Archive for March, 2013

Budget Strike!

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

I often have a problem with photographing pickets, although there have been plenty of opportunities in recent times. They tend to be at their best early in the morning when people would be turning up to start work – and I’m not really a morning person. When  I had to start work at 8.30am it was always a struggle, and when I got the invitation a few weeks back to photograph a picket at 5.30am it didn’t take long for me to say no.

My first train into town on a weekday doesn’t get in until a little after that – I don’t think I’ve ever caught it, though I have at times travelled ridiculously early when I’ve been making long distance trips, but generally I don’t like to do anything that starts before around 10.30am unless it is sure to pay well as it means I have to pay the excessive full fare.

Of course there are times when pickets keep on later, and there was still a group of PCS members outside the House of Commons as I walked by around 11.30am on Budget Day, and with them showing their support were two of the MPs I often photograph at protests. I’d photographed the two of them separately with some of the pickets when Jeremy Corbyn asked me if I’d like to take both of them together, and called John McDonnell over.

It would perhaps have been better had I moved a little lower or used a wider lens and got the clock on that tower in the background in the picture.

Just down the road, the PCS were holding a strike rally, with a giant screen on which the proceedings inside Parliament were being played. Every time I see Prime Minister’s Questions I’m appalled by the failure to engage in proper discussion and the silly points scoring from almost all of those who take part. It rather clearly makes the point that parliament has become a farce.

Hearing ministers stand and make statements that are clearly untrue, and that you know they must know are untrue doesn’t inspire any confidence in democracy, and I think the two women in the foreground here were thinking much the same as me.

The giant screen made a useful background to photograph the speakers against – and while they were speaking the sound from the chamber was off so we didn’t have to hear the lies.

But I would certainly trust Zita Holbourne or Mark Serwotka rather more than the gentleman behind them.

The PCS members present had come her to see the budget speech by George Osborne, and to give their reaction. It was loud and negative, with a great deal of booing, blowing of whistles and shouting.

And one protester in particular had come with a poster which made very clear the distress and deaths that the cuts are causing.

People are dying because of inappropriate management targets in the NHS, because of the Atos work capability tests which remove benefits from the severely ill and disabled (the Glasgow test centre is known as ‘Lourdes’ because all those who go in with severe disabilities emerge somehow miraculously fit for work), because of poverty which forces many to choose between fuel and food. Even relatively prosperous areas such in the London suburbs now need food banks, mainly kept busy by people who, under the strict targets set by the politicians, are now cut the victims of a cut the benefits first, ask questions later policy, with emergency support now largely unobtainable from official sources.


Hogarth & Fuji

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

A few years ago, the Leica M8 came out to generally very enthusiastic reviews, including some great write-ups from photographers who had been given the camera to use. Not long after, I had  a sudden fit of seeming affluence, and made my way on a sunny afternoon to Wey Cameras and spent the small fortune involved – and another £50 on a spare battery.  The camera felt almost like a Leica, though lacking the silky-smooth engineering of my old M2 (arguably the pinnacle of the marque) the prospect of a digital version was exciting, and the test shots I made only increased my excitement, though I could see it had some limitations compared to the Nikon I was then using, particularly as I was unable to afford new coded Leica lenses.

My exhilaration lasted up to the first time I took it out to use it in anger. I enjoyed using it with the 21mm Voigtlander (28mm equivalent) in a small animal rights event, dancing through the protesters sitting on the steps of the Royal Exchange almost like in the days of film, though it seemed considerably noisier and perhaps its automatic exposure wasn’t as accurate as some. But then I went on to another protest – and one I had actually been commissioned to cover – where there was a picket line of women in black burkhas  – and found in the Leica images they came out in various shades of brown and purple.

It wasn’t a good time. Wey Cameras went out of business a bout a week after I’d bought the camera from them, and a few days later I got the push from the job which had been making me feel reasonably off, providing well over half my income. To find I’d bought a camera that was hopeless with colour wasn’t good news.

Of course I wasn’t the only photographer who was having problems, and eventually even Leica admitted they’d got things wrong and supplied those who had bought the camera with a couple of IR cut filters free of charge, which went some way to solve the problem. But at the same time it introduced other issues, and while the camera became usable for 35mm and longer lenses (the 35mm became a standard lens, around 45mm equiv), colour remained a real pain with the wide angles I prefer. Again there was a solution from Leica, but only for their own coded lenses, and the free Cornerfix software did a good job, but added complication to the workflow.

