Archive for December, 2012

2012 – My Own Favourites – February

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Another image with the 10.5mm DX semi-fisheye, which was always a good lens and has really become a great lens to use with the recent versions of Lightroom, which remove its main defect, a fairly hefty dose of chromatic aberration. I rather unusually entered an image taken with this lens in 2005 into a competition organised by one of the printer companies, I think just to be shown in an exhibition somewhere in central Europe, one of the pictures I’d taken in what must be one of the most stylish photo galleries around, Contretype, and it took hours of work in Photoshop to get rid of the nasty effects in the file I sent for the large exhibition print to be made. You can see that image and how well Lightroom deals with the problem in an early post here, End Colour Fringing. By default, Lightroom now also tries to change the perspective to rectilinear, which is almost always disastrous for the images, though sometimes a small amount of ‘distortion’ correction – perhaps 30% – can help. Of course it isn’t really a distortion, just a different way of representing the world, and sometimes the effect can be improved by changing to another view, cylindrical perspective. But the picture above is one that works well and is actually strengthened by the original spherical view, which brings the eye into the centre of the image.

Importantly it is from one of the trade union campaigns I most admire, the fight by the cleaners to get a living wage and to be treated with respect, a fight they have carried out with a determination that should be a model and an inspiration for all workers in all trade unions. The cleaners have stood up for their rights, have refused to be bullied and have won, with many more now getting the London Living Wage, although the struggle continues. One of the main and important points they make – and one that should be an important call made by the whole trade union movement – is that companies may outsource the contracts but they cannot outsource responsibility for the workers on their premises.

It is a sad reflection on the state of our trade union movement that the cleaners have only really made progress by going outside of the established unions and forming their own union, at first as a branch of the IWW, and more recently as the IWGB. Although many individual trade unionists have come to the protests and supported the cleaners, the cleaners found the union officials  in too cosy a relationship with the employers, and unwilling to fight for workers’ rights.

The leading figure in the fight is Alberto Durango, who was just out of picture behind me as I took this image, and IWW Cleaners Demand Reinstate Alberto was part of the fight the cleaners have to get proper recognition for their union.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

One of the events I’ve photographed for a number of years is the annual party around Eros at Piccadilly Circus, organised by Venus, which is an antidote to the commercialisation of love which reaches its annual peak on St Valentine’s day. Reclaim Love – Occupy Your Heart! has quite a few images from this year’s event, although as you can see from the umbrella the weather wasn’t too kind. But this was my favourite, from the warmth of that smile and the symmetry of the face and the hat dead centre in this image but with very different elements around – those in the know will recognise the free Reclaim Love t-shirt in pink at right as well as of course the advertising display of Piccadilly Circus at top left.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

My third image from February comes from a very different part of London, Guildhall Yard  and shows members of one of the City livery companies, the Furniture Makers’ guild. Although many of the guilds are truly ancient, the annual Pancake Race is a recent foundation, and one in which  the members enjoy letting their hair down just a little, wearing silly hats and taking part in the races. Although it is a fun day, it does often illustrate the kind of cut-throat competition that lies under the gentlemanly surface of much City business.

It wasn’t a day when I made many good pictures – as you can see in Pancakes in the City – Guildhall as these people are generally far too aware of themselves and their image. The Nikon D700 with the bulky 16-35mm f4 that I used (at 16mm) isn’t the most discreet tool, and I had expected to have more success with the Fuji X100 that I also used at the event. But although I got some pictures that I probably couldn’t have made with the Nikon, its 35mm fixed lens was just not wide enough.


Gideon Mendel on Instagram

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

If you’ve been online at all in the last few days you will be aware of the controversy that new terms and conditions announced by Instagram have caused, with photographers leaving the site.

Instagram have reacted and issued a statement on their blog, which in part reads:

Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.

which is perhaps itself clear but confusing as there seemed to be little other way to take their original statement. Those who use Instagram will doubtless be waiting to see the ‘updated language’, and I think we may have a new term to add to our language. When next you realise you really made a mistake and have to change your intended actions you will no longer be making a U turn or changing your mind, it will just be ‘updating your language.’

