Archive for February, 2012

Pictures Not Words?

Friday, February 10th, 2012

I tend to agree with Ctein‘s view on The Online Photographer “that most decent art is capable of speaking for itself. With occasional exceptions—and there are always exceptions—I think that work that cannot be understood in its own vernacular is not successful work.”

And having belonged to a number of informal photographic groups over the years – although none that centred around a “potluck” or my waistline might be rather larger – I certainly think that there are some photographers who talk too much about their own work. But that doesn’t mean I’m against talk, just that if you are going to benefit from such meetings (other than in culinary satisfaction) then you need to come ready to listen and reflect on what other people have to say about your work rather than try to con them into thinking how you do.

And I’ve learnt much (or at least I think I have) from looking carefully and thoughtfully at the work of other people and then attempting to articulate those thoughts. It’s a process of sharing ideas that can be stimulating, and has often been stimulated by the presence of a little alcohol, though too much can lead to trouble.

I’ve also been to many exhibitions where the true work of art has not been the photographs on the wall but the artist’s statement – and some of our fine art photography courses seem to be far more directed to producing these than meaningful and well-crafted images.

But although I’ve never been to San Francisco and visited Andy Pilara‘s Pier 24, a photography museum (entrance free but by reservation only) which displays work without text in the galleries – though there is an exhibition book you can pick up which may give you some basic information, I think that unlike Ctein I would find the experience annoying rather than indescribable.

I felt a little of this at the brief visit I was able to pay to Lise Sarfati‘s exhibition ‘She‘ at London’s Brancolini Grimaldi gallery in Albermarle St (as usual I was in Mayfair to photograph a protest outside the US Embassy.) Although there was what I think is an excellent gallery handout, with information on the photographer and the work – and with San Francisco connections, with the text – written in English rather than Artspeak – was by Sandra S Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and some of the pictures were taken in San Francisco, the 27 pictures in ‘She‘ were displayed on an otherwise bare white wall.

Very arty perhaps, but not very practical as I struggled to relate the positions on the wall to the numbers on a plan of the gallery. Because ‘She’ is a work about identity, and all of the 27 images show one of four American women, two sisters and the two daughters of one of them, who often wear wigs or makeup that makes them hard to distinguish, it is  important at some stage in viewing (though possibly not initially) to know who it is in the picture. I would certainly have welcomed some small and discreet labels that gave me the information such as ‘Christine #10 Hollywood, CA 2006‘ or at least the numbers of the images rather than having what seemed to me to make it into a kind of parlour game, working out from the position on the wall the number of the picture I was viewing and then turning over the sheet to consult the list to find the caption.

Perhaps if I was the kind of person who, in an otherwise empty gallery, would look at the plan first and then go around it in the sequence indicated by the numbers I would have found it easier. In crowded galleries you really have to stay in line, which is one reason why I tend to avoid the blockbuster art shows; I always like to do things my own way.

But ‘She’ is certainly a show worth visiting, and continues until 17 March 2012. I’ve written about Lise Sarfati before, mainly elsewhere, though I did find the five pictures from  ‘She’ on the Brancolini Grimaldi stand one of the highlights of my 2010 trip to  Paris Photo. She was one of the three or four Magnum members I remember enthusing about on a lengthy car journey with a person from Magnum in 2005, not long after I had written about her work. You can read a review of the show by Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian, which also has a short video and seven of the images.

So while I often find the words on gallery walls or the photographer’s spiel an annoying distraction, I think that it isn’t because there are word with pictures, but because they are things that don’t help you to confront the images. But there are sometimes words that are necessary, and sometimes those that enhance the experience. Let’s have shows with that kind of texts and not just pictures on blank walls.

January 2012

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Disabled argue with police at Oxford Circus protest
I’ve finally decided that January has ended and that I’ve put all the work that I’m going to post for it on My London Diary.  I’ve mentioned most of the stories on here before, but here’s the set of links for the month so you can go directly to any of them.

