Archive for February, 2012

Occupy London

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I was sorry to hear about the eviction of Occupy London from their site outside St Paul’s Cathedral, although it had seemed inevitable. Last Thursday afternoon, when I was standing on a hillside in Derbyshire I got a text message suggesting I might like to photography at the St Paul’s camp later that evening when they would be taking some of their tents down to move elsewhere, and was sorry I was unable to go and do so, but it was a sign that some at least of those occupying had decided to move before they were pushed.

Monday night and Tuesday morning when the eviction happened I was back home and in bed with my phone and computer turned off, and only heard the news the next morning. But in any case, although I only live a little over 20 miles away, it isn’t too practicable for me to get to London in the middle of the night – it would take me a couple of hours on my bike.

I knew of course that other photographers would be there, covering the events more or less from the start, so there was little point in my making the effort had I been awake.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
A message for St Paul’s from OccupyLSX on the morning they started

I was sad to hear what happened, because OccupySLX has I think had an impact that few of us could have predicted, creating and influencing public debates about issues that would otherwise have remained brushed under the carpets. And of course the eviction doesn’t end the Occupy movement in London, with one site, Finsbury Square, still going and few would dismiss the chance that others may begin (certainly the police haven’t.) But what we have seen so far doesn’t deserve the gloating that some politicians and bloggers have been making much of over the last day. It is very much a story of success that we should celebrate – and hope for the future.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
The meeting on Westminster Bridge, October 9, 2011

Few of us who were at the general meeting on Westminster Bridge on October 9, six days before the occupation started that took a decision to occupy the Stock Exchange thought that this had any chance of success.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
OccupyLSX blocked at Temple Bar in sight of the Stock Exchange

And when it failed on October 15, to many this seemed the end. Even when it became clear that some of those present were determined to set up camp in front of St Paul’s, many predicted it would be cleared within 24 hours. Even the most optimistic of us thought that it would certainly all be over well before Christmas – certainly when the first cold weather came.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
OccupyLSX still at St Pauls in February 2012

But of course it stayed much longer than the few weeks most people gave it. And it didn’t just stay, but spawned other sites, including Finsbury Square, the nearby Bank of Ideas, a court in Shoreditch etc. Only Finsbury Square currently remains, as the School of Ideas was also evicted on Monday night – and to make sure it stayed evicted bulldozers flattened it early on Tuesday morning.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Occupy Finsbury Square in Nov 2011

It didn’t just stay. It worked, it protested, it taught. It attracted many influential and well-known names to come and visit, to give their support and talk. At first people may have laughed at the idea of the “tent university” but it became something of a graduate school.

I’m not a part of Occupy London, although I sympathise with many of the ideas they put forward. I dropped in for the occasional visit, often when passing on my way to other things, but didn’t have the time to commit to being a part of it. I’m not sure I would have done even so, as there were things I was uncomfortable with, apart from being rather old and fixed in more comfortable ways. But I am sure that their presence has enriched London. And I look forward to more of the story.

Photographer Meets Photographed

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I used to be a great fan of the BBC, but experience in reporting events over the years as well as some aspects of their output have at least to some extent changed my mind, though they are still obviously rather better than many other broadcasters.I strongly support the idea of broadcasting as a public service and they do produce some very fine programmes in various genres.

But of course they are still over-manned,  still over-complacent, and still deliberately misreporting many events. Still giving far too much air time to bigots, racists and climate change deniers. And still wasting far too much money on rubbish which may be popular but would be done more or less as well by commercial broadcasters.

One of the finest aspects of the BBC’s work has always been the World Service, today celebrating 80 years of existence, though celebrating this by massive cuts, leaving its long-time home in Bush House and insulting its retired employees.

Thanks yet again to Duckrabbit and a post by Ciara LeemingThe face of the Gujarat riots meets his photographer ‘saviour‘ for bringing an interesting piece from BBC News India to my attention.

In 2002, Arko Datta photographed tailor Qutubuddin Ansari praying for help during religious riots in Gujarat during which around a thousand people, mainly Muslims, were killed – the worst riots since Independence. It was a picture that summed up the fear and desperation of many, and was printed on front pages around the world.

A week later, Mr Ansari became aware of the picture for the first time, when a foreign journalist hunted him out in a refugee camp and showed him a newspaper with it across a whole page. It made him notorious and “followed me wherever I went. It haunted me, and drove me out of my job, and my state.”  He lost half a dozen jobs and continued to be hounded by journalists. Ten years on,  BBC Hindi’s Rupa Jha was present when a meeting had been arranged between the two men.

Datta has been in a military vehicle and had taken a few frames of Ansari with a telephoto lens as he had pleaded with the soldiers to rescue him and a few other Muslims from a Hindu mob. Then he told the soldiers to stop and do something, and he and others in the van said they were not leaving until they did something to help the trapped people.

