Archive for August, 2012

London 1976

Monday, August 13th, 2012

© 1976, Peter Marshall
The Reading Room at the British Library (British Museum)

1976 was another lean year for my pictures of London, partly because I was still busy on house and garden. But there were other family reasons too, with my first son arriving within hours of my finishing work for the summer holiday in July. He began to make his presence felt as midnight approached, and an ambulance, blue lights flashing, sped us the couple of miles to the maternity unit at Ashford. But after a couple of hours they sent me home, deciding there would be nothing happening until the morning, and it was late the next day when I noticed some unusual activity on the monitor and called the nurse into the room and things really got moving. Soon I was banished as things started to get clinical, and a fainting husband would only have complicated matters.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
The stacks where the books were stored

But before that we’d made a few trips, including a visit to Hull and a week in Amsterdam. In London, one was on Linda’s last day working at the British Museum, and I went up at lunchtime for a quick tour of the place -including that famous Reading Room, still in use and sneaked a couple of pictures in there, and in the stacks where the books were kept. The 35mm f2.8 Minox was a nicely inconspicuous little camera, though the results were a little variable, even after I’d persuaded Leitz (it took some persistence and a trip to Luton) to swap my initial purchase for one with a properly assembled lens. I was doubtless in breach of the Official Secrets Act, but I think these can now be shown.

Linda’s boss at the museum had invited us to go out to lunch, and we walked to a rather expensive Greek restaurant in Fitzrovia. The lunch was pleasant and we got through several bottles of wine too, before Linda and her boss had to go back to put in a token appearance at work. I strolled down to Trafalgar Square and spent half an hour or so taking candid pictures of the tourists with the Minox, which, with a few jokey captions and a bit of a story made a nice article in Amateur Photographer.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
I always travel by tube

Looking at the contact sheet, the wine certainly shows, with some very odd horizons, though there were some pictures where I was ‘shooting from the hip’ to work close and unseen to the subjects.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
I still make it only 15 Brown Owl, and I don’t like the smile on that lion’s face…

Going to anywhere in London away from the centre or the tube was not so easy back in the 1970s, before the advent of the Travelcard. Even on the Tube things were trickier than now as tickets were simply from place A to place B (either single or return) and bus fares depended on how far you were going. Some journeys I might need to buy 3 or 4 separate tickets for, and it was hard to plan journeys. Bus, train and tube route plans or timetables were not widely available (although the tube plan was at least in street atlases) and there were no web sites on which to look things up. But about the only way to get any information about buses was to look on their route boards, ask the conductor or go along to the enquiries office at the bus garage.

Piper’s Companion Guide to London has one of its longer sections on transport in London, much of it now rather like the misleading advice to tourists on ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a Clue’.

Using a bike was one way round this, but again in some ways it was much harder. You could put a bike on some trains, but had to rush along the platform to find the guard and the luggage area where they were allowed – if there were space.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
Our route took us to the Thames at Rotherhithe

© 1976, Peter Marshall
Crops were growing on the dockland at Rotherhithe

We lived a little too far out of London for it to be easy to ride in, though one weekend we made our way from Staines to a green event in the Surrey Docks, at the Surrey Docks Farm which had started the previous year on a 1.5 acre site of derelict dockland between the entrance to Greenland Dock and the River Thames (it moved a short distance from there to a slightly larger site in 1986.)  It was a ride of around 25 miles each way across South London.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
Surrey Docks City Farm was at the entrance to the former South Dock

I think I took a total of 35 frames on the ride and at the farm, with one hopelessly underexposed. Film was still a rather expensive luxury for a young man with a large mortgage expecting soon to become a father.

© 1976, Peter Marshall
Our route back took us along County Way past the waterworks at Hanworth

It was the hottest summer on record, and by the beginning of July we – and particularly a heavily pregnant Linda – were finding it rather a strain, so we didn’t get out a great deal. I had a day out looking at exhibitions in London, taking some rather random street photography, and we enjoyed a trip out to Chiswick House, but I took few pictures. And I’d found a new interest in Family Pictures.

London 1975

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Although I kept reading David Piper’s Companion Guide to London (see My First London Pictures), it was a while before I got the chance to take another walk from it, not until the following year, 1975. Of course I was doing a demanding full-time job – around 70 hours a week with preparation and marking – as Head of Dept in a large (2000+ students) comprehensive, but I’d also bought a house that was almost a hundred years old and wasn’t in the best of condition.

