Archive for May, 2013

Touring the Protests

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Some days – like tomorrow – there are more protests in London than I could possibly attend, starting in different places at the same time, and I have to make a choice of which to attend. Although tomorrow I’ll miss at least the start of most of them, with the memorial service of an old friend taking place in the middle of the day.  But two weeks ago, there were a number of events nicely spaced out across the day, so I could easily cover a number of them.


First was a protest outside Parliament against the Israeli actions against Palestinians, now relegated to around an eighth of the land they occupied before the formation of Israel, End Israeli Ethnic Cleansing marking Nabka Day (actually a couple of days earlier) which had been brought forward a couple of hours to enable those attending it to go on to a march supporting the NHS and opposing the plans of the government for its privatisation, which is going ahead full steam through the back door – more in London Marches to Defend NHS.

The Nabka day event didn’t quite get going soon enough, and was really just getting into its stride around 12.30pm when I decided I needed to be on the other bank of the Thames at Waterloo where the NHS march was massing. The quickest way was on foot, and normally it would have taken me a little under ten minutes, running a little or at least walking fast, but I was slowed down by being with a couple of other photographers who obviously weren’t as fit as me and it took a little longer.

The NHS march was a fairly large one, with several thousand marchers from across London, including many I’d photographed at the various protests against hospital closures in Ealing, Lewisham and North London. Like most such things many of the best opportunities for pictures are in the half hour or so before the march starts, and I was a little later getting there than I would have liked. It started more or less on time at 1pm, and I went with it across Waterloo Bridge and up the Strand.

Normally I would have stayed with the NHS marchers and photographed the rally they were going to have in Whitehall, but I wanted to photograph another protest, starting at the US embassy in Grosvenor Square at 2pm, a Guantánamo Murder Scene marking the 100th day (actually the 101st) of the hunger strike by over a hundred prisoners there.  As the march stopped just before Trafalgar Square I scurried down into Charing Cross Underground station and took the tube to Bond St (a short journey with just one change) rushing out and across Grosvenor Square to arrive just a couple of minutes late – for once the protest had started very much on time.

Had I been there earlier, I might have suggested the organisers move it just a few feet away from the hedge towards the embassy, which would have made it easier to photograph. Because if you are going to have a protest at an embassy, it is often a good idea to have the embassy visible in the pictures, and when I got there all the photographers and videographers were in a long line with their backs to it.

I took the picture above a little later, when they had dispersed a little around the scene, but I think I will have got in rather a lot of other people’s pictures earlier, trying to get similar images. As you can probably see, I’ve made use of the wide angle of the 10.5mm Nikon fisheye, correcting the verticals in post-processing using the Fisheye-Hemi plugin as I often do.  The wide angle means I’m very close to the ‘bodies’ on the pavement, emphasising them in the image while getting all seven in (earlier there were eight – one for each of those who have died probably as a result of earlier hunger strikes there.) Keeping the lens upright keeps the verticals on the building upright, and the wide angle just takes in the roof of the embassy with its American Eagle and US flag. Fortunately the bodies on the ground weren’t moving so I was able to wait until the wind was blowing the flag out well.

One thing I’m not entirely happy about is the colour, and particularly the orange suits, some at least of which I think incorporate fluorescent dyes. They tend to block out all highlight details when exposed normally, despite the highlights being kept within the histogram.  I was using the 10.5mm on the D800E to get reasonably sized files (16Mp) from the DX format, and I don’t have ‘untwisted’ profiles – which usually help – for that camera to use in Lightroom. I had to do quite a lot of burning and slightly de-saturating some of the suits for this image – and in the hurry to file the pictures it wasn’t perhaps quite as careful as it might have been.

While I was at the embassy a couple of other groups of protesters also turned up. One was a protest by a few Syrians and the CPUK-ML (Communist Party of Great Britain – Marxist-Leninist, a small anti-revisionst splinter from the Socialist Labour Party) in support of President Assad, and the other  a group of Muslims who had come to support the protest by Narmeen Saleh Al Rubaye and her daughter I wrote about in Lonely Vigil at US Embassy a few weeks ago.  I didn’t have time to do both justice and took rather more pictures of the Muslims,  as you can see in More US Embassy Protests.

I also knew that there was another march taking place through London, and I left the US embassy shortly before the event there finished, hurrying down on foot again through Mayfair towards the Ritz hotel which was on the route. Quite by luck I’d timed it about right, and was able to catch up with the head of the march – Tamils protest Sri Lankan Genocide – about halfway between there and Piccadilly Circus. By now I was rather out of breath and was happy to stop there and photograph the rest as it passed by me on the way to a rally at Waterloo Place.

