve of the demonstrators (and himself.)   Boots staff apparently rushed to give first aid to those who had been sprayed using eye wash bottles from their shelves, but three required hospital treatment.

I was shocked when I heard about this later in the day. It seemed completely out of keeping with the atmosphere of the event. The arrest seemed ridiculous, and the use of CS spray totally inappropriate.

No Fees! No Cuts! No Kettles!

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Last Saturday’s student demonstration against the fees increases, the ending of educational maintenance allowance and cuts in public services was a rather tame affair, despite attracting between five and ten thousand marchers, mainly students, with a sprinkling of parents, trade unionists and others.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Perhaps the main reason for this was the discussion that had taken place beforehand between the organisers and police, and the leaflet that the police again handed out to protesters detailing both the route and the way that it would be policed. This kind of preparation is important to the police as well, as their briefing will doubtless have dealt with the same matters. It begins by stating that police service is committed to upholding the right to protest, something which has not appeared to be at the top of police priorities in some past events.

Of course there was plenty for me to take pictures of, but the lack of confrontation means that the chances of the media using these pictures is greatly reduced; peaceful demonstrations seldom make the news. But my work isn’t mainly for the instant news media, but more about recording events and trends for a future audience. Though making the news would pay some of the bills.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Bright red flares present colour temperature and exposure range problems at Downing St

You can read my account of the march (first published on Demotix) on My London Diary at No Fees, No Cuts! Student March, accompanied by the usual large selection of images.

By the time I’d walked all the way along with the marchers – probably covering twice the distance they did, including quite a lot walking backwards – I was tired and in pain (I’ve been suffering from plantar fasciitis in my left foot for the past five months and it hurts if I walk any real distance – and unfortunately I mustn’t take Ibuprofen) and decided to call it a day. Most of the marchers were however game for more and a large group – probably between 500 and a thousand – made it to the Egyptian embassy and on to Oxford St.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

There are two stories about what happened at the embassy. A photographer who made it there with them told me that the Egyptians were not very happy with the many placards  from the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and told them to go away, and the second, from a Guardian story, that this was a great result on its first outing from ‘Sukey‘, an anti-kettling system, which uses text messages (and now a smartphone application) to give phone and smartphone users information about which routes are open to them, and which are obstructed or closed by police.  The new app, not available for this demonstration, uses green to show open directions, yellow for obstructed but passable and red for those that are completely blocked.

Sukey gets its information by Tweets with the hashtag #sukey and other messaging from people on the spot, uses a team in their control room to analyse it and then displays the results on its web site and relays it back as text based warnings to protesters; it now also has a compass-like smart phone application to show protesters the status of routes from their current position – green for open,  though this wasn’t ready for last Saturday.  But apparently protesters close to the Egyptian Embassy who had signed up to the system received a text message from the Sukey control room telling them that there were a lot of reports coming in that the police were about to form a kettle – and so they quickly left.

Although police have kettled protesters on numerous occasions (in recent student demonstrations in Whitehall, Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square and on Westminster Bridge), the fact that there are a lot of police in a particular place doesn’t necessarily mean that they intend to kettle protesters.

Before Christmas I was with students as they took off on a ten mile fast march around London because every time they saw police at a junction someone shouted ‘kettle’ and the march took off in another direction. Police denied that day that they had any intention of kettling, and apart from one brief incident in Parliament Square and later in Trafalgar Square, they seemed to me to make no attempt to do so. Despite this, some student and left-wing web accounts wrote it up as some kind of victory of the student movement over the police.

Since then we’ve seen two student marches where the police have issued a leaflet to try and counter what I called ‘kettle paranoia’ by students. There has been no obstruction or kettling of students during either of them on the agreed route.

Though attempts such as ‘Sukey’, named from the nursery rhyme ‘Polly put the kettle on’ in which Sukey (Susan) takes if off again are welcome as attempts to share information (along with the police leaflet and police Tweets) I do rather worry that it may well simply provide greater positive feedback to the kind of wild rumours about police behaviour that drove that out of control ten mile student route march.

