Archive for May, 2012

London Festival Opens

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Unfortunately I don’t have time to write fully about each of the five shows I attended on the tour before the opening party of this years London Photography Festival which was held in the Dog Eared Gallery where the major show ‘The Great British Public’ is taking place, particularly as I have a rush job to complete before I flee and lie low for a few days as the country suffocates under a sea of red, white and blue. But certainly this years festival is a quantum leap up from last years somewhat tame London Street Photography Festival, and perhaps if this progress continues London will soon have the kind of photography festival it needs, rather than two events – this and the East London Photomonth – that while interesting don’t really create the kind of buzz that London deserves.

One show not to miss is at the Guardian Gallery at King’s Place in York Way from 1-28 June 2012 open 10-6, 7 days a week. I suspect I have seen most or all of the pictures in Steve Bloom’s ‘Beneath the Surface’ before, because when Bloom left his native South Africa in 1977 he took the “small pile of silver-gelatin black and white prints” to the offices of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London, and they sent him on to the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa who published and exhibited them, but that now seems an age ago, distant in terms both of time and sensitivity. It is hard now to believe the everyday nature of apartheid that emerges through his pictures perhaps even more than the more dramatic scenes. Accompanying the show is a free limited edition 24 page newsprint publication produced by the LFP together with the Observer, so go soon to get your copy before all 1000 disappear.

Its a short walk from Kings Place in York Road to the Minnie Weisz Studio in Pancras Rd, where her Camera Obscura is showing (Tue-Sun, 10am – 6pm until 29 June 2012), though you may want to allow yourself an hour or two to explore the redevelopment at last taking place to the north of Kings Cross and across the canal in the former goods yard site. It was in 1987 – 25 years ago – that I became involved for a couple of years with the Kings Cross Railway Lands Group after the first rumours of the comprehensive redevelopment emerged.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Minnie Weisz’s work is particularly concerned about “buildings on the brink of change” and this area has thus provided plenty of scope for her photographs of room interiors. In some she turns the room into a camera obscura so that an upside down image of the outside world is projected on its surfaces, which she then photographs with a normal camera, sometimes choosing to display the room upside down so that the projected image appears the right way up. It was work that reminded me of Abelardo Morell, though the images in Weisz’ show that most appealed to me were her simple straightforward atmospheric images of deserted rooms with peeling paint.

A couple of doors down is the Hardy Tree Gallery, (named for the well-known feature of Old St Pancras Churchyard) showing the results from “a four year research project by London-based, Saudi photographer Wasma Mansour (1-30 June 2012, 10am-6pm, 7 days a week.) I don’t feel competent to evaluate the assumptions behind her work on the generalisations about Saudi women living alone and the effect these have on their “efforts to reconcile with their identities and asserting their sense of individualism” but for me her exploration with “a multidirectional photographic approach” did not seem to have reached the kind of final resolution that I found satisfying. The set of work I found most interesting did not feature the women but showed what I assume were areas of their living accommodation as still life. But perhaps this is a show that needs to be examined in greater depth than I was able to give it in my brief visit.

Next came the two mainline stations, and first was St Pancras, a building whose rebuilt interior I still find depressing at ground level, even more so when entered from the north-west end. The new concourse at Kings Cross is however more impressive – I just hope they will soon sort out the Euston Road frontage.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The display at St Pancras is a small collection of work from the group show ‘The Great British Public‘ at the Dog Eared Gallery printed large on free-standing panels (until 1 July 2012, 24/7.) Handy if you are in a rush for a train or can’t afford the £6.50 for the gallery, and of course will be seen by many thousands more than the show, and acts as good advertising for the festival, but essentially adds nothing to the show (see below.)