Some people loved the camera despite this, and its poor showing by modern standards at high ISO, and it isn’t a bad camera for black and white (and a good choice for IR photography), but most of its life was spent sitting on my desk doing nothing. The resale price for the original M8 slumped to under half what I paid for it. I couldn’t afford new Leica lenses (which allow firmware correction of some of the problems) nor to get the M9 with which it might make some sense as a second body.  It’s gone to a friend with an M9, for whom it makes much more sense as a second body, while I’ve got in exchange an almost new condition Fuji X P.ro1, back from a full overhaul.

I’d been wondering for some time whether to buy a lighter smaller camera system, but couldn’t decide whether to try the Olympus OMD or Fuji. I’d more or less decided that the Fuji XE1 looked right, though only when the wide-angle zoom became available – which looks like being next year. So the X-Pro1 looked a good alternative, with perhaps the XE1 as a second body.

Chiswick Square – probably Hogarth’s nearest neighbours – and the Hogarth flyover – 15mm Voigtlander

In Chiswick I had the X-Pro1 but no Fuji lenses, so I was working with Leica M adapters with Leica and Voigtlander lenses. My old Voigtlanders are screw fitting, so there is also a screw to M adapter. Despite this, the first joy was to find the ease of changing lenses – more or less like going back to Leica or Olympus OM days – I’ve never found it quite so quick and simple with Nikon. I’d got two adapters with the camera, one an expensive Fuji version and the other a cheap Kiron – about one eigth of the price of the Fuji. I’d been warned that I might have problems with the cheap one, but I’d done a few brick wall pictures and could see no difference.

Hogarth’s House and garden – the mulberry tree was here when he moved in

Mostly I was using wide angles, so focus was seldom a problem, but where it is, the ability to zoom in digitally to focus was a great help, though it seemed going back to the dark ages to have to manually open the lens for precise focus, then stop down manually to take the picture. I think I’ll mainly work with Fuji lenses if I decide to work serious with the camera.

Automatic exposure still works fine – and it works just like it does on my other Fuji. The exposure compensation dial has a firmer detent, but it’s still possible for the heavy handed to shift in by accident (as I found) though fortunately the underexposure I set by accident on some frames made little difference to the results.

As might be expecting, working with these lenses is rather slower than using an all-automatic system, unless you make settings in advance – and with the wide angles you usually can except at short distances. Since there is no focussing, there is no noticeable shutter lag, but as with the Fuji X100, I sometime found the camera sulking after it had not been used for a while, taking a short time and some button pressing to bring it back to life.

Chiswick House gardens, close to Hogarth’s house.

Framing in the optical viewfinder is close – as good or better than with the Leica, and it can be set for any focal length, though for very wide lenses the viewfinder frame obviously can’t expand enough – and for these and lenses such as the 90mm  it’s usually better to use the electronic viewfinder. This is just a little slow to react to movement and exposure changes to be a good choice all of the time, and noticeably poorer than on the newer XE1. The X100 digital viewfinder also seems better.

My old Voigtlander 15mm, which has been dropped a few times is still a decent performer, virtually distortion free and a good 23mm equiv wide-angle, but rather susceptible to flare, and it will not take a filter for protection. Unfortunately both my 21mm Voigtlander and 28mm Minolta lenses both have some fungus that gives rise to flare, but all my other M lenses fit and work well. At first I thought I would not be able to use my old 35mm f1.4 Summilux, but although it won’t focus to infinity with the genuine Fuji adapter, there are no problems with the cheaper version.  But if I find the system fits my needs then it will make sense to buy Fuji lenses, starting with the 18-55mm. The 18mm pancake would be a nice choice when I want a more or less pocketable camera, but really it is the wide zoom that will be my most useful lens once that comes out.  There is a 14mm already, and an independent manual semi-fisheye, but my Nikon 10mm f2.8 will also fit with an adaptor. Fuji also promise a longer zoom, but until then the Leitz 90mm f2.8 will serve, and the electronic viewfinder makes that rather easier to use than peering at the tiny rectangle in the Leica viewfinder. Or for something seriously long I could always use the Nikon 70-300mm, though probably only should I become a bird watcher.

