Archive for April, 2011

Woolwich Vaisakhi

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I think I would have been fairly pleased with the pictures I took on Saturday of the Vaisakhi celebrations in Woolwich if I hadn’t photographed similar events at half a dozen other Gurdwaras in previous years. Certainly I enjoyed my visit – and I wonder why so few people seem to venture inside their local Gurdwara when these events are taking place. Of course you can see the processions on the street, and certainly quite a few people other than those taking part do stop to watch the spectacle, but it is even more interesting to make your way inside. I’ve always been made to feel welcome.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

There were times during the prayers in particular where I felt the noise of my D700 in particular was too obtrusive (it has a sharper sound than the D300) and I stopped taking pictures, but otherwise I could photograph fairly freely. Of course in photographing any religious event you need to have a certain respect and to observe some of the practices – and it can be very difficult to know exactly what limits there are.  Inside the Gurdwara you need to cover your hair in an appropriate way – and there will be scarves provided if you don’t have one, and there will be at least some areas where you need to remove your shoes – and generally there will be notices to tell you and somewhere to leave them, although if possible I put mine inside my camera bag as I don’t then need to stop to pick them up on my way out and perhaps miss a chance to take pictures by doing so. This time my boots wouldn’t fit in my bag so I left them in the racks and it wasn’t a problem as things moved relatively slowly, partly because the Khalsa also stopped to change into trainers before going out of the Gurdwara rather than walking barefoot through the streets.

It helps to understand the reverence that the Sikhs have for their ‘eternal guru’, their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, which of course plays a vital part in these processions, where it is brought out and carried around the neighbourhood on a float.

The Gurdwara I was visiting had a number of generally helpful points in its ‘Visitor’s Guide’ on the web, one aimed at photographers: “Care must be exercised by photographers during service so that the Guru Granth Sahib is faced at all times.”

It’s something that needs a little interpretation in practice, but certainly you need to show a proper respect. It helped me that there were Sikhs videoing and photographing the event and I could at times work beside them when otherwise I might have been unsure about what was acceptable.

Fortunately the GUrdwara was fairly well lit, with large windows on both sides, although these did make for a few minor problems with exposure. Although I needed flash for a few pictures, to keep on using it throughout the proceedings would have seemed to me too obtrusive. I would have been better setting a higher ISO on the D300 which I was using with the 28-105, as quite a few pictures were lost through camera shake. For some reason I’m not sure of, I also seemed to be having some focussing problems with this camera – something I need to look into carefully later.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

To get really good pictures you need a little luck and the right geometry in terms of where you can stand in relation to things that are happening. I’ve often stressed the importance of standing in the right place to take pictures, but sometimes either there just isn’t a right place or if there is I can’t find it. Nothing quite came together for me on Saturday, either inside or outside the Gurdwara, although there are a few pictures I quite like – largely because of the people – nothing that really grabs my attention, and I think I’ve done better in earlier years.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

See more from this year’s Vaisakhi Celebrations in Woolwich. In 2009 I photographed Vaisakhi both in Hounslow  and Slough, and you can find work from earlier years either on the site search or index pages of My London Diary.

Paint & Photography

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Today I read a short article in a magazine that mentioned two former photographers who have turned their back on the medium and now work in paint. Not that there is anything wrong with that, although so many photographers – Henri Cartier Bresson certainly the most notable among them – who have done so have ended up being rather indifferent painters. And I can think of others who have shown paintings based on their reputation as photographers who have been considerably worse than Henri.

Equally we see shows of photographic work by painters or writers that are frankly embarrassing.  Even giants like Picasso never quite became a master of the camera, and people who have produced work of interest in both painting and photography are pretty rare – Charles Sheeler and Paul Nash come to mind – or find ways to use the photographic medium that in a way that is not really photographic in the normal sense – like Hockney‘s joiners. Of course some photographers had worked rather like him previously – its something most of us have done from time to time on a rather smaller scale, and some had done it rather more cleverly, but no one before him had done it as a famous artist!