No War Against Iran & Syria
Disabled Welfare Reform Road Block
Around Trafalgar Square
Westminster Bikers Parking Protest
Egyptians Protest Against SCAF
Peace For Iran – No To War
Congolese Keep Up Protests
Parliament Square Peace Camp
National Gallery on Strike
Welfare Reform Bill Lobby at Parliament
Parliament Square Protests Continue
Arbaeen Procession in London
EDL March in Barking
Bikes Alive – End Killing Of Cyclists
Bhopal: Drop Dow From London Olympics
London Mourning Mothers of Iran
Shut Guantánamo: End 10 Years of Shame
53 Years Of Cuban Revolution

Although they may look slightly different because of a different style-sheet, these are the links that are on the left of the January 2012 page. If you use Firefox they conveniently stay fixed when you scroll down the page, but I’ve never managed to get Internet Explorer to do that – and there are other minor differences between how the two browsers display things. It sometimes annoys me, but never enough to get me actually trying to solve the problem, and I notice quite a few sites where similar things happen.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
At a stupid trivia quiz on Saturday I couldn’t even remember that Egypt has a bird on its flag!

I’ve been deliberately trying to cut down on work a little, and to start catching up with things – like scanning my work from the 1970s, and also wanted to get work on My London Diary rather faster than I had been doing.  I’ve had some success – after all it’s only a few days into February and I noticed the other day I still haven’t managed to post my pictures for October 2002 – and there are a few other gaps in the diary elsewhere too.

February will of course follow shortly!

D800 Announced

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

I imagine like many photographers my first reaction to Nikon’s D800/800E announcement was ‘Oh No, who needs 36Mp!’ or something rather less polite, but thinking a little more about it I’m not so upset, particularly as it offers a 15.4Mp DX option.

I’m also very pleased that at last Nikon have introduced a new Auto ISO system that relates the minimum shutter speed to the focal length in use, something I’ve long suggested –  since before cameras had auto ISO.

Other useful improvements appear to include a better LCD monitor and USB 3.0, though I’ve already moved over to faster transfers simply by using a USB 3.0 card reader. And certainly some with be pleased with the video, though it isn’t something that greatly interests me at the moment.

Of course my first reaction on hearing about it was to go to the ‘Hands-on Preview‘ on DPReview, much easier to read than Nikon’s own pages, and giving a little more idea of what it might be like to use. But as always it will be some time before any proper reviews that actually give us the details and in particular the performance of actual production cameras emerge.

But despite what Nikon calls its ‘light weight and compact size’, at 146 x 123 x 81.5 mm (5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 in.) and 1,000 g (2 lb 3.3 oz) with battery and SD memory card it’s rather too big and heavy for me, more or less the same as the D700 I already have which is still working well, and which I don’t really have a need to replace. If I could persuade myself I could work with a single camera, I’d think much more carefully about it, as the ability to switch to DX mode and still get good size files would make a lot of sense. That 16-35mm would double as a 24-47mm as well as being able to use my existing DX lenses – such as the 10.5mm on the camera. Perhaps when I see the full reviews I’ll decide I can and get one to replace both the D700 and ailing D300.

But for the moment, I think I’m waiting for later in the year when perhaps we can expect the D400 (or whatever Nikon decide the D300S replacement should be called) – possibly to be announced in March, though likely rather later in the year. We may also see a replacement for the D7000 which might also be possible in place of the D300.

Nikon do rather seem to be making the running in DSLRs at the moment, just a shame they haven’t produced a serious competitor in the mirrorless class.

Old Snow

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

The winter of 1978/9 we had snow fairly seriously, and in the last few days I’ve been going through my contact sheets from that time, including quite a few pictures taken in the snow.

I went up to another workshop at the Photographers Place in Derbyshire with Paul Hill and Ray Moore, I think in early January, and it seemed quite likely that we would get snowed in. I’m not sure that we would have minded all that much, as we were all having a good time, though of course we all had work to get back to. As usual we went out a few times together taking pictures, including a visit to a snow-covered Alton Towers, but one of the few images I now felt worth preserving was one from a walk on my own along a snow-covered lane.  Most of those taken on the outings I seemed to be trying too hard to be ‘arty’.

© 1979, Peter Marshall

It didn’t help that the Leica M2 which I took most of the pictures (though I think the one above was with an Olympus OM2) with turned out to have a shutter fault – perhaps it didn’t like the cold weather, and it gave uneven exposure, with a strip at the right hand edge of the frame getting rather less than it should. As soon as I developed the films it went off for repair (at excessive cost, being a Leica) but by then I’d ruined quite a few images. I did manage to print some of the pictures fairly well, dodging the affected area – at least the boundary was a nice straight line, so a simple straight piece of card held in the right place and height above the paper could do the job. And now of course with digital it would me much simpler to correct.