Chiswick House grounds – a public park.

The images were a pleasure to work with in Lightroom. A little vignetting on the wide angles, and no EXIF lens data so no automatic corrections. Lightroom 4.3 – the current version – doesn’t include any profiles for Fuji lenses on the X Pro1 or XE1, though perhaps they will come, along with the improved de-mosaicing of the Fuji  raw files which is in the current release candidate. I’ve not noticed any real problems with this so far, and I love the way the Fuji colour captures the winter afternoon sunlight.

Hogarth, Progress & Copyright

Friday, March 29th, 2013

There is, I think, something very photographic about the work of William Hogarth, widely acknowledged as the father of visual satire for his works such as ‘Gin Lane‘ and ‘Marriage à-la-Mode‘. His paintings and the more widely disseminated etching made from them, which sold massively during his lifetime and still continue to sell almost 250 years after his death in 1764 are full of ‘decisive moments’, and rely very much on a feeling for gesture and symbol which would have made him as perceptive as a photojournalist. And as Martin Rowson says in his piece at the Tate on ‘The grandfather of satire‘, illustrated by an etching of ‘Beer Lane’, his work provides “an image of eighteenth-century London that many people probably now take at face value, almost as if it were a photograph.” The word ‘almost’ of course is important, and what Hogarth crams into a single image would take a photographic essay to explore, and the world of Hogarth is one of caricature rather than visual accuracy.

Hogarth sold and published his own work, and made a good living out of it, enough to buy a house in the country at Chiswick. Then it stood alone surrounded by fields, by the late nineteenth century it was on a pleasant village lane, and now it is more or less submerged by the Hogarth roundabout, with one of London’s more curious flyovers.  You can buy a print of Rowson’s take on this at Hogarth’s House and can see a rather unsharp version of it on Weekend Notes, which also has more about the museum which is free to visit and has two decent pubs a short walk away. But to see his paintings, visit the Soane Museum in Lincoln Fields, which you can see in the video by Ian Hislop in an article on Hogarth by The Idle Historian.

Hogarth was also important to photographers in helping to establish the principles of copyright (which was vital to his living as a print-maker), with the Engravers’ Copyright Act (also known as Hogarth’s Act) of 1735, providing the first real protection of artists copyrights, which in the course of time was extended to photographs, and is currently under severe attack from the Enterprise And Regulatory Reform Bill – with leading in putting forward the case for photographers.

I thought about Hogarth last week, as together with a few of my family we  small family outing to Chiswick for a meal together in a pub and then a visit to Hogarth’s House, now a small museum owned by the London Borough of Hounslow and then walked on through the grounds of Chiswick House to the station for the train home. You can see some more pictures from that outing on My London Dairy in Chiswick & Hogarth, and I’ll write a little more about them in a later post. But for the moment I’ll simply say that ‘No Nikons were used in their making.’

St Pat’s in Willesden Green

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Saturday was one of those days when ‘logistics’ were very much at the forefront, and I left the Syrians disappearing into the Hyde Park underpass at 1.20pm and by 1.50pm I was walking along the side road next to Willesden Green station where the Brent St Patrick’s Day Parade was gathering.  Fortunately the trains were running normally on both parts of the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines, though it still involves a very long walk between platforms at Green Park.

Most years the Brent parade has actually been on St Patrick’s Day, but this year this was on Sunday, and the main London parade was taking place then, so Brent held its parade a day early.  There had been some doubt until a fairly short time previous as to whether it would take place at all, as Brent council like all others has been hit by the cuts, and one cut was the funding for community events such as this.  The parade went ahead despite this – and the mayor came along as usual, walking at the front with St Patrick.

Unlike the big London occasion, the Brent parade is truly a community event, and perhaps because of the uncertainty it was a little less so this year, without the usual large crowds on the streets. The weather hadn’t looked good earlier in the day, and it rained a little on this parade, and being on a Saturday was perhaps a reason for the schools being absent. Last year, when St Patrick’s day actually fell on a Saturday I’d noticed the crowds were down on previous occasions, such as the 2011 parade.

So compared to previous years it was just a little disappointing, though there were still people on the street to watch, particularly in front of some of the local bars, with people getting into the hats, the spirit and the Guinness of the event.

