Archive for August, 2012

Sports and Me

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

I made a decision a month or so back to boycott the London Olympics.

So I didn’t apply for accreditation, though it could have saved me some money doing the normal things I do, as I would have  got a decent amount of free travel around London thrown in. Though perhaps it wouldn’t have been fair to use it since many of the things I was likely to cover are protests around the event. Financially it probably wasn’t a good decision as there has been a virtual media blackout on anything that might suggest not every Londoner loves the games, but then far too many photographers are covering the games for those without big agency connections to get much from them.

I don’t have much interest in watching sport, though I got a medal for football when I was 11 and later used to enjoy playing rugby. I was even a half-decent middle distance runner in my time, holding a few local records, and had I given up smoking and done some training might have gone further. I still enjoy cycling (despite recent painful experiences from which I’m still suffering.) But watching other people compete has never greatly interested me. When I see spectators at events or in front of their TV I always feel they should get off their backsides and go and do something. Far better to do it badly yourself than watch.

When I came of age I did give up smoking, but never took seriously to sport, though I was playing football and rugby regularly as a student it was more a social event than anything sporting, something you did with your mates before going to the bar which was the real point of the thing.

When I started in photography, like most people I didn’t know what to photograph, and in the amateur magazines I read at the time, sport was one of the major subjects, and I had a go at it. Some of my earliest published pictures were sports photos, and I won a couple of magazine prizes with them, but I  didn’t really find making them of great interest.

I had a problem even finding those images now, though certainly back in the early days I kept every tear-sheet, and I’ve got rid of very few negatives. Probably somewhere at the bottom of a large pile I’ve even got the 20×16 exhibition print I remember making of one of them.  But then I remembered I’d used them in a post here a couple of years ago.

© 1974, Peter Marshall

© 1974, Peter Marshall

These were the first successful sporting pictures I took, and I soon gave up.

Both were taken at the same event, shortly after I’d bought an Olympus OM1 camera (A truly revolutionary redesign of the SLR that had just come out) and something pretty unusual at the time,  a Tamron 70-220mm Adaptall zoom lens. This was one of the first zoom lenses to become popular with the ordinary photographer – previously there had been TV and movie zoom lenses – and I’d cut my photographic teeth using one of  these on a  college TV system a couple of years earlier – with a few fabulously expensive versions produced for 35mm. I’m not sure of the exact date, but it was around June 1974.

It was a rather important event in the world of canoe slalom, some kind of championship, but back then I was able to cycle up to the site were it was being held and walk onto the weir without any accreditation at all to take pictures.  It wasn’t hard to find space to work, there were probably around a hundred people watching the event, mainly the other competitors and their friends and spouses. Things are very different at the Olympics or any other major event now. Then my only problem was being careful I didn’t fall in the water.

A couple of years later I sold off the zoom and went back to using fixed focal lengths for the next 25 years or so. Zooms then were heavy and slow and not quite of the same optical quality of the fixed lenses. Now zooms have improved greatly and I seldom photograph with fixed focal lengths. When I do it’s because I need a macro lens (60mm) or a small and inconspicuous lens  (20mm f2.8) or an extreme wide-angle (10.5mm semi-fisheye) rather than for a possible slight difference in quality, though perhasp that may change with the higher pixel density of the Nikon D800E.

I photographed a few other sporting events around that time, including go-karting and got arm-twisted into photographing sports days at the school where I was then teaching. My next real sports photography came over 25 years later when I was commissioned to photograph the work of a local sports club, which was one of the best ladies cricket teams in the country and had a very strong training program with young girls.