© 1979, Peter Marshall

But we did manage to get home on time (I think with Peter Goldfield driving his van through the snowy roads), and I went back to work, but soon there was more snow, and there were several days when my colleague and I spent an hour or so trying to drive to work before finding roads closed or impassable. So I had a little unexpected time to wander around with a camera in the snow. But again most of the pictures I made seem now to have little interest. Again the exceptions were mainly those which were more straightforward – such as the surprisingly almost car-free Crooked Billet roundabout above.

© 1979, Peter Marshall

Perhaps the best of my snow images from 1978-9 was a scene in the snow at Marble Hill Park, on the banks of the Thames in Twickenham, where a group of boys were cycling on the snow-covered grass. I only had time for a couple of frames as they were moving around, and the first, taken a second or two earlier shows a fourth cyclist going away to the right of the group.  I moved to more accurately line up the cyclists with the house and managed to take this frame with just the three of them in a tight group in a near-silhouette against the snow. Although it has a wide-angle feel with that wide expanse of snow, I think the only lens I had for the Leica (fortunately now repaired and working well) on which it was taken at the time was the collapsible 50mm f2.8 Elmar. Taken in a hurry it also had quite a slope to the horizon and needed a little rotation and subsequent cropping.

© 1979, Peter Marshall

Here was the only example of the ‘artier’ snow pictures I bothered to scan, and this shows the entire frame.  I suspect when I took it I didn’t mean to include the black spot near the top right corner, but decided not to crop it. The picture has a certain mystery about it that I like (it could be an alien landing site) and I’m not going to dispel by telling anyone much about it!

Let Truth be the Prejudice

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

AFP photographer Hazem Bader photographed a Palestinian construction worker screaming in agony as an Israeli army driver drove a trailer over his legs on a construction site on 25 Jan. The Israeli army had turned up to seize the tractor and trailer as the Palestinians were building on land that they owned in an occupied zone where Israel has forbidden them to build.  The picture – and it is a striking image – was widely published in the USA and the Israeli embassy in Washington wrote to the US newspapers alleging that the vehicle shown was stationary, that the worker was not injured and suggesting the picture was staged, and asking the newspapers to issue a correction,  and to “to consider ceasing to publish the photographs of Hazem Bader“.

AFP have now issued a statement which includes a translation of the medical certificate confirming the injuries sustained by the worker and an interview where he describes what happened. Their press release, which includes the picture concludes:

In the light of these inquiries and based on the trust we have in our photojournalist, AFP Management does not believes that this event could ever have been staged.

Given the ferocity of the attacks against the AFP Photo service, we have decided to release this statement in order to set the record straight. We will not make any further comment.

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America  continues to dispute the veracity of this image, although some of the points it raises appear to be minor quibbles, for example when they state that the confiscation operation would be a “civil administration mission where soldiers provide security rather than an army operation and so any driver would not have been a soldier.  You can also read similar comments on the CiF Watch site, which also attacks Bader for the contents of his web site, which they say “quite consistently portray Palestinians as victims of Israeli villainy (something of a specialty for Bader), and further demonstrates an egregious pro-Palestinian bias decidedly at odds with any pretense of objective photo-journalism.”

I can’t tell you for sure about the exact circumstances of the particular image, I wasn’t there when it happened, though I have an opinion on it, but I can say something about photo-journalism. Having looked through a considerable number of the pictures on Bader’s site – with some difficulty as it is an exemplar of poor web design – I think his work as a whole seems very much in the fine traditions of the genre.

I thought of the work of one of the great heroes of the genre, Gene Smith. Would CiF Watch find his work at Minimata unacceptable because of his concentration on the tragic effects of mercury poisoning on the inhabitants of that fishing village?

The photo-journalist is a witness, one who tells the story that he or she sees; in Smith’s phrase “Let Truth be the Prejudice.”  At its heart is subjectivity. It isn’t the same as bias or distortion. And there is fortunately no such thing as objective photo-journalism – which would be a real pretence.

