Archive for September, 2011

Contemporary Russians

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Posted on Lensculture a couple of weeks ago are a set of images by 43 contemporary Russian photographers, or rather photographers from Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus. The feature has one image each selected by Lensculture’s Jim Casper from what he thought were the 43 most interesting of those whose work he saw at a week-long conference about contemporary Russian photography.

The conference, at which Jim and the other international reviewers looked at the work of 185 photographers in what must have been a very busy schedule – he looked at the work of 62 photographers in 20 minute portfolio reviews seems to be only the tip of the iceberg so far as photography there is concerned, as there were over 2400 who applied to take part, roughly 13 for every place available.

Of course it isn’t possible to say anything much about the photographers involved on the basis of a single image, but there are certainly some that made me want to see more – and Lensculture promises to let me do so in the future for some of them.

Lenses For Courses?

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

One of my favourite lenses over the past 18 months or so has been the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, rather a mouthful of a name, but a relatively compact lens for DX format cameras.  If you like to see detailed test results, you should go to, and they do make interesting reading in some respects.

No lens is perfect, but the faults in optical performance of this one – mainly some distortion and chromatic aberration – are largely easily and automatically corrected in software such as Lightroom, leaving you with images with some impressively good resolution. It’s a very good lens even wide open, and down a stop or so, truly excellent. Subjectively certainly the results are better than the previous Nikkors and Sigma lenses I’ve used covering similar focal lengths, some costing more than three times as much.  And perhaps even more importantly, autofocus is faster than the others.

But it is a ‘consumer’ lens and not a ‘professional’ one, and I’m someone who does tend to be rather hard on equipment.  Ten days ago, rushing along in a crowded street I collided with a rubbish bin. The UV filter on my Nikon 16-35 mm took it head on, the glass shattering to pieces. I was obviously worried about the lens itself (it cost almost six times as much as the 18-105), but it seems to be working perfectly – and now has a new UV filter. I’m thinking of taking out a standing order for these. Fortunately from Hong Kong they only cost around £3 rather than the £37.95 at my local camera shop. And you can also buy lens hoods for most Nikon lenses that are better made than the genuine article for a fraction of the cost.

It also rains fairly frequently in London, and the difference between consumer and professional lenses also shows.  Of course both get drops of rain on the UV filter, and I wipe it with a microfibre cloth before almost every exposure.  Lens hoods help a little, but are pretty ineffectual with wide angles. But while the 16-35 is pretty watertight and keeps on working in the rain, the 18-105 is very definitely not, and soon becomes unusable until I can dry it out.

While the 16-35 survived a major impact, the 18-105 has now jammed and is unusable. It happened while I was sitting on a train and reading a book with the camera on a strap around my neck. Perhaps I might have turned over a page hurriedly, but there were no other incidents that I noticed. The lens that had been working perfectly when I got on the train was jammed solid when I walked out of my station.

I’m left wondering what to do with the 18-105. I do have other lenses that will do most of what it did, though not quite as well. Most lens repairs that I’ve had done have cost around two thirds of the cost of the 18-105, so is it worth repairing? Should I simply buy a new 18-105, or get a larger and heavier pro lens?

At the moment the lens is sitting on my desk and will probably stay there for some time. Like many other Nikon users I’m waiting for Nikon to bring out the next round of DSLR cameras, replacements for the D700 and D300s. My D300 is definitely showing signs of age, and the shutter in particular is probably well past its design life, and as I noted in an earlier post, not working at its higher speeds. Will its replacement be a FX or a DX camera – or perhaps some other manufacturer than Nikon will come up with a smaller and lighter system that really delivers similar quality?

Gardens Show – Installation Views

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

© 2011, Peter Marshall
The larger print is 40″ wide. The screen by the door is by Jiro Osuga

My current show at the Queen’s Terrace Café in St John’s Wood is a novel venture for me in several ways. It isn’t the first time I’ve shown in a café, but it is the first time that a café has been revamped as an environment to match my work, with the main exhibition walls made into a kind of garden setting, with arches of trellis work and the various gardens in my pictures separated by painted ‘branches’ with leaves.