© 2001, Peter Marshall

Mostly I wanted to photograph these training sessions, and the big problem then was lighting. I were still using film and  the indoor sessions in a sports hall were impossibly gloomy without flash. Fortunately they moved outside as soon as it was light enough in the evenings, so I was able to work in an hour or so before it got too gloomy.  During training I could stand right up close, and  most of the time the girls used a tennis ball and as long as I kept at least out of their reach with the bat I was reasonably safe, but they had to get used to using a proper cricket ball as well, when things got dangerous. With the actual ladies team they used a real ball all of the time, which wasn’t a great problem during fielding practice, but I had a few close shaves when they started batting, as they could really belt that ball as hard as any men.

© 2001, Peter Marshall

During the few actual matches I attended things were also safer as I had to keep off the pitch and my main problem was not having a long fast lens. I made do with a 200mm Zuiko f4 with a 2x converter on my Olympus OM4, but action images were pretty tricky, especially as the weather was fairly uniformly dull. But in any case I soon learnt that the most interesting things happened around the pavillion and off the pitch, where I was working with a Mamiya 7 and 65mm wideangle.

© 2001, Peter Marshall

The scans here from medium format film were made on an old flatbed scanner and I could make better now. But certainly the pictures away from the play show far more individuality than the action images – one person hitting a ball with a bat seems to look fairly like another to me, though I did my best to provide a few for them. Probably the most interesting part of the afternoon at these events were the teas, but they weren’t really what I was expected to photograph.

Although I’ve not signed up for the Olympics, quite a few of the things I’ve been photographing over the past couple of weeks have a connection with that event, and had I not been having to rest this week I would have done more,

A Landscape In Motion

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Image © Arnau Oriol Sanchez

If you are in Shoreditch – and who isn’t these days, when it’s become a very trendy area of London, you might like to visit this show on at the Hoxton Hotel in Great Eastern St. Curated by David Boulogne, A Landscape In Motion:  The East End and the Games features contributors to his 2012 pics blog started in 2010 and featuring images around the Olympic area.

For those of you who know Shoreditch, the Hoxton Hotel is on Great Eastern St, on the south side just a few doors down from the junction with Old St. On the corner used to be another great venue, the Foundry, but although the two sites are perhaps only 50 yards apart they are miles distant.

The exhibition space is on the ground floor – walk to the left of reception and turn right past the glass box of the eating area and the pictures are along both sides of a corridor leading off to the right. This is the first show in the space, and I hope there will be many more. Tons of buses stop nearby – I get a 453 or 55 to Great Eastern St, or its 5 minutes from Old St Tube. We will have some kind of event at the show probably towards the end of the month, and I’ll try to remember to post an invitation here as well as e-mailing contacts. But the show is open all hours until 9 Sept, though if you visit at dead of night you may have to ask at reception for the lights to be turned on!

As David says on his blog, we put this show together at the last minute, and my work in it is five of the pictures that I showed last year at the Shoreditch gallery a short walk away in ‘East of the City‘. Not all of the five pictures are on that web site as I altered the selection for that show after writing the site. Here are a couple of my images from it:

© 1982, Peter Marshall
Timber Yard, Stratford, 1982

© 1983, Peter Marshall
Lee Valley Cycle Circuit, 1983

Of course when I took these pictures I had no idea that this would be the Olympic site around 30 years later. But I was sure that the area was going to change. The timber industry, which had relied on the Surrey Docks across the river was fading fast, and other large factories in the area were closing down, being replaced by smaller industries. Acres and acres of railway land used for marshalling yards were now redundant, as were the engineering shops that had built so many locomotives. There were still cold stores and a Freightliner depot, but I was doubtful of their long-term future.

The future for the area came slower than I expected, and has turned out rather different. I suspect too that the games legacy will be very different to the ‘aspirations’ aired in the London 2012 bid document, a typical conspiracy of half-truths. I’ve kept recording the area at intervals over the years since I first went there in 1982, most recently a couple of weeks ago, when I photographed from the 20th floor of the tower block housing the BBC studios. The story about that deserves another post, but here is the site as it was a few days before the start of the Olympics.