As the end of the march passed me – and the officer in charge of policing breathed a sigh of relief, saying “it’s the end at last” as there had been several thousands – I hurried down by the side of it to the rally, which had not yet started, taking a few more pictures before I decided I was tired and had done enough and it was time to go home and file the four stories.  Too late of course for them to be ‘news’.

Darkroom & Digital

Friday, May 31st, 2013

I’m not sure how much the elaborate mark-ups by darkroom printer Pablo Inirio shown in Magnum and the Dying Art of Darkroom Printing on The Literate Lens blog will mean to even most photographers, and I think every darkroom printer evolved his or her own shorthand to remind them of the dances they performed when making a particular print from a particular negative. But they at least give some indication of the complexity of darkroom work to get the most from a negative, and why we sometimes got through many sheets of paper to achieve just the result we wanted.

But in a sense I don’t think these skills are dying, but have just been transferred to a new environment, because what lies behind them is still the ability to visualise what a print should look like. If anything this is even more important in front of the monitor than it is in the darkroom, and software has enhanced the possibilities there are for working with an image and given it more precision, allowing us greater control. Of course we can abuse this – and plenty do, as I think some of the images mentioned in my recent post Raw and Cooked do, but the same is true in the darkroom, and I can think of at least one photographer whose work for me is almost completely ruined by his insistence on heavy-handed lith printing of all of his work (its a technique that certainly suits a few images, but not one for general use.) And back when I started in photography, almost everyone printed their pictures very contrasty, with blocked shadows and empty whites. It sometimes worked, but most of the time it was just the fashion.

Making good digital prints, particularly in black and white isn’t easy, although the materials available to do so are now readily available. In the darkroom the choices are diminishing – Inirio mentions that he had to change to Ilford paper when Agfa closed, though at least I can reassure him that if Kodak stops making its stopbath – apparently one of his worries – it is pretty simple to produce your own to the same formula – and those from other manufacturers are in any case just as good. But for inkjet both materials and equipment are still being developed.

Usually now whenever I show black and white work I expect at least one photographer to come up to me and say how good it is to see there are still some people printing in the darkroom. I don’t always enlighten them, but normally they are very surprised when I tell them that they are looking at inkjet prints.  When I make a set of prints, I’ve often got prints I made years ago on Agfa or Ilford papers to compare them with; it’s rare indeed for me to prefer the darkroom print.

Back when I started seriously printing black and white on inkjet I had to import Jone Cone’s Piezography inks from the USA and dedicate a printer to them, and I could only make prints on matt papers – and had to frame them behind glass (or high grade perspex) to get the depth I wanted, although as matt prints they could be stunning – far better than I ever managed on matt silver papers, and really as good as the best platinum or platinum/palladium prints I made. Cone’s inksets have improved over the years (and for a while I moved up with them) and can now use the better glossy papers that have become available, and if I still made and sold many prints I’d still be using a dedicated black and white printer with one of his inksets. But the output using Epson’s ABW (Advanced Black and White) with  Ultrachrome K3 inks (or other similar systems) can be nearly as good – and good enough to rival the darkroom.

And of course the prints I’m making are still prints on fiber (or in the UK fibre) paper, just like those old darkroom prints. Like the silver-based papers they are baryta papers too, with the same “richness and depth” of good silver prints on modern papers. Even though the ABW prints contain some colour pigment they are likely to last as long or longer than the silver prints (and with the same printer, inks and paper I also make colour prints that will outlast any C-type.)

Of course many old processes still have their value and perhaps use.  The most beautiful black and white prints as objects that I’ve seen are carbon prints (and one or two I made weren’t bad.) Wet plate printed on albumen produced some exquisite work that has never been surpassed.  I don’t think there is quite any match either for the prints I made in the late 1970s on Record Rapid, before the toxic cadmium was removed from it. But I don’t retain any great nostalgia for the darkroom now I can do better outside.


Muskets and Lions

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

It isn’t often I photograph musketeers, and I’m not sure I made much of a job of it, though it wasn’t entirely my fault. I blame it on the musketeers, though not seriously, but they were not quite up to New Model Army Standards, when a fully drilled soldier could apparently manage four rounds a minute.  Of course they were doing it slowly at least in part to make a better display for the crowd watching.

