Archive for March, 2011

Prince Loses Case

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I almost put down the mouse and clapped when I read on A Photo Editor the post Richard Prince Loses Fair Use Argument and I think all photographers should drink a toast to US District Judge Deborah A. Batts for her ruling on the case.

It’s dealt with so well on A Photo Editor that there really is not a great deal for me to add other than my applause, which also goes to its author  Rob Haggart, and to some of those who have commented on the post, who include another photographer whose work was ripped off by Prince.

But what I think reflects so badly on the wider photography and art community is that the work of Richard Prince has ever been given any credence. That any gallery has ever exhibited or sold it. That magazines with a high reputation in the photographic world have published it. That idiots have bought it (or perhaps I should say invested in it.)

As for the $18 million that people seemed to have paid for it, frankly it beggars belief.  But I think I made my own views about Mr Prince and his work clear several years ago in A genuine Richard Prince photograph? though then I was rather too kind towards him.

I imagine Prince and Gagosian, his gallery, will appeal, and if so I very much hope the decision will be upheld, not because of any particular animosity towards those concerned but because of what the whole case implies about the status of photography, and of documentary photography in particular as their case asserted that Patrick Cariou’s photographs “are mere compilations of facts concerning Rastafarians and the Jamaican landscape, arranged with minimum creativity in a manner typical of their genre, and that the Photos are therefore not protectable as a matter of law.” Of course legally it is  nonsense (and I think a nonsense settled in courts in the nineteenth century when copyright protection was extended to photographs) but as QT Luong points out in a comment to the piece, it is a widespread if “particularly arrogant and insulting expression of how the art world views “documentary” photography.

Given there is very little justice in this world whichever way it goes they will still both be laughing all the way to the bank.  Even the maximum statutory damages if awarded would only make a minor dent in their profits and the publicity from the settlement would probably increase the value of the works they still hold by a greater amount.

Perhaps the only thing that could truly dent the party a little is if they Emperor’s new clothes were to be widely seen for what they are.

About Turn on Stop and Search

Friday, March 18th, 2011

I learn from the British Journal of Photography that Home Secretary Theresa May has brought back the police powers of stop and search, which the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) threw out in their ruling last June – and with a vengeance.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Photographers celebrate the end of Section 44 at New Scotland Yard, July 2010

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 became infamous because of its use by police to harass photographers and journalists going about their legitimate business in reporting protest.  The new section 47A, brought in under the “The Terrorism Act 2000 (Remedial) Order 2011,  replaces  the discredited sections 44-46 and not only allows the same abuses of power by police but removes the need for police to gain prior permission from the Home Office to employ them. Now any “senior police officer” – an assistant chief constable or above – can decide these powers are necessary and put them in place, with no requirement to gain any permission, only a requirement to inform the Home Office that this has been done “as soon as reasonably practicable.” In fact it will only be necessary to do so if the powers are to remain in action for more than 48 hours, and it seems it might be possible simply to repeat the order at 48 hour intervals to keep it in force without event letting the Home Office know.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Photographers protest against police harassment and Section 44, Jan 2010

Prior to the ECHR ruling, some photographers faced ridiculous obstacles in carrying out their work. One was stopped and searched three times in one morning covering a protest, another I think well over a hundred times in one year. So far as I am aware there has been not a single case in which any of the thousands of searches of photographers carrying UK Press cards has ever yielded any  evidence relating to the reason used to justify them.

The authorisation of stop and search in a particular area is only justified if the officer doing so “reasonably suspects that an act of terrorism will take place; and considers that the authorisation is necessary to prevent such an act.” But as before, the main use that will be made of them will be in circumstances where terrorism – as this term is normally understood – is not in any way at issue.

The Orwellian-named “Protection of Freedoms Bill” once it becomes law will replace this temporary legislation, probably with some equally draconian abuse of our rights, nodded through by our political machine, though possibly with a little coughing against it by the peers. The reason for this hasty emergency measure is obvious. March 26 promises to see one of the largest demonstrations ever in London, against the government’s cuts.