Although Datta’s photograph caused Ansari considerable grief, the journalists’ insistence that the military take action almost certainly saved the lives of the trapped Muslims, as well as bringing what was happening in Gujarat to the attention of the world.

Towards the end of their meeting, Ansari tells the photographer “Nobody is to blame, brother. You did your job. I was doing mine, trying to save my life. Your picture showed the world what was happening here.

Few photographs have the impact that this image does, either as a picture or on the subjects in it, or indeed on the world and on the photographer, but it is a reminder that photography can have consequences we fail to foresee.

This is not the only time Datta has returned to meet the subject of one of his award-winning images. You can watch a video in which he talks about photographing the aftermath of the Asian tsunami and how he retuned to find the Indian woman mourning a dead relative which was the World Press Photo of the Year in 2004.

Nokia 808 Pureview

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Could my – or your – next camera be a phone? Certainly the Nokia 808 Pureview looks a fairly amazing piece of kit and the sample photos are impressive, certainly for a cameraphone. Of course we don’t need 41Mp, but by combining pixels to give 8Mp or 5Mp image output the Pureview is able to get better quality, as well of course giving it the ability to digitally zoom at decent quality. The zoom stops when the area of the sensor it covers has the number of pixels for the output.

So starting from 41Mp and reducing to 8Mp means going down to 8/41 of the sensor area, which I think gives a linear zoom of 2.26 (the square root of 41/8) while with a 5Mp image the corresponding zoom is 2.86, neither huge. The roughly 28mm equivalent f2.4 Carl Zeiss lens becomes a 28-63mm or  28-80mm respectively, which isn’t too bad, but the system really comes into its own with smaller image sizes. It will also have the slightly odd effect of quality being significantly better at the wider end of the range, and I imagine this will become pretty noticeable at higher ISO.

Of course 28mm for the 4:3 format (26mm for 16×9) isn’t particularly wide, and this is one reason why this won’t be my next camera. But it does seem to represent a real breakthrough in camera-phones, although it won’t be my next phone either, as I think it’s Symbian operating system is one to avoid, but perhaps with their next model it could really become the camera I’d take with me when I can’t be bothered to carry the real thing.

POYi Flowchart

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

I’m often surprised and amused by how things link together when I’m looking at pages on the web, often finding things that link to posts I’ve made or thoughts I’ve had but not quite got around to writing about.

One of the latter was about another of those annual awards, POYi, (Pictures of the Year international) which is unusual in conducting its business in public, web-casting the judging with 99 on-line publicly open seats in a chatroom.  The judging is spread out over most of the month, and has now more or less ended – so you will need to wait until next year to take part.

The Photojournalism Contest entry flowchart  on the Shit Photojournalists Like blog has more than an element of truth in it, judging from the various shows and lists of winners I’ve seen over the years. Certainly they lead me to the conclusion I’ve always had about such competitions, “Save your entry fee and buy gear.”  They also link to the POYi Chat Room Heroes blog, though I think you have to have been their to get much out of that.

One photographer who gets a particular mention is Melissa Little, whose work was apparently “pulled in, kicked out, pulled in, then kicked out again.” I don’t know what she had in for POYi, but you can see some interesting work on her own web site, where I find that in 2001 she was a student at the Eddie Adams Workshop and “have been honored to return for the last seven years as staff, where I’ve done everything from mow the grass and rake the leaves to documenting everything in sight as workshop photographer to leading, finding stories and coaching a team of 10 students. ”

I’ve not yet looked at all the awards for POYi, but did enjoy looking through the results for the ‘News Picture Story – Newspaper’ class, where first place went to
Michael Robinson Chavez (Los Angeles Times) for DECONSTRUCTING MUBARAK, second to Mads Nissen (Berlingske / Panos Pictures) for pictures of the LIBYAN REVOLUTION, third to Hiroto Sekiguchi (Yomiuri Shimbun) for TSUNAMI AFTERMATH and the ‘Award of Excellence to Craig Walker (The Denver Post) for his pictures of OCCUPY DENVER. And I mention this not just because there are some fine pictures in these stories (which are always of more interest to me than the single picture awards) but because of the controversy I may have mentioned earlier over World Press Photo, when some judges anounced publicly that they had seen no pictures of the Occupy movement worthy of an award. I don’t know if Walker’s work went to WPP as well, but certainly some other very worthy images did.