It had been condemned around 20 years earlier, but then they’d built on a bathroom extension (breeze block and asbestos) and given it a reprieve. And at some point it had gas put in, then rather later electricity. The gas light fittings had been pulled off, leaving bare pipes sticking out of the walls, and the electric didn’t include any light fittings on the first floor – the previous occupiers had relied on the street lamp outside.

The decoration was interesting, with a few nastily ‘modern’ features imposed on top of the old. And of course back around 1880 there were no such thing as cavity walls, and the builders had dug a hole in the back garden for the sand, leaving some rather large stones in the render which made drilling holes in the wall interesting.

I’ve never been a great fan of DIY, but spent most of the next year – when I wasn’t busy excavating the garden – stripping doors, putting battens, glass fibre and plasterboard on external walls, stripping off layer upon layer of wallpaper and then the rather nasty distemper underneath, painting or wallpapering etc. It put me off moving ever again, and we are still in the same house 38 years later.

The garden was in an interesting condition too. Carefully planted with lots of border plants to attract buyers near the house twenty yards down it was a bed of nettles. A foot lower under them was a partly broken layer of concrete, a yard around which there had once been pig sties. It took rather a lot of clearing that sent me to the doctor with back problems.

The Barbican gets a brief mention in Chapter 26

So my photo files for the next year or so are very thin, with most of the pictures being taken when I was away from home, as I made a start on the work that in 1983 became ‘Still Occupied – A View of Hull‘, and London got almost left out of the picture.

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Ely Court off Ely Place also in Chapter 26

Finally I did manage a few more of the walks from the book, around St Paul’s, Bank, the Barbican and Piccadilly Circus, but the pictures were nothing special. It was only when I took a brief walk to follow up from my pictures the previous year in Wapping that things began to get just a little more interesting.

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Wapping High St just gets a mention in a final ‘Points of Interest Beyond’

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Scandrett St,Wapping

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Pierhead, Wapping

© 1975, Peter Marshall
Downriver view from St Katherine’s Dock entrance

Piper’s book was a good introduction, full of sometimes interesting anecodote, and the walks in it helped to get me to see London, but as a photographer I needed something different. Perhaps a map of the Berlin Underground would have helped, but I didn’t have one, but what I really needed to do was to simply follow my own path, wandering where things looked interesting. Books – and the Piper was the first of what is now a large collection – were often useful after the event to tell me what some of the buildings I had photographed were, but were not going to tell me what was worth me photographing.

© 1975, Peter Marshall
A new arrival at Key House, Vauxhall

Piper’s book is still worth reading, in part as a reminder of so much that has been lost. The photographs in it are generally workmanlike, but some have a little more to them, and I wasn’t surprised on turning to the credits to find quite a few by Edwin Smith and Eric de Maré, two of the better British photographers of the era in which it was written. I’ve written about both of them in the past, but those features are no longer available on-line.

My First London Pictures

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

 © 1974, Peter Marshall
Looking downriver from Tower Bridge, 1974

It was in 1974 that I almost moved back to London, to Staines, which should have become a part of Greater London when that was formed in the 1960s and Middlesex (who had been kind enough to pay me a student grant  in their final years) was abolished.  Of course, for those of us who live there, Middlesex lives on – in my postal address, and I believe we still have a cricket team, though the ground where it plays, Lords, in St John’s Wood, was stolen by London many years earlier, and Middlesex Guildhall is now our country’s Supreme Court.

But rabid Tory backwoodsmen from Sunbury and Shepperton baulked at the idea of being a part of the London Borough of Hounslow, and since then we’ve been in limbo. Officially part of Surrey, but generally Surrey denies we belong, being on the wrong side of the Thames, and I live in the curious borough of Spelthorne, wherever that is. And wherever it is it is a pretty hopeless borough, certainly as far as Staines is concerned. One that thinks trying to rename Staines as Staines upon Thames makes sense, and that Ali G, who has done more to put Staines on the map than anyone else has given it an unsavoury reputation.

© 1974, Peter Marshall
View upriver from Tower Bridge

I grew up in Hounslow, but had lived away from London for a little over 10 years, and coming back to Staines, then a mere 26 minutes by train from Waterloo (its slid around 9 minutes further west since) I’d decided I should get to know my natal city, about which, like most Londoners I was almost totally ignorant. So I bought a copy of art-historian David Piper‘s Companion Guide to London which had just been issued in a revised version in 1974 and started on Chapter 1: The Tower and Tower Hill, going on from there to explore a little around St Katherine’s Dock and Tower Bridge, where I took these pictures on a day in the summer. Although Sir David Piper died at the end of 1990, his guide, first published in the 1960s when he was director of the National Portrait Gallery in London and last revised in 2000, is apparently still available.