Photographers can expect a further round of harassment from police, which comes as a particular disappointment as following the demise of Section 44 and other events over the past year or so there has generally been some improvement. Since the obvious mishandling of the student demonstrations in November and December there does also seem to have been an attempt by police to improve both tactics and communication with protesters too. But this Order suggests that their political masters at least want them to play a tougher game.


Hughes Leglise-Bataille (1968-2011)

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Photojournalist Hughes Léglise-Bataille along with six others, including his wife and sister-in-law were killed when the van in which they were travelling in Brazil was involved in a head-on collision with a lorry.

I first heard of Hughes Léglise-Bataille when his pictures of Demonstrations in Paris won the first prize for News Blogs in the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism contest in 2007 for a dramatic silhouette of a protesters on the fence in front of a floodlit Assemblée Nationale. It was just one of 30 pictures in a set still on Flickr taken at a series of demonstrations against a new French employment law in March/April 2006.

I remember later reading a feature which mentioned his decision to abandon investment banking (a career for 13 years in Sao Paulo and New York) and become a professional photojournalist. From October 2009 worked for the French Agency Wostok Press, where you can see more of his work, including a set of recent pictures from Tahrir Square.

He continued to contribute his pictures to Flickr and to take an active part in discussions of the ‘Hard Core Street Photography‘ Group, where he was also known simply as ‘Hugo’.

You can see more of his work on his Photoshelter site, which features some fine photojournalistic images as well as some of his street photography, which I find of rather less interest.

Mothers March

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

The Mothers March For Everyone’s Survival & Welfare which called for an end to cuts, poverty and discrimination was the final event I photographed around International Women’s Day this year, and the one that I enjoyed most. Not because it was the most radical or the event that to me most reflected the spirit and history of International Women’s Day – though it was. Not because of the diversity of those taking part and the individual nature of all the placards – hardly two the same – and banners, although this does perhaps make photography easier.

It was certainly the most friendly and welcoming of the three IWD related events I covered this year, and one that involved women, children and men working together, although it was an event organised by women’s organisations.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

But perhaps most importantly, although it was organised it had a feeling or freedom and a little chaos that I think is truly liberating.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Of course there were plenty of serious political issues around – and some, such as rape and asylum issues that women on the march have experienced first-hand, but I rather liked the placard that said ‘Don’t take the fun out of being a mum’ and there are serious issues behind this as well. Another placard stated ‘Mothers Want to Care. Only 6% want full time jobs’ and there were others around the same issue. Caring really is central to any civilised society and another said ‘Invest in caring not killing! Good for Mothers Good for Soldiers.’

© 2011, Peter Marshall

For once there were no real photographic problems, except a little carelessness on my part that led to me working for some time with the D300 set on ISO 1600 – but that isn’t a great problem so long as you get the exposure correct. The light was good,  there were few police around, just a few friendly stewards,  and even my foot with which I’ve had problems for some months had shifted down a notch or two from agony towards discomfort. And for once it was a dry day too. More pictures and text at Mothers March for Survival on My London Diary.

I was sorry to have to rush away and catch a bus after the march reached SOAS, as I would have liked to hear the address by Selma James (on International Womens Day) and the report from Winconsin, but there was another protest I wanted to photograph.

Free Tibet

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

 © 2011, Peter Marshall

The first event I photographed last Saturday was the annual Free Tibet March, held every year in London around the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising.  I can’t remember when I first attended this, certainly in the older thematic index for My London Diary (covering 1999-2007)  I find these entries:

and in the newer month by month index, I was there in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

So certainly since 2000, possibly the first year I photographed it, the only year I’ve missed is 2004.

So the main problem for me is trying to take pictures without just repeating myself from earlier years, and if possible to do something better. Of course it is different each year – different people taking part and to some extent different activities, but the number of people wearing Tibetan colours, yellow, blue and red and carrying or wearing Free Tibetan flags does make for a certain visual uniformity.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

This was one picture where I just missed, by having the wrong camera in my hand when it happened. I was using the D300 and the wide end of the 18-105mm just wasn’t wide enough – it would have been a better picture with the dog’s rear feet visible, but there wasn’t time to pick up the D700 with the 16-35mm attached.