Rainy Valentine

Monday, February 27th, 2012

 © 2012, Peter Marshall

It was a cold, dull, wet and windy afternoon in London, but that didn’t stop everyone at the ‘Reclaim Love‘ Valentine party at Piccadilly Circus having fun, though it did make photography rather tricky at times.  As usual in wet weather I was working holding a lens cloth in my hand and wiping the filter on the front of the 16-35mm before every image, but even so on the picture above you can see several areas of unsharpness caused by raindrops on the front of the lens.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

It didn’t worry me when looking at pictures such as these, where what I thought were the key elements of the images were sharp, though I don’t particularly like the water-induced flare visible around the head and arms of the dancer above, it doesn’t spoil the image for me. But there were plenty of images that I had to edit out because of water in the wrong places.

The Nikon 16-35mm is a good lens to use in the rain, for several reasons. Being a professional lens it has better water-sealing than most, and this is greatly helped by internal zooming and focussing – there is no change at all on the outside of the lens other than the rotation of the two rings for zoom and focus. The front of the lens doesn’t move at all, and there is none of the extension of the lens that you get with most zooms. The 18-105DX lens is a typical example, and the zoom action works to pump water and damp air into the lens, where it condenses on the large cold glass elements and pictures soon become completely impossible.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

I took very few pictures with the 18-105mm mainly for this reason,  but also because much of the time I was working in very crowded situations where the 10.5mm DX semi-fisheye was more useful. Being a single focal length with virtually no need to focus avoids much of the problems of water ingress,  but it has a bulbous front element unprotected from the weather – you can’t really have a lens hood on a lens with a 180 degree diagonal field of view. So it suffers even more from raindrops than does the 16-35, although the lens hood on that is pretty vestigial.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Although some of those taking part had umbrellas, it’s not really an option if you want to move around and take pictures, and of course the drips from these umbrellas are an extra hazard for the photographer.

Using flash in the rain also has its odd problems or opportunities, as you can just see from the red umbrella, where the white streak at its left is a rain drop, illuminated by the flash – and some more can be seen less obviously in front of the dark fountain supporting Eros (though it’s actually his brother.)  But I needed flash, because without it the pictures were too dull and failed to bring out the party atmosphere.

The Nikon SB800 flash is perhaps the least waterproof of all my equipment and most difficult to protect from the rain. As you can see from Reclaim Love – Occupy Your Heart!  I took (and put on My London Diary) too many pictures, and by the time I gave up I was rather damp and the flash was soaked and had stopped working. It did recover after drying out, but has since failed more or less completely.  Hopefully a trip to the repairers will get it working again.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


Urban Landscapes – Luca Tommasi

Monday, February 27th, 2012

 © Luca Tommasi
© Luca Tommasi – A changing China

I’ve just updated the pictures in Luca Tommasi’s A changing China on the Urban Landscapes web site that I run with Mike Seaborne.

Although Mike and I are both based on the outskirts of London and much of our own work on the site is from London, we intended this as an international site, and of the eleven photographers whose work is on the site only four are actually from the UK.

We welcome contributions to the site, but insist that these show a serious approach to urban landscape, and on the site I give a brief idea of what this might mean. It isn’t just pretty pictures of a city, and it isn’t just architectural photography. Here is my check list from the site which explains my idea of what we are looking for :

Urban landscape photography

  •  in some way describe a town or city
  •  represents an attempt to understand our experience of the city
  •  shows a dedication to the subject, expressed through a body of work rather than isolated images
  •  concentrates on structures or processes rather than on people
  •  may deal in either details or a broader view

If you have work that you think would fit, you are welcome to submit work and we have a page on the site that tells you more. Now that most web users are on broadband rather than dial-up we normally use slightly larger images, typically 600-800px larger dimension. Projects have to be accompanied by some explanatory text, and we also welcome relevant essays on the subject – up to around 5000 words.

I wrote a little more about this definition and the site as a part of a lecture I gave five years ago, which I presented in a series of posts on this site, including Architecture and Urban Landscape photography.

Like many things on the web, we run the site for love not for money, and there are no prizes or payment for having work on the site, which got a respectable 165,000 hits last year.  Though of course – as with this blog –  it’s the quality not the quantity of our visitors that counts.

Barnstorm – Eddie Adams Workshop

Monday, February 27th, 2012

If you are a student or have less than 3 years experience working as a professional photographer (freelance or otherwise) you may like to consider applying for a place on this year’s Eddie Adams Workshop or ‘Barnstorm’, “an intense four-day gathering of the top photography professionals, along with 100 carefully selected students. The photography workshop is tuition-free, and the 100 students are chosen based on the merit of their portfolios.” Unfortunately only 10 of those places are available for non-US students.

It takes place from October 5-8, 2012 in Jeffersonville, New York, and although the tuition is free, those who get a place will need to pay their own fares to the event and also a flat fee for room and board ($375) at the Workshop. It all adds up, but the quality of the free tuition makes this seems a great opportunity.