But perhaps for me the the most important part of the story is not about the detail of a particular picture but about laws and ways of thinking that make it seem normal and acceptable that when people start building on land that they own, soldiers should come that their equipment should be confiscated at gunpoint and the building destroyed.

Snow Business

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

A couple of days ago the Daily Mash carried a feature  “‘UK braced for mediocre weather photography‘ SNOWY weather will result in a million of pictures of nothing much, experts have warned” and this morning I decided to play my part in making this prophecy come true.

It had looked pretty promising the night before as I walked home through the falling snow, making the Staines back streets look almost fairy-tale, at least with the benefit of the best part of a bottle of a rather fine Sauvignon Blanc inside me. I should get out and take some pictures I thought, but not for long as I reached a warm house, coffee and biscuits and bed.

So this morning, bright and early (not that early, but the only footprints other than ours from the night before on our local stretch of pavements were those of the neighbourhood fox) I donned long-johns and an extra pair of socks underneath my normal boots, bags and jacket and with two pairs of gloves and a woolly hat sweated my way around Staines.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Bridge over River Colne, Staines Moor (D300, 70/105mm)

Staines unlike Rome, is built around seven rivers, or possibly more. The main one of these is of course the Colne, which reaches the Thames here, and the rest are (or were) bits of water from the Colne finding their own way into the Thames, and my route took me to the County Ditch and across the Wyradisbury River, the River Colne, Bonehead Ditch and Sweeps Ditch. We also have several rather mysterious streams that appear around Moor Lane and Yeoveney either from the Colne or old gravel workings and then disappear, doubtless into culverts, but the one I count as the seventh is an artificial ditch, the Staines Aqueduct, taking water from the Thames to various reservoirs.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
My bridge over Bonehead Ditch, Staines Moor (D700, 16mm)

So the Romans, who called Staines ‘Ad Pontes’ or ‘at the bridges’ knew what they were talking about, and my route included a number of them, including two on Staines Moor, one of which was natural rather than man-made.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Animals feeding in snow on Staines Moor (D700, 17mm)

I’ll write more about Staines and my route in a day or two on My London Diary, but here I’ll concentrate on the photographic aspects. Digital makes photographing snow a lot easier, both in taking the pictures and in ‘developing’ them. Probably every photographer knows that cameras have exposure problems in snow, because exposure generally relies on scenes ‘averaging to grey’. Many of us back in the old days used to carry around a ‘gray card’ specially produced (and priced) with a neutral gray that reflected 18% of the incident light. When taking stuff on colour neg it was handy to put that in one corner of the image so you could balance using it when printing, and for getting the exposure spot-on you stuck it in your scene and took a light reading from it.

Nowadays I usually let the camera more or less work it out, though today for snow I set it to give an extra stop of exposure and then checked that the histogram looked more or less fine, going more or less all the way across to the right of the graph, but not past it. On many of the scenes I could have used two stops more and still been OK, but there would have been too great a chance of blocked highlights.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Part of circle of trees on Staines Moor (D300, 10.5mm)

In Lightroom, most of these images did need a positive tweak to the exposure to bring the brightest highlights right across the the right hand side of the histogram. Then I had to bring down the brightness to get the kind of texture I wanted for the snow. Apparently the next version of Lightroom won’t have the two controls, which leaves me wondering how I’m going to do that kind of thing – I think it will probably mean I’ll have to go back to working with the ‘Tone Curve’ as I used to with the previous Raw Shooter software. The slider that I’d actually like to get rid of is the ‘Recovery’ one, which I’ve learnt always to set at zero. Not that you don’t sometimes need to recover highlights, but that it is always best to do so on a local basis rather than the overall image degradation that the ‘Recovery’ slider provides.

My D300 is now severely in need of a service – or a replacement. I’ve been hoping for a while that Nikon would bring out a replacement either for the D300s or the D700 or both so I can retire it. Apart from the cracked plastic on the top-plate LCD which doen’t bother me, it now sometimes fails to return the mirror after an exposure, and simply stops working, which obviously does.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Staines Town Hall, sold by the local council for pennies and now a pub.(D700, 21mm, slight crop)

It happened for the first time a month or two back, and after a lot of cursing I found a way round. Use the menu and select to raise the mirror for cleaning, press OK and then the shutter release to ‘raise’ it (though it’s already raised), then switch off the camera and it comes down just as it should, and when you switch the camera back on it works properly again.