But I’ve not messed with Instagram myself as it seems to require a smart phone, and my phone now past its tenth birthday is decidedly stupid. All it does is make and receive phone calls and it doesn’t even include a camera. Perhaps one day I’ll feel it necessary to join the modern world, but not yet. And certainly the Instagram images that appear on my Facebook feed – some of them from very good photographers – don’t I think do them any favours.

But Pete Brook on Wired’s Raw File blog has a set of fine images from Instagram of the Nigerian floods by Gideon Mendel  which prompted me to write this. There is an interesting discussion about how this work – which has reached a wide audience – relates to his more conventional work on the subject, and also about its marketing as art. What makes his work stand out from much of Instagram is of course his photographic eye, and his use of “either #nofilter or with the lo-fi filter just to tweak the contrast.”  #nofilter seems to be something few Instagram users have discovered and it really makes a difference!

2012 – My Own Favourites – January

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I responded to a request to sort out up to a dozen of my best pictures from the last year, and spent quite a time going through my work, and picking out the pictures I most liked from the many thousands I’ve taken.

It was a difficult job, not least because there were so many to chose from – though of course not all of them are at all memorable. I’m never really happy with the idea of ‘best pictures’ either; pictures that would be good for some purposes may be hopeless for others.  Much that I take is in any case not really intended as individual pictures, but to work with others to tell a particular story or describe a particular event. But there are some pictures which stand out for various reasons.

I’ve probably made between 100,000 and 150,000 exposures so far in 2012. Of these perhaps 5% get deleted on camera, mainly while I’m travelling home after taking pictures, and mainly for technical reasons. The screen on the back of the camera is too small to really do more than sort out the really useless images.

Back home I let Lightroom copy and rename all the images, and quickly go through them on screen with just the automatic processing applied. There will be quite a lot of near-duplication as I’ve worked at a particular idea, and I’ll try to pick the best, giving it two stars. Occasionally there might be a couple I’m not sure about which is best, and I’ll decide I need to process both. Quite a few things I’ve tried don’t work out at all, but typically I end up with around 1 in 10 of the pictures I think worth pursuing.

I’ll then go through these tagged pictures again, and give a colour rating to a smaller group that will tell the story effectively for Demotix. Lightroom has four colour ratings that can be applied with a number key – yellow, green, blue and red – and I use a different colour for each story I’ve taken on a particular day. A story on Demotix can have a maximum of 25 pictures, but often will only need a dozen or fifteen. Those images are then manually processed, with appropriate adjustments of contrast, brightness etc and dodging and burning and so on before keywording, captioning and then outputting them with my Lightroom Demotix preset and submitting.

Agencies would like the news sent them before it happens, and for ‘breaking news’ you need to get your pictures to them within minutes. I decided not to try and compete, but instead to concentrate on quality, on telling stories both in pictures and text, though often now I send the pictures first before writing the often lengthy stories that go with them.

Later, often a week or too later, when I have time I’ll go through all the tagged pictures, processing them, and using my Lightroom presets for web images and for full size jpegs to output copies. The web images go on My London Diary (and a few here) and full size jpegs are my reference images. So far for 2012 I have just over 12,000, all stored in a folder for the day they were taken. Usually when I’m asked to supply an image I work from these jpegs, though for special purposes I’ll go back and re-process from the raw files – which I keep backed up with one copy on DVD and another on an external hard drives.

Looking through 12,000 takes quite a while, but is quicker and easier with dedicated file viewing software than with Lightroom or Photoshop. The free FastStone Image Viewer which was recommended to me here a few weeks back enables you to view whole screens of thumbnails rapidly at a reasonable size – and is almost as good as ACDSee which I used to use.

I wanted a dozen, but on my first trawl through I found around 65 that I copied into a folder for a final selection – and these included a few similar images. I’ll perhaps take a few more this month that will qualify, and over the next couple of weeks I’ll do a review of my own year in photography, with some of these pictures and a few comments on them.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Shia Muslims on Park Lane in their 31st Arbaeen procession in London, the culmination of 40 days of mourning the martyrdom of the grandson of Mohammed, Imam Husain, killed with his family and companions at Kerbala in 680AD. More at Arbaeen Procession in London.