I could have gone in to Downing Street with the group that was delivering a letter, but I find that kind of thing too boring – and will only do it if I’m getting paid for that very purpose – which doesn’t happen often. Photographers normally get penned on the opposite site of the road from that well-known black door, and it’s a long lens job with little chance to get different pictures.

Before the group went through the security gates with the letter they posed for pictures, and I took one, though it isn’t great:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I was a little to one side and it was hard to get everyone’s face in the picture and I ended up with a rather diverse set of expressions, which was one thing that made it slightly more interesting to me than many set up pictures of people holding a letter. The other thing that lifts it a little is the back lighting. But while I quite liked this, the handful of other photographers photographing the group saw it as a problem, and got the group to turn around 180 degrees and photographed them in rather flat frontal sunlight. I did take one but it was too boring to keep.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Had I been the photographer working for the organisation, I would have done it differently in any case, perhaps getting the group together in front of the march rather than by that  rather bland wall. I’d taken a few as they were getting ready to present the letter – like this one, but it was a shame that no one was actually holding the letter in them.

While the deputation and most of the photographers where inside Downing Street I was able to work with rather fewer others getting in picture as I photographed the crowd who were getting on with making their protest known. One of the pictures I took is at the top of this post, but perhaps that below is my favourite:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

You can read more about the event – which I left at Downing St although it was continuing through London to a rally at the Chinese embassy – and see more pictures on My London Diary.


Monday, March 14th, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall

The marchers gathered for a rally outside the Royal London Hospital at Whitechapel as it was getting dark, and as they listened to the speeches I was able to take pictures both with and without flash. Usually I work with two cameras, the Nikon D700 and the D300, but only take one SB800  flash – I just find it too difficult to handle two cameras both with flash mounted on them.  Working with two on straps around my neck is tricky enough, and I sometimes find I have them tied in knots and have to stop and untangle them before I can carry on.

Now we can work at high ISO and get good results, the main advantages of flash in this kind of situation is really in colour.  Street lighting is usually a pretty discontinuous spectrum, particularly where orange sodium lighting is still in use, and adding a little daylight with the flash always makes people look healthier.

At first I mainly worked with the flash on the D300 as I wanted to use it with the longer focal lengths of the 18-105 zoom (27-155eq) where camera shake would have been a problem without it. With the wideangle 16-35mm on the D700 you can certainly work at slower speeds and keep static subjects sharp (though you can’t rely on people to stay still.) I had the vibration reduction switched on, though I’ve still to be convinced it makes any difference, but it doesn’t do any harm.

I started working with the flash in balanced flash mode (TTL/BL) which balances the flash with the ambient light, using what I now regard as the moderate ISO 1250, and setting a minimum shutter speed of 1/30s. Later as it got darker I switched to standard TTL flash, but kept the shutter speed at 1/30s while remembering to set aperture priority so I could work at f5.6. With the wide angle there is seldom any need to stop down more than this, though in P mode Nikon selects f8 at ISO 1250. The extra stop at f5.6 does give better results in decent street lighting, though in some of the darker areas the march later went through I should have set a higher ISO but forgot.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

1/30s is an interesting speed with people marching and me walking backwards when taking pictures. Without the flash there would be at least a slight blur, but the flash provides a sharp image of people near to the camera. The effect isn’t exactly predictable – and in the top picture where I was very close to the woman with the placard (the lens was at 24mm) I was actually stumbling slightly when I took the picture, which gives the exaggerated blur in the background.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

In this picture I was moving the zoom ring and again the flash gives a sharp image which predominates for the close objects. It wasn’t done deliberately, just part of working in a hurry,  but I rather like the effect it gives.

Working with flash does often involve quite a lot of work in Lightroom.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Image ‘as taken’ – from embedded preview

© 2011, Peter Marshall
After processing in Lightroom

The line of people on the balcony outside the RBS in Aldgate are at rather different distance from the flash. I was using the lens at 16mm (1/30 f6.3 ISO 1250) and with the flash diffuser in place the SB800 gives fairly even coverage, which was a slight pity as I could have done with less on the woman at the right of frame.  Often I try and angle the flash a bit away from close subject matter on one side like this, and I think I probably did on this occasion.