But the problem is that camera shutters expose for perhaps 1/250 of a second, and when the order was given to fire, the musketeers were not all firing exactly in sync. This too was one of very few occasions when I felt a need for a faster frame rate than the 5 fps that the D800E can deliver (with a following wind and a stream of qualifications listed on p104 of the manual – and it can do 6 fps with a battery pack with AA batteries, which I didn’t have.) One thing I forgot was that the VR on the lens can slow the frame rate, but I don’t think it mattered.

The musketeers fired two volleys, the second roughly two and a half minutes after the first. I was hoping to catch the brief flash that comes from the lock and also from the barrel along with the smoke which lingers for some seconds . During the first volley I caught the first musketeer firing on the third frame after he had given the order to fire, two others on the fourth frame and by the fifth frame all five had discharged their weapons – with two having done so between the fourth and fifth frames. On the second volley, the same musketter again appears on the third frame (the drill master who gave the order to fire) the flash from two others on frame 4, and again the final two missed between this and frame 5.

I was actually quite pleased with frame 3 from the first volley, where you can clearly see the flame coming from the barrel – just a little enhanced in post-processing, where I’ve added a little contrast and saturation to make it slightly more visible. Although the flashes from the touch hole were visible as mentioned above, this was the only frame that showed the flame rather than just smoke emerging from the barrel.

I was working as close as we were allowed to get for safety reasons, with the 28-105mm at 42mm (63mm equiv) and the exposure at ISO 640 was 1/320 f9.  There really is seldom any point in going below ISO 640 on this camera except when you want to limit the depth of field.

The musketeers and pikemen where part of the Sealed Knot’s ‘Colonel Rainsborough’s Regiment of Foote’, present today for the unveiling of a plaque to Rainsborough, the highest ranking officer among the supporters of the Levellers in the English Civil War, with a few well-known figures from the political left also present, including Tony Benn who pulled the cord to draw the small curtains aside. And there were of course a few speeches, but little that made for interesting pictures.

At the end came an unofficial addition on behalf of one of the even more radical Civil Wars, with Ian Bone giving an uninvited speech in front of the fine Fifth Monarchist banner about Thomas Venner, who led brief and from the start doomed insurrection after the restoration in 1661, storming St Paul’s Cathedral and holding parts of London for three days (and commemorated earlier this year by Bone and friends for a film being made about him – see Epiphany Rising Against King.)

You can see more images from this event in Wapping at Leveller Thomas Rainsborough on My London Diary, where there are also pictures from the Boishakhi Mela Procession I photographed in Bethnal Green earlier in the day.  After a pint in the nearby Town of Ramsgate, next to Wapping Old Stairs, I walked back to Tower Hill, taking a few pictures on the way. But I rather prefer the way it used to be when I walked along here in the 70s and 80s – a few pictures in my book City to Blackwall.

Gun Wharves, Wapping High St, 1981


More May Queens

Monday, May 27th, 2013

There are I think 20 May Queens in this image on Hayes Common, under a rather threatening sky, in a line waiting to watch the crowning of this year’s London May Queen – the 101st – by The Prince of Merrie England.

Clouds were an important part of the story this year, opening on the procession earlier in the afternoon as it made it’s way towards the village church, and the message was passed along the line that the ‘Little Sanctum‘ ceremony compiled by the founder of the event around a century ago would take place, not outside the church as usual, but inside it. I immediately went into the churchyard through the side gate to speak to the clergy waiting in welcome, and got their permission to photograph inside the church, which was readily granted, with the proviso that I was not to take photographs during the prayers. I’ve learnt over the years photographing ceremonies in the buildings of various religions that it is always wise to ask permission.

At first the plan had been for only the London May Queen and her entourage to come into the church – as normally the rest of the procession continues slowly past the church while the ceremony takes place in front of it, and the group sat in the children’s corner at the back of the church, illuminated only by the natural light coming in through the windows – which was pretty low. The colour balance could be improved!

This image was taken with the D700 using the 16-35mm at 16mm wide open – f4 – at ISO 1600, 1/50. Here’s a small section of it at 1:1, with a little extra sharpening applied:

It isn’t quite sharp – possibly a little out of focus, as I was photographing the girls, not the monument, but is remarkable for the quality that DSLRs now give at high ISO, and even more remarkable, almost certainly unique, is a monument to two British Prime Ministers, William Pitt and his son, William Pitt the Younger, though I only noticed this on looking at the image in Lightroom.