© 1974, Peter Marshall
Downriver from Tower Bridge towards Rotherhithe Church and Bermondsey

The views, still recognisable, are of a London far more  dependent on the river, with mills, warehouses and wharfs, and more noticeably, missing many of today’s tall buildings. The pictures that I took of the Tower itself are of less interest, as it has changed little over the years. But St Katherine’s Dock was disappearing in front of my camera, with Telford’s tall and well-proportioned warehouses being demolished to make room for inferior new developments.

© 1974, Peter Marshall
St Katherine’s Dock Warehouses by Philip Hardwick from the 1820s from Tower Bridge
© 1974, Peter Marshall
The warehouses have been replaced by a misleading modern pastiche
© 1974, Peter Marshall
St Katherine’s Dock – demolition seen from the inside

I ventured just a short way east of St Katherine’s on to St Katherine’s Way, where more demolition of warehouses was taking place,
© 1974, Peter Marshall

before making my way back into the City,

© 1974, Peter Marshall

where I made my way along the riverside past Cannon St station. The smoking chimney in the centre of the picture is the Bankside Power Station, now enjoying a new lease of life as the art gallery Tate Modern.

© 1974, Peter Marshall

A couple sit looking out over the Thames at the end of Cousin Lane. It looks rather different now. The Spenthorn Service Company had been wound up the previous year and Spenthorn House is now long demolished and on the left of the lane there is now a pub under the bridge. What has a little romantic dereliction has been replaced by commercial tat.  Across the river you can still see the Anchor pub. There are now more areas and paths opened up by the river than in 1974.

Technically these pictures, taken on 35mm film were not always great, and like much of my older work require considerable retouching using Photoshop and a Wacom graphics tablet after an infestation of minute gelatine loving insects who have left their tracks and the occasional body part across the negative.   I think they give an interesting view of a city that was beginning to change rapidly.


Friday, August 10th, 2012

I’ve been enjoying a series of posts this summer by A D Coleman, Trope: The Well-Made Photograph, in which he has explored at some length  “the stupefying similarity of much contemporary photography, especially certain endlessly reiterated image structures and project formats.” It is a series of posts that explores in detail how a particular approach to photographic image-making has dominated much of the published and exhibited photography in recent years.

This is a subject that I’ve touched upon myself, though never in the detail and thoroughness  that Coleman brings as always to his work. There is a good summary of what he means by the ‘well-made photograph’ in the first few lines of the sixth article in the series, Defining the Trope, and the previous link has a list and brief synopsis of all the articles.

Occasionally I might disagree with some of the detail in his analysis, and certainly among the photographers he lists are those I (and I think he) admires, as well as much I find rather ordinary and tedious. There are photographers who manage to produce work that is visually exciting and new while to some extent working within the confines of the  ‘well-made photograph’, and I think what usually distinguished them is their subject matter.

I first met a primitive example of this trope many years ago, in one of the few classes that I ever attended when beginning in photography, an evening class run by my local authority. I think I’d worked out before the end of the first lesson that I was likely to learn little from it, but I’d paid up front for the 10 week course and it was occasionally amusing, often unintentionally so.  Our teacher one evening gave a slide show of his work, mainly close-up images of flowers, technically fine, but by the time we had seen the 50th rose, admittedly of different colours, gradually appear as the previous faded, every one with the subject dead central I was unable to keep a straight face and had to make a desperate rush out of the lecture room to collapse in giggles on the corridor around the corner.

Minutes later, after a visit to the loo to calm myself and as an alibi, I returned to the class to find the show still in progress  – but at least it had moved on to other species of flower even if the composition had not changed.  Mercifully it was almost at a close, and afterwards we were invited to ask questions, though I think not the kind of questions I had in mind. I tried to raise the question of composition tactfully, but was met with incomprehension – the idea of placing the main subject anywhere else other than in the central focussing aid helpfully provided in the SLR viewfinder was just too weird to contemplate.

I went home and read the copy of ‘Notations in Passing‘ by Nathan Lyons (b1930) that I’d just bought, and thought for just a moment about taking it to the class next week. In the end I didn’t bother. I’ve never thought of Lyons as a great photographer, but certainly it was a book I learnt a lot from, particularly about composition. He was certainly an important figure in photographic education, and I took quite a few bad pictures under his influence. (And there is probably always more to learn from making bad pictures than good ones.)  It seems strange that photographic education would appear to have turned away from the path he set and  bowed to worship the false god that Coleman has recognised and described.