If it happens – as it has recently – perhaps once a day it’s annoying but not a problem. But this morning it did it at least a dozen times, which became rather a pain.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Staines Aqueduct which carries Thames water to the reservoirs. (D700, 16mm)

It’s also sometimes having problems focussing. A few times it did a bit of hunting rather than the usual fast focus. In the end I switched to manual focus, but by that time I was in any case working with the 10.5mm fisheye, where there is very seldom any need to focus at all.  The only problem with manual focus is that when you switch to manual there is virtually no resistance to turning the focus ring, and it is easy to knock it away from the infinity setting that normally works for virtually any distance.

More pictures and more about Staines on My London Diary shortly.


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



Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Ten days ago, in Ponytail Pontifications, I wrote a little about an old friend of mine, Derek Ridgers, who had just been invited to give his thoughts on the ‘future of photography’ on the Oomska blog, the fourth photographer in what was then a five-part series.  I commented there that the responses to the questions “tell you rather more about the people questioned than casting much light on the future of photography.”

As a result I got invited to give my answers to those same questions, and I suspect the same is true about me – and you can judge for yourself in what is now part 10 of the series, with Carlein van der Beek, Tamara Bogolasky, Emma Jay and  Nick Turpin also having had their say. Comments are of course welcome, both at Oomska and here.

What I found a real problem was not answering the questions but deciding which two pictures I should send to be published with them, and, perhaps even harder, finding a picture of myself to send with them.

John Carvill who runs Oomska had actually asked me for a ‘self-portrait’ though I think he meant a picture of me. I have taken some in the past, but probably it is thirty years since I made anything but a mug-shot for ID purposes. Some of those were pretty poor by any standards, and I wince every time I pull out my press card, with a picture of me taken perhaps 15 years ago which shows me as a desperate criminal. It really isn’t even at all recognisable now and I have tried to change it by supplying a more recent (and more flattering) image on renewing the card, but the system doesn’t seem to allow for this.

Over the years other photographers have taken a number of pictures of me, some in more compromising situations than others, but there are just a few that I’ve used on line. One that I use on Facebook was taken in a rather nice London pub just after I’d got a new digital camera and several friends were passing it around and took pictures on it. But the one I chose was from the only proper portrait session I’ve sat for (I don’t count those where I sat in as a teaching aid for my students.) A friend of mine, Tony Mayne, decided around ten years ago to take a series of portraits of photographers, and brought his lights along to my house for a session.  Photographing photographers is probably always difficult, but I think he did it admirably, although some of his other sitters were undoubtedly more photogenic. And being the generous person that he was, as well as supplying me a set of proofs from the session he also gave me permission to make use of the pictures as I liked, though of course I’ve always credited the image to him, unfortunately now posthumously.

You can see that picture, and the two that I selected to go with my thoughts on Oomska.

Going back to Derek Ridgers, yesterday I went to the exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery where the Sunday Times is celebrating 50 years of their magazine. I’ll possibly write about it at greater length shortly, but if you are around there before 19 Feb it is worth a visit (though it is closed Feb 11-14.) There is a special anniversary issue of the magazine on Sunday 5 Feb, though I think it looks rather disappointing, and it and the show reminds me why I gave up buying the paper. But certainly in its early years and at times since it has used some fine photography, particularly in the early years by Don McCullin. But of a number of portraits on display as large backlit images, one for me was head and shoulders (sorry!) above the rest, Derek’s fine image of Keith Richards.

Scuffles at Stop The War Protest

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Anonymous: Obama Bin Lying!

I was happily photographing a group in ‘Anonymous‘ masks holding a banner ‘Obama Bin Lying!’ in the garden of Grosvenor Square in front of the US Embassy, and was taking a few rather closer images of the masked figures when I realised there was a lot of noise coming from the No War In Iran & Syria protest on the other side of the hedge closer to the Embassy.