Soon a decision was made to let all the girls in, as it was really pelting down, and they came into the body of the church with the London May Queen group moving into the choir, and I was able to photograph the ceremony from next to the aisle in the second row of pews. It was a near ideal position, and allowed me to work without disturbing the event.  I like photographing the May Queens, particularly as many people tell me how much they appreciate my pictures on the web, but I always try my best to remember that it is their event and try hard not to be in the way.

Here the London May Queen is reading from the text written for the occasion many years ago, with the ‘Joy Bells‘ standing behind her, Robin Hood and Maid Marian to their right in the choir stalls and the rector at the lectern to the right. By this time the lighting in the church had been switched on, but it was still fairly dim in this area (but it would have been much darker without, as there were no windows nearby.) Using the D800E at ISO 2000, the exposure was 1/80 f4.5 using the 18-105mm DX lens at 25mm (37mm equiv.)

It was good to be able to photograph the ceremony taking place under these unusual conditions, though I did feel very sorry for all the girls – and like them I had got quite wet, and most of them had at least been able to use umbrellas. I have one permanently in my camera bag, but although it’s useful when I’m hanging about or travelling, I don’t have enough hands to hold it over myself when I’m working. Unless I can find an assistant I just get wet, and even more so because my jacket it open so I can push the cameras under it while I’m not actually using them.

By the time the ceremony in church was over the rain had more or less stopped. The procession took a shorter route through Hayes than usual and back in the arena, the proceedings were stripped down, particularly as the rain began again just as they got started, though still using all of Mr Deedy’s words. The Maypole dancing however had to be abandoned as far too dangerous on wet grass.

Again it did make the pictures different, but I could certainly have done without it, and felt very sorry for the May Queens and the rest of the girls and for the parents who had been looking forward to this event, some for years.

It was also another event where I really needed the longer zoom (70-300mm) but had forgotten to put it into my bag. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to get as close as I would like. But I was quite pleased with what I had managed to do given the circumstances, and it was something to add to my lengthy project, as you can see at London’s 101st May Queen.


Cleaning Capgemini

Monday, May 27th, 2013

It’s hard to avoid clichés when photographing protests (and many published images I see haven’t tried) but I do my best. The cleaners are good to work with because they often pull little surprises and their protests are particularly active events, though every time I get to one I remember that I meant to bring ear plugs, as they really do make a lot of noise, as I think the image above suggests.

Cleaners Return to Capgemini shows their second protest outside the company’s offices in Vauxhall, where they say they are treated like dirt, paid the minimum legal wage – recognised to be insufficient to live on in London – and that the largely Spanish-speaking workforce are subjected to racist comments by their ISS manager. They call for fair and decent treatment by their employers, saying, “We are not the dirt we clean!” And saying this and other slogans loud and clear and again and again between bursts of blowing on trumpets and whistles, banging on saucepan lids and generating noisy feedback from a powerful megaphone, the whole protest to a background of heavy drumming.

Mostly they do this outside on the pavement, but early in the protest they took the opportunity to go inside the office foyer for a few minutes until they could no longer ignore the requests from the security to leave – and did so. Later in the protest they tried to enter the building again, but stopped when a man and a woman stood in the doorway and refused them entry.

They stood in the entrance way for a minute or so, with the cleaner’s leader Alberto Durango talking with the man – I took a few pictures from outside through the glass, but it was rather dirty, and by the time I’d got out a handkerchief and wiped it, the confrontation was over.

Unlike on the first protest here in March, there was no visible police presence until the protest was almost over, when a car drove up and two officers went in to the building to talk to those inside. Capgemini hadn’t called the police – and quite sensibly not, as there was no real threat to the people or property in a legal and well-ordered protest, and no point in escalating the situation.

But I later found that a man working nearby had, and he came to watch what they did. When I talked to him he seemed unreasonably upset about the noise that the cleaners were making, telling me they should protest in silence so as not to disturb him, and he was making threats to get something done about it. I did photograph him but didn’t think it necessary to put his picture on the web.

It certainly was noisy. I’d moved in close when the police officer went to talk to Alberto but hadn’t expected quite the intimate tête-à-tête shown here, as the officer moves close to hear what Alberto is shouting into his ear over the background noise. I was only a few feet away but couldn’t hear, but I think he is saying that they will end the protest in a few minutes – it lasted altogether for around three-quarters of an hour.