© 2012, Peter Marshall

At Kings Cross there is a large display of panels of Contemporary London Street Photography, which although it will certainly attract much public attention I found disappointing (as too did the group of photographers I met there looking at it.) Although there were a number of good pictures (including several by personal friends), the whole long wall gave me a powerful feeling of deja-vu. Of course some of the pictures I had seen before (and I’m sure there were one or two that were in last year’s festival) but it was more that these were pictures very like pictures I had seen before and largely the kind of image that very soon exhaust themselves, pictures better suited to a digital world where the next image is a mouse click away or quickly changes to the next image in a slide show, sometimes only visible for a fraction of a second. It’s perhaps unfair on at least some of the photographers, but overall this was my feeling. There was something very dated about much of this work, and an over-reliance on graphic effect, a confusion of means as ends. For me photography is essentially about content and too often here it was lacking.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The Great British Public group show at the Dog Eared Gallery in Field St, a short walk away down the Kings Cross Road (1-24 June 2012, 10am-6pm, 7 days, £6.50) is a ragbag, but at times an engaging one. Oustanding are set of portraits of centenarians, looking extremely young and healthy, and head and shoulders above the rest of the work in the room not least for the sheer professionalism, but also for the sensitivity of the photographer, Chris Steele-Perkins. Another very fine piece of work is Liz Hingley’s Under Gods, pictures from the urban multi-faith communities of Birmingham’s Soho Road, undoubtedly one of the finest recent British documentary projects, although I would have liked to see the prints a little larger (and better lit than some were for the opening.) Martin Parr’s few pictures from his Black Country project that he can still take good pictures when he puts his mind to it, even if sometimes in other work he seems to be coasting on his reputation, and there were a number of other pictures around the room that appealed to me even if I felt rather disappointed at the quality of some of the work on show.

There are of course other shows in the LFP, as well as talks and workshops, and you can find about about everything on the LFP web site.

Staines Remains Staines

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

There is a story I’ve heard several times in Staines that the whole campaign to change the official name of our town started as a drunken bet by a councillor, and it is a story that to me makes more sense than the official story behind the campaign. But then like many who have known Staines for a long time – in my case since I was a child in the 1950s – I don’t have a great deal of respect for Spelthorne Council or many of our councillors.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The London Stone, an ancient marker (part replica) of the limits of the
City of London’s control over the Thames was ‘unveiled’ close to its
original position in Staines as a more sensible act on the day.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Spelthorne borough isn’t unique in bringing together several very different areas, but its formation in the re-organisation of London government was unusual, the only part of Middlesex not to be included in Greater London.  Although Staines and Stanwell in the north of the area were clearly linked to London and were largely working class areas with a good deal of industry on the fringe of Heathrow, the south of the area was wealthy surbubia, much more similar to Surrey across the river. The Conservatives from there revolted at the idea of becoming a part of London and despite an ancient history of transfluvial rivalry opted to become under the administration of Surrey as the borough of Spelthorne.

Surrey for many years often failed to acknowledge Spelthorne’s arrival, and it is only recently that we moved from the protection of the Met to policing by Surrey, although rail travellers have for rather longer been confused by finding their trains going between Feltham, Middlesex and Staines, Middlesex occasionally stop at the curiously named station of Ashford (Surrey), somehow having apparently contrived a lateral jump of several miles across the Thames. Fortunately should they walk out of the station they will soon find very clearly they are back in Ashford, Middlesex. Unless like a few unfortunates, mainly foreigners, they are so confused by the whole affair they end up in Ashford, Kent.

Spelthorne Council, although it has its offices in Staines, has never really understood Staines, and perhaps never really cared for it, with other parts of the borough always uppermost in its thoughts. It doesn’t help when even some Staines councillors seem completely ignorant of the town, as when one laughably went on record recently describing it as “a very genteel place“. Even in the Conservative Club that probably had them falling off their bar-stools.  Don’t get me wrong. I like Staines, and we chose to live and buy a house here over 35 years ago and have stayed. If it had been genteel we wouldn’t have felt at home.

But this – and the decision to change the “official” name to Staines-upon-Thames – is all rather parish pump. The main controversy which led to the campaign was around Staines’s best-known ambassador, ‘Ali G’ who has done more to raise the profile of the town than any one else, ever.  Most of Staines rather likes the ‘Ali G’ image – the Staines Town football team supporters refer to themselves as ‘The Massive’ and some dress like him to watch their matches. But Spelthorne and the local conservatives that dominate local politics don’t – and some certainly completely fail to understand his brand of humour. So when I heard that there was a chance that several people might attend dressed as ‘Ali G’ what had been a rather missable local event gained rather more interest.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

In the end only one ‘Ali G’ turned up, although Drew Cameron was a class act, perhaps rather better than Sacha Baron Cohen himself, and many of those at the event were pleased to come and talk to him and have their pictures taken with him. Soon he had a ‘minder’ from Spelthorne Council following him around and reporting his progress on her handset (and I suspect making sure that the Mayor kept out of his way, a pity as I’d have liked a picture of the two guys together in fancy dress.)  After a while a couple of security men pushed a protesting ‘Ali G’ off site, and I fortunately saw it happening and rushed across to take a few pictures.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

A few minutes later he came back into the car park and public grassed area where the event was taking place and I took a few more pictures before going to photograph the official proceedings – and he was apparently thrown out for a second time.