You can see a continuation of his work in Riding 1st Class on the Titanic! on the ICP web site (and there are also pictures on the Silverstein site. In his introduction to the recently published Nathan LyonsSelected Essays, Lectures, and Interviews, edited by Jessica S. McDonald, (which I’ve yet to read) another Coleman, David Coleman starts by writing “Few people have had as much impact on American photography in the latter half of the twentieth century as Nathan Lyons. As a photographer, curator, theorist, and educator, Lyons has influenced generations of professionals in these fields” and near the end of his piece comments, “Lyons’s name is now generally familiar only to specialists in the field.” Perhaps contemporary photography still has something to learn from him.

Bolt Takes Some Snaps

Friday, August 10th, 2012

If you are one of the few yet to see them, you can see the pictures taken by Usain Bolt immediately after his 200m victory after he borrowed a Nikon D4 from Danish sports photographer Jimmy Wixtröm on his newspaper’s website. It was good news for Nikon, whose D4 camera got a lot of coverage, as well as the lens which is I think the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, and does a pretty good job with all those bright lights around.

As someone who used to be pretty exhausted after finishing a 200m (or more usually 220 yards back in those days) several seconds slower than Bolt, his performance behind the camera strikes me as impressive under the circumstances. Though had any of the photographers stuck in their pit wearing silly vests been able to work with the freedom he enjoyed on the track I think we would have seen rather better images.

Recently when asked to talk to bloggers about taking better pictures, the first point I made was that you needed to get in the right place before you did anything else. Of course it isn’t always possible, and to work as a photographer at the Olympics you have to make the most of where you are put. But if you are a world-beating athlete who has just clinched his place in Olympic history, you can get away with almost anything. Though in a couple of them there is a rather worried looking Olympic official.

For the photographers of course it provided a good photo-opportunity, adding something a little unpredicted into what can be a rather dreary shift. And some of them certainly did a good job, producing some very polished and professional images.

I tried the 14-24mm when it first came out, and didn’t much like it. 14mm is just a little too wide to be useful much of the time, and having used a Sigma 12-24mm I’d become annoyed at the 24mm upper limit; it gave a much more useful focal length range on a DX camera than with full-frame for me. It was also a heavy lens – more than 2lbs in weight and pretty large.  Having had the Sigma I was also put off by its large bulbous front element, which again doesn’t let you use a filter – and the bill for replacing the Sigma front element after it had collected a few defects was pretty large.

Nikon’s 16-35mm is 2/3 the weight and takes a 77mm filter. I’ve broken 3 of these without damaging the lens front element. Of course it is a stop slower, but that is seldom a problem, and probably the VR in the 16-35mm makes up for the difference. It’s also slightly less sharp than the 14-24 in the corners, especially when wide open, though a couple of stops down the difference is marginal. In any case the lens is razor sharp by any normal standards.

To my eye, most of Bolt’s shots are too wide. Perhaps he would have been better off with the 16-35 too!

July Summary

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

July 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall

March for a People’s Olympics
Cycling the Grand Union
Austerity Games on Hackney Marshes
Cyclists Protest Olympic Towpath Closure
Cody Dock Open Day
Olympic Views

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Police Deny Olympic Residents Access
Newham’s Shame – Carpenters Estate
Olympic Flame at Stratford 6 Days Early

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Stop Military Brutality against Nasa People
No To Minas Conga in Peru
Cleaners Continue Fight at John Lewis
What the Dickens Mr Cameron?
Cabbies Zil Lane Protest Halts Traffic
Our Lady of Mount Carmel

© 2012, Peter Marshall
John Lewis cleaners step up protest
Solidarity with the Bahraini prisoners

© 2012, Peter Marshall
PETA ‘Spare the Bears’ March
Tenants Protest Letting Agents Scam
Cleaners Strike at John Lewis
Sacrifice For Spain Remembered

© 2012, Peter Marshall
WorldPride London
Wet Walk in Bucks
London Walk
Pensioners Protest at Westminster
Right To Work: Downing St & Barclays
Strengthen Not Cut Safety Rules

July was a busy month for various reasons, one of the the Olympics, although I decided against getting accreditation to photograph that – not really my kind of thing. I’d intended to take a holiday at the end of the month, but somehow that didn’t happen. It didn’t help that I wasn’t sure if Linda would get her passport renewed in time, but she did, then decided to go to Sheffield for which I don’t think she needed it. Though my son and his family took theirs to go to Eton Dorney, as ID was needed to watch the Olympic canoeing. The security there was all carried out by soldiers and they say it was very relaxed, and they enjoyed the sport.