The cleaners use noise as a way to draw attention to their grievances, as well as the visual signals from the flags, banners and placards. It helps to make their protests effective, and while it may annoy a few people around, it isn’t loud enough to damage hearing and doesn’t happen for long enough or frequently enough to be a real nuisance (and certainly not a statutory nuisance.)

You can read more about the protest and see quite a few more pictures that tell the story of the protest on My London Dairy. I hope there aren’t too many clichés among them.


Out with the Fujis

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Bank holidays often rather pass me by. I’m not often working on them – there are seldom many protests taking place and I’ve gone off most of the events that are held on them. But sometimes we take advantage of my elder son being off work to go out on a walk together, especially if the weather forecast is decent – as it was for this year’s Early May bank holiday. The walks, planned by my wife and son, tend to be rather longer than I’d like, and although I like to take a few pictures, my usual camera bag is far too heavy, and this was another good opportunity to familiarise myself with the workings of the Fuji XPro1 and the Fuji XE1.

As usual I was working with raw files, and the settings that I have on Lightroom for importing files seem to me to give colour that is a little too saturated. The picture above was taken with the Fuji 18-55mm lens, and it seems pretty sharp, with very little noticeable distortion for a zoom except at the very widest focal length. This was taken at 25mm (38mm equiv) and looks more or less perfect in this respect.

Working in bright sun, I hadn’t meant to take this at ISO 3200, but given that the ISO was set at 800 and I had (by accident) and exposure correction of -2 stops dialled in, this is what it was. Image quality will have been degraded both by the high ISO, and also by the diffraction of the very small aperture that resulted of f22.  Looking at it on my screen at 1:1 – and examining portions of the almost 50 inch wide image that results on my rather smaller screen (the image is slightly cropped to 4796×3197 and my screen gives roughly 100 px per inch) there is a little noise visible, and a slight softness, but at normal print size the image is hard to fault technically.

So one problem that I have is that that exposure correction is far too easy to turn – this was on the XPro1, but the same is true of the XE1. You do get an indicator in the view, but I’m not very good at seeing such things.

But most of the time I was working with the XE1 with a Nikon adapter and the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens.  Its a little odd to use in that the lens at 305 g  weighs almost as much as the camera’s 350 g, and though it seems petite on a Nikon it seems pretty big here. The Nikon G adapter makes it stick out quite a long way more, and has a slider to control the aperture, needed as the lens has no aperture ring.  There are a lot of such adapters advertised on eBay, but those at reasonable prices seem to be of two actual makes, one with silver ridges on a black ring that changes the aperture. The example I bought of that doesn’t give infinity focus at the infinity setting on the 10.5mm, though it seems to work better with some other Nikon lenses. The other, with an all silver ring, works correctly with the 10.5mm.

Neither of them gives you any idea about the actual aperture in use, but you can get a rough idea from the change in the shutter speed. The 10.5 f2.8 works best around f5.6, two stops down, so if you get a shutter speed of 1/1000 indicated wide open, then stopping down until the shutter speed is around 1/250 will achieve this. Any lens used with the adapter of course becomes a manual lens , and the electronic viewfinder image gets dimmer as you stop down.

Once you have set the 10.5mm lens for both aperture and focus (normally at infinity) you seldom need to alter it thanks to the huge depth of field unless your subject is closer than a meter or two. If you set the focus on the camera to M then you can press the control on the back of the camera to zoom in to a highly magnified area of your picture when you do want to focus. As I found to my cost it is essential to check focus in this way; although the image in the viewfinder looked sharp I had it set wrongly for the first dozen or so pictures I took. It may not be easy to get images out of focus with this lens, but I managed it.

Processing is a bit of a pain, particularly as Lightroom 4 doesn’t offer automatic removal of chromatic aberration, which is a shame, as the 10.5mm needs some. You can improve the images by adjusting one of them, then syncing the settings across all of the the 10,5mm pictures – there doesn’t seem any real benefit from individual tweaking.

LR is so far a little of a disappointment for Fuji X users, although the latest version has improved the algorithm used for de-mosaicing the images. But I’m not entirely convinced with how it deals with the colour, and there are no Fuji-X lens profiles available. If I had time I could make my own, and there are profiles available on-line (using the Adobe Profile Downloader) for the 18, 35 and 60mm lenses, but not yet for the 18-55mm zoom.