I’ve always in the past rather decried such things, preferring a classic white wall approach, along with prints on large white (or rather archival not quite white) mounts. I still remember the shock and distaste I felt at a Martin Parr show at the old Photographers Gallery many years ago which was cluttered with aqualungs and other shells and stuff and where the photographer turned up in Bermuda shorts.  Good photography I thought (and still rather feel) is belittled and marginalised by such gimmickry; it should be treated with a proper respect.

The colour of the screens on which most of the work is mounted is a green that is more or less café’s own colour, used on its leaflets and other promotions, and it seemed appropriate for a gardens project. I tried to get the book cover the same green, but using the RGB values I was given gives a purer and brighter colour, perhaps the result of printing  (as Blurb do) in sRGB colour rather than from AdobeRGB or as a spot Pantone colour.

The redesign of the gallery was by Jiro Osuga, whose also has a garden screen showing at the entrance to the café, and despite my misgivings I think it works well. It is after all a café rather than a gallery. The large prints in the show work well, and I think I was right to insist that given the way they were to be incorporated they should be shown without borders or frames. I would have been happy mounting the prints directly onto the walls, but the cafe insisted on them being mounted onto card or, for the larger prints, foamboard. It’s actually good to see the prints without glass.  As well as the spaces shown in these two views there is another small area of wall with five of my prints.

The prints are C-types, made on Fuji Crystal Archive paper at The Print Space, and I chose the Pearl finish (they call it matt) rather than gloss. I had intended to make the smaller prints (A3 and below) in the show myself as ink jet prints, but given the low cost of A3 prints there I decided it made sense for me to pay them to make these for me, and I was very happy with the results.

There was a curious slight difference in colour balance between my printer and computer screen and that of The Print Space, both colour managed systems. To get matching results I had to apply a small colour balance correction to the files in Photoshop, generally R+5 M+3 B-7 in Photoshop’s colour balance dialogue, and also very slightly lighten the files using a vale of around 1.03 for the mid-tone slider in the Levels dialogue.

If you go to to the Print Space, you can of course check your files on their colour calibrated systems – and if you do it quickly they don’t charge for this. The charge if you take a little longer isn’t steep either. You can also look at them in their non-calibrated systems you use to put them into their system, which seem to be reasonably close in colour. All their systems are Macs, which I find just slightly less easy to use as I’m used to working on a PC, but the colour should be the same.

Unless you need to check colour, it’s probably best not to go there, but to upload your files from home. You then get the prices immediately, and will know if you have made a mistake in your image sizing. You can still save postage by going to collect the prints from the lab – and sending the files in advance they are likely to be ready when you arrive to collect, which saves waiting. But the one print I did order on-line and have posted to me arrived the following morning.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
30″ and 36″ wide prints on the main display wall still look rather small

I calibrate my Eizo ColorEdge monitor using a Pantone i1 and print using either an Ilford generic profile for Ilford Gold Fibre or a printer specific profile produced by Chaudigital for their Da Vinci fine art paper (which is very similar if not identical to that sold as Innova and Permajet), which both give very similar results. I use Photoshop’s soft preview feature with the profile supplied by The Print Centre to preview my prints but I still have to fudge things a little to get accurate results. Colour management seems to almost work but not quite exactly.

The Submerged

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

I was hoping to write a proper review of Michelle Sank’s book and show ‘The Submerged‘, at Hotshoe Gallery until 29 September, but I just haven’t had the time to give it the attention it deserves.

The work came out of a three month residency at Aberystwyth, and by coincidence around 18 months ago I wrote in this blog:

Somehow Aberystwyth seems to me to be the last place a photographer would go for an interesting story…”

Then I was writing about a project by Chloe Dewe Mathews, Hasidic Jews on Holiday, which did provide a clue to a couple of Sank’s pictures in Submerged.  In that post I also provided a link to photolibrarywales, and another search on there, this time for Aberystwyth provided more clues.