Police like to keep order. It’s their job after all, but they do take it too far. They like everything cut and dried and going to plan.  The police understand static demonstrations and marches that keep to a prescribed route but characterize the kind of freely moving protests that some groups have been making recently – sometimes called  ‘civic swarms’ – as disorder, and have so far not found an effective and proportional way of dealing with them.

Information about the whereabouts of protesters will be of great interest to them, and I am sure they will both be monitoring the reports provided by Sukey as well as perhaps producing their own applications to track the locations of tweets with the #sukey tag, and possibly making use of location data from mobile phone companies.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

If you are going to mask up to protect your identity, should you take the battery out of your mobile phone too?

No Fees, No Cuts! Student March.

Egyptian Embassy

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Several of my friends are working in Egypt at the moment, producing some great work, but having seen what is happening on the streets there, I’m feeling rather glad that I’m sitting safely at home.  Jason N Parkinson’s  video Day of Rage – Cairo gives a great idea of what is happening.

Of course back in London there have been various demonstrations of solidarity with the Egyptians on the streets of Cairo calling for democracy and last Saturday I photographed two of them.  Egyptians have been demonstrating outside the embassy more or less non-stop, and had called a larger demonstration for noon on Saturday, and it was this that I went to photograph, arriving around 11.45.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Women on South St – but the men were on South Audley St

Rather to my surprise, when I arrived at the Embassy I could hear another demonstration taking place out of sight in the next street – all I could see from in front of the Embassy were a few women in Muslim dress, standing around and doing nothing. I walked the 70 or so yards to the corner and looked down the street to find the pavement on the opposite side filled by people from Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain.  I wasn’t that surprised as I had been expecting to see them later for a protest at the Hilton Hotel over Bangladesh.  They were there not to express solidarity with the people on the streets in Cairo who are calling for a democratic and secular Egypt, but to urge that the solution to the problem there – as everywhere else – is a Muslim Khalifah.

In Cairo, men and women protest together, and Muslims and Christian, and none of them want the kind of Islamic state than Hizb ut-Tahrir stands for. The Egyptian revolution isn’t an Islamic one but a secular protest, and the Egyptian protesters at the Embassy told me they had made that clear to Hizb ut-Tahrir, and were not prepared to have them join their protest outside the Embassy. (Much later in the day they made a similar point telling members of the Socialist Workers Party that they were not welcome either.)

I knew that Hizb ut-Tahrir would not like the report that I wrote about  what happened, but it was an honest and accurate account of what I saw and what I was told. Within an hour or so of posting it on Demotix there was a hostile comment which appeared to have been written by someone who was not there, attacking me. So I almost certainly got it right. You can read about the event and see the pictures at Hizb ut-Tahrir Turned Away on My London Diary.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

While I was photographing Hizb ut-Tahrir, the protest outside the Egyptian Embassy was growing and it had well over a hundred people present when I had to leave to cover another event, with more still turning up.

It had a very different atmosphere from the other event, with those present taking a more active role and everyone being offered the chance to speak. There wasn’t a set party line and the people were much more mixed in every way, not least with men and women both actively participating and standing together.  Apart from the Egyptians, others had also come to show their support.

You can see more of this story at Solidarity with the Egyptian Revolution on My London Diary. Interestingly, although both stories were posted at about the same time and I noted both on Facebook and Twitter together, and the Solidarity feature certainly has the better pictures,  the Hizb ut Tahrir story has attracted almost six times as many views. A little controversy perhaps helps.

While writing this I heard that four photographers who also contribute to Demotix are among those who have been attacked in Cairo in the last 24 hours. Two were beaten and arrested but later released, and another was rescued by the vigilantes he had been photographing, while the fourth managed to escape after being attacked.