May photographers have of course benefited from a training as artists that may well have involved them in painting and drawing, and it may even help them in their photographic work, but photography is really a very different medium and requires us to work in different ways.

I’ve not I think made a serious attempt to paint anything since my art classes in secondary school, though I have from time to time produced some seriously bad drawings which I have the sense not to show people.  I did spend several years making screen prints based on some of my photographs – and even sold a few of them – and while doing this I would often make quick sketches using paint, mainly to work out the colours I was going to use, and some of the people who saw these did suggest I should take up painting, but it never interested me.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
This is where I was hit by paint
© 2011, Peter Marshall
Most of which was aimed at the doors (here lit by a red flare)
© 2011, Peter Marshall
or the police

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself rather more intimately connected with paint than was either healthy or convenient, hit by a paintball, possibly aimed at the police while I was photographing them making an arrest outside Topshop on Oxford St.  Fortunately most of it soaked and washed off my shoes, jacket and trousers, and even almost all from the jumper that took the direct hit, but the shirt underneath had to go in the bin.  The D700 got rather a lot of paint on it, the D300 a little less, but both kept on working – and so did I for a couple more hours, though I took 20 minutes out to scrape and wipe off the worst.

Finally last Friday I managed to get the pictures that I took while covered with paint on to the web,  along with the rest of the work from the long day of the march:

I’ve now scraped most of the paint off the cameras themselves, though some of the rubber surfaces won’t clean off entirely. There is still paint I can’t easily get off the camera straps and camera bag.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
People do react to a paint-covered photographer

Since then all I’ve had thrown over me while taking pictures has been feathers and flower petals, neither of which leave a permanent stain.

Royal Wedding

Friday, April 8th, 2011

I’ve been busy for some weeks finishing off my book on Hull, or perhaps I should say my first book on Hull, as ‘Still Occupied: A view of Hull’ only covers my black and white work in that city from 1977-1985, and I continued to take pictures there at least occasionally until a few years ago.  Like the other books I’ve produced in the last year this is a Blurb publication, and I’m now waiting for the first copy to come back to me for the inevitable tweaks and corrections – so I’ll write more about it when it becomes available. You can already see a few of the pictures that will be in it on the web on the Urban Landscapes site.

The book has taken much longer than I expected, originally planned to come out in time for a group exhibition last autumn, which perhaps fortunately got cancelled.  It took so long largely because it was on film that now needs extensive retouching before it can be used to make prints. One of the two images on this page needed a couple of hours work and is still not perfect. But now it is on digital (and I’ve made a backup) I feel much happier about its future. Digital isn’t without its problems but film is truly an unstable medium. Good inkjet prints on fine paper will probably outlast both.

But I’ve recently been working with another photographer on his book of pictures of our last royal wedding, again an event that seemed to more or less paralyse the country into sycophantic fawning, that of Charles and Di. Down in central London where he was, people were sleeping on the streets and celebrating.

Up in Hull I came across a small shop in Church Street, in what was a fairly deserted area of town following the closure of the Victoria Dock, which was perhaps celebrating the event with something of the spirit one might expect from the city that kicked off the English Civil War in 1642 when Sir John Hotham refused entry to King CharlesI.

Royal Wedding Window Display

Later I recorded the normal window display of the same shop on several occasions – and here is one of them:

Normal Window Display

As you may guess, I didn’t get an invitation to this year’s wedding, although I have had several to demonstrations against it. Not that I have any real antipathy to the two people concerned – may their marriage have a rather better future than that previous one – but frankly the whole thing is of no interest to me.

I’m not entirely against royalty, though I do think we should have nationalised their assets – and the others stolen from the people by the rest of the aristocracy long ago.  Do it now and we could pay off those debts and avoid the cuts. Let’s have a monarch that rides bikes and lives in a council house. I might even photograph them then.