Both show and book present Sank’s pictures without captions or any relevant text, other than a few details which Liz Wells is unable to avoid in her essay. Many of the pictures do seem to me to be rather like visual cryptic crossword clues, and for me that often gets rather in the way of seeing them as pictures.

The work on photolibrary Wales is by Keith Morris, and there are perhaps half a dozen of his pictures from the first thousand or so that I paged through, 96 at a time, that had a certain resonance with some of Sank’s pictures (as well as a portrait of Sank herself.)

The show is well printed, the book a very handsome volume with a number of fine images, but I think the sequencing on Sank’s web site shows the project better; the book at times seems simplistic (the final image the end of the pier) and at others perverse. The brighter and purer colours on the web also suit some of the images better (and makes sense of Well’s reference to a row of bright red garages which they are definitely not in the book), although the work on the page and the wall perhaps better expresses the Welsh rain and gloom.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, my last visit to the town was as a young child, on a village coach outing:

It wasn’t quite like the outing in one of Dylan Thomas’s short stories, but there were some similarities.  We did eventually get there, after quite a few stops on the way, and about all I can remember about the place was that it seemed cold, windy, wet and grey.

Having seen Sank’s vision I’m not sure if I would want to spend a holiday there, even if I did live in Birmingham.

Versus – Peruvian Collective

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Ten or so years ago I decided to write a series of articles on photography around the world, partly simply to get away from what I thought was an over-emphasis on photography in the USA in the histories and other accounts of photography, but also out of a genuine interest in work that was being produced in various countries, particularly those that appeared to have been little affected by what I saw as a kind of curatorial virus that seemed to my mind to have enfeebled photography over the past 20 or so years in much of Europe and the USA.

Rather than simply pick on countries randomly as I came on interesting work on the web, or rather as well as doing that, I decided to try and make a more systematic survey, and decided to start with photography in Central and South America. Since I was being systematic I decided to approach the countries of the region in alphabetical order, and thus started to find out all I could about photography in Argentina.

Although I was only writing relatively brief features, I also adopted a fairly systematic approach, or at least as far as possible. I began each country feature with what I could find about the early history of photography there, from its beginnings up to around the start of the twentieth century. Usually I wrote about interesting work by photographers from elsewhere who had visited the country, and  I tried to find and write about the photographers who had become accepted as the country’s most interesting in the twentieth century but were no longer living or working. In a final section I looked at contemporary photographers, making my own judgements on work that I could find on the web or in my library.

Occasionally I came across so much material that I needed to write several features on a country, and progress through the continent was slow. Of course I wasn’t trying to write a definitive work about each country, these were just introductory pieces, but much of the material they contained was little known outside the countries themselves – and in some cases even within it.

Alphabetically I got as far as Mexico, where I wrote four articles, including two on Manuel Alvarez Bravo, so I still had a few countries to cover. One of them was Peru, although I had written a lengthy six part feature on Peru’s greatest photographer, Martin Chambi (1891) which had also brought in the work of some other Peruvian photographers. Some day when have more time I’ll perhaps go back and bring some of these old pieces up to date and re-publish them, but for the moment they are no longer available on line.

All of which is a very long preamble to a web site I came across the other day, of a collective of three photographers who call themselves Versus, and there is interesting work there and elsewhere from all of them.

The web site doesn’t seem to have any information about them, although there is a group statement about their approach.  Gihan Tubbeh is a 26 year old Peruvian, and there is more about her on the 1000 words blog.

Musuk Nolte is roughly the same age and you can see some of his pictures on his VII Visonaires page, along with a picture of him and a link to his blog – im Spanish but there is very little text on it – mainly just titles and his pictures, and you can use Google translate.

Renzo Giraldo‘s web site has an English version with a picture of him and some information as well as his work as a photojournalist and personal projects. He was born in 1976 and so is the oldest of the three at around 35.

