Archive for May, 2011

Red Hands for Uribe Vélez

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

If you are a Colombian, what you think of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010, may depend very much on how his policies affected you personally.  Many, particularly among the middle class and wealthy extremes of Colombian society have prospered from his polices, while more than 2.5 million poor farmers and others have lost their land, and around 1,400 indigenous people and more than 500 trade unionists have been murdered by paramilitary groups and others encouraged by his government.

For those taking part in this protest, there were no doubts. Uribe was a murderer, a man with blood on his hands, and halfway through the protest, many of them covered their hands in red paint as a symbol of this.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I tried hard, but somehow I wasn’t quite happy with any of the pictures I had taken to show this. Everything was just a little too disorganised, and the few closer images also lacked any real impact, just losing the connection with the event.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Perhaps this was the best of the tighter images, but the fairly low (and very uneven) light doesn’t help, and I would have liked the skulls at left to be sharper.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I tried getting close to a hand and using it out of focus in the foreground, and although it isn’t a bad image, it didn’t really stand out. My favourite picture with the red hands – and there are rather a lot to chose from in Picket Against Former Colombian President is probably one of the several young girls at the event, but it really is just a picture of her with a recorder and a red hand, and doesn’t for me fit the mood of the event.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Or perhaps this one below, again more of a portrait, but the pattern of hands intrigued me, including one on the sign at right.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Again the mood of the image perhaps doesn’t really fit the demonstration, and you can see very clearly the lighting problems, with shadow and bright sun. Fortunately working with RAW format it was possible to keep the white vest of the woman at right in bright sun while also keeping the shadow tones at a reasonable level, although quite extensive use of Lightroom’s local dodging and burning and highlight control was needed.  While taking the picture I was also thinking that ‘main’ (at right) means hand in French. Just a pity they speak Spanish in Colombia.

When I posted my pictures with some text on Demotix, I wasn’t at all surprised to see a comment quickly added by someone who appears to be a Colombian, praising Uribe as the best President Colombia ever had and labelling all those who oppose him as supporters of the FARC guerillas. This isn’t of course true; some at least of those present are simply human rights activists. Even if Uribe did ‘make the trains run on time’ for Colombia, that can’t justify the means.

Spanish Camp in London

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I don’t usually have language problems when photographing in London, but on 21 May opposite the Spanish Embassy everyone was speaking in Spanish, and it was at times hard to know what was going on. Of course most of the young Spaniards who were taking part in the ‘Spanish Revolution’ camp in London were living and working in Britain, and most actually replied to me in English when I spoke to them, which was just as well as I’ve never learnt any Spanish at all.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

This was one of the few banners and posters in English, most – as you might expect for an event very much focussed on what was taking place back in Spain – were in Spanish.

But while I was there in the evening (I’d  gone first at lunchtime when the people at the camp had said there would be some media present, but found there was very little happening, so came back again later)  I was able to photograph the putting up of a large banner reading ‘True Democracy’ between a tree and a Belisha Beacon.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

As you can see, the sun was very low, giving long and deep shadows, including my own, partly visible in this image on that pink blouse. But it also made the figures seem rather flat. Having taken a few images from the side with the banner reading correctly, I then decided to try working directly into the sun. Having seen the sun on the banner, my idea was to place the actual sun directly behind this. The banner was rather thin, and the sun just a bit too powerful even shining through it, but I went ahead and took a few pictures.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

As you can see, I decided to use the 10.5mm full-frame fisheye, and I wasn’t quite tall enough to get the sun in the centre of the ‘sun’ as I intended. I was holding the camera up above my head, so it was tricky to get the framing exactly as I wanted it, and this was the best of a number of attempts.  I also had in mind when I was taking it that I would do a little correction of the fisheye effect, but I abandoned that idea when I saw the result.  Partly because I hadn’t left quite enough space at the right of the image and it would have meant losing the T from ‘True’, but mainly because I liked the result as it was.

More at Spanish Revolution Camp in London. And as rather too often, I didn’t increase the ISO enough as the sun was going down, so lost too many images through camera shake and subject movement.