Perhaps surprisingly the main local press hardly reported the story, and failed to make much of the whole event which curiously also got mixed up as some kind of Olympic celebration. One of the more independent local free sheets did use one of my pictures from Demotix and a short note fairly small on the front page.  But for a proper report of the whole day, including the ‘Ali G’ incident, people will have to turn to Council Attempts To Rename Staines in My London Diary.


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


Flags & Protests

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Flags are often important in photographs, and can be a real pain get how you want them. They tend either to hang limply when you want them to fly out, or to flutter unpredictably out of control. At political demonstrations they are sometimes waved high above the heads of the protesters on long poles, and although these may look good, they are often hard to incorporate into pictures that work.

At the No To NATO, Troops Out Of Afghanistan protest outside the US Embassy, I saw the chance to make a picture as Free Bahrein flags were being waved as someone was speaking about the situation there. It took me 15 frames to get a couple that had something of the effect I wanted -the flags were being waved vigorously and it was a gusty day – and there were a few images with no flag at all visible, and was made just a little trickier by working with the 28-105mm on my ailing D300, where I have to free the mirror after every few exposures by ‘locking it for cleaning’ and turning the camera off. I really must replace that soon, particularly as it now sometimes needs doing 2 or 3 times before the mirror will drop down. The image above was taken with the lens at 70mm (105mm equiv) and I particularly like it because the text on the flag is legible. There is also another frame in the feature in My London Diary, which I selected partly because I thought it portrayed the speaker better and there was a third I considered but didn’t use which has a more graphic use of the jagged white-red boundary.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The protest was outside the US Embassy, and as usual I tried to make use of the big ugly eagle and flag on its roof, though there were times when the flag just wasn’t playing, and it isn’t always convenient to wait for it. You can just about see it above this protester in orange, one of a group calling for the release of Shaker Aamer who lived in London with his family before being captured on a visit to Afghanistan, tortured and taken to Guantanamo, where he is still being held, probably because the evidence he would give on release about his torture there would embarrass both British and US governments.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Sometimes the wind was more helpful, though this perhaps wasn’t one of my better pictures.  Those guys in ‘Anonymous’ masks looked better in other images without the flag.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Of course there are always choices and decisions. In the series of 7 frames I took of these two people there are differences in particular in the placards in the background (which again moved around while I was taking the pictures, though rather less so than the flags.) One reason for choosing this particular frame was that the ‘No to Nato’ in the background was more legible than in most of the others, although there are other differences too.


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


Nikon Bows To Extreme Right

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

In January this year the Shinjuku Nikon Salon in Tokyo agreed to show the project Layer by Layer of South Korean photographer Ahn Sehong, with the show due to open on June 26 and to run until July 29, 2012.  The pictures were also to be displayed at the Nikon Salon in Osaka  for a week in September. As a part of the pre-show publicity, Sehong gave a lecture in Nagoya, Japan on 19 May, and the lecture and show were covered in a long article in the local edition of the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

When the Japanese Imperial Army occupied China in the 1930s and 1940s, a number of women, mainly from Korea, were abducted by the military, taken there and forced to provide sexual services. At the end of the war these so-called ‘comfort women’ were abandoned in China.

On his web site in the project Layer by layer Sehong writes:

When the survived Korean Comfort Women were forced to stay in China in 2001, the contact with them made me understand much better their situations. I saw the individual women selling things on the bus, or on the train, or on the ship for living. Such a miserable way of living seemed to mirror their past lives as the displaced. This harsh reality made me visit to China five times to find out them.

It’s worth reading his text there in full, and also looking at the fine set of black and white images. The women were all in their 80s and 90s when he met and photographed them, and his images reflect their stories with a great sense of intimacy and compassion.  He began photographing ‘comfort women’ in 1991, ten years  earlier, but although his pictures have been published in Japanese magazines, the Nikon show would have been their first exhibition in Japan.

The Ashahi Shimbun reports that from May 21, two days after his lecture, their were frequent postings condemning the exhibition on the Internet, with one describing it “as propaganda by a foreign nation, while another said it was an act of betrayal that would only serve to falsify history” and calls for people to protest about the show to Nikon.