The Secret Is Out – Now On The Wall

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Finally my pictures for the show ‘Secret Gardens of St John’s Wood‘ are up on the wall and you can see it at The Queen’s Terrace Café in St John’s Wood from today until 5 Nov 2011. The café, at 7 Queen’s Terrace, London NW8 6DX (020 7449 2998), is open from 9-6 Monday to Saturday, and I can recommend the salads, cakes, coffee, teas and fruit juices, having sampled many of them over the several months I’ve been working on this project.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Four large paintings by Mark Cazalet on the main wall of the café in its first show

I’ve written before about the café and the two previous shows, by painters Mark Cazalet and Jiro Osuga, who turned the space into Jiro’s Café.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
The opening night of Café Jiro at the Queen’s Terrace Café – and a fiendish quiz

Jiro has also had a hand in the current show, which is a project initiated and researched by café proprietor Mireille Galinou, following on from her book on St John’s Wood,  Cottages and Villas: The Birth of the Garden Suburb, published by Yale University Press last year.  All I had to do was to make appointments with the owners of the gardens she had selected and to take a panoramic photograph of them. Jiro has designed and decorated the café as a ‘garden’ in which to show the photographs – some quite large, and also in the show is a fine large screen ‘The Walled Garden’ that he painted in 2004.

Of course I ended up taking more than one panorama of each of the gardens that I photographed, and there are a few that have more than one picture in the show. But I also agreed to design and produce (through Blurb) a book of the same name as the show, and although this covers the same gardens as the exhibition it has around four times as many pictures, mainly panoramic.

Altogether I photographed around 20 private gardens for the project, as well as taking pictures in various public places and there were a few we decided for various reasons to leave out of the show and book, though there is a possibility, still under discussion, that this might be the start of a larger archive.  I started work on the project in mid-May and took the last picture for the show on 2 August.

I spent between half an hour and an hour and a quarter in each garden. In some it was easy to find a viewpoint, but others were more difficult. A few had so many possibilities it was hard to know when to stop. But of course the time there was only the start of making the pictures. On average, processing the raw files and combining between 2 and 18 into a single image using PtGui software took another half day for each garden, and it was a lot of extra work to cram into the time.  Travelling too ate up my time – around an hour and a half each way on every visit to the area.

The book is currently only available at the café – after all these gardens are secret – and it costs £20 for 80 pages with 76 of my pictures and some text and other illustrations.  (We might be persuaded to post a copy for another £2.50.) Unlike my other books it is not available direct from Blurb, but it costs less than it would direct. So far I’ve had to order two batches and I expect to have to get more printed. I think for the first time I may be producing an actual limited edition, though I’ve not yet decided if it will be 200 or 500 copies.

You will have noticed too that there are none of my garden pictures here – you will have to come to the café to see them, though perhaps I will put some pictures from the opening next week in a later post. I’ll also perhaps write a little about how I produced the pictures and the various problems I had.

9/11 A Milestone in Citizen Journalism?

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

There are always said to be some events where everyone remembers where they were at the time: President Kennedy’s assassination, the Moon Landing and 9/11.  I’ve got no idea about the first, but I spent the time of the moon landing walking through some of the more suburban streets of Hull, a blue glow from almost every front room window as we passed with a small group of people staring into a TV set, watching what we had gone out to avoid.

I also do have a very clear memory about 9/11. At the time I was teaching part-time and had just finished a long morning’s teaching with a lesson that ran over lunchtime and had gone down to get my bike to go home from the passage by the boiler room where the few staff who rode bikes parked them rather than have them stolen or vandalised in the bike sheds, and was putting my books into my panniers when one of my colleagues, a younger woman who had grown up in New York saw me and rushed out distraught from her office opposite to share the news with me.

As soon as I arrived home, my computer was on and I was following the events on-line, watching the videos and still images. Before long I had an e-mail from my editor in New York, firstly assuring me that everyone in the office was unhurt, but also suggesting I write an article about the photographic coverage of the event.