The parade ended at Willesden Green Library, where there were related events taking place, but by now I was getting rather cold and tired and it was time to go home. You can see more pictures in St Patrick’s Parade Brent.


Syrians on the March

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Syrians gathered in Belgrave Square for a noisy protest across the road from the Syrian Embassy for a march to Downing St on the second anniversary of the start of the uprising there, a fight against the Assad regime that gets bloodier and bloodier. In my report Syria – Two Years Fight for Freedom on My London Diary I quote some figures about the numbers killed by the brutal regime which “has so far killed over 70,000 people, injured 320,000, imprisoned 160,000, and caused several million to become refugees inside and outside of Syria.”  Syrians feel let down by the international community, which has largely stood back and watched this happen without managing to take any effective action – as I mention, one of the posters “included the question ‘Hey World, How Many Kids Should Be Killed Before You Do Something?'”

The Syrians were protesting in a fairly dense crowd inside a large pen, but unlike some events it was easy to move through and to get to the centre where things were happening. The people want publicity for their cause and a keen for the press to get good pictures, and with a few quiet words and gestures made way for me to move past. Almost everyone – men, women and children – was happy to be photographed, and very friendly. This, unlike some, was a crowd where I felt welcome.

Visually, the many Free Syrian flags often provided some drama – and it is a better flag to photograph than some with its black white and green bands and red stars, whether waved, worn or painted on faces.

The woman on the left in this image saw me taking photographs of hef friend and ruashed forwards to kiss her – this was the second or third frame as she turned round and smiled at me. I showed them the picture and they laughed. Most of the time I was working with the 16-35mm, and there was little room not to be very much in people’s faces, and that big lens (considerably larger than the 18-105mm DX) with its 77mm filter and large lens hood can be rather intimidating, but not I think with this crowd.

Most of the time I was too close to some of the people for flash to be an option, but although the light was fairly even overall – a dull overcast day with still the occasional spot of rain – I needed it for some of the pictures, for example where the face of this man was in shadow against a bright background.

I continued to take pictures for the first quarter mile of so of the march, and left it as the tail end disappeared below my feet into the Hyde Park underpass. Standing above as the march approached I wished I had put the 70-300mm into my camera bag that morning, although I’m not sure I would have made many good pictures.

Views from a height are seldom as interesting as I hope they will be, although probably the main reason I take few now is that climbing up on street furniture and walls is rather a strain for me now, and unless – as in this case – I’m on really solid ground I tend to lose balance and start shaking.

But a longer lens would have got a more compressed view when the march was approaching that would have been full of those flags. Here I used the lens at 66mm (99mm equiv) to take in more or less the whole width of the march, framing to get the banner at the bottom, at right and at top left to the edgies of the image. I rather like that the large banner is part obscured by the three men – two with megaphones – in front. It’s message is still clear and it’s sometimes good to leave a little for the viewer to do. One thing that didn’t quite work for me was that the young girl on her father’s shoulders at the centre of the banner has her held held firmly down – I would have liked her to be looking up at the camera.


So you want to be a wedding photographer?

Monday, March 25th, 2013

One of the great influences on photography in the last century was the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch, (1898-1971), who spent 24 years at the magazine from 1934-58.  Brodovitch began his ‘Design Laboratory’ with courses for designers and photographers in 1933, with separate classes for designers and photographers, but it was perhaps after the war that they became more important.

Among the photographers who attended his courses were Diane Arbus, Eve Arnold, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Lisette Model, Garry Winogrand, Tony Ray Jones, Hiro and a personal friend of mine, John Benton-Harris.

In the American Institute of Graphic Arts biography of him, Andy Grundberg writes:

As a teacher, Brodovitch was inspiring, though sometimes harsh and unrelenting. A student’s worst offense was to present something Brodovitch found boring; at best, the hawk-faced Russian would pronounce a work “interesting.” Despite his unbending manner and lack of explicit critical standards—Brodovitch did not formulate a theory of design—many students under his tutelage discovered untapped creative reserves.

But perhaps his worst put-down when students brought work that did not meet his creative standards was “So you want to be a wedding photographer?”

It was a quotation that came to mind a couple of times today, first when I read an article For Photographers, Competition Gets Fierce in the New York Times, which talks about how many unemployed ‘digital debbies’ with little or no previous experience “are taking their fancy digital cameras and booking jobs shooting weddings”, seriously undercutting the pros at the game.