The following day, an official from Nikon phoned Sehong and told him the show could not go ahead. Nikon have refused to give him or anyone else a reason. A Nikon official told The Asahi Shimbun “While it is a fact that we received several phone calls protesting the holding of the photo exhibition, the cancellation was decided on after comprehensively considering various circumstances.”

On the Nikon Salon site it says “Ahn Sehong’s photo exhibition has been cancelled based on a number of reasons. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this has caused concerned parties.”

The English Edition of Hankyoreh comments on the increasing activity of the Japanese extreme right in recent months since last December when the South Korean urged that the issue of the ‘comfort women’ be resolved. They deny that there was any abduction and continue to hold frequent protests outside the Korean embassy in Tokyo.

The Japan Daily Press links the cancellation to a refusal by the residents of Palisades Park, New Jersey which has many Korean living in the area to take down a memorial to the ‘comfort women’.

Japanese government officials requested that the monument be taken down, as it was reflective of behavior from a long time ago, and no longer represents the Japan of today. As expected, the town declined and its residents were furious with the request. As result, there was a small amount of protesting in Japan about Ahn’s planned photo exhibit.

You can read more about the Japanese reactions to the cancellations in The Japan Times, which reports that the Japan Visual Journalist Association is preparing a statement (and someone from it comments “This is basically Nikon’s self-censorship. Is it all right for a large corporation like Nikon to permit such a wimpy reaction?” ) They also report the statement of the campaigning group ‘Military Sexual Slavery by Japan During the Second World War’:

Ahn Sehong does not accept the cancellation of the photo exhibition, which (Nikon) cannot explain the reasons for. The world-renowned Nikon’s reaction damages one photographer’s honor and will be known by the global media.”

As reported there and elsewhere, there is to be a showing of Sehong’s work in Japan on the afternoon of June 10 in a community hall in Yokkaichi. But it deserves a much wider showing both in Japan and elsewhere. Nikon should certainly be ashamed of their part in this affair, and I hope the photography community worldwide will make its views clear to them.

Old Photographs

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Not that old, but I’ve recently been spending a lot of time scanning the best of my old negatives from my first years in photography. So far I’m up to around the middle of 1983, and don’t seem to have covered more than a very small fraction of my work – another 20 busy years of film to scan.

Of course I’m trying to be very selective in what I scan, and often there are contact sheets where nothing catches my interest, but on others I’m discovering things I’ve never really noticed before. Here’s one of them:

© 1983, Peter Marshall

You’ll have to take my word that it looks much better when you see it filling the screen and you can see clearly the rods of rain and the pock covered surface of the Lea Navigation where the rain is pounding into it, along with the rather more brooding rain soaked sky and the glistening of the nettles and other weeds alongside the path that this is a picture redolent with atmosphere.  I don’t remember anything about actually taking it, but looking at it I can feel and hear the rain (I do hope I had an umbrella) and smell the wet earth and foliage. In several respects, not least the pylons, it’s a very typical scene from this part of the Lea at that time.

It’s a picture I don’t remember printing before, though probably I did at the time, but it certainly isn’t one that I’ve shown from the lengthy project I carried out on the Lea Valley in the early 80s, revisiting it again in the nineties and more recently to take more work, much of which is in my Lea Valley web site, though this isn’t among them yet, though perhaps next time I update the site I’ll add it.

Generally I am finding that my selection now is a little different from that which I made at the time, with a whole area of work which I now have much less interest in. These are what I might call the more ‘arty’ pictures, where what attracted me were the formal qualities of the scene, perhaps in the water flowing over the edge of a weir or the patterns of light and shade on a wall. Now I want to make use of those formal elements in making a picture about something rather than making them the subject of the picture, I want to see a good picture of the weir or the building the wall was a part of.

Even bad pictures can have some interest. Another from the same year shows an industrial building on Carpenters Road – a road that has now disappeared under the Olympic site.  I’ve photographed it from the other side of the road and have obviously tried very hard (and very nearly successfully) to keep the verticals upright, at the expense of covering nearly half the picture with an empty roadway.

© 1983, Peter Marshall

It certainly is not a great picture, but not without interest, and probably what particularly interested me were the doorway and the window above and just to the right. Above the window are the dates 1870 and 1898 and above the door the device reads ‘ABR & Co Ltd’

A little searching in ‘British History Online’ after Google had drawn a blank found the name of the company as ‘A. Boake, Roberts & Co., manufacturer of perfumery and flavour chemicals’, and armed with that I was able to find more about them than anyone sensible would want to know.