170 degree view from 20th floor of Lund Point, 21/7/2012

Once Upon a Time

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

I was sorry to read in Raw File about the demise of Once, “an innovative photojournalism magazine that launched its pilot issue last summer with big hopes of capitalizing on the iPad as a new publishing tool.” Not that I was a reader, because I don’t own an iPad. And that was perhaps the main reason for its demise – there were simply too few potential readers who did.

Once didn’t manage to convert successfully to other platforms such as iPhone and an on-line version because of a poor original choice of software, which might have been great for iPad but lacked cross-platform support.  The Wired article mentions another similar recently launched digital photojournalism magazine Auto de Fe, which came out first on the iPad, and is “currently being tested on Android, Kindle, Smartphone and Blackberry devices and will soon be available on those too.” The on-line magazine will come out every 6 weeks (later they hope to go monthly) and there are plans for a ‘collectors’ print edition four times a year.

I don’t have any of these devices, just an old-fashioned PC with a nice large colour-corrected display, which is fine for looking at web sites. Perhaps when e-Reader devices have gone through another generation or two and can display high res images in colour I’ll get one of these as well. I think that this will be the future for the photographic magazine and the photographic book – with just a very few still being produced in expensive collector’s editions – the kind of thing that now costs several hundred pounds a copy.

One success story in digital photographic magazines is the British Journal of Photography, where the digital version is expected to be earning more than the print version by the end of the year. BJP went from being a weekly magazine to a monthly a few years back, before it launched the digital version (print subscribers had for some time enjoyed access to the same material on the web) and really lost its usefulness to me as a news magazine when it went monthly. But the sales of the weekly had dropped off to a very low level, and I don’t think it could have continued.  I’ve never quite found it worth subscribing since, though I do subscribe to several rather expensive photo magazines. The thing that I miss most from the weekly version is the old ‘What’s On’ listing page, which gave brief details of a wide range of photo exhibitions in London and around the country. It’s the kind of job that ought to be very easy to do on line, and over the years a few sites have attempted it, but none very well or very comprehensively, even for London. If I had an iPad, I would probably subscribe – it costs around a quarter of the print subscription.

We may too still have ‘print on demand’ books, hopefully with somewhat improved printing, though the current Blurb volumes aren’t bad. Perhaps the cost of these may come down too, at the moment they are too expensive for normal distribution. Though my ‘Book Sale‘ is still on – and on a slightly topical note,  Before The Olympics (paperback version) is still available direct from me, post free in the UK for £25. (Blurb price is £27.29 + post and packing – which adds an unreasonable amount for single copies.) There are limited stocks of all the others too.

Here are a couple of the 270 or so images from Before the Olympics – you can view the whole book on Blurb. Both are from close to the site of the Olympic stadium on what used to be Stratford Marsh.

© 2005, Peter Marshall
Marshgate Lane, Stratford 2005

© 1990, Peter Marshall
Marshgate Lane, Stratford, 1990

London’s Italian Festival

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

It always surprises me how few Londoners seem to know about one of the capital’s largest religious events, and one that has been taking place since 1883. I think I only discovered it in the 1990s; certainly the first time I photographed it I did so mainly on black and white film, despite it being a very colourful event.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

It has changed a little over the years. The first processions  I photographed went to the south of the Italian Church on Clerkenwell Rd, going through the narrower streets around Hatton Garden. Now the route sticks to the major roads in a triangular route to the north. When this started – and as a Catholic procession it had to get a special dispensation from Queen Victoria, and was the first Catholic procession in England since the reformation – this area of London was ‘Little Italy’, packed with small slum streets, homes and workshops for the many Italians in the city, most of whom had fled from Italy in the political upheavals of the early and mid-nineteenth century. These Italian patriots were welcomed in London – Garabaldi got a hero’s welcome when he visited in 1864, and Giuseppe Mazzini, the ‘Beating Heart of Italy’ and one of the first true Europeans spent several periods of exile in the city.