I scoured the web looking for pictures, wrote about them briefly and included links, and created a feature that in a very few days attracted several million hits, certainly by far the most popular piece I’ve ever put on line.

It did feel a little strange, sitting in London and writing about something that had happened thousands of miles away, but to an extent that was something I’d got used to, my study with the computer having been a virtual extension of New York for several years, where I’d written about all the big photography shows opening in that city, as well as many others across the USA. I can really say that I worked in America for around eight years without ever setting foot in that country (apart from the acre of it a couple of miles from here in Runnymede.)

I had to keep adding new sites with 9/11 photographs quite often for the next few days, and occasionally later still, but even when we got to see the later work as some of the world’s best-known photographers came to Ground Zero, the work that to me best represented the actual events remained the often anonymous images taken by those actually caught up in the event, often blurred or low quality, taken on cheap compact cameras.  They had an immediacy unmatched in the more mediated images of the professionals, and the value of being caught up in the actual event. It was perhaps the first major event to be covered by citizen journalism.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
11 Sept 2010 Grosvenor Square – MAC burn US flag outside the Embassy

Today’s 10th anniversary event in Grosvenor Square, London was the subject of protests and counter-protests, and I went there – along with around 50 other press photographers to record these. The policing in the area was understandably extensive and meant I was unable to work as I would normally do. I don’t think I was able to make any images that compared with those from last year’s protest by Muslims against Crusades (MAC) and the counter-protest by the English Defence Leagus (EDL.) The police were rather more succesful in keeping the two groups apart, and although I heard quite a lot of shouting by the EDL in the distance, in Grosvenor Square itself their protest was generally quiet and ordered, in keeping with the respect they had come to show.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
11th Sept 2010 – and I am within touching distance of Anjem Choudary outside the US Embassy

Once the police had moved the EDL a few yards down the road leading off the other side of the square, the MAC arrived and had a noisy demonstration, but there was a double line of barriers forming the front of a pen between them and us, and within seconds the press were asked to move even further back away from them by police, and almost all the pictures I made were at the long end of my telephoto. Last year I was able to work right in the middle of them.  They may have burnt a US flag as they intended, and I did at one point smell a little smoke, but I was too far away to see anything.

So although I will put up the pictures from this year in due course, last year’s work is rather more interesting:

EDL Protest Against MAC
Muslims Against Crusades Burn US Flag
EDL Remember 9/11

East Of The City

Friday, September 9th, 2011

A brand new web site finished around a cup of coffee ago, East of the City is the site for a show of photographs by Paul Baldesare, Mike Seaborne and me (Peter Marshall) which, fingers crossed, opens on Oct 1 at the Shoreditch Gallery, in the Juggler in Hoxton Market.

The Juggler is a café in a small square called Hoxton Market hidden between Pitfield St and the rather larger Hoxton Square, in an area that now has quite a few galleries including some very well-known ones. (Unfortunately there are signs around to ‘Hoxton Market’ which point in a different direction, to a street market held in Hoxton St.) The Shoreditch Gallery has been running longer than most in the area, starting when artists could still afford studios in what was then a run down area where the former furniture trade had disappeared.

© 2011, Paul Baldesare

Paul Baldesare has gone back over the past year or so to another area of East London that has changed dramatically over  recent years. Perhaps Columbia Market was never quite as poverty-stricken as parts of Brick Lane, and certainly with all its flowers never as drab at that could be, but the accents you hear there now are certainly rather different. From an East End market it has changed with “a new affluent Londoner and tourists” thronging there on a Sunday morning.

© Mike Seaborne

Mike Seaborne is showing pictures from his ‘London Facades’, a series of shop fronts in inner city Shoreditch, Hoxton and Hackney on which he started working in 2004.  You can see more about this project and some of his other work on the Urban Landscapes web site which he and I set up around 2002.