Looking over the hedge it was clear there was some kind of disturbance, and so I ran towards the gate in the corner of the gardens (it isn’t the kine of hedge you can get over or through) and started to make my way through the crowd to where things were happening. But the crowd was too dense to get through at any speed, even with the kind of experience and facility at doing so that comes with years of experience, and I soon gave up, retraced my steps and went round the other side, where a long packed line of photographers was standing on the edge  of a raised flower bed looking down from a few feet on the rally.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Abbas Edalat speaking –  and the Free Iran protesters wanted to put their view too

© 2012, Peter Marshall
A noisy argument with some pushing and shoving in the crowd

I managed to squeeze a lens through between two of them and see where things were happening and took a couple of pictures, but I wasn’t going to get the kind of pictures I wanted from there. So I apologised to the two photographers on each side and went between them and lowered myself down the three or four feet from the wall (rather carefully, as my knee was still painful from a fall a week earlier) and through a very thin hedge and around some metal barriers into the crowd.

Once down in among them, it was hard to see what was happening, and probably the best guide was the noise, and I squeezed through to find a shouted confrontation taking place between a man who I later found was from the Free Iran Green Movement and the Stop the War Stewards. Things were so noisy it was hard to hear what they were shouting about, with almost everyone around except me and a couple of other photographers joining in. I was getting pushed around a lot and it was hard to keep in positions where I could see to take pictures – and a few times I had to lift the camera up above my head or push it out in front of me and hope, but mostly I was still working with the camera to my eye. As the people were getting pushed back, I had to move around in front of the way they were going and find new positions from which to photograph, and much of the time my view was blocked by what seemed rather randomly moving bodies.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Iranian Greens argue with Stop the War stewards

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Iranian Greens stop their ‘Free Iran’ banner being taken away from them

Eventually three rather bemused constables waded into the crowd and tried to sort things out, though like me I think they had great problems knowing what was going on. Eventually they managed to bring the Iran Greens who had been fighting to keep their Free Iran banner out from the protest and let them mount their own in the area usually kept free directly in front of the embassy.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The Met start to get things sorted out

Perhaps those photographers who kept up on the wall got a better overall view, but I doubt if they got much in the way of pictures. It’s often a tricky decision whether to get down and in the middle of things when they get a little heated, and a large DSLR with a flashgun stuck on top is just a little fragile. But despite the anger that some of the protesters were showing towards each other, I didn’t feel any of it was directed towards me, and I felt little danger.

What is always difficult in crowds like this is getting sufficient distance – even with a 16mm – to show enough of the scene. If you try to move back a little, then protesters or other photographers will fill the gap. All of the images I took in the crowd were made with the 16-35mm on the D700, mostly in the 16-24mm range.

I was photographing this incident for around 8 minutes and took around 180 frames, all as single exposures. Had I been using film, I would have had to withdraw from the action a few times to reload, and would have taken considerably fewer images – and probably missed the better moments. Of those 180, almost all are reasonably sharp, thanks both to autofocus and relatively fast shutter speeds as I had the camera at ISO 1000. Exposures varied but were mostly around 1/200 f5.6, but some as low as 1/125. On film I’d have been working at ISO 400, again probably working at f5.6 to give sufficient depth of field even with the wide angle, and the slower speeds would certainly have meant fewer sharp images.

It was a very confusing event, and I think in my initial account on Demotix I got mixed up a little over who was who, certainly in a later part of my account. Stop the War also seem to me to be a little mixed up over the different views in Iran and Syria, and appear to have sided with the ruling regimes there and be opposed to the opposition groups who are also against military intervention.

Both Syria and Iran give financial and political support to Hezbollah which is widely seen as a resistance movement against imperialism across much of the Arab world (and as terrorists by the West), but both regimes also oppress and commit atrocities against their own populations –  news from Syria tells us daily of the protesters killed, and today is the 30th anniversary of the Hama massacre of 1982, which left 100,000 refugees, 60,000 prisoners, 40,000 martyrs, 15,000 missing & 5,000 homeless.

Groups such as the Iranian Green movement are strongly opposed to US attacks on Iran, believing that they would have the effect of strengthening the regime there and keeping it in power for another 50 years. Stop the War appears to have become closely aligned with groups supporting these tyrannical regimes and I think needs as a coalition to walk the more difficult route of uniting all those opposed to the war rather than taking sides.

My London Diary has a longer report on the actual protest, together with more pictures of the event, including more of these scuffles in No War Against Iran & Syria.