As a cyclist, I’m pleased that cyclists, particularly Mr Wiggins, has done well – even if is is ill-informed about helmets and making cyclists wear them would result in more deaths, not less, though they are probably good for kids who fall off their bikes at low speed. I would have liked to have been there on the Champs Elysée when he won the Tour de France, rather more of an event than anything in the Olympics. But more people on bikes will mean – at least in the longer term – safer roads, and also healthier people who live longer.

Agent Orange

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

A news item on the BBC this evening mentioned that the US was (at last) starting to clear up the terrible contamination of Vietnam caused by its use of millions of gallons of the defoliant ‘Agent Orange’ on Vietnam during the Vietnam war. The idea of fighting a war by attempting to starve the population seems rather to fly in the face of the Geneva Convention and all the ideas about not attacking civilians, and Agent Orange was designed to try to stop food production. But its effects were much worse, as the large-scale production of it by Dow and Monsanto produced a product that as well as the defoliant was contaminated with one of the most toxic chemical known to man, dioxin.

As Philip Jones Griffiths (1936-2008), arguably the photographer whose work as a whole did most to bring the reality of Vietnam home to the US and the West, particularly through his book ‘Vietnam Inc’, later wrote, “Dioxin acts like a hormone. It gets to the receptors in the cells of a developing foetus before the normal hormones and directs the cells to do crazy things. The end result has been tens of thousands of deformed children and an even greater number of miscarriages and stillbirths.” His work on the effects of Agent Orange shows the spraying and its effects both on the land and on the people. The spraying ended in 1975, and the effects are still felt in Vietnam. Although there has been some compensation for US soldiers who were effected by it, the US has never compensated the people of Vietnam, and the programme to de-contaminate some small areas is the first direct US involvement in cleaning up the terrible legacy they left in Vietnam.

You can see more of the work of Jones Griffiths on his Magnum pages, and find out more about the book Vietnam Inc on Musariam.

Vietnam is not of course the only place that Dow has been linked with contamination by dioxins. They inherited the Bhopal disaster when they merged with Union Carbide, and residents near their home in Michigan have also ” filed suit against Dow for health risks and loss of property value due to dioxin contamination.” There are also other toxic chemicals which have blotted the record of this Olympic sponsor,  including of course napalm used in vast quantities in Vietnam, DDT and asbestos. But according to the US site ‘Solidarity‘, Dow plants account for 97% of all water and 96% of all soil emissions of dioxin in Michigan, with levels on their sites up to around 100 times the safe limit, and in playgrounds and schools off the site up to around 9 times the normally accepted safe limit.

What was in a way surprising, at a time when the country is gripped by Olympic fever, was that there was no mention of the obvious Olympic link in the BBC report. Dow are of course one of the major Olympic sponsors, although the publicity around the company’s terrible environmental record meant that not even LOCOG could go ahead with them putting a wrap extolling their virtues around the stadium – it would have resulted in an avalanche of negative publicity.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The ‘naked’ stadium with artificial landscape – but I’d advise soil samples and a Geiger counter before eating anything grown here.

There is perhaps a certain logic in one of the world’s major polluters being a sponsor of the games. Much of the derelict land, as well as that from which working industries were displaced for the Olympic site was heavily contaminated. Some areas, such as much of the cycle circuit, had been dumping grounds for all sorts of toxic waste, and had been capped to contain this material, and there were also disused sites of various rather nasty industries that had never been properly dealt with. In the vast terra-forming exercise of destroying the existing landscape to build the Olympic facilities, there wasn’t time to properly decontaminate much of the site, and almost certainly there are parts of the area that are now hazardous.

More Olympics

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Youth Fight for Jobs Austerity Games on Hackney Marshes

Two final events for me in July had an Olympic theme. The first was the ‘Austerity Games‘ on Hackney Marshes, and its name harks back to 1948, when London was host to the games for the second time shortly after the Second World War, when everything all around the world was in short supply. I don’t remember 1948, but certainly I remember something of Britain only a very little later, when sweets, like most other things, were on ration and we had pig bins in the street outside to make sure that any waste food wasn’t entirely wasted. Not that there was much in the way of waste, because where I lived there wasn’t that much to put on the plates, but the pigs got our potato peelings and suchlike. We probably did better than most, as our garden and allotment supplied large crops of fruit and veg, the bees did us proud for honey and my Aunt Grace kept chickens in the back yard, next to Dad’s work shed.