For more information and to apply, see the Eddie Adams Workshop site.  Described as “the premier tuition-free photography experience” it exists thanks to many volunteers – who over the years have included many well-known names among photographers and editors with Adams “shamelessly exploiting a lifetime of friendships and contacts” who over the years included Gordon Parks, Joe Rosenthal, Alfred Eisenstaedt and editors and picture editors of Time, Newsweek, Life, Fortune, The New York Times Magazine and Parade magazine and is currently sponsored by many of the leading names in photography, including Nikon, Adobe, ASMP, AP, B&H, Getty Images, HP, Manfrotto, PDN, Photoshelter and Sandisk.

Most people know Eddie Adams (1933-2004) for one particular image from Saigon, but he took many fine pictures. He began the workshop in 1988 and this is the 25th Barnstorm.

Wim Wenders on James Nachtwey

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Burn Magazine prints a long speech by Wim Wenders on the photography of James Nachtwey, made at the award to Nachtwey of the third Dresden International Peace Prize at the Semper Opera House in Dresden, Germany on 11 Feb 2012 .

It’s an interesting eulogy, and one in which Wenders backs up his arguments with a detailed look at three images by Nachtwey.

Wenders as well as being an internationally renowned director for his films including Paris, Texas (1984) and Buena Vista Social Club (1999) and, nominated for this year’s Oscars, Pina (2010), is also something of a photographer himself, as you can see from his Places, strange and quiet which was shown in London last year. 

Alex Webb’s Chicago

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Thanks to Jim Casper’s Lensculture blog for showing me Alex Webb‘s Chicago Street Photography slideshow, made in collaboration with Leica and Magnum. The pictures sometimes disappear a little too fast for my slow-working brain, and although there is nothing wrong with the sounds recorded by Webb and his commentary it perhaps more makes for an easy experience than adding a great deal to the pictures. As to be expected from Webb, there are some interesting images, though in the nature of a presentation like this there are those which are less so, but overall I found it largely held my attention.

The video (which incidentally I couldn’t see using Firefox, but played without problems on Internet  Explorer) is also on the Leica Camera blog, where it appears with a short interview with Webb about the work, along with a half a dozen comments.

One person asks for information about the audio recording and gets a rather poor answer from the Leica Internet team “Some of the information regarding the audio in the piece can be found at the end credits.” If you blink you miss these and certainly it is hardly possible to read past the first few lines crediting Alex Webb, though with a little fiddling around you can stop the video at that point (4m35s) and find that as well as Alex’s own recordings it also credits and There is a kind of odd 14 seconds of blank screen with a couple of bursts of sound after the credits disappear, suggesting some kind of production error, so perhaps the credits were intended to be more readily legible.

In some respects I think that digital works better with Webb’s liking for deep shadows than transparency ever did, and although one of the comments calls for the contrast of these images to be ‘beefed up’, I can’t agree. But when I saw his first book in 1986 I thought it relied too much on the drama of large areas of darkness – to me at the time it seems too easy a way to create drama, and I probably still feel that way.

Nor do I agree with ‘Fred’ who says “Most of these are pretty dull shots.”  But it’s worth spending the 5 minutes to watch this and make up your own mind. You may even want to see it a second time, as I did, with the sound turned off.

Pancake Contrasts

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, and there were many pancake races around the country, mainly at lunchtime. I had a choice of around half a dozen to cover in central London, but as they are all at more or less the same time, only managed to photograph two.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

I started at a very exclusive event, with entries limited to teams from the various Worshipful Companies of the City of London and a few other City institutions. Even for these there is competition for places, with many being unable to gain a place. Of course the City is really a very competitive place (although sometimes it hides it well) and there were some very competitive races.

Many of the livery companies are fairly recently formed, and the race itself only began a few years ago, organised by the Poulters (who supply the eggs) and it raises money for the annual Lord Mayor’s Appeal, which this year is supporting a Trauma unit at the London Hospital.

From Guildhall Yard I rushed across the square mile to Leadenhall Market, where a very different pancake race was about to take place, organised by the Lamb Tavern at the central crossing of the market.  It was an event where people were rather more obviously having fun, but lacked the dressing up of the Guildhall event.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
A little panning sometimes helps photographers as well

Leadenhall is a finely restored Victorian covered market, and light levels were considerably lower, and unfortunately the SB800 flash I’ve been having the odd problem with lately now decided to more or less give up. It didn’t stop flashing, but just seemed usually to do so randomly either on around zero power or 100% output. I struggled with it for a while, then gave up and shot without flash, which was just a little tricky for real action shots of the races.

See more at Pancakes in the City – Guildhall and Pancakes in the City – Leadenhall Market.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images