Pathe News filmed the event in 1927, and the streets were much more crowded then, but the event looks quite similar, although of course then it was ‘in’ black and white and without sound. I did think of using the movie facility on my new D800, but I was just too busy taking still images, and you can’t really do both at the same time. The clip only shows some statues being carried around and also a very large phalanx of first communicants in white dresses.  I think the floats with the bibilical tableaux are probably a rather more recent addition.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Now the Italians have largely moved out of the area, and the new arrivals from Italy in the twentieth century went were there was better housing and work. Many of the streets of Little Italy were cleared and replaced by social housing around the start of the 20th century, and others now house large and mainly modern offices. But St Peter’s Italian Catholic Church, consecrated in 1863, remains, serving an Italian-speaking community that mainly comes in from the suburbs. For a period during the war, when Italians in this country were interned it became an Irish church, but in 1963 went back to its Italian past.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

As well as the procession there are also services going on in the church beforehand, but more interesting to me, a great deal of excellent Italian food and wine down the hill behind the church in the Sagra (local fair or festival) and I took a few pictures there, particularly of the dancing, though working with two cameras while holding a plastic cup of red wine proved tricky. It’s really the kind of event where a small, unobtrusive camera such as a Leica would be more useful; I’d thought of bringing the Fuji X100, but my bag was already heavy enough.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

One of the highlights of the event is the release of doves. Apparently this happens at both the start and the finish of the procession, with 3 white doves at each. The doves are well-trained by the White Dove Company and fly back home to Loughton, but they could be better trained for the benefit of photographers. This year two flew up faster than a Lockheed SR-21 while the third declined to leave Padre Carmelo di Giovanni’s hands. But this isn’t the kind of thing you can plan much for, and this year I was taken slightly by surprise – I think Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Antonio Mennini rather jumped the gun.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

I did rather better in 2009 and you can see the release there in my post The Unpredictability of Doves (and more pictures from the 2009 procession have really been on-line for some time) but 2007 was my best year of all, when the doves performed with much greater precision as the crop below shows – more about this, the entire image and another not so good example in Pigeons Post.

© 2007, Peter Marshall


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.

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Sebastián Liste

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

I first heard of Spanish photographer Sebastián Liste (b1985) when he won the Ian Parry Scholarship in 2010 for his long term project “Urban Quilombo”, which looks at the the extreme living conditions faced by the dozens of families who made their home in an abandoned chocolate factory in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. In the factory, which they had occupied illegally, they lived together as a community creating a safer environment than the streets outside, but one from which they were being evicted by the government.

Since then he has own a whole string of awards for this and other work, the latest of which is the City of Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Award., renamed in honour of the young French photographer, born in 1983 and best known for his work on Haiti who was killed in Homs, Syria on 22 Feb 2012 (it was formerly called the Young Reporter of Perpignan award.)

Urban Quilimbo is a powerful and intimate series of black and white images – 52 on the web site – which give a great insight into the lives of those he is photographing, showing both their deprivation and scenes of joy. A photographer with a degree in Sociology and an MA in Photojournalism, he has a great interest in  “the culture of resistance, examining how human beings transform their immediate environment to survive.

Also on his web site are two smaller projects, Bahia and Istanbul. The pictures from Istanbul are perhaps more controlled, reflecting the very different enviroment, but include one of the more striking black and white images I’ve seen a quite a while.  The site gives a choice of three image sizes, thumbnail, normal and larger versions which are seen by clicking on a thumbnail, but I think are just a little too big for the underlying files, which look better on normal view.

You can see more of Liste’s work on Reportage by Getty, which as well as Urban Quilimbo also includes some of his colour work from Brazil. This site also allows you to turn on the captions for the pictures, which are important. The pictures tell the story but sometimes need the text to clarify what that story is.

You can see a selected group of 11 images of Rémi Ochlik‘s pictures at The Guardian, which includes ‘Battle for Libya’ which won the first prize for stories in the general news section of the 2012 World Press Photo awards.