There is an obvious difference in the colour temperature and you can see that all the figures close to the flash have been darkened while those further from it – and lit mainly by the street lighting – have been made lighter.  The processed image is a much better representation of how it actually looked.

You can read more about the rally and march and what the plans will mean for the NHS in Day X Defend the NHS on My London Diary where there is a large set of pictures, mainly taken with flash.

30 For 2011

Friday, March 11th, 2011

It’s always interesting to look at PDN’s annual ‘Top 30‘ choice of ‘New and Emerging Photographers to Watch‘, and interesting too to look at them a few years later, by which time a few will have become well-known and others we will have heard no more of.

This years batch include rather more than in previous years that I haven’t heard of before, and perhaps includes rather fewer photographers than usual who I think we will hear of in later years.  The choices come from nominations by a fairly long list of people,  (including few who I know and slightly fewer whose opinion I respect) which I think have – as you might expect from PDN – a strong US and in particular New York bias.

You can read what is at times an interesting discussion of the ‘Top 30’ on the A Photo Editor blog, though I’m not sure that I see many of those selected as “artsy, young award-winning, British hipster-ish types of shooters” and there is rather too much attacking people who make comments rather than reading what they are saying.


Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, and over the past few years this has become celebrated across London by a number of pancake races. Elsewhere in the country there a a few places with a long tradition, but the London events all have a relatively short tradition.

I’ve photographed most of them in past years, and I probably would not have bothered to go again this year had I not also been in Central London for another event. Had the women’s march by the Thames on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day held my attention more I would not have walked up from the north end of the Millennium Bridge to London’s ancient (though much restored) Guildhall for the pancake races there.

These have a certain interest because of the curious mix of ancient and modern, something not unusual in the City. The teams taking part are from the City’s Livery Companies, some of them founded as medieval guilds, but others recent formations in areas such as information technology.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Behind its gloss of tradition and formality the City is of course highly competitive, and the races sometimes demonstrate this. There are too the kind of rules of etiquette one might expect, with points penalaties for failing to wear an apron or gloves, losing ones hat and more. It has a strict dress code for the ladies races, where skirts must be worn and must come below the knee.

But perhaps what stands out most is the fancy dress section, and the obvious glee that some of those present take in being ‘out of school’.

Photographically my equipment – the usual pair of Nikons, a D300 and a D700, the latter with the extremely bulky 16-35mm Nikon lens – was not perhaps the perfect choice for what is rather a choice location for some candid ‘street photography’. Creeping around the event were a number of other photographers equipped to a man (they all were) with Leica M9s (perhaps one or two with more primitive film models.)

But actually in this situation I think the D700 with its 16-35 was as good as anything. It was noisy enough for the shutter sound not to matter and the kind of situation where if anything you are less conspicuous standing there openly with a brace of Nikons than skulking and trying to hide the fact you have a Leica, and it is really just as fast to raise either camera to your eye and press the release. You are I think slightly more likely to get a correctly focussed and exposed result with the Nikon.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Here is one that I took that perhaps works, although it is perhaps a cliché of street photography, the kind of thing I usually find more annoying than interesting. What lifts this one for me is the woman at the back of the line, stretching up on tiptoes. I did take half a dozen other frames but none of the rest quite make it, though here is another that almost does.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

With a man in a giraffe costume, various crazy hats (including some traditional ones) and more there was plenty for the connoisseurs of the bizarre and surreal, but perhaps that was just too easy.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

More pictures on My London Diary shortly.

The Cruel Radiance

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

I haven’t yet read Susie Linfield’s The Cruel Radiance, Photography and Political Violence but I must, and the short excerpt available on American Suburb X makes me think I must find the time to do so.

I’ve long  said that the problem with most of the criticism of photography is that the people who write it don’t really look at the pictures and don’t have a real understanding of the medium – perhaps because relatively few of them have ever really become or tried to be photographers. In the excerpt, Linfield starts by reminding us that the great critics of other artistic media were truly in love with it and then writes “The great exception to this approach is photography criticism.” The paragraph ends ” It’s hard to resist the thought that a very large number of photography critics—including the most influential ones—don’t really like photographs, or the act of looking at them, at all.”