There is of course a profile for the 10.5mm Nikon, though even when used on the Nikon I’m unsure there is any point in using it. Stupidly it attempts to correct the fisheye perspective to rectilinear as the ‘distortion’ element of the profile, which seldom if ever gives usable results. It isn’t ‘distortion’, but simply a different perspective, and the first thing I have to do is to set that ‘correction’ to zero.

Most of the images I want to run through the Image Trends Fisheye-Hemi plugin – which means exporting them as 16 bit TIFF files with the ProPhoto RGB profile. It adds to processing time and also eats up disk space, with the TIFF files being roughly 4 times the size of the RAW file, adding up to around 100Mb per file.

One of the fairly few non-Fuji lenses available for the Fuji-X cameras is a Samyang 8mm f2.8 fisheye, which also gives an image that fills the frame.  Although as you can see the Nikon does a decent job, I’m thinking about getting the Samyang.  You may wonder – as I did – why it is an 8mm rather than the 10.5, and the answer is that it uses a stereographic rather than an equal area projection (this may help.) The advantage of this is that objects near the edges are less compressed than with the Nikon and should look a little more normal – and with the shorter focal length if you use the Image Trends Fisheye-Hemi plugin you end up with a noticeable wider angle of view – something like 165 degrees horizontal, which may be an advantage. Fewer of the pixels are unused in the conversion which should result in higher quality in the corners of the image.

The Samyang is also a lighter and smaller lens, and has a proper aperture ring which will make it easier to use. As with the Nikon it is manual focus, but you seldom need to focus, and if you do for the occasional very close picture, need to use the magnified view possible in the electronic viewfinder.

I’m still not entirely happy with the Fuji cameras – though I think for most purposes the XE1 works better despite the electronic viewfinder being a poor substitute for a normal visual one. But at times coaxing the XPro1 to actually wake up and take a picture can just be too slow – normally it’s better to leave it switched off, as the start-up time is then faster! There is still something very wrong here, possibly something another firmware upgrade could cure if Fuji took photographers seriously.

Tomorrow’s Bank Holiday I’m still undecided about too. There are a couple of events I’d like to photograph, but it would be nice to go out for another family walk. So I might be using either Nikon or Fuji. Or since I’ve just been over-exerting myself in the garden – and found myself catching a very large holly branch as I pulled it down from the tree where it was held by other branches after sawing it off at the trunk – I may just need to rest with my feet up.

Daniele Tamagni at ArtEco

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Wandsworth, like its neighbour Battersea, is not what it used to be, and many will say so much the better, though I have a certain regret for the passing of these older working class areas of inner London, their main streets now almost entirely submerged under whole blocks of estate agents. The Old York Road now has a by-pass and a rather different atmosphere, though a few traces of the old Wandsworth linger.

Kristin Hjellegjerde director/curator of ArtEco Gallery with Daniele Tamagni

I’d not before visited the ArtEco Gallery at No. 533 (despite the street numbers this is a very short road, these too being a reminder of the past, when it was just the west end of York Rd) but some Londoners perhaps need reassurance that it is very easy to get too – just a few yards to the right out of Wandsworth Town station, or for those masochists who insist on driving in inner London, almost next to the roundabout at the south end of Wandsworth Bridge (at the top of Trinity Road on the A217.) It’s only just south of the river and taxi drivers will have no problem in taking you there (run 128 starts just a short spit away.) But I took the 44 bus, one of several routes to stop nearby on Swandon Way.

Photographers James Barnor & Daniele Tamagni

And it is worth going there to see the current show ‘Global Style Battles‘ by Daniele Tamagni, who I mentioned in one of my earliest posts on this blog back in 2007, Peckham Rising, for a show at the Sassoon Gallery in a railway arch at Peckham, together with photographer Thabo Jaiyesimi and sound artist  Janine Lai. As you can read, I was impressed by the work Tamagni showed me there, a little of which was on the wall, including a couple of projects in the area.

I met him again at the opening of his ‘Gentlemen of Bacongo‘, north of the river at Michael Hoppen Contemporary in Chlesea in 2010, and wrote the post Sapology about the work, the opening and his fine book  Gentlemen of Bacongo, published by Trolley Books in 2009 and now out of print. There were still a few copies available at the ArtEco Gallery for £50, considerably less than its current price on the secondhand market.