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


Disabled Block Road

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Protesters met outside Holborn Station

Saturday morning I arrived at Holborn Underground station to find almost every other photographer in London was there. We’d all come for the start of what the press release had described as “group of disabled, sick and elderly people … going to engage in a daring and disruptive act of civil disobedience” at a “secret location” in protest against the benefit cuts of the Welfare Reform Bill, currently going through our parliament.

It didn’t look too hopeful, as there were only a few protesters, perhaps around 20 and probably around a hundred photographers, videographers and reporters. But as I was there, I got down to taking a few pictures, taking care to get the station name in at least some of them. As well as photographing some of the half-dozen or so in wheelchairs I also took a picture of two guys with the banner of one of the organising groups.

We were all hanging around, waiting to be directed to the “secret location”, when I saw the banner being rolled up and the two carrying it hurrying into the station. I started to follow them, then stopped, deciding wrongly it would be a better story to stick with the wheelchairs.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Protesters make their way to Oxford Circus from the taxi drop-off point

We were all still hanging around being told nothing, and then I saw that the people in wheelchairs were beginning to get into taxis. I can’t afford taxis – and generally they are a slow way to get around London – but I did overhear where the taxis were taking them, so decided to take the tube to Oxford Circus and walk the short distance to that point, getting there more than five minutes before the taxi. Unfortunately by the time they had arrived and we had walked to the protest I had just missed the start.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Protesters on the road with the chain across them

Most of the protesters had obviously met elsewhere and together with the press who by then had been taken to Oxford Circus where the protest was. Sometimes using a little initiative doesn’t really pay off!

I don’t think I had missed much, and the main problem now was that there were still probably more photographers etc than protesters, and it was hard to take photographs without getting in other people’s way and them getting in yours. What really annoys me are those people – mainly not the pros – who keep pushing their cameras out at arms length directly in front of your lens.

I’m always trying to think in terms of the story as well as the picture, perhaps a slightly different perspective to many of the press and agency photographers. They know that probably at best only one or two of their photographs from any event will get used, while I know that I’ll put a whole story both on Demotix and also in greater depth on My London Diary, and also hope I may get a picture published elsewhere.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Woman leads the ‘human microphone’ against the Welfare Reform Bill

© 2012, Peter Marshall
One of many people who spoke at the protest

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Police officer in charge warns protesters they are committing an offence

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Protesters confront police officer

Other than photographers getting in the way (and of course they have the same right to be there as me, though there are a few who really need to learn manners) my other main problem was Nikon’s lousy lenshoods, a subject I’ve mentioned before.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The dark area at bottom left is my lens hood

Working in crowds, lenshoods get knocked – and the main reason I use one is often as protection – they get knocked rather than the lens. Cheap substitutes from e-bay can be a little better than the Nikon originals, and the one that cost me around a tenth of the genuine Nikon is a little firmer and gets knocked completely off rather less often (and eventually after I’d picked the original up a few dozen times from the ground it was cracked) but they still have the same fairly useless bayonet mount which makes them easily turned round, and it’s easy to miss that this has happened for a while when taking pictures. I’m someone who usually frames tightly, and it is seldom possible to rescue the situation by cropping the images. But here is one where I could crop at top right, and the lens hood at bottom left isn’t a great problem – it could easily be someone’s shoulder, and if I didn’t tell you you wouldn’t know what had happened.

It was also a fairly large intrusion into the image, which in a way was fortunate because I fairly quickly noticed it and twisted it back into position. But a well-designed lens hood would have a much more positive lock.

The other problem I had was down to a little of my own finger-twiddling (probably also a design fault, but not one I can blame Nikon for.) At some point I managed to move one of the sliders on the 16-35 lens barrel from Auto to Manual focus. Working at 16mm, images didn’t look particularly un-sharp in the viewfinder when slightly out of focus, and rather oddly the camera still occasionally makes little focusing noises even when it isn’t! However it soon became obvious something was wrong when I zoomed out to 35mm, but not before I’d taken a few rather soft pictures.

The slider on the barrel is sensibly quite difficult to move accidentally, but somehow I managed it though I can’t quite understand how. It was a cold day and I was wearing thin synthetic woolly gloves which make handling the camera a little less positive. More often I wear thinner silk gloves that retain a little more feel.

The story and more pictures are now on My London Diary .


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

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