The company is said to have been founded in 1869 by Arthur Boake, an Irishman from Dublin, to produce brewing chemicals, and produced a product to clarify wines that sold well across Europe. In the 1890s it branched out into various flavouring essences and essential oils and the company which had become a partnership with Francis George Adair Roberts in 1876 was incorporated as  A. Boake, Roberts and Co. Ltd in 1897.  The 1898 on its frontage is probably when it moved to this new factory on Carpenters Road.

The company prospered, and in the 1940s and 50s produced a wide range of chemicals from factories in  Walthamstow, Letchworth, Rainham and Widne, joining with two other companies in 1966 as Bush Boake Allen, part of Albright & Wilson Ltd. It was a huge company worldwide, but in 2000 it was acquired by IFF to create “world’s largest flavor and fragrance company.”

Those who lived or worked near the factory, which closed a few years before I took my picture, still remember the various smells it produced, notably a powerful odour of oil of wintergreen.

Photographs, even those like this that have little interest pictorially can be a useful historical record. At the time I think I saw it as a failure because I didn’t have the equipment to record the building more satisfactorily in terms of architectural photography. Taking pictures of buildings like this, before verticals and horizontals could be corrected digitally, required a camera with movements, which were slow to use. I had a couple of 4×5 cameras, a studio monorail and a more portable but less flexible MPP, both of which were too heavy to take on the lengthy walks I was making to take photographs. What I lusted after for use on my 35mm camera was a shift lens – a lens with movements built in, but for me these were impossibly expensive.

But not long afterwards I came across one second-hand in a camera shop in Hull. Even second-hand it cost almost a couple of months wages, but I didn’t hesitate, and it became my most-used lens for the next 25 or so years.

Noorderlicht Under Threat

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

I was dumbfounded to read that the Cultural Council of The Netherlands advised the Dutch Government to cut the financial support to Noorderlicht after 2012. Particularly when this followed one of the most succesful exhibitions to be held in the Netherlands, certainly in recent memory, Cruel & Unusual (see also my  second post, Cruel & Unusual 2) a show that had prompted me to write the post We Need A Noorderlicht Here.

The cutting of financial support to Noorderlicht would be a disaster not just for the organisation, not just for photography in the Netherlands, but for photography around the world. And as they say on their site, the advice came following a very favourable evaluation by the council:

“A front-ranking national and international position, standing out for its engaged themes and good presentations. Good educational programmes, realistic plans for generating its own incomes, and an engaged attitude with regard to developing new talent. Noorderlicht generates considerable media attention here and in other countries.

On the web site are some suggestions as to ways that you can show your support for Noorderlicht,  including recording your opinion on the Noorderlicht and ‘Noorderlicht Has to Stay‘ Facebook pages. It takes only a few seconds to ‘Like’ the page, and comments are welcome.

Noorderlicht’s work has been ground-breaking in many areas through its festivals and projects, notably for me with Nazar which opened up a whole area of Arab photography (and of course it has also had festivals featuring Latin American, African and Asian work.)

I can’t help wondering if the show Cruel and Unusual, a great popular success, was too much for some of the cultural politicians to take. Perhaps if cultural institutions seem likely to bring about any political change they are likely to lose official funding.

This is a case that reminds me of what happened in England, where last year the Arts Council cut funding for Side Gallery, the only gallery in this country devoted to documentary photography and again with a truly international reputation. That decision was called  “a profoundly stupid, culturally illiterate and illogical decision“,  a description that seems to apply also in the case of Noorderlicht.

A Different Suitcase

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Another photographer whose work deserves to be better known is the Catalan photographer Agustí Centelles (1909-85), one of the earliest to use a Leica, and whose work on the Spanish Civil War has perhaps unfortunately been eclipsed by the fairly small body of work – and one image in particular – by Robert Capa.

Capa’s negatives from that era, lost for decades after he left them in Paris in 1939, were discovered some years ago in Mexico City, and the three cardboard boxes containing his work along with that of Gerda Taro and Chim (David Seymour) and a couple of rolls by Fred Stein, together known as ‘The Mexican Suitcase‘, were finally handed over to the ICP archive in 2007. Many of the more interesting images from them were already known through their reproduction in magazines of the time, but having the negatives obviously allows these to be seen in their context.