So I’m not sure what I’ll be doing on the big wedding day, but it certainly won’t be watching the wedding – after all none of their family came to mine. Perhaps like most of today I’ll be struggling with my next book.

Different Views

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Bromley isn’t a town I visit often, out on the south east fringes of London, although I have been there a number of times to take photographs, both when I was carrying out my extended project ‘The Buildings of London‘ – when few areas within the M25 escaped my attention completely – and, more recently working on the project on May Queens.

Bromley is in the centre of the London May Queen realms, and I had hoped to get a set of my pictures of May Queen events ready for the group show that I helped hang in Bromley Central Library this lunchtime, but the first three months of 2011 have been too crowded with protests for me to get seriously to work on that, and instead I’m showing half a dozen of my Paris 1988 pictures,  half the set I showed last year at the Juggler as my contribution to ‘Paris – New York – London’ and less than a tenth of the pictures in my Blurb book Paris 1988.

© 1988, Peter Marshall
Rue Piat, Belleville, Paris 20e, August 1988

It’s a pity, since quite a few pictures for the May Queens were actually taken in the park just a few yards from the library entrance, where, after a parade through the town by five May Queen realms from the surrounding area – West Wickham, Hayes, Hayes Common a, Shortlands and Bromley Common, together with the London May Queen and her retinue, several of the local May Queens are crowned by the London May Queen in ceremonies that had their genesis around a hundred years ago.

© 2008, Peter Marshall
Bromley May Queen crowning in Church House Gardens

I’m still hoping to produce a book on this, having narrowly failed to get a major museum to put on a show a few years ago. It would be nice to get it out for this May, but I think we are perhaps in for a spring of discontent that will keep me too busy, and I have a very important engagement out of London that will keep me from this year’s major event at Hayes.

The show continues at Bromley Central Library until Tuesday 19 April and is open during normal library hours. We are having a fairly informal opening next Wednesday – 13 April – from 6.30-8.30pm and everyone is invited to came and have a drink, see the work and meet most of the 8 photographers.

Although I’m not showing work on protests, there are some black and pictures from recent London events taken by Sam Tanner. Around the corner from them are some very different, almost abstract, images from a derelict fort by David Malarkey.

The group is formed of members of London Independent Photography who attend regular monthly group meetings to show and discuss their latest work. One of a number of LIP groups, this one used to meet in Twickenham, fairly close to my home, but has since moved away, first to Thornton Heath and is now in West Wickham, and I’m now rather an irregular visitor.

Bankers Prize

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

I arrived at Baker St a little early for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize (DBPP) exhibition opening last night – held for this year only at at Ambika P3, in an area that looks like a disused engineering lab in the basement of the University of Westminster – while the Photographers Gallery is rebuilt.  It remains on show until 1 May 2011 and the award will be announced on Tuesday 26 April 2011. After the London showing it will go to Berlin and Frankfurt.

So rather than hang around outside, I took a little walk around the area. Paddington St was where I first took a portfolio of prints to show a gallery owner many years ago. He spent perhaps half an hour looking through the small pile of work I had taken, enthusing about some of the pictures, looking through it again and again, before finally saying to me that he would love to show it, but it wouldn’t sell and he simply could not afford it. And in Chiltern Street I could look in the windows of the various closed galleries and shops, including the Atlas Gallery, showing the work of Herbert Ponting (although its web site doesn’t appear to mention this at the moment.)

But in general it’s a street full of what I regard as totally inessential shops, but also one which curiously seemed almost identical to most of the work on display for the DBPP when I finally arrived there. In what I think was an upmarket florists there was an impressive paper sculpture which came back to my mind when looking at the single over-large photograph of his work by paper sculptor Thomas Demand in the show, while many of the windows included advertising imagery that reminded me of the work of Roe Ethridge and Elad Lassry, although it was perhaps on average somewhat slicker.