But the Olympics in 1948 was on a shoe-string, using existing facilities and with truly amateur athletes from around the world roughing it to compete – and some near to starving when they were here. The total budget for the games would have paid for a second or two of this year’s opening ceremony, and unlike 2012, I think the games actually managed to make a profit.

But in 2012, although austerity isn’t a word you can apply to our corporate Olympics, but it is what we are having so suffer through cuts in public services, and for young people, difficulty in finding appropriate work – or for many, any work at all.

Youth Fight For Jobs, who last year carried out a march from Jarrow to London to publicize the desperate situation of so many young school and college leavers who want jobs but can’t find them, this year organised an ‘Austerity Olympics’, held a few hundred yards to the north of the main Olympic site on Hackney Marshes.   Hackney, one of the ‘Olympic boroughs, refused them permission to have an event in this public open space, but the organisers went ahead anyway, with police apparently telling the council that unless they saw some particular offence being committed they had no powers to stop it. The best the Hackney could think to do was to close the toilet block in the park for the afternoon.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Teams warm up for the Austerity Games on Hackney Marshes

My main problem was not the lack of toilets but the hot sun blazing down. It was one of the few days this year when London has felt uncomfortably hot, in some ways a nice change, but harsh sun high in the sky and an empty blue sky isn’t generally good news for photographers. Clouds add a little variation to the top bit of many pictures, but importantly they also reflect light into those deep shadows. Blue sky and sun means harsh black shadows. Digital is actually more flexible that film every was – with transparency there was virtually no shadow detail, while on colour neg it might be there but printing it was often a problem. The D700 and D800E do a pretty good job on shadow detail, and Lightroom makes it so much easier to bring out. Both digital cameras and software seem to improve at this year on year, and it now makes sense to think in terms of ‘digital fill’ in post-processing. Though I still find things a lot easier if you use fill flash.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Medal winners on the podium

But using flash makes people much more aware of you photographing them, banging home the fact each time the flash fires. In fast-moving, crowded situations it’s seldom a problem (except where you might come under attack) but at small events like this it can completely change the dynamic. Almost all of the time I worked without it and cursed myself later when I had to work on the images. You can see the results in Austerity Games on Hackney Marshes.

Saturday’s  ‘Whose Games? Whose City?’ march was organised by the Counter Olympics Network, CON, whose name is perhaps slightly misleading. CON isn’t against sport, or the Olympic athletes, but against what the games have become, not just a sporting event but a huge commercial festival, involving corporate sponsors which include “companies which seriously damage the environment and which wreck or take lives” such as  “Coca Cola, Rio Tinto, BP, Dow Chemical, others such as “”G4S, Cisco, and Atos” which “deny people their human rights in a variety of situations” and  Macdonalds which helps to fuel the obesity epidemic.”

They were also protesting at the huge disruption to life in East London, the draconian powers taken to enforce branding, the positioning of missiles on residential buildings and the massive tax breaks given to sponsors. They sayLondon2012 provides benefits at taxpayers’ expense while receiving little in return.”

Initially the Olympic powers and Transport for London worked together to try and ban the march, but eventually it was allowed. Then Tower Hamlets council (another Olympic borough) attempted to impose unacceptable demands on the march, trying to ban political t-shirts and speeches. In the event the march went ahead as the organisers planned, as you can see in March for a People’s Olympics.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Perhaps the silliest placard on the march

Photographically there were few problems, but there was at least one rather curious placard carried by one woman, with the message ‘Fight Big Brother Drop Ur F**king Camera’, who didn’t see to want to be photographed.  But ‘Big Brother’ isn’t the photographers with cameras on the march, but the many CCTV cameras in London, some of which we passed, from which doubtless police were tracking out moves. Much of the time too we had a police helicopter overhead  recording us, though I didn’t notice the blimp that had hovered over the Austerity Games – and these also attracted a couple of police helicopters  – like the one flying overhead when I took these images.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

There’s a police helicopter too in this image I took later, and I deliberately too it with it against the white cloud just above the tower with the soldiers looking out at the protest, though their missiles are probably pointing in the other direction. But the problem is it ust looks like a bit of dirt on the sensor in this wide-angle image – and those soldiers are tricky to see as well.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The row of soldiers showed up better when I switched to a longer lens, but but by that time the helicopter was well out of shot – just the two on the banner remaining.