Mention of Trolley Books reminds me of another bargain for those who act quickly on reading this – you have until 2pm EDT on 28 May to become a backer of the commemeorative publication of Trolleyology – The First Ten Year Of Trolley books on Kickstarter, where a pledge of £25 will get you a copy of the book and an invitation to the launch – at a considerable saving on the published price – and for £75 or more you will also get “a poster of the cover from our iconic book ‘Gentlemen of Bacongo’ by Daniele Tamagni. Plus you have the option of having your name printed in the Trolley supporters page at the back of the book.”

The work from ‘Gentlemen of Bacongo‘ is still the backbone of Tamagni’s show at Art Eco, which the gallery describes as ‘a mid-career retrospective … spanning works from 2007 to date.’ I would have liked to see more from his project ‘The Flying Cholitas‘, Bolivian women wrestlers, that won 2nd prize in the Arts and Entertainment section of World Press Photo in 2011, when they were a welcome relief from much of the other work in that show when I viewed it at the South Bank. The work from those two projects will certainly feature when the time comes for him to have a real retrospective show, while I felt a few of the other pictures on the gallery wall here will not last the distance, though they may be more saleable in the present.

James Barnor

I was very pleased to meet and have a long conversation at the opening with a photographer a little over twice as old as Tamagni (b. 1975),  James Barnor, born in Ghana in 1929. I’d seen some of his work before – at Rivington Place, but hadn’t talked with him or remembered his name, though as we talked some things came back to me – and I remembered I had written about his ‘Forever Young‘ show in 2010.  Meeting the man it seemed an entirely appropriate title for him, and it made me feel young too.

The finger points at Charlie Phillips

Also present was another of London’s leading photographers I’ve known for some years, Charlie Phillips, born in Jamaica and perhaps best know for his book Notting Hill In the Sixties (Notting Hill In the Sixties  portfolio here), though his long career produced many other fine images. You can also see some of his work in the Museum of London collection. And there were many other people with whom I had interesting conversations about the work and the relationships between photographers and galleries and the world of art. Here are a few more pictures, taken with the 20 mm Nikon lens on the D800E using auto-ISO (so nice not to have to think, especially after a glass or two.)

It was a very pleasant opening, and I stayed for longer than I intended, not just to look at the pictures, but they are well worth the trip to see and I urge you to do so, and I look forward to being able to see more ‘a mid-career retrospectives’ from Tamagni in the many years I hope he has to come. Italian speakers may like to watch an interview with him on e-photoreview.

The show runs until June 22, open Tue-Sat 11am-6pm.


Raw and Cooked

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

There is a link on the Lensculture blog  in a post Too much digital enhancement in news photographs? to an article on Speigel Online International, Enhanced Reality: Exploring the Boundaries of Photo Editing, a two part feature with an accompanying gallery of images that I think makes interesting reading. I don’t have anything to add to what I’ve already written on Paul Hansen‘s World Press Photo prize-winning image, which I think takes what was a great image and cheapens it by turning it into a film poster, but perhaps I might comment briefly on the picture by Yuri Kozyrev of Noor, taken in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the celebration of autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in 2011.

It’s easier to view the ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions on Lensculture, and the first thing I’d say is that I find this image treatment totally acceptable. To me, the final image looks very much a photograph, and probably a better representation of what the photographer saw when he made the exposure than the initial version.

I do have a problem with the caption ‘The raw image, before PhotoShop enhancement’ on several levels. First the pedant in me objects to PhotoShop – if Photoshop is good enough for Adobe it should be good enough for the rest of us, and I’m not a fan of capital letters in the middle of words (not a great fan of them anywhere come to that, though they sometimes serve a purpose.)

But more importantly, raw files (or RAW or Raw files if you prefer) are not images, and how they look depends on algorithms and settings in the software used to convert them to images. The upper image of the pair looks at least in part a consequence of using an inappropriate colour temperature in the conversion of the file to the image.

Of course the idea of colour temperature may not really be appropriate in any case, as often at night the lighting in public spaces is provided by very spectrally deficient sources. Possibly in this case the near-monochromatic orange of sodium vapour lighting.

For whatever reason, what appears clear to me is that the upper image, which they call the raw image, is quite simply the wrong colour. It does not represent how the human viewer would see the scene, which I think would be in a far more neutral rendering. I’d probably have made it slightly closer to neutral than the final version here.

As well as what I think is really correction, there is also a certain amount of interpretation in the lower image, with a touch of brightness and contrast being added to part of the face and the chest of the main figure. The kind of thing I might have done in the darkroom on a black and white print with dodging a little extra local development with the warmth of a fingertip or cotton bud of high contrast dev, or a little touch of ferri – or later on by some fiddling with coloured filters and dodging and burning on a Multigrade paper. Though both methods were tricky and a little imprecise, and Lightroom makes it a real doddle.