Centelles began an apprenticeship to a photographer in Barcelona where he grew up in 1924 and ten years later became a freelance photojournalist. In 1936 he photographed events in Barcelona after the July military upraising and was then sent to the Aragon front as an official photographer. In 1939 he fled to France as Barcelona fell to the Nationalists, taking with his cameras and his 4000 most important negatives in a suitcase. The rest of his work was seized by Franco’s troops along with other Catalan government material and stored in what became the Spanish Civil War Archive in Salamanca.

In various internment camps in France he managed to continue with his photography, managing to get a French press card and later a job in a photography studio, and was soon taking pictures for forged ID cards for the French Resistance. In 1944 several members of his group were arrested and he left his negatives behind in Carcassonne, fearing that if he took them back to Spain they would compromise many of the , fleeing back to Spain where he spent two years in hiding before giving himself up to the Spanish authrorities in Barcelona. After his trial he was released on parole and became a successful advertising and industrial photographer.

It was only in 1976 following the death of Franco when his press card was restored that he felt able to go back to collect his negatives from France and he spent the rest of his life restoring and cataloguing these images. In 1984, the year before he died, Centelles was awarded the Premio Nacional de Fotografía from the Spanish Ministry of Culture for his work. Since his death his work has been promoted by his sons, who were determined to keep his archive together, and it was acquired by the Spanish Ministry of Culture in 2009 for 700,000 Euros to be held in the Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica de Salamanca.

Looking through his images there were a few that were familiar to me, though I had not remembered the name of the photographer. In 2001, Magali Jauffret reviewing a show of Spanish Civil War photographs for the French newspaper l’Humanité, recognised the immense value of his work in her piece published under the headline ‘Agusti Centelles aussi grand que Capa‘. As a record of the Spanish Civil War his pictures are I think rather more valuable, although Capa certainly took the best-known image from the conflict and of course went on to do much else.

An exhibition with forty of the Spanish Civil War Photographs of Agustí Centelles (The French Suitcase) was shown at New York University in Oct-Dec last year, and you can watch a video with some of his pictures from that show, Centelles in_edit_oh!

There are a couple of other YouTube video’s I’ve also found worth watching (though depending on your musical tastes as often with such things you may like to be ready to mute the sound on either or both of them), Agustí Centelles – Spanish Civil War  and Agustí Centelles, fotógrafo de la historia.

A feature on the Times Quotidian, Three Suitcases: Walter Benjamin; Agusti Centelles; and the Hypothetical Suitcase of Baltasar Garzon – Part One by Janet Sternburg, adds some interesting detail about Centelles, and suggests that his work only became internationally known to the photography world after the first French showing of his work at the Jeu de  Paume in 2009. A comment on the article points out that “the first exhibition of Centelles work in France was in 2004, in Carcassone” and that it was shown in New York in 1986. The Paris show mentioned above in which at least for one reviewer he was a star was at the Hôtel de Sully in June-Sept 2001. But I make no claims about it being the first.

Maier in France

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

There is an interesting post on the NYT Lens Blog from a few weeks ago, Touring the Nanny-Photographer’s Past by Richard Cahan in which he writes about a visit he made to  Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur in the Hautes-Alpes near Gap, France, a village which now has a population of around 2,000, but was perhaps rather smaller when Vivian Maier, born in the Bronx, lived there with her mother who had been born near there in the 1930s. Maier was then between 6 and 12 and they returned to live in the USA around the time of the start of the war, but she came back in 1949 and 1959 to take photographs.

Cahan is writing a book together with Michael Williams, “Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows,” which will present her photographs in the context of her life, making use of the  18,000 Maier negatives owned by Jeffrey Goldstein who accompanied him to France.

On their trip they found very few people who actually remembered Maier, but more who recognised themselves and others in her images. For them in particular these photographs have great value, but so more generally do these, and many other collections from the past for all of us.

The NYT is a subscription site, but allows a limited number of free visits per month, and it’s worth using one of them to read this article and view the 20 or so pictures that illustrate it. And of course the web site of her work from the negatives owned by Goldstein (linked above) is worth a look.

Although I’m still not impressed by the super-hype about Maier as a great street photographer and she was definitely not a great innovator, she was an excellent photographer and her work certainly has interest and value.  I’m not sure I would ever particularly want to own the book (shelf space here is limited and the $85 pre-order price could be put to better use) but I welcome it becoming available, and I’m sure it will be interesting to read. Though at that kind of price it perhaps is not likely to make my local library.  But the future for most photographic publishing is perhaps the e-book (after a further generation or two of development of better reading hardware.)