Syrians Ask for Support

Friday, May 27th, 2011

I found the Syrians holding a protest opposite Downing St when I arrived with the NHS marchers, and took out just a few minutes photographing them before continuing with the NHS protest, returning for another few minutes as this ended.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

One image I photographed was of a young woman, and I took it both as portrait format and landscape format. There are other slight differences, but I think in most respects I prefer the upright format which fits the subject and her gesture better.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

More at Syrians Ask For Support.

Finepix x100 – First Thoughts

Friday, May 27th, 2011

I’ve been living with the Fuji Finepix X100 for a couple of weeks now, and one of several reasons why I’ve been posting a little less frequently here has been trying to come to grips with it.

Although it’s manual, at only around 120 pages is a fraction of the weight of those for many other new cameras, it does share some of their impenetrability, but the real difference is that the FX100 is in some aspects a new concept. While with cameras like the Nikon D700, any Nikon user could pick it up and use it without even opening the 700 page tome – the camera certainly had some new features but was essentially the same as previous models – but the FX100 is breaking new ground.

But the FX100 is a deceptive camera. Pick it up, hold it and it looks and feels very much like one of my favourite all-time cameras, a classic Leica M or perhaps even more, the Minolta CLE, my own person favourite ‘Leica’ of all time.  It has the same solid feel, a similar layout, a great optical viewfinder. It looks and feels very much the digital camera Leica should have produced.

Of course it lacks one important feature of the Leicas – interchangeable lenses, but as someone who walked around for several years with an M2 and only a 35mm f1.4, perhaps I feel this is less important than some others. Of course since then I’ve become rather attached to shorter focal lengths, and would have preferred Fuji to have chosen 28mm rather than 35mm equivalent.

At f2, the lens is a stop slower too, in fact the same combination as on one of my earliest cameras, the Olympus 35SP on which I took my first published pictures.

The big difference, and something that is taking me a while to get my head round, is the hybrid viewfinder. For me this really comes into its own for close up work, enabling focus down to around four inches, and also in providing a review image in the viewfinder, so that you see exactly what you have taken without the usual peering on the camera back at an image hardly visible in bright sun.

But I am having problems getting my head around all the different possibilities of display and view, and occasionally have just found it impossible to get the camera to work in the mode I want it too. I’m not sure whether the fault is in my brain or in glitches in the firmware, but I am pretty convinced that Fuji need to come up with a firmware upgrade that sorts things out a little better.

The one big disappointment about the camera is that inexplicably Fuji have provided it without a filter thread. On the front of the lens is a useless front ring, which has to be unscrewed and replaced by the AR-X100 adapter ring before you can add filter and or lenshood. Hard to see why this ring was not a standard part of the camera. Also hard to see why when the ring is sold as separate item the lens hood is only available as a set with the ring. And triply hard to see why Fuji did not foresee that most owners of the camera would want these items, currently out of stock at most dealers.

I’ve not yet used the camera enough to write a sensible review – nor too have any of the people whose reviews I’ve read, although of course Digital Photography Review have their usual (and valuable) in-depth technical stuff, I find this never tells you much about how a camera might need your actual picture-making needs.

One thing that has impressed me is how quiet and unobtrusive this camera is – much like the Konica Hexar F (another fixed lens 35mm f2 model I loved.) My Hexar F, even though I saved £150 by buying it from New York, still cost me around £500, and I think that was around 15 years ago, so at £900 I think the FX100 is hardly overpriced.

The other good news is about image quality, which I’ve not yet fully explored, but seems to be more or less similar to that of the D300 and considerably better than the 4/3 competitors, noticeably so at ISO 800 and above.

More on this camera when I’ve really done some work with it.

Keep the NHS public

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall

It was surprisingly dark and gloomy on the Euston Road around 5pm when I arrived for the Islington march to ‘Keep the NHS Public’, which was gathering under the trees opposite University College Hospital. Although I know that digital cameras such as the Nikon D300 and particularly D700 that I use give great results at high ISO, I find I still have a great reluctance to push them into the regions that were off limits in the days of film.  Looking at the results I got, it seems obvious that I should have given myself at least a stop more to work with most of the time, and there were just too many that were not quite sharp enough, either because of slow shutter speeds or insufficient depth of field.