Back in the distant past, we had a professional photographer at my wedding, though I don’t really understand why. In those days photography was black and white, and he obviously had no idea how to use it, and the prints are flat and lifeless.  At a glance they seem over-exposed, taken with no feeling for composition and printed on the wrong paper grade – there’s professionalism for you!

My own father’s wedding was I think recorded in only one photograph, a highly detailed view of a large group with my parents at the centre. It seemed perfectly adequate, although it might have been better if my father had not been holding a baby when it was made (it wasn’t actually his, and I only came along, the fourth child, some fifteen years later in case anyone was having doubts about my legitimacy.)  I find it hard to understand why now people want large albums and even videos of the occasion.

Given that so many people attending weddings now take digital photographs, its hard to know why we also want professionals to take pictures, and harder still why they should employ those without some kind of track record at ‘under  $1000’, when what they are getting is unlikely to be much if any better than friends could provide for free. Although weddings have provided a useful income for many professionals for many years, I’m not sure this is necessarily a good thing; wedding photographs don’t seem to me to be particularly worthwhile and few of those who get a living income from them have used the support to do anything more worthwhile.

But should you really want to be a wedding photographer there is some very good advice on some things to avoid in 32 Tips For Taking The Perfect Wedding Photo which is subtitled ‘Avoid disaster and embarrassment by following these simple rules.’ Thanks to EPUK News for directing me to this page, which I’m sure would have had me laughing all the way down the aisle even if had drunk a few less glasses of a good Bordeaux before reading it. My apologies for any errors of typing, sense or grammar.

Whittington’s Turn Again

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Supporters of Whittington Hospital fought a hard and successful campaign back in 2010 against plans to cut its A&E and maternity services, but like many other London hospitals are now threatened by another round of cuts and closures, largely driven by the greed of friends of the government who would like the large amounts spent on the NHS to bleed into their pockets which lies behind much of the current NHS reforms.

Part of the proposals for the Whittington would see around a third of the site sold off for development and there would be wards closing with fewer beds available, reduced maternity services, and 570 jobs lost, in a area where existing provision is hard pressed with bed occupancy rates at 10% above recommended levels. So it isn’t surprising that there has again been a great public outcry, and the Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition had called for another march.

It was a cold, wet morning, enough to put many off from coming to march a couple of the miles and stand in the rain listening to speeches, but there was still a hardcore of a couple of thousand supporters who turned up at the starting point by the time the march actually began. Earlier it had seemed rather empty, but many turned up sensibly – given the weather – at more or less the last minute.

As often, the protest was advertised with a time for people to meet an hour before the march was due to start. When going to cover the events I always try to arrive at the earlier time, or even sometimes a little before, as travelling times in London can be unpredictable. Often the time before a march starts is by far the most interesting for photographers, giving you time to work with people, and at some events there are speeches or other activities before the march sets off.

There was little happening when I arrived at Highbury & Islington on the morning, except for people – including one dressed as the Grim Reaper, wielding a scythe with the message ‘NHS Privatisation’ and others handing out placards at the station entrance, and a couple of hundred yards down the road a bus and a few people standing in the fairly light rain. But people were beginning to arrive and get ready and I started taking pictures.

Among the crowd that was building up were apparently a number of celebrities, few of whom I could recognise (partly because I don’t own a TV and seldom read the popular press), though occasionally there was a small crowd of photographers and fans who obviously did.

Among those I did know were the remarkable Hetty Bower who became a pacifist in 1914, and had marched all the way to the hospital in 1910 and was hoping to do so again today at the age of 107. There were some familiar politicians too, including Natalie Bennett the Green Party leader, though one local MP was noticeably absent.

As usual when it rains, I was holding a cloth on the front of the lens most of the time, and wiping the filter before taking pictures, but there were still a few frames made unusable by drops on the lens. I followed the march for a short distance up the road, and then rushed back to the station to go across London for another protest. Although it was some miles away, it was a fast journey on the Victoria Line and then a short hop on the Piccadilly, both of which were working normally that weekend.

More pictures at Whittington Hospital March Against Cuts on My London Diary.