Despite most of the rather empty wall space (and some empty of ideas even if there were pictures on it), the opening was an enjoyable evening, meeting a number of old friends and talking about many things, while drinking a few glasses of white wine. But there was really very little of photographic interest. If I felt for a moment that this represented the work that had “made the most significant contribution to photography in Europe, between 1 October 2009 and 30 September 2010” I would sell the cameras and take up fretwork.

It was very noticeable on the night that the only work that attracted any real interest on the wall from the large crowd was that by Jim Goldberg. His is the only photography of any significance in the show, although I think his approach in ‘Open See’ often defeats the object of his enterprise, making him more a scrapbook compiler than a photographer. As I’ve written before it is work that is very much better in the book Open See than on the exhibition wall. I was disappointed that some of what I feel are the best images from the 147 on the Magnum site from this long-term project which

“follows refugee and immigrant populations traveling from war-torn, economically devastated and often AIDS-ravaged countries to make new homes in Europe. Goldberg spent four years documenting the stories of Greek refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Congo, Ukraine, Albania, Russia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Sudan, Kenya, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Palestine and Moldavia.”

His is the only photography of any significance in the show, and certainly the only project which would be worth supporting with the £30,000 prize money. But prizes such as this are always awarded more on grounds of fashion and art politics rather than merit. They create public interest in the medium while at the same time degrading it, and do nothing to stimulate really new creative work – for which the money would be much better spent on perhaps 5 or 10 smaller bursaries for emerging photographers or new projects.

Demand, as  I’ve said and he has said, isn’t a photographer, but a sculptor who makes sculptural constructions to be preserved as photographs, with the sculpture then being destroyed.

As I also noted in Deutsche Börse Ditto when the short list was announced,

It would indeed be good to have a major prize for photography in the UK, and to have a major gallery that supports photography as well as eating a large portion of the public photography budget.

This comment that came even more firmly to my mind as I stood looking at this show and thinking of the tragically misguided decision of Arts Council England to cut funding to Side. If you’ve not signed the petition yet, please do.

The Queen’s Terrace Café

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Fifteen years ago, I joined a now defunct organisation called London Arts Café, a charity which had been set up with the aim of running a café that also acted as a nucleus for the promotion of urban art in general, and art about London in particular. One of oddities of this registered charitable company – of which I later became a director – was that it never quite managed to open a café, although it did produce a whole series of exhibitions, a fairly regular publication, Art & Cities, and a series of interesting visits, workshops and other events, many of which were recorded on My London Diary.

One of the highlights of many of these events was the fine food provided by the founder of the London Arts Café, Mireille Galinou, for example at this picnic at Trinity Buoy Wharf, an arts centre opposite the Millenium Dome. It was never quite the same after she gave up her position both running the organisation and catering for it.

© 2002, Peter Marshall

More recently, Mireille has produced an excellent book on St John’s Wood, Cottages and Villas: The Birth of the Garden Suburb, published last year by Yale University Press (ISBN-10: 9780300167269) and it is in St John’s Wood that she has finally realised her ambition of opening a cultural café, The Queen’s Terrace Café, just two minutes walk from St John’s Wood station, at 7 Queen’s Terrace NW8 6DX, and a few yards down Queen’s Terrace from Queen’s Grove.

The Queen in question was of course Victoria, and the café is the ground floor of a former historic pub in a rather splendid terrace built by James Sharp in 1847 (perhaps looking a little too much like a heavily decorated cake for my taste.) Pevsner‘s London 3: NorthWest mentions the fine plaque on the wall naming it as the ‘Knights St. Johns Tavern’ (as well as the nearby monstrous Eyre Court in Wellington Road.)