Taken with the 10.5mm DC format full-frame fisheye, it illustrates some of the strengths and weaknesses of using lenses of this type. The curved horizon helps in this image, as too does the flare and ghosting – and this is more effective in a larger image than this. But with a 180 degree diagonal angle of view its often hard to avoid having the sun in an image.

It was difficult to take because I had to be really very close to people who were very energetically raising their arms and thumping their chests to get the kind of image I wanted, and keeping out of their way was tricky. What makes this picture better than the many others I’ve taken of this and similar events is the framing and the two prominent arms in the foreground, with the tattooed arm behind them in the centre of the picture. The line of flare ghosts seem to point to that tattoo also. The mix of black and white tops along with the bare flesh also adds something, and there is even a little touch of red at the top left that some people think indispensable to a picture!

Some of this was planning, working to try and get the image, but there is too a bit of luck, a little bit of magic, involved – as in most of my favourite images.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

A couple of weeks later disabled activists chained their wheelchairs together in a protest “calling for the dropping of Welfare Reform Bill, urging savings cutting tax evasion by the rich rather than penalising the poor and disabled”. Disabled Welfare Reform Road Block.

The picture above for me encapsulates much of the event – the chain, the wheelchairs, the placards and the people involved (one of them himself a photographer.)  Taken with the 16-35mm, the leaning speaker adds a force to the image.

Both of these were in the final selection of a dozen I made, and the lower one is I think being used on a calendar. Last year I made my own personal calendar from 2011 pictures, and I may get round to doing the same from this year’s images.

November Protests

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

It’s a while since I wrote much about my pictures from London on My London Diary with other things including my trip to Paris getting rather in the way. But Paris wasn’t the only thing I did in November, and before my trip there I did photograph a few events in London.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The cleaners are continuing their fight for a living wage (and unfortunately I’ve not yet managed to cover there protests at the Barbican.) But I was at the Tower of London on  3 Nov – as you can see in  Cleaners Protest at Tower on My London Diary. I’d missed an earlier protest where they had actually gone inside the Tower; this time they just made a token move inside the gates of the site after beginning to protest a few yards away.

The protests certainly get noticed by the crowds of tourists who keep the building open as a tourist attraction, though I don’t think many – if any – actually decided not to visit because of the protest. The picture above appealed to me for several reason, starting with the obvious determination of the man blowing the plastic horn and the red flags in the background. But this was also a protest with very few placards, and the on in this image with the singles word ‘SHAME’ stood out. I spent some time photographing him, trying to get the crown with the EIIR logo also in the image. The cleaners don’t of course actually work for royalty, but are employed by contractors to ‘Historic Royal Palaces’, which itself is an independent charity, though the Tower is still owned by the Queen.

November 5th is of course celebrated in the UK as Guy Fawkes Day, originally a fairly rabidly anti-Catholic event, though I think we now generally are on the side of Fawkes, often referred to as “the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions.” The ‘Anonymous’ movement has adopted the Guy Fawkes mask  worn by the mysterious revolutionary ‘V’ in the 1980s graphic novel (and 2005 film) V for Vendetta written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd as it’s trademark (mainly they wear the Warner Bros version of the mask.) In recent days the film, previously censored there, has been shown for the first time in full on Chinese state TV. 

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The novel was written during the Thatcher years and set at a future date in the 1990s when the UK, after a nuclear war was a fascist police state. Things didn’t quite turn out that way, but sometimes we seem to be going in that direction, and around 2000 Anonymous supporters met in Trafalgar Square, as a part of a worldwide protest, marching to Parliament against austerity, the cuts and the increasing gap between rich and poor, warning the government they need to change. #Operation Vendetta was perhaps a little more tame event than expected, as you can see in Anonymous March to Parliament and certainly lacked the drama of the film.  But I was very pleased to have the rather incredible high ISO performance of the Nikon D800E for pictures like that above, even when I was using flash. Some parts of Trafalgar Square can be remarkably dark.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The following day I was busy too, with a small protest outside one of our immigration prisons following the death of one of the men being held there after he was ‘restrained’ by staff. I was shocked to hear that there had not been any police investigation of the death under what seem to be very suspicious circumstances. The police – as you can see in Noisy Demo after Immigration Death – appear to be very much more concerned with preventing protests such as this than with protecting the civil rights of those inside detention centres.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Later in the day I was outside the US Embassy for a US election night protest, Truth, Justice and the American way? about those still held in Guantanamo. Obama had promised before his election to close down the camp, but has failed to do so, and 160 prisoners are still held there, many like British resident Shaker Aamer ‘cleared for release’ but still being held – now for around 11 years.