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

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Around the Olympics

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Although I’m not photographing the Olympics that doesn’t mean these things entirely pass me by. It would be impossible not to notice them, especially when I went to Stratford to take a tour of the Carpenters Estate with the residents association, CARP, Carpenters Against Regeneration Plan.

This is an estate right next door to the Olympic site, and parts of it are still owned by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters who first developed it in the Victorian era with a mixture of industrial sites and workers housing, though the area was reworked in the 1940s by the Luftwaffe and in the 1960s by Newham Council. It’s actually one of the better developments of that area, showing that the architects and planners had learnt at least a little from their earlier mistakes, and the 3 tower blocks in among the low rise terraces and maisonettes were rather better built than Ronan Point which was a mile or so south-east.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Carpenters Estate with the Orbit – rather lower than the tower blocks

But it’s an estate that doesn’t fit with Newham’s plans for Stratford to become London’s third city, and a bit of a drain on their resources which could do a lot for the council’s finances if sold off. Already a prime site close to excellent transport connections and with some sites  on its edges along the High St and riverbank already becoming largely unaffordable private developments, the development of the Olympic Park on its third side makes it even more desirable.

Newham started moving out tenants in 2006, and many perfectly decent and desirable council-owned properties have now been empty there for six years in an area  with probably the worst housing problems in the country – they made the national news a few months back for trying to get some of their tenants rehoused in areas across the country – including Stoke-on-Trent.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
A Carpenters Estate resident talks about her determination to stay in her home

But most people didn’t want to move from Carpenters, as it was a relatively quiet and popular place with a strong settled community, including many who had lived there since it was built and in a very convenient location. Tenants are easily bullied by the council, but owner occupiers or leaseholders can put up more of a fight. Like many estates it had an official residents organisation, a TMO (Tenant Management Organisation) which also included owner occupiers and leaseholders, which wasn’t sympathetic to the plans to get rid of the estate, so the council apparently organised a takeover, denying owner occupiers and leaseholders standing for office and losing the nomination papers of five candidates so that the right people got elected.

Which led to residents of the estate setting up CARP, which has tried to publicise what is happening to the estate and keep on living there. One of the things they have done is to organise tours of the area to show people what is happening, and I was invited to go one one of these a couple of weeks ago.

Although part of the impetus for redevelopment of the estate has come from the Olympics, this was not an anti-Olympic protest. CARP isn’t against the Olympics, just for keeping their homes.  One of the highlights of the several previous tours that they have run – all without any problems – has been a visit to the flats of two residents on one of the three tower blocks, Lund Point.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
BBC employed security men block our entrance to Lund Point

This time, things were different. Our entrance to the flats was blocked by two burly security men working for the BBC who refused us entry. The BBC have their studios in the top 5 floors of the tower and wanted to keep everyone out of the block. We argued briefly and told them we would return in half an hour after we had seen the rest of the estate to go in.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
PCSOs and a police officer join the BBC in refusing us access

When we got back, as well as the BBC  men (and there were a few more of them around) there were also half a dozen PCSOs (Police Community Support Officers) and a police officer. She told us that we could not enter, and she was phoning a colleague to find out more. We argued that they had no right to stop us as we were with a resident who had invited us to visit his home, but the police and PCSOs stopped even him and his family from entering.

A further officer arrived a few minutes later and insisted he talk only with one of the residents, and we had the same argument with him. A couple more police vans arrived, and the police held a small conference on the pavement outside.  After another 10 minutes or so it was clear that the police had realised that the BBC attitude was unreasonable and that residents of the flats had to be allowed to entertain guests, and with police and security escorting us we were allowed up to the flat on the 4th floor.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Journalists film as the BBC security block our route to visit a resident on the 20th floor

But we also had an invitation to visit another resident on the 20th floor, and with a view over the Olympic site. This is one of the floors that the BBC is actually working in, despite at least one flat on it being owned and still occupied by residents. Again the BBC security told us we couldn’t go there.

We got in the lift, pressed 20. When the doors opened there were BBC security stopping us getting out. It was pretty uncomfortable, with too many people crammed in a lift, most holding big video cameras up above their heads to squeeze in. Someone said “Anyone with medical conditions?” and I shouted “Diabetes!”. The BBC security relented a little, moved back a couple of feet so I had enough space to get my own camera up in the air, then squeezed round one of the other guys low down to get a better view.