Million Women

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Violence against women is something most men as well as women are against, but it keeps on happening, most but not all of it by men, whether domestic violence or war or otherwise. The annual Million Women Rise event around the world helps to raise the profile of the fight against it, and I’m happy to photograph it, although being an all-woman protest it does raise some problems.

Most of the women taking part are pleased to be photographed, knowning that pictures such as mine help to gain the event and the cause some publicity, but in past years I’ve occasionally been verbally abused by a small minority of those taking part, and march stewards have occasionally objected to me even standing on the edge of the pavement to take pictures of the march. This year I had no such problems.

But many on the march see it not just as a women-only march, but the march as a women-only space, and I work in a way that respects this view, although it very much limits how I can cover the event – and the quality of that coverage. So while at most marches I work almost entirely with wide-angle lenses, getting close to the marchers, here I feel bound to behave differently, and for much of the march was working with the 70-300mm in place of my 16-35mm.

The AF Nikkor 70-300mm 1:4-5.6D Nikon ED lens (Nikon really know how to give things snappy names) is one of their cheaper offerings, though I bought mine secondhand from a friend, so it was cheaper still. Nikon now offer a similarly specified 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR lens that costs rather more and weighs almost half as much again, supposedly focuses faster – and of course has vibration reduction.

Supposedly the lens I have isn’t quite optically up to the standard of the newer lens – or Nikon’s larger and heavier pro offerings, but I think you would be hard put to see the difference once it is stopped down one or two stops. It seems excellent up to 200mm or a little above and not bad above that, and when used as a DX lens on the D800, hard to fault.

Being a relatively light, fairly small lens (at least in full-frame digital terms) makes it good for carrying in the bag and for handheld use. With the kind of things I photograph, the lack of VR is seldom an issue – you need a fast shutter speed because the subject is moving. And although I’ve heard people complain about focus speed and hunting, on the D700 or D800 body it seems to work rapidly enough.

You can see more pictures, some taken with the 70-300mm and others with the 28-105, and even a few with the 16-35 in Million Women Rise on My London Diary. Among them are a few that I had some issues with the language involved and didn’t put on the wire because the images contain the ‘c’ word. I don’t have any problems with women who want to reclaim the word, but it might offend some.


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Showing in London

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Yesterday I had around three hours spare in London in the afternoon, and decided to visit some of the exhibitions that I’d been meaning to take a look at, including some photography shows.

As I was in Bloomsbury, I started with ‘Cartographies of Life and Death‘,  a show  marking the bicentenary of John Snow (1813–1858) whose careful research into cholera outbreaks in London in the 1850s showed that cholera was spread by polluted water. His work making use of careful mapping of the places where the deaths occured initiated a new science of epidemiology. It was an interesting show, with some well chosen documents both from the time of Snow’s ground-breaking study – particularly a  and later disease mapping, but I found almost all of the contemporary artworks that had been specially commissioned for it disappointing in the extreme. It certainly was a show that would have been enlivened by some photography from the nineteenth century along with the rather dryer texts (though there was an amusing ballad pouring scorn on the cholera industry) and perhaps even a rather more appropraite contemporary photographic commission.

From there I walked to Soho, where the Photographers’ Gallery is just a little to the north of the site of the Broad Street pump which was the source of the outbreak. I’d decided against attending the opening of the current series of shows there on the grounds that it would only enrage me, but had decided to go in and check it – and they are on until April 7 2013. It’s best to take the lift up to the fifth floor and work your way down as there are far too many stairs in the building. By far the most interesting part of the exhibition on top floor, Perspectives on Collage, was the view out of the large window north across Oxford St into Great Titchfield St, and even that I couldn’t be bothered to photograph. There were a few mildly interesting collages both in C.K. Rajan’s Mild Terrors (1992-96) and the work of Roy Arden, and a little that was at least thought-provoking in the work of Jan Svoboda (there are at least two photographers of that name – this was the Czech artist ((1934–1990) who sought “who sought to redefine the language of photography in relation to painting and sculpture“. I remember seeing a show of his work many years ago – perhaps even at the Photographers’ Gallery – and taking a copy of a small book of  his work being given out free at the gallery. There were large piles of them because almost everyone who picked up a copy took a quick look and  put it back as not worth the price. Certainly most photographers who saw the show appeared to feel that Svoboda should have torn up his ‘The Table‘ but few if any would have suggested he should then have put the pieces on show. To be fair I thought them more interesting than most of the contemporary works. I don’t know how representative a show of collage this is, and it may reflect a dearth of work in this area.