In parts there was enough light to work without flash (at ISO 3200) but the SB700 also did a good job when required. For once I remembered from the start that I needed to use shutter priority (or manual) setting on the camera with it.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

It got plenty of use the following night too, with a chilly open-top bus ride from the City of London where Campaign against Climate Change had been protesting outside the London offices of dirty coal and tea party backers  the Koch Brothers before the journey across London for another protest outside the US Embassy – see Stop Fossil Fuel Dirty Money takeover of US.

Finally, on Saturday, I went to the dogs – the fight to save Walthamstow Stadium  Continues.

Don’t Photograph Me!

Friday, December 14th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Two pictures from five individual frames over two seconds with the lens at 16mm as a security guard tells me not to take his picture and threatens to assault me and smash my camera. That finger in the lower image is around six inches from the front of the 16-35mm f4, and too close for the lens to focus on. The guard is slightly less sharp than in the previous images because he is moving towards me, and after making this exposure I moved back.

I’d been photographing him telling a group of protesters against workfare – a government scheme that forces unemployed people to work for nothing or lose their benefit payments – that they could not protest in the street outside the shop where he was working, Superdrug, which they say is using the unemployed as free labour rather than taking on extra staff for the Christmas rush.

Fortunately too, he stopped, probably not because I told him he was breaking the law by threatening me, but because everyone around – including the man who has put a hand on his shoulder was telling him too, and he turned around to argue with them – and I continued to photograph him, but from slightly further away.

After a few minutes with the protesters talking to him he calmed down. He listened and understood why the protesters were there, and went back inside to continue to do his job rather than try to intimidate a legitimate protest. I hope he learnt something from the experience, which obviously he hadn’t been trained to cope with.

He wasn’t employed by Superdrug, but by a security company who are “an NSI Gold accredited organisation and has an ACS score that positions it within the top 5% of all manned guarding companies.”  They claim that their security officers are highly trained, but obviously they had not given this particular man the basic training in law (and common sense) needed to deal with such situations. His actions were of course counter-productive for both Superdrug and his employers and gained publicity for the event both on the street where it was happening and on the web. Though I wasn’t happy when Demotix made the threat to me the main point of the published story rather than the issue of workfare that the protest was about.

The protesters knew they had the right to protest on the street (and had been told so by two PCSOs elsewhere earlier in the day) and told him, but he continued to argue with them and attempt to get them to stop. And of course I knew I had the right to photograph, but he seemed unaware of this too. They don’t appear to have trained him that it is an offence to threaten assault (and even more of an offence had he carried out his threat.)

I’d photographed the same protesters earlier in the afternoon when they protested against workfare at a shop run by the charity  the British Heart Foundation.  Here they actually went inside the shop to make a protest, and I followed them inside and took some pictures. As soon as I was told I couldn’t photograph inside the shop and was asked to go I left, but continued to photograph as best I could from the street outside through the door and windows.

One of the staff, possibly a volunteer (and of course there is nothing wrong with charities using volunteers – but many charities are now using people who haven’t chosen but are forced to work for them without pay or lose benefits) was obviously concerned by my taking pictures and came to try and stop me. She told me I needed a licence to photograph, and I told here that she was wrong, and that everyone was free to photograph on the street, and that I had the right to photograph what I liked. She ran away into the shop when I offered to take her picture and raised a camera to my eye.

Shops could of course choose not have large windows so that we can see inside, but most deliberately invite the public to gaze inside, so they can have no expectation of privacy. And for me there was a clear public interest in what was happening both with the charity and with companies such as Superdrug – as well as security companies that fail to give their employees proper training.