Signs & London Festival

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Let This Be A Sign

I was pleased to arrive at Swiss Cottage Library last night for the opening of what I think is the first show of the London Festival of Photography, “taking place throughout June with a focus in King’s Cross, Bloomsbury, Euston & Fitzrovia. ”  A little outside this both physically and temporally, ‘Let This Be A Sign‘ by Simon Roberts opened last night.

My journey had not been a good one, thanks to a broken-down train at Acton Wells that shut down the Overground service from Richmond, followed by lengthy delays on the longer alternative route via Clapham Junction with trains too packed for everyone to board and I almost gave up and went home. It was perhaps an appropriate introduction to a show that deals with the political and social effects of our continuing recession here in the UK, with nothing in our lives and economy quite working as it should.

This is an interesting show and it continues until 1 July, open with the library 7 days a week, combining 4×5 images printed large with collages of small digital images of protest placards and closed down shop fronts, text,  graphs, and a collection of actual posters and placards on the floor below (and I’m sure I’ve missed something.)  Although I’ve nothing against such a multifaceted approach, I felt it worked rather better in the free newsprint publication ‘This Is A Sign‘ by Roberts, available free at the library which I read at some length on my rather smoother journey home, than in the showcases and on the gallery wall.

We’ve seen several such newsprint publications in the past couple of years, and this, designed by FUEL and printed in an edition of only 2000 is like some others probably destined to become a collectors’ item, so go there soon and grab your copy.  It’s always difficult to know the constraints in mounting a show such as this, but I didn’t quite feel it gelled, and in particular the separation of the posters and placards, possibly dictated by security considerations, was unfortunate. Perhaps too this collection lacked the strength and diversity that those of use who regularly visited Occupy London or go to protests are accustomed to.

Roberts has taken on a large and important topic, and certainly one which is difficult to do justice to. It is also one which politically presents some problems for the council owned venue, and Camden is one of the Labour councils that last year saw angry protests blocking streets outside the council offices and an occupation of the council chamber as well as a high-profile campaign against cuts in its Library service.

Possibly fortuitously, his pictures of protest were made elsewhere, including a couple in the neighbouring borough of Islington, from Occupy Finsbury Square, where Islington Council, who had for many months supported the Occupy movement’s right to peaceful protest announced earlier this week that they would take legal action to regain possession of the site after many living there had ignored a legal notice ordering them to leave by last Friday.

But what I missed most in the show were people as people. Protesters were largely shown as crowds, and other images had people mainly as co-incidental inclusions, standing for example on a street corner looking – as was the photographer – at the after-effects of the riots. In the newsprint a page digital collage of images ‘Brokers with hands on their faces’ stands out from the rest of the work – not because the photography is better (it isn’t) but because it concentrates on people. Later I read the small print at the back of the publication and found that these pictures were not by Roberts but from the Brokers With Hands On Their Faces blog, images from Wall Street rather than the UK. Perhaps for me the strongest image in this publication/show was the one exception, placed deliberately after the brokers, it showed people queuing outside a Sheffield Credit Union.

Perhaps too the strengths of large format are not best suited to covering protest, and the images on display to some extent reflected its lack of flexibility. There are times when the extra resolution of 4×5 film adds a great deal, but I seldom felt it in these images, and in some the printing didn’t help to make the case. Seeing the work in newsprint works better because we have no expectations of higher quality, but also it helps to unify the various aspects of the show.

But this is a show worth seeing – and go soon and get your copy of ‘This Is A Sign’, complete with a blank placard on the cover for you to supply your own slogan.


Memories of Swiss Cottage & the Death of Large Format

Of course like most openings it was perhaps more interesting for the people that I met and talked to, and few of those present seemed to be paying a great deal of attention to the pictures – though perhaps they had done so more before I arrived. Among those there was an old friend, Mike Seaborne with whom I organised a show  in the central space of this same library in 1993 of work by members of London Documentary Photographers, which included couple of dozen of my own pictures of shop-fronts and interiors, some of which are in the web project ‘Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise‘, including this example.

© 1990 Peter Marshall
Lewisham, 1990

Soon after I also helped to organise and took part in two shows in the same venue for London Independent Photography. Apparently it was not possible to put anything from this current show into this larger central space, a shame as this is considerably more visible to the many users of the library who pass by on their way to take out and return books. At least they may see the placards on the ground floor entrance, although I managed to walk past without noticing them on my way in.