Someone phoned the guy we had an invite from and he came to meet us and then the security realised they had to let us through. So we got to walk along a cable-strewn corridor to his flat to talk to him about the disruption of having the BBC working all around his flat, and to see the view of the Olympic site from his balcony, where our tour leader talked about the Olympic site and the problems it caused for the estate.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The 3 Carpenters Estate point blocks have a better viewpoint than the Orbit

Police and BBC security followed us too on our way out, and I was pleased to leave the building and cross the road to the Carpenters Arms. I needed a drink. More pictures and information about what has been happening there in Newham’s Shame – Carpenters Estate and more on the illegal actions of the BBC security and police in Police Deny Olympic Residents Access. And you can also see more of that view from Lund Point in Olympic Views.

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Marching along the towpath from Leyton Marsh to the closure at Eastway

The following day I covered a protest against the closure of the canal tow-path, the only safe route remaining for cyclists between Hackney Wick and Stratford. It wasn’t a big protest, but the closure effects many people cycling to work, as well as those cycling for leisure – and group  after group of these came along and stopped at the security fence across the path while the protest was taking place. More about it in Cyclists Protest Olympic Towpath Closure.

The Olympic lanes and diversions clearly put cyclists (and pedestrians) at greater risk, and clearly their safety has nowhere been allowed to stand in the way of making Olympic traffic run smoothly. But the tow-path ban is just unreasonable.  There is a 10 ft high electrified fence with frequent security cameras all along the side of it, and cyclists and pedestrians pose no real security risk to the Olympics.

The death of cyclist Daniel Harris, dragged under an Olympic double-decker bus while cycling along the northern edge of the Olympic site would appear to have been contributed to by poor temporary road marking and poor planning of the junction for the Olympic traffic, although perhaps more on this will emerge at the inquest. Possibly too, like many cyclists he was only on that particular road because of the closure of the cycle-safe Greenway which passes through the centre of the Olympic site and was shut to through traffic in May.

The protest was a family-friendly affair with a barbecue and has become a weekly event, incorporating a cycle ride, accompanied by a number of police cyclists, which probably makes this the only really safe time to ride around the area. Last Sunday the rode as closely as possible around the edge of the Olympic site and left flowers at the roadside memorial to Daniel Harris.

The attitude of the police to this protest contrasts strongly with their attitude to Critical Mass on the evening of the opening ceremony, when 182 of those taking part – more than a third – were kettled and then arrested in what was a new Olympic record for arrests, under a rather doubtful use of section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986.  Given the long and largely peaceful record of Critical Mass in promoting cycling in London (and the House of Lords ruling in 2008 that their rides were not unlawful) it seemed both unnecessary and in completely at odds with the Olympic legacy claims to be promoting sport – including cycling – for all.


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

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Hiroshima Day

Monday, August 6th, 2012

I was saddened but not surprised to hear no mention on this morning’s news that today was the 67th anniversary of one of the most important events of the twentieth century and one that has shaped our world since. I could have put up with hearing Usain Bolt’s ten seconds one less time to make room for it.

The atomic bombs that fell on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and three days later on Aug 9 at Nagasaki market the beginning of a new age that continues to affect political events to this day.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I’m sorry this year that I have to miss the annual commemoration at the Hiroshima cherry tree in Tavistock Square, not least to miss the inspiring example of Hetty Bower, now 106.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

It is hard to understand why this anniversary is not more widely remembered. There are of course other events both in London, at Westminster Cathedral and in Kingston, and in other towns and cities across the UK, including Milton Keynes, Norwich, Liverpool and Coventry, but it has always been largely ignored and downplayed by the media. This year of course, anything not involving those five rings stands little chance of getting a mention, and you can feel the palpable annoyance of the newsreaders at having to interrupt their Sportathon even for skeletal reports from Syria or of NASA’s Curiosity (will it find its Cat?)

© 2011, Peter Marshall
Hetty Bower holds up a picture of her grandson, born on Nagasaki Day 2010 who shoe hopes will grow up in a world of peace.

Hiroshima Day was a victim of the Cold War and was relegated to outer darkness and became the sole property of peace groups – the Tavistock Square event at noon – 1pm is organised by London Region CND, and non-members are welcome.

You can read a fuller account of last year’s event in Hiroshima Day in London on My London Diary. I’ve written before more about the photographs of the two cities after the event, and you can read one of these posts that I wrote when I was unable to attend the 2010 commemoration in Hiroshima 65 Years On.