But what the incident outside Superdrug clearly shows (and such incidents are not unusual, with security guards who know and understand the law being in my experience unusual) that security companies need to properly train their staff both in dealing with protests and with dealing with photographers. That NSI (National Security Inspectorate) Gold accreditation looks rather tarnished.

Some things may have improved in the City of London since the film ‘Stand Your Ground‘ was made, with police (who came out of the video pretty well) and photographers giving some training to security guards but in general there still seems to be a lack of proper training for security staff.

Flinging Cameras

Friday, December 14th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Above is the latest modification I’ve made to my D800E, with a short length of nylon pictures frame cord between the strap slot on the sling strap and the strap ring on the camera body.

It’s very much a stable-door modification after my run for the train on the way home on Saturday resulted in the camera detaching from the strap and bouncing along the platform. Fortunately the camera itself doesn’t appear damaged, as it landed on the flash unit. This broke quite neatly leaving the shoe in the camera and the body of the unit – which appears more or less undamaged skidding along the platform, from where another would-be passenger kindly returned it to me. It looks a fairly simple repair – and putting the two pieces together it still seems to work. The miniature flat cable from the shoe to the body actually looks like it was designed to unplug during this kind of event!

A colleague suggests that a little Loctite on the screw thread would be a good idea, and I don’t often want to remove the sling strap fitting (it takes a tripod screw on the rare occasions I need to use a tripod or monopod.)

I’d realised when I started using the sling strap that there was nothing to stop it coming loose, and added another to my repertoire of many nervous twitches, attempting to tighten it, but had never actually found it needed tightening. Saturday had been a fairly active day, moving around a lot when taking pictures and it had obviously worked loose, with running for the train the last straw.

The nylon picture frame cord is tough stuff – unlikely to break under the weight of camera and flash, leaving it hanging just a few inches lower if the strap becomes unscrewed again. I deliberately have left it loose both to allow the movement the sling strap needs and to avoid chafing.

I like to work with two cameras, and at the moment I have the D700 still on a normal neck strap and the D800E on a sling strap.  I quite like this, as it helps me to tell which camera is which (sometimes a problem for me, particularly as the telephoto lens I use is shorter than the wide-angle) and also helps prevent the banging of the cameras into each other which can result in minor damage.

I didn’t notice any problems working with the cord in place at a protest on Wednesday, so I think its a permanent feature on the camera for me, though I’ll need to watch out for wear.  So as I sat down on the bus to go home, I thought I’d mention it here and put the camera on my knees and took a picture of the modification – heavily cropped above. It was getting dark and it isn’t a high quality image, but it shows the idea clearly enough.

It also told me I had been working with the VR on the 28-105mm lens switched off. I can’t think why this should have been, probably just that I pushed the switch by accident when changing lenses. I don’t think I ever need to switch it off, and it has quite a heavy detent. I hadn’t noticed the images were any less sharp than usual.

Film’s Final Fling?

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Film has been pretty well dead for some years now, or at least reserved for a few very special niches. There is a movement to keep it alive, I think largely the reserve of those opposed to change on emotional grounds. Real ale I can understand, but real film? We really are better off without all its problems and defects, and with the many advantages of good digital cameras.

I last took pictures on film around 5 years ago now,  but I actually gave up developing film slightly earlier, and was left with around a 100 cassettes (and a couple of rolls) that I exposed in around 2007, left on a shelf in my darkroom. I kept meaning to get out my film processor and develop them – they are all C41 though some are chromogenic black and white, but somehow it hasn’t happened. I did a couple of batches of the b/w around 18 months ago – 7 films at a time, but that still leaves quite a few.

Finally I’ve got around sending some of the colour neg to a pro lab for processing. The local lab I used to use occasionally went out of business some years ago with the switch to digital, so I decided to post these off to a company that offered a reasonably priced service at £2.99 per film, process only. I knew that they were probably all exposed in panoramic cameras –  one of the few niches referred to above, so couldn’t just send them to a budget processor.