Mike and my conversation turned to new cameras, and in particular the Nikon D800E, which we agreed looked likely to make 4×5 totally redundant, so long as it is teamed with the high quality prime lenses which Nikon is now bringing out. Frankly I seldom feel the need for that kind of quality, and have always preferred to work with smaller formats – and if necessary with smaller prints. Curators and photographers I showed the ‘Café Ideal...’ project to in the 80s and 90s often said to me “If only you worked with medium (or large) format …” to which my response was always that for several reasons the work would simply not exist if I had done so, and that the prints were of more than adequate quality for what I needed, particularly as I’ve never been a great fan of large prints – for me part of the essential power of photography has always been that it is an intimate medium, producing objects that one can hold in your hands.

I’m still thinking of getting an 800E, but if I do so I would expect to be using it as a DX rather than an FX format camera for perhaps 99% of my work, and to continue working with my current Nikon zooms. I’ve found the 16-35mm f4 and the DX 28-105mm pretty amazing, at least with a little help from Lightroom’s automatic corrections, and you just don’t need huge files most of the time, though it’s great to be able to make them when you do.


Frederick Wilfred

More about the LFP at a later date. Glancing through the festival guide perhaps the most intriguing show is of work from 1956-62 by Frederick Wilfred (1925-2010), who I’d not heard of before despite the fact that we were both at times active members of the same photographic club (though perhaps at different times, and I saw the error of my ways in the early 1980s) which doesn’t open at the Museum of London until 16 June (it runs until 8 July) although you already can see a fine set of his work on line. Probably when I was around he was busy with his commercial work and portraiture.

One thing the two LFP shows have in common is that both include an element of audience participation. In the case of Wilfred, one thing I found annoyingly lacking on his web site were captions, and the museum  which has recently acquired 124 of his pictures is appealing to anyone who recognises the locations (some are of course obvious) or the people in the pictures are being asked to let the museum know.

But it is also a good reminder for us as photographers to make sure that our prints have captions on the back and our digital files include appropriate metadata.

London May Queen

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The Merrie England Children dance around the maypole on Hayes Common

It seems a long time ago that I first made my way to Hayes Common looking for the Merrie England and London May Queen Festival, and I find it surprising it was only 7 years ago in 2005. Then I was not at all sure what I would find – and whether I would be welcome to photograph the event, but this time there were many people present who greeted me, including parents and some of the girls taking part, some now considerably older and larger than when I first photographed them.

What I found in May 2005 fascinated me in various ways, and was the start of a couple of years work – spread out because the events only happen on a few Saturdays in April and May each year – which, had financial stringencies not intervened, would have resulted in a museum show.

The cancellation of the show also put an end to hopes of publication of a book, but earlier this year I produced a scaled-down version – available on Blurb both as a print version and a rather more sensibly priced e-book – because this year would see the crowning of the 100th London May Queen.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The 100th London May Queen is crowned

Despite a slight hiccough in my planning for the day (Mr Punch, crowds of Morris Dancers and a Nakba Day Protest in London held me up) I made it to Hayes Common for the event, arriving just as the London May Queen, followed by her retinue and the 20 or so other May Queen groups from around south-east London were about to begin the procession to the village church and around Hayes before the crowning.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The crown is carried on a cushion before the coronation ceremony

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The Fairy Queen came accompanied by two fairies

And if you ever wondered what happens to the redundant bearer of the cushion on which the crown is carried after the crowning,

© 2012, Peter Marshall

the answer is sometimes at least that she becomes a bear bearer, as this picture of West Wickham’s ‘Crown and Cushion’ and May Queen wearing her crown illustrates. Although I think of teddy bears as essentially male, this one is clearly dressed as a girl in the West Wickham shade of green and flower Lobelia matching that held by the May Queen – though I can’t vouch for botanical accuracy. But the bear is called May.

Later I was asked by one of the girls which of the realm colours was my favourite, and of course the only answer that I could give was the one she was wearing, described as ‘Persian Yellow’.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

It certainly is a powerful golden yellow, and looked very fine with the long white dresses as the Chislehurst realm walked out to give their display of maypole dancing before the main and more free-form performance by the whole of the children around the larger maypole.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

London Crowns 100th May Queen on My London Diary.


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

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