She then goes on to suggest why this is and how it exhibits itself in the work of Susan SontagRoland Barthes, John Berger (who she describes as “the most morally cogent and emotionally perceptive critic that photography has produced“), and several others who feature highly on photography course reading lists.

The excerpt ends with her comparing the work of movie critic Pauline Kael, truly smitten with her medium and producing great insights with “the postmoderns’ obsession with victimization, their refusal of freedom, their congenital crabbiness” and asks  why photography critics have rejected the “quest for the synthesis of thought and feeling—and the essentially comradely, or at least open, approach to art that it suggests” which “was the central project for generations of critics, especially American critics in the twentieth century.”

It is a good question and exceptionally well put, and I look forward to reading her answer to it and her thoughts about photojournalism and particularly the photography of violent events that this work addresses. The publisher’s text on their web site end:

A bracing and unsettling book, The Cruel Radiance convincingly demonstrates that if we hope to alleviate political violence, we must first truly understand it—and to do that, we must begin to look.

Looking, and looking critically,  at the images should surely be the start of all photographic criticism and should be at the basis of all photographic courses. And perhaps we should all ritually burn those scrawled-over copies of ‘On Photography.’

Claremont Revisited

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Times have changed. From when I was around 9 or 10, I was out on my bike most free days in the Summer, sometimes with my friends, but more often on my own (they weren’t as keen on going any distance) exploring the area around where I lived in the west of London. Mostly I would ride out into the countryside around, in Middlesex, Surrey and Berkshire. Often I’d ride around 30 or 40 miles, but occasionally I’d make sandwiches for a longer ride, perhaps up to 80 or 90.

These were the days before motorways (later we had just one, the M1, which came nowhere into my territory), but I often rode on the main routes, the A4 and A30 which ran through the area I lived, and the A3 a little to the south. They may have been full of traffic, but often they were the shortest route.

One of the places that I discovered on the A3, just past Esher, was an overgrown park called Claremont, with a large lake and hillsides covered with rhododendrons. It wasn’t too far away and I persuaded my friends to ride there with me, and we hid our bikes under some bushes just inside the entrance and spent hours chasing each other around through the dense undergrowth, playing Cowboys and Indians or whatever took our fancy.

Apparently the National Trust had owned the park since 1949, but didn’t have any money to tidy it up and left it to the local council to administer as public open space. It had once been famed for its gardens, said to be one of William Kent’s major works, but years later when the NT finally found some money and started work they found the picture was more complex, with several of the great gardeners, including Capability Brown having left their mark. So their restoration tried to keep something of all their work. You can see some of my pictures from a walk around the renovated park, my first visit for around 50 years, in A Day Out at Claremont on My London Diary.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Most of the rhododendrons and laurel that largely covered the park are gone

One remote link to my own family came through the man who was in charge during some years of the nineteenth century, a now largely forgotten Scottish born gardener called Charles McIntosh (or M’Intosh), one of the leading gardeners and garden writers of the age, who from 1829 to 1838 was the head gardener to the owner of Claremont, Prince Leopold, another of the Saxe-Coburgs who was married to the heir to the British throne, Princess Charlotte. In 1830 or so he was elected to be King of Belgium, and McIntosh looked after his garden in Belgium too. One of the visitors to Claremont who often talked to the head gardener was a Princess Victoria who later became Queen, Charlotte having died young. McIntosh’s obituaries write of him having made a number of improvements to the gardens at Claremont, and doubtless one aspect of the renovations has been the removal of these! Certainly there is  no mention now of his work at Claremont.

The A3 is now a much quieter road to travel on, thanks to the M3 taking most of its traffic, but in the unlikely event of any ten year old being allowed to cycle far from home, they would find Claremont closed unless they coughed up the NT entrance fee, and far less fun with most of the overgrown areas cleared, and certainly running around through the remaining parts frowned upon – there is a special play area with wooden forts and slides rather than the acre upon acre of undergrowth which we made our own country. Though he could of course go across the road a few yards to a common, but this does lack the feeling of a secret garden and the surprise of coming across the lake that I found at Claremont well over 50 years ago.