Getting the films back in the post was a little like reliving the thrill (and often disappointment) of taking the films out of the final rinse and hanging them to dry, though this time I had little idea what I was going to see. Here’s one of the images that I found.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Some of you will recognise this view, and I also photographed digitally from the same viewpoint in 2007 and on other occasions. I was actually more or less in the same place last week, though a very tall fence prevents me getting to the exact same spot. But here’s a picture from just a few  yards away of how the scene looks now.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Probably the only thing that is still more or less the same is the bit of the bridge at the left of the top image – and you can just see it under the fence at centre left of the lower image.

The digital image is a detail from a wider view – the film image covers roughly 120 degrees and I’ve cropped the digital to a similar angle – I made it as roughly twice the horizontal angle and vertical angle of the film camera. They use a similar perspective but the wider vertical view of the digital makes the curvature more obvious.

What you can’t perhaps see clearly is the difference in colour quality and detail, where digital scores heavily. And at the left of the film image I’ve left on one of the little accidents we often got with film, a lighter area where I think there was a little overlap with the next frame. It was taken with one of my favourite cameras, a Horizon, which I think cost well under £200 in a brown paper package from the Ukraine.

Keeping the film for 5 years between exposure and development doesn’t seem to have greatly altered the image, taken on an ISO400 Fuji film, though of course this is not a scientific test, but it seems fairly similar in most respects to films I did develop at the time.

I’ve just sent off another batch to finish the undeveloped colour film, but am still thinking I might process the 50 or so cassettes of T400CN myself, perhaps giving them a little extra development to compensate for any loss in contrast that may have occurred.

I’m also wondering whether to take out the Horizon or my X-Pan again. They are fun to use and better for panoramas with moving things in them as the exposure is made more or less at a point. And I do have a little supply of film still in the cupboard with expiry dates around 2002 or 2004 it would be a shame to waste.

Paris 2012 Complete

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Paris last month was something of a marathon for me, not helped by a little sickness in the last couple of days, but putting my thoughts together on this site and also on My London Diary has probably taken rather more hours of work. At last it is more or less complete:

Monday Blues
Sunday Afternoon
Sunday morning at the MEP
A Photo-Off Guided Tour
Saturday Morning
Paris at Night
Friday Morning
More Photo-Off Openings
Thursday Afternoon
Thursday Morning
Paris Photo Wednesday pm
Wednesday Morning
Openings – Tuesday
Paris Photo – Photograph as Commodity

You can actually read all of these here on >Re:PHOTO, where there are a few pictures included in the text. On My London Diary – links above – there is a single picture at the top of the text, and then a link to one or more pages of pictures. You can also go through all the pictures I’ve put on line from Paris by starting here and following the ‘more pictures’ or ‘More pictures from Paris’ link at the bottom of each page.

So far I’ve been asked two questions about the pictures from Paris. One was about the legal position of taking pictures of people on the street in France and whether I had any problems. On this visit I had no problems, though I have very occasionally been challenged on previous visits. I work quickly and many people were not aware they were being photographed, but when they were nobody actually voiced any objection.  In some cases there were enough people to make it an image of a crowd (I was told four is a crowd in France, but wouldn’t rely on it.)  In some other pictures – like that on the Metro – I chose an angle and lighting so that the people were not really recognisable.

 © 2012, Peter Marshall

I’m not sure what my favourite picture among those that I took is, but possibly one of the dogs in the Placement libre-atelier galerie. There I was with other photographers on the tour, others were also taking photographs and no one was objecting. I did ask the before taking this picture in the same gallery, because it seemed polite to do so.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Earlier that same afternoon while walking along the street with the others on the tour Linda did say that some people seemed shocked when I rushed up to a man wheeling some paintings on a trolley and took several pictures. He didn’t look particularly pleased but he didn’t object.

© 2012, Peter Marshall


Final Hours

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Although Sunday had felt rather like the end, and my gut had put an end to all my plans, we still had most of Monday to fill before it was time to go the the Gare du Nord for the late afternoon train home.