One of the first people I met there was a woman I’ve known for some years – and a former colleague of my wife – who embroiders her own placards for protests.  The health service affects us all, and there were a very wide range of people attending the protest along with many medical students and health professionals, and I hope my pictures reflect this.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I rather liked this woman who was walking around at the start of the march waving a red ‘Unite – the union’ flag, reminding me of a socialist realist poster, and took a number of pictures – several of them on My London Diary – though I don’t think any of them quite caught what I saw. I also took several pictures of  one of the organisers of the march, Janet Maiden, who works in the Haematology department at UCH, which I felt happier that they captured some of her energy – even if they weren’t always quite sharp.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Backgrounds are important too – and in the image above it is clearly to those who know London taken at UCH. More readily recognisable are perhaps these gates at Downing St, where a small group decided to sit down away from the main group.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

and even more so, the man on the column in this image.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Although I perhaps took better pictures with the slightly less well known but still fairly recognisable National Gallery and portico of St Martins in the Fields in the background, which you can see with the rest of the pictures on My London Diary in Keep The NHS Public.

Lebanon Bans Altneuland

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

I have to admit not having paid a great deal of attention to the 2011 World Press Photo before today.  I almost always go and see the show when it comes in London, and it is due at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall from 10 November – 29 November 2011.  But although I always find some work of interest, the overwhelming impression is always one of déjà vu. Yet more blood and though it is vital that photographers document such things and that they appear in newspapers, magazines, TV and on-line, I’m often uneasy about treating such images as aesthetic objects on oversize display on a gallery wall.

But there are always some images, some projects that stand out, and one that I will certainly be looking for in November is by Israeli photographer Amit Sha’al, brought to my (and the world’s) attention by being banned in Lebanon – with the result that the WPP show there closed early.

You can of course see his work in the winners gallery at World Press Photo – it took third place in the Arts & Entertainment stories category. I find it slightly annoying that in the larger slide-show view there I can’t find a way to read the captions, which I think are essential.

On Sha’al’s own web site, you get a little more of the story behind the project Altneuland which these images are a part of.  The idea came from the novel Altneuland, written in 1902 by Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian journalist who is widely regarded as one of the founders of modern political zionism and thus a father figure of the state of Israel, although he died in 1904.  In 1896 he published Der Judenstaat, a pamphlet advocating the restoration of a Jewish state in their historic homeland of Palestine, and the utopian novel Altneuland six years later set out the great advances this could acheive – for both Jews and Arabs – over the course of a generation, with two travellers revisiting the new state after a period of twenty years and noting the changes.

The English translation, published in the same year was entitled The Old New Land, a straightforward translation from the orginal German, but the Hebrew version of the book came out with the title ‘Tel-Aviv’, later adopted for a new city now Israel’s second largest.

Herzl’s vision of a Zionist state was very different to modern Israel. His vision was one of a nation where everyone (men and women) would have equal rights, where Hebrew would be one of many languages and Judaism one among other religions without special status. It was essentially of a humanist and mutualist state and he wrote: “It would be immoral if we would exclude anyone, whatever his origin, his descent, or his religion, from participating in our achievements.”

Sha’al collected black and white photos taken in Israel from 1926 to 1979and found the exact locations where the pictures were taken. He then photographed the pictures in these locations, holding the prints in his hand (resting on a tripod out of shot to keep it still) fitting them back exactly into their place in a wider scene. He writes on his web site:

The photos portray 3 different times: the old black and white photos, the present colored photos and the time that has passed between capturing both photos.

The third time mentioned is not a visual one, but a mental and emotional dimension, filled in by the knowledge we have of the dramatic changes that have occurred between the two times.

The pictures were on show in Lebanon for a week as a part of the WPP display there before anyone apparently noticed that Sha’al was an Israeli photographer and the Lebanese censors demanded that they be taken down as Lebanon and Israel are still “in a state of war.” To their credit  World Press Photo refused to comply with this ridiculous and unacceptable request, and instead closed the whole show ten days early.