On the floor below I found myself in a large empty space with around a dozen large empty still live images, Ill Form and Void Full, the work of Laura Letinsky.  Mostly the large prints were empty of objects, with  assemblages of objects in just a small area of the frame. The prints didn’t look particularly photographic, and when I put on my glasses they didn’t look particularly sharp, even from a fairly normal viewing distance, which I found annoying. I know I’m fussier than others in this respect, but if a large print looks unsharp I just feel it has been printed too large. Better to have made these perhaps A3. They are described as being taken with a ‘large format camera’ and frankly I’d expect more technically, although possibly the lack of absolute clarity is to enable the blending of real objects and photographs in the images.

I think her work looks better on my screen at home that it did on the wall, although perhaps rather despite myself there was an image of a simple white cup on a white table with a white wall (the image next to the text panel if you can brave the sea-sickness of the panoramic view of the exhibition, though you can’t see it well enough to appreciate it) which was a picture very much about light and illusion that intrigued me.

The lowest of the three exhibition floors was devoted to the work of Brazilian artist  Geraldo de Barros (1923-1998)  and despite some reservations it was perhaps the work on show that interested me most, though more for his early work in a modernist vogue than the collages of his final years when he returned to working with photographs, having abandoned any serious photography over 45 years before. You can read more about him, and some comments on the other shows in a Guardian piece by Sean O’Hagan.

By far the most worthwhile of the shows I saw was at the Courtauld Gallery, where  Becoming Picasso has two rooms of his work from 1901, the first containing paintings made for his Paris debut exhibition and the second the start of his Blue period, perhaps inspired – as two of the works on show clearly are – by the death of a close friend. I don’t go much for large collected blockbuster shows, but this isn’t that but a closely focused exhibition that brings together work for a specific theme. You can’t really fully appreciate these paintings on line (or in reproduction) but really have to go and stand in front of them and look at them closely as well as from a distance. Most of these images have a three-dimensional aspect to their brushwork that is important. The show runs until 26 May 2013.

Going back to photography was perhaps bound to be something of an anti-climax, but also at Somerset House, in the East Wing Gallery, is Landmark: the Fields of Photography, a landscape show curated by William A. Ewing (until 28 April 2013.) It’s a vast show, full of huge images – along with some smaller ones – in a confusing rambling series of rooms, and you really need the map supplied to ensure you see it all.

The text says it contains ‘more than 130 original works of art’ and my guess would have been that there were around twice that number of photographs, but that’s perhaps just how it felt. Although there is much interesting work on show, I think a much smaller show would have been preferable. There was too much on the wall that made me feel I’d seen pictures like that so many times before or at times to ask, ‘but is is really landscape.’ It’s like one of those big thick bricks of books of photographs (and Ewing has of course produced some) and I felt the curator needed a strict curator to keep him in check. It seems driven by an unbridled enthusiasm, a child let loose in a sweetshop with an unlimited budget.

There are too many vacuous large works – some by well-known names. Too many pictures that seem nice pages for coffee table books or colour supplements. But still much work that I liked. If you have an interest in landscape there will probably be much that interests you – just be prepared to walk through a lot of long grass too find it.


Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

As soon as I saw this young girl dressed as a sunflower I knew there was a picture there, but it took me a while to find. I started with a close up, but wasn’t entirely satisfied with either this or two other images of the girl with two women.

There were of course plenty of other sunflowers, a symbol of renewable energy, with the sun as a smiley face in the centre of the banners reading ‘Nuclear Power? No Thanks’. Many of those taking part in the protest were carrying sunflowers, and there were other symbols around, including the CND one above and the radiation logo.

And there was something surreal about the fluorescent yellow barrels of nuclear waste that were parading around, although my best attempt to capture that was ruined by another photographer going into the scene to take photographs; not that I’m blaming him – he was just getting on with the job in his own way, and I know I often frustrate others doing what I want to do. But there was something about the barrels that worked best from a distance and I couldn’t manage that without others getting in the way, so I had to settle for a closer view.

I tried but failed to make a decent picture using Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa, because this was a Fukushima 2nd Anniversary protest, and one led by Japanese Against Nuclear UK.