My plans had been to go out for a good meal at one of our favourite cheapish restuarants in the 5e on Sunday night, with a few glasses of wine, then on Monday to book out of our hotel, leaving our cases to collect later, have a leisurely meander around a few of our favourite places, perhaps morning coffee in a cafe, then a little more wandering before a long and satisfying lunch, getting up from the table in time to collect our bags and walk to the station. But in my state I spent our last 24 hours in Paris eating nothing and drinking the odd sip of water – I just couldn’t stomach the thought of anything more.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

But we needed to do something to keep myself and Linda occupied, and we started with a trip to the cemetery. Montmartre cemetery isn’t really a gloomy place, though it’s pretty huge, and gives considerable employment to the gardeners who were busily blowing the leaves from one place to another. We’d actually hoped to be able to walk through it and out a gate at the north-east, but on reading the notices found that this is only open on one day a year – All Saints.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Truffaut’s grave was a simple polished black slab

So we just walked around a fairly small part of it, finding some of the graves of the famous who are buried there (even some I’d heard of) and generally enjoying the atmosphere. It must be about the best time of the year to visit, with falling leaves and colour on the trees.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
These small images at the side of the show were possibly of some of the rooms in Morocco

We then had to walk around the outside of the cemetery to revisit the Espace Central Dupon, which now held a different show, Mectoub by Scarlett Coten, portraits of young Maroccan men in their own surroundings. On her web site, she perhaps unhelpfully writes:

“« Mektoub », littéralement : c’est écrit”

– literally ‘it is written’, but it more means that whatever is referred to is predestined, already written in the book of life.  And perhaps in photographing these men in their work place or home we see them in acceptance of their fate, their destiny and their offering it to the photographer for her images.

But perhaps what is more obvious is her sense of colour, and their ease at posing for the camera. You can see the series on her web site, and what is striking both on the wall and there is the huge amount of pinks and red, dominating almost all the images. It was certainly an interesting set of portraits.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
There were a few colour images in the Yampolsky show

From there we hurried across Paris to the 3e, where one of the few shows open on a Monday was the work of Mariana Yampolsky (1925-2002) at the Instituto Cultural de Mexico.  Tepalcates continues there until the 29 March 2013.

Yampolsky was born in Chicago but grew up on her grandfather’s farm in rural Illinois. Her father was a sculptor and painter of Russian Jewish extraction, and her mother came from a wealthy German Jewish family. A year after she graduated from the University of Chicago in social sciences she went to Mexico City to study painting and sculpture and fell in love with the country, making it her home and becoming a Mexican citizen in 1958. In 1948 she studied photography with Lola Alvarez Bravo and Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and the more interesting work in this show clearly showed his influence on her work.

The name of the show, Tepalcates, is apparently the Spanish version of a Nahuatl word meaning a fragment or scrap of rough clay, and is used to refer to anything made from clay, particularly dishes and bowls. Perhaps the clay here is the ancient culture of Mexico which Yampolsky recorded and also the clay that was important in the vernacular architecture prominent in the work.

For me there was far too much work in the show – and too little time to look at it all before the show closed for the lunch hour. There were some images that caught my attention, and rather too many that seemed to be little more than a record, perhaps something unusual or even typical and doubtless of interest to some but perhaps not to a general audience. But perhaps I’m not the right audience, not in love with Mexican culture. I think of the little curiosities that so attracted Edward Weston when he spent time in that country – and which for me seemed simply wasted film and wasted time when he could have been producing more of the great images he made there.

Yampolsky’s work I already knew – for example on Zone Zero and here and here – had perhaps led me to expect something more interesting. The gallery was closing for lunch, and it was time to leave before I had a really good look. But perhaps if I get back to Paris before March 29 I might go back and have another look.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The gardens in the Square du Temple

Not that I wanted lunch. I went with Linda to a brasserie, but couldn’t face the smell or sight of food, and went to sit and read in the winter sunshine in the Square du Temple while she ate.