© 1982, Peter Marshall

My own work in the show is from the book ‘Before The Olympics‘ which I’ve mentioned quite a few times here before.  Like most Londoners I knew the Lea valley existed, and had even seen the river from the District line or the Eastern Region main line shortly before the train stopped at Stratford, but until the early 198os I’d not actually stopped to look at it.

I’d come into the centre of London one day to buy a new lens for my Leica, the 90mm f2.8 and wanted to try it out.  I’d heard a few days earlier that commercial traffic on the Lea Navigation was shortly coming to an end, so decided to go and see if I could find anything to photograph. There wasn’t a great deal – I found a couple of laden barges moored by a wharf, rather more empty and abandoned looking ones. I don’t think I actually took many pictures on the 90mm either, but I did discover the edges of a fascinating area – and returned on later occasions over the years to explore and photograph it.

At the time there were few sources of information. Even maps and street plans were not too helpful, marking some paths that were guarded by locked gates and barbed wire while not showing others that I could walk along – though many were badly overgrown. I could find no books that mentioned the area – and of course there was no such thing as a web page.  There were times when it felt almost like exploring and unknown continent, and for a while I carried a pair of secateurs in my camera bag to cut my way through  brambles and small branches blocking my way and my view.

Interesting though the area and some of these photographs I took on my occasional visits over the next twenty or so years were, they were given a new value with the news of the London Olympic bid.  Gradually I began to see more photographers on some of my visits to the area (though it was still unusual to see anyone in the remoter regions) and also I began to photograph some of the local resistance to the plans.

I still return to the accessible parts around the site occasionally, though I’ve been too busy to do so for a few months, but I will be there again shortly. A large part of the area is now behind the security fence and only visible from a few vantage points.

Police Theft/ / Dulce Et Decorum / Scandal of Parliament Square

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

One story which hardly rippled the news last week was the removal of tents and display material belonging to the late Brian Haw and Barbara Tucker, currently held in prison, from the pavement of Parliament Square. Brian’s protest is continuing, with a band of volunteers taking shifts in manning the site.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

Around 20 police arrived at 7am last Wednesday, 31 August, and, ignoring the protests of those present, removed the two tents and the 3 metres or so of the display, describing them as “litter.” One of the tents they removed is normally home to Barbara Tucker who was sentenced to nine weeks imprisonment for obstructing what she claims was an illegal search of her tent while she was in it. She also claims that she was refused legal representation and the proper disclosures and access to her paperwork for the trial, having been remanded to prison the day prior to the trial.

The officer who led last Wednesday’s raid to remove the tents and material was the same officer, Sgt David Cole who she had obstructed him on the morning of the State Opening of Parliament on 25 May 2010. The incident was filmed on Brian Haw’s camera, which police unknowingly left running after they had arrested him.  He was also the officer who Brian on the video claims had assaulted him and subjected him to unnecessary violent restraint for some 40 minutes on an earlier occasion. The video is on the Parliament Square blog.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
One of the team who has kept Brian Haw’s Parliament Square Peace Campaign running 24/7 since his death and was there at the time of the police raid

Police earlier stole Brian Haw’s rather larger display in May 2006, after which it was re-created as the work of art, ‘State Britain’ by Mark Wallinger down the road at Tate Britain. His last words were to Barbara Tucker, “Babs, our work is not yet finished“.

Just a few yards along the front of Parliament Square a second peace campaign, Maria Gallestegui’s Peace Strike, continues.  One rather well-known political columnist (who just happened to go to the same primary school as my wife) paraded his ignorance and lack of observation and attention in The Guardian a few weeks back, suggesting that the slogan ‘ Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori’  (it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country) were rather an unsuitable slogan for a peace protest. Possibly the splattered pool of red paint – blood – from which the words stand out in white might have give him a clue what it was about, or even the words underneath “the old lie”.© 2011, Peter MarshallHard to believe that Simon Hoggart was not aware of the most famous poem from the ‘Great War’, the First World War, Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est, its title taken from an ode by Horace, with its vivid description of the terrible effects of a poison gas attack, which ends with the words “The old lie” followed by the quotation ‘Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.’