Libya v Libya

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Last week I photographed a kind of composite demonstration opposite Downing St. Stop the War and CND had organised a demonstration to demand an end to the bombing of Libya, but what happened was rather more complicated.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Along with the regulars at Stop the War events, this protest, like the last one I photographed against the NATO bombing of Libya also attracted a number of Libyan supports of Gaddafi, complete with their green flags, headbands and scarves. This is of course a free country, and no reason at all why they shouldn’t turn up to demonstrate, but their presence is perhaps a little embarrassing as the official Stop the War policy appears to be that they do not support Gaddafi, and a video of their previous demonstration has a Libyan saying that Gaddafi must go.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

A few yards down the pavement was another small group around the banner of the  Workers Revolutionary Party Young Socialists, with their own megaphone and their own policy, essentially that they support Gaddafi as a liberator of his people and that the Libyan opposition movement is a bourgeois tool of imperialism which they back him in trying to smash.  At one point there was a fairly heated argument between them and one of the leading members of Stop the War, who made it clear that they were not welcome and should organise their own protests. The group did move a few yards further away after this, although later the police moved them back.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

A few minutes after the protest started, another small group, mainly Libyans, arrived bringing an amplifier and speakers in the back of a vehicle and started setting up their protest in opposition to the Stop the War, calling for a greater effort by the NATO forces to help them in their struggle to get rid of Gadaffi.

With the rest of the photographers I was going backwards and forwards between the groups, and so there was plenty to take photographs of. The Libyan opposition with their ‘freedom’ flags and a rather more animated approach were certainly the most photogenic of the groups, and I was pleased with a series of images as a very vociferous woman, shouting and pointing at the WRP-YS speaker, tried to push her way through the police line and was held back.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

© 2011, Peter Marshall
More from this series on My London Diary

After an hour or so, most of the Stop the War supporters left, simplifying the shouting match by leaving just the pro-Gaddafi Libyans at their end of the pitch and the Libyan opposition 50 yards away at the other (by this time the WRP-YS had given up and were just standing around their banner on the sidelines.) Eventually the Gaddafi supporters, perhaps overwhelmed by the greater power of the loudspeakers on the other side compared to their rather puny megaphone (curiously Stop the War had earlier been warned by the police and told they had to stop using a megaphone, but the police took no action against either group of Libyans)  decided to give up, and made off towards Parliament Square.

Photographically, apart from trying to cover the various groups at the same time, there were few problems, and for once nearly everything worked perfectly, and the biggest problem I had was in trying to edit down to a sensible number of images. There was just one small problem with the pictures taken on the D700, where a small spot of something or other – perhaps a little bit of spit from someone shouting – had made its home on the large front filter of the  16-35mm, giving a small diffused area near the top centre of every image. Often there was sky there, where it wasn’t a problem, but this also meant there was little or no sign of it when I looked at the images through the viewfinder or on the rear screen. You may still just be able to see a trace of it in some of the pictures on My London Diary where you can see rather more pictures and read more about the events in For and Against Libyan Bombing.

Life Through the Lens

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Smartpress are a US on-line printing company dedicated to producing a wide range of high quality prints flyers, postcards, booklets and more and they have a blog that describes itself as ‘Your #1 resource for graphic design, photography and print!’.

One of the regular features on it are interviews with leading commercially successful photographers and I found several of these interesting although I don’t always particularly like the work – which includes sports, wedding, travel and stock photography. One feature that I did find interesting that was linked from these is Hendra Lauw‘s  Sharing Space with the Dead, black and white pictures taken at Manila North Cemetery.

But what actually brought me to the Smartpress blog was an ‘infographic’ based on questions that they asked these photographers about photography which they invite people to share on their blogs, and I’m happy to do so:

Click to Enlarge Image
Online Printing
Via:Online Printing

Most of the advice is pretty sound, if obvious, but there are some things I find interesting here. Lynn Michelle says “Shoot anyone and everyone that you know, in the best and worst light that you can find” and I think that’s great advice for anyone wanting to be a portrait photographer or to photograph people. First because too many people think the only reason they don’t get on as portrait photographers is because they don’t have access to the famous – forget it and shoot “anyone and everyone that you know.” Second because I’ve always liked to use light that was “wrong” or difficult and many of the most interesting pictures come from doing so. And with digital you have nothing to lose and the huge advantage of seeing the results straight away.