We did some more wandering in the afternoon, mainly by accident, and came upon the show Barcelone Annees 60, photographs by Narcis Darder Bosch (1923-2006) and Ricard Duran Bargallo (1916-1986) The PDF catalogue here has more pictures. Bosch was a succesful industrialist and a keen amatuer photographer, while Bargallo who started with an interest in cinema and painting and worked in the textile industry made photography his means of expression. While much of the work on show was very much in the amateur photography tradition, some of Bargallo’s work seemed more interesting.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The staircase in the Mairie

Finally back at the Square du Temple we went inside the Mairie of the 3e, where another exhibition had opened that morning,  Paris Couleurs 1960 by Jean Jéhan. A young man from the country, when he had to do his national military service he was stationed in Paris, and decided that after that he wanted to be a photographer. So he bought a camera and spent most of his off-duty time travelling around Paris and taking photographs on 120 film of the people he met on the street and anything that interested him. 200 of these colour images have now been published in a book, Paris-Bohème 1960, with a preface by Charles Aznavour.

From the large selection on show at the Mairie gave an interesting view of the city, which has changed considerably since then. He was photographing more or less at the time when I first came to the city, although I didn’t photograph it at all seriously until 1973. You can get a flavour of the work from the poster and a brief article on the show.

It was time to make our way to collect our suitcases and go to the station. On the way we  bought some quiches, in case either of us felt hungry on the way home.  I hadn’t eaten for over 24 hours, and it wasn’t until I got back home around 8pm that I felt at all like food – and the quiche was delicious.

The End of Paris

Friday, December 7th, 2012

© 2012, Peter Marshall

By Sunday lunchtime I was definitely beginning to feel ill, but there were still things that I wanted to see, and after a brief lunch – a mistake – we went on to the Hôtel de Sauroy in rue Charlot in the 3e,where the first thing we saw was a rather curious box in the courtyard. It seemed an odd way to treat the work of Liz Hingley, as the winner of the Prix Virginia for her work on The Jones Family, and certainly did not show it at its best.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The first show we went inside the rather grand house to see was Thanks to Luigi Ghirri & Italian Emerging Photography. I’ve never really seen what people see in Ghirri’s work, although it’s not entirely without interest, it has never really gripped me. What people see as poetic often seems to me just sloppy thinking and technique, but the work of the six younger Italian photographers held a little more interest.

For me the most striking work were the dark images of Alessandro Imbriaco’s Static Drama, but there was also interest in Marco Barbon’s Asmara Dream, Susanna Pozzoli’s On the Block. Harlem Private View,  Ottavia Castellina‘s Here I am Again,  but I was less than enchanted by Claudia Pozzoli’s lonely mountains of metaphors and perhaps felt I had seen work similar to Margherita Cesaretti’s magic herbarium rather better done by others.

Through a neighbouring door leading to its own staircase we went up into the group show Le temps des lucioles (The time of fireflies) with work by Robert Cahen, Bogdan Konopka, Gladys, Laurent Millet, Sarah Moon, Caroline Hayeur, Machiel Botman, Didier Massard, Patrick Taberna and Salvatore Puglia.

The retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Brave Tin Soldier is one of Sarah Moon’s most charming series, and it was good to see it on the wall. But for me the real star of the show – perhaps because I was not really  familiar with his work before – was Bogdan Konopka.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
I read one of the several books by Konopka at the show

Born in Poland where he was a part of a movement known as ‘elementary photography’ which led him to use a large format camera (mainly I think 4×5″) and work with low contrast heavily printed contact prints as a reaction to the then prevalent style of working, which favoured gritty high contrast and greatly enlarged photojournalistic images. He move to France in 1989.

The images on show demonstrated his approach, small and darkly printed with very little in the highlight area, they had an unusual depth and shadow separation that prevented them from being dull or gloomy.  There were also copies of several of his books, and a comfortable sofa on which to sit and browse through them, so much that I perhaps neglected some of the other work on show which, at a fairly brief encounter failed to arouse my interest.

There is a good selection of work by Konopka on his Candace Dwan gallery page, although unfortunately the reproduction there seems a little unsharp and fails to do the work justice.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
A wall on a street in the 3e

We walked rather briskly down to the Institut Suédois for a quick look at the show Different Distances, showing the work of a new generation of Swedish fashion photographers whose work has a free interpretation of fashion and is also fine art photography. Or so I think the exhibition description said, though to me it all looked rather ordinary. But by now I was really feeling quite ill, and although there were more shows I had meant to visit I had to give up and return to the hotel.