But then the comment did come from a man with a rabid fear of bicycles.

© 2011, Peter MarshallBut perhaps the greatest scandal of Parliament Square is the continued denial of access to the public, with an ugly fence around the whole area encaging Churchill, Lloyd George and the others, with a few wandering ‘heritage wardens’ making sure we and the many tourists don’t enjoy our heritage.

Guardian Views

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I don’t often find the time to sit and read a serious newspaper during the week. Normally I’ll just hear the news on the radio, usually while I’m eating, and perhaps skim through a few articles on the web, mainly ones that people have recommended on Facebook. And often, while I’m travelling up to Waterloo or Victoria on my way to take pictures I’ll take a quick glance through The Metro or relax with the Evening Standard later on my way home.

But yesterday I had to wait around at The Print Space while some of the pictures for my gardens show (more later) were being printed, and after leafing through a copy or two of Vice Magazine I picked up The Guardian and found a piece by Roger Tooth, the paper’s head of photography on picture manipulation and trust in news imagery.

You won’t be surprised to find that he’s against it – manipulation that is – at least so far as news photography is concerned, but it’s actually a very clear and sensible piece on the subject. Like me he comes down to a very simple principle, but one that would be hard to define in detail:

“cropping and toning – basically anything that might have been done in a darkroom – is OK, but the moving of pixels or “cutting and pasting” is forbidden”

and he continues by saying that “We have to trust our photographers and the agencies we deal with“. In the end it does have to come down to trust and the integrity of the photographers concerned. This is one reason why it is so important that photographs are properly attributed, not just to an agency (Getty or Hulton or AP never took a photograph) but to an individual. Of course attribution is one of our moral rights, though unfortunately at the time of the last copyright act the government let itself be lobbied by the newspapers and magazines into denying it to photographers. (The Guardian probably tries more than most, but it would be nice to see closer to 100% attribution there.)

Of course many if not most of the pictures published by The Guardian and all the other newspapers will have had pixels moved, and also other things done to them that would have been difficult or impossible in the darkroom.  We routinely use tools to remove dust spots that clone pixels from one part of an image to another, and make complex adjustments to exposure, contrast, colour balance et al which were just not possible in those dim days of BD (before digital.) And back in BD I used to teach students how it was possible to combine negatives and many other tricks.

It really does come down to intention. To show the viewer what I saw as clearly as I can and as honestly as I can. What I do at the computer or in the darkroom is a continuation of what I do at the scene.

Tooth also makes the fine and sensible point that what is acceptable depends on the usage of a picture. Some things that would not be acceptable in a news photograph would be fine when making a portrait for the arts pages. There are still limits, but they are – at least arguably – in rather different places.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Who Killed Smiley Culture – protest marchers at Vauxhall

I did get time to read the Guardian at the weekend, although it was late on Sunday before I got around to reading Saturday’s news. I was pleased to see this picture (properly attributed)  illustrating a feature about Smiley Culture after the news leaked out that the police who were present when he died and whose actions quite probably led to his death are not to face prosecution.

I thought immediately of the many other cases of suspicious deaths at the hands of police, where investigations have failed to come up with satisfactory explanations and where no charges have been made. Since 2007 the number of such deaths in the London area has roughly doubled – there are now around 30 a year. Smiley Culture has made the papers – and so for different reasons did the shooting of Mark Duggan and the killing of Ian Tomlinson, but most cases get little publicity.

© 2009 Peter Marshall
Marcia and Samantha, sisters of Sean Rigg killed in Brixton Police station in August 2008 attend a memorial vigil for Ian Tomlinson in December 2009

Of course not all the deaths are down to police action. But far too many mainly black and healthy young men die, and few if any police are ever brought to account. ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ remains a good question, and the answer for the UK is that nobody is really watching the watchmen, or perhaps more accurately that we have a complex system set up including complaints procedures, the IPCC (more police) and courts which work together to ensure that there is no justice.  We should not be surprised when sometimes there is no peace.