And on the subject of digital, it was interesting to see an almost unanimous vote for digital rather than film. I can’t agree with Kerry Garrison that film is better for learning how to really use your camera – if anything it makes the learning process much slower and more painful – which is why before we had digital cameras I was using video cameras and Photoshop as teaching aids for people learning to shoot on film. And I certainly see little point in schools of photography teaching out of date craft skills except for historical interest (let’s all try wet plate!) But I do rather wonder what digital cameras Scott Kelby was using in the 1990s.

But the single thing that struck me most about the answers was the 90% for Lightroom against 10% for Photoshop. Regular readers of this blog will know it mirrors what I’ve been saying here for some time.

Wheelchair Protest

Friday, May 20th, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Perhaps what surprised me most about the ‘Hardest Hit‘ march on May 11 was how cheerful and friendly everyone was, despite the great deal of anger at the government cuts which hit the disabled hardest.  It isn’t just the cuts in public services, although those with disabilities are likely to depend more on these than the rest of the community, but a process of trying to decimate the number of people who can claim mobility and disability benefits that was started by the previous Labour government.

Most of us would agree that a policy of encouraging disabled people to work in ways that make use of their capabilities is a good idea, but the new policies while paying lip service to this actually fail to make any attempt to do so, and are just designed to get as many as possible off benefits, or at least onto lower scales of benefit.

Rather than proper and personalised assessments of people’s capability and attempts to find ways that people can be integrated into employment, successive governments have contracted a private company to carry out tests using a computer system that cannot properly take individuals into account. Those administering the tests often lack the essential skills to make a proper assessment and are allowed insufficient time to do so. The company, Atos,  has a financial incentive to carry out the tests on the cheap and to turn down benefit applicants.

Although the tests are unfair to all, they are particularly unfair to some classes of applicants, particularly those with intermittent problems – many of whom if they attend the test centre are by definition having a ‘good’ day rather than a typical one – and those with mental illnesses.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

As well as the disabled, there were many supported and carers taking part in the protest, which was one of the shortest marches I’ve ever photographed. It started a couple of hundred yards before Big Ben’s Clock Tower at one end of the Houses of Parliament and finished a couple of hundred yards after At Stephens tower at the other end, so a very large proportion of the pictures I took have these buildings in the background.

As always, the height of Big Ben is a problem – fine when people are holding placards above their heads – as above, but harder to use when people are sitting low down.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

More at Hardest Hit March Against Cuts.

Michael Ward (1929-2011)

Friday, May 20th, 2011

I don’t think I ever talked to Michael Ward, who started as a freelance in 1958 and worked as a photographer for the Sunday Times for around 30 years starting in 1965, but there are a few of his pictures I recognised when I read about him and his work.

Ward, who died last month, once calculated that he had covered 5,500 assignments over his career. In some respects he seems a rather typical British press photographer from an earlier age where things were rather less pressured, and, as Ian Jack notes in his obituary in The Guardian, Ward “wrote that he knew ‘as much or as little about the processes of photography as a decent amateur’.” Jack goes on to comment: “Technically, he knew he was far from accomplished. Aesthetically, he was never sure what separated a good picture from an indifferent one.”

Ward got his first picture published by borrowing a Rolleiflex from a friend, racing driver Stirling Moss, and taking pictures at the track while Moss was driving; one of them, a picture of Moss’s wife Kate, was published in Women’s Own.

You can examine a little of Ward’s photography on his website , where I think you get a very good idea of him from the stories he tells about some of the pictures and the people he photographed.  He met and photographed many people I would have liked to have met, though they are not always fine pictures, but occasionally he captures a great moment.

He also handled some difficult stories, in particular the Aberfan disaster, but some of his best pictures are those of children which you can see in his ‘Portfolio 6’, in particular one that stands out from the rest of the images on the site, of five young kids – three white and two black – posing with their bogie and a tricycle in front of a Gents Hairdressing Salon on a grim street in Manchester in 1969.  Although it is titled Racial Tension – Manchester they seem to be playing happily together and directing some large grins at the camera.  It’s a picture I’ll remember him for.

Ward wrote an autobiography which included more than 200 of his pictures, entitled ‘Mostly Women’  and it was published by Granta in June 2006, leading to a renewal of interest in his work and several more exhibitions.