© 2011, Peter Marshall

The café is open to the public from today –  Monday 4 April 2011 – and is open Monday to Saturday 9.00 – 18.00. I was fortunate to have a preview yesterday, and to enjoy a fine salad followed by some excellent cheeses and coffee for lunch, as well as viewing an excellent group of four large paintings by Mark Cazalet, his Four Quartets, inspired by the poem of T S Elliot, but using urban motifs from London, including  Regents Park, the Thames at Hungerford Bridge and Westway. There were also five smaller works by him on display.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

As well as aiming to offer good food at affordable prices and a great atmosphere, the café will be arranging a series of events – exhibtions, guided walks, studio visits, workshops, talks and demonstrations aimed at encouraging local residents to discover more about the area in which they live, and its ‘historian in residence’ will offer advice to anyone interested in researching the history of their house or street.

The lighting there was rather nice, with the front wall covered by tall windows which have been white-washed to above head height, and I took a few pictures of the interior. It is a nice space for displaying large works like the group of four in the current show.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

© 2011, Peter Marshall

© 2011, Peter Marshall

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I just wish St John’s Wood was rather handier for me, but it isn’t really my kind of area and I seldom go there. But perhaps I will find my way there rather more often now.

March 26 South London

Friday, April 1st, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Although there were no real problems photographing the ‘Armed Wing of the TUC’, and certainly no hassles with military security, it wasn’t too easy to get good pictures. One problem was that tall banner stating ‘Capitalism Isn’t Working’, great on its own but so good at hiding the five horses behind it, breaking the whole parade along the street very much into two parts.

Of course I could photograph the horses separately, and I did, and there was a short period when the banner was lowered when it needed fixing and I had a few seconds to try and take a picture.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

After we reached Kennington Park, it took me a while to find anything to photograph, as very little was happening.  There was also the problem that while I like to photograph things as they are with a little chaos, perhaps like this:

© 2011, Peter Marshall

as soon as people saw me taking pictures they wanted to pose with their banner. So of course I take their picture doing so, though I’m unlikely to use it.  Things were a little easier once the speeches started as instead of standing around in small closed groups people turn round in the direction of the speakers, and if they are concentrating on what is being said take little notice of the photographers.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Again, once people actually start marching, photography becomes easier too, though I often find myself telling people not to stop, to keep walking while I take their picture.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

It was a dull day, and most of the time I had been mainly working without flash, although I needed it with a few pictures, mainly where otherwise faces would have been in deep shadow, as when people wear hats with large brims. As you can see, I chose to use it on the picture above, and some of the others on the march, really just to bring people out from the background a little, although often in post-processing I then have to burn them back down.

You can now see rather more of the pictures I took in Camberwell and Kennington last Saturday in  26March: Armed Wing of the TUC and 26March: South London Feeder March on My London Diary.

April 1 Winogrand

Friday, April 1st, 2011

On Joerg Colberg‘s Conscientious web site you can read all about the forthcoming publication of ‘The Complete Winogrand‘. Perhaps what really made me sure I was reading it on April 1 was the suggestion that he only took 300,000 pictures!

But elsewhere  on the web – or if you take a trip to the Quad Gallery at Derby before May 8 – you can really see some of Winogrand’s colour street photography. I first came across these on Facebook, but I think it’s better to look at them on Nick Turpin’s sevensevennine blog,  where they are accompanied by the answer given to Turpin by Joel Meyerowitz about Winogrand’s attitude to colour (the pictures are from Meyorwitz’s personal collection.) In essence I think Meyerowitz suggests that it was the problems at the time over colour printing that led to him not making a great deal of this work, although he happily showed slide presentations of it.

It is an interesting set of 20 images that clearly relate to the concerns of his black and white work, and I think – though I’ve not tried it – that several of them would probably be better pictures in black and white, while others clearly need and use colour.  There are two of his colour images, dated ca 1963, in Bystander, but I think neither is a particularly good example of his work.

Looking at his newly published colour pictures, perhaps the first thing that hits me is how poor the colour is, that faded filmic look (which I know some love.) For me it is a barrier that I have to get over to see some of these pictures, though there are one or two it suits rather well. I’m not sure why they are like this, but if it reflects the prints that he had made back then I think he was generally right to stick to black and white.