And just a little second thought, that looking through the images on Speigel there are some where I prefer the ‘unimproved’ version, and others where although the original needed correction, I think the improved version is in some respects lacking.

Finally, its also – as always – worth taking a look at Lensculture itself. On it at the moment among other things is a selection of 47 images from last month’s Paris Photo Los Angeles. In a way I was pleased to find I already knew all the best work in it, nice though something really fresh would have been. But it made me think I had been right not to contribute to global warming by travelling there.

Beckenham May Queens Revisited

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Elmers End May Queen and her entourage at Beckenham

Back in 2008 I felt I had done a pretty good job at photographing London’s May Queens – I had enough material for a book and I’d been promised a show at a major museum.  But the funding for the show disappeared with the economy and although I’d got some interest in the book it never happened either. In the end I published a book myself on Blurb, in print and as an e-book, which made some of the work available, particularly to some of the people involved – although it had always been available in some quantity on My London Diary. But it wasn’t quite the book I wanted; the photographs were fine, but it lacked the kind of detailed cultural analysis and thorough historical research that I’d hoped the association with the museum might provide.

After my disappointment I did return and photograph a few events the following year that I felt I hadn’t perhaps done as much as I could, and in 2010 I went back to the main Merrie England and London May Queen Festival and got some quite different images when pouring rain meant the whole ceremony had to be performed in the village hall rather than its normal outdoor location.

The following year I had to be away at the relevant time, and I found that I missed not having been there to take photographs, and I was determined to go back in 2012, as that was the centenary of the event – for which I’d brought out my Blurb book.  Although I was pleased to be there for the crowning of London’s 100th May Queen, what was even more gratifying was the welcome I got from many of those taking part – and many of the parents. It was good to see that my work was so positively received.

I’d worried when I started taking pictures of the events that my documentary approach would perhaps not be what people expected; quite different in some ways from the way that parents or local photographers or press might approach the participants and the event. No posing and trying to catch fleeting moments that might seem insignificant or possibly intrusive, and I was only too aware of the problems many photographers have had photographing children, particularly young girls.

I’d determined to be completely open about what I was doing, and to make my work available from the start to those taking part, talking to organisers and parents and handing out cards with my details and my web address.  This is also the kind of event where I always work with my Press Card around my neck –  almost all other occasions it stays inside my pocket. Almost everyone has responded very positively, and I’ve generally been made to feel welcome at the events, and have been invited to do more (and one or two local organisers have asked me why I haven’t come to photograph their events.)

Even so, I still feel a little hesitant arriving as I did at Beckenham as the groups were gathering for the procession to the park.  But this time, I was immediately greeted by one of the mothers who recognised me and knew I was the man with the website with all the pictures on. It was a good way to start taking pictures.

I’d photographed the event at Beckenham, a week before the main festival, once before and wasn’t sure if I would really get anything new from it. What really did make it different was the weather, and although it would have been better for those taking part to have a warm sunny day, the heavy shower before the procession started did provide some different opportunities.

Fortunately too, it stopped just in time for the procession, and more or less held off for long enough for the ceremonies in the park to be completed. There was even an occasional glimpse of the sun, but most of the time it was simply bright but cloudy, making fill flash completely unnecessary.

I left as soon as the crownings in the park had finished, while those taking part went on to tuck in to their tea in a local hall – which I’d photographed in 2008.

Tea in the Azelia Hall after the Beckenham crownings – May 2008

More from this years Beckenham May Queens on My London Diary. I’m still hoping for that more definitive book, and there are now a few more pictures that might go in it.

Watching the Neighbours

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Although I’m fairly clear about the right of photographers to photograph people in public, and to publish those pictures I do feel some unease about the work currently being shown by Arne Svenson in the Julie Saul gallery in New York, The Neighbours.

The neighbours in question don’t much like it too, and are threatening to take Svenson to court, and they may win. There was a similar controversy a few years ago, when an image in a UK portrait competition showed a person in a window of their house, taken by the photographer from the street outside. I don’t think that went to court, but probably a case against the photographer would have failed. And there has also been the work of Michelle Iverson, taken from her car deliberately parked outside likely homes; the comments on that page are generally extremely negative.

The key phrase is “a reasonable expectation of privacy“. If we are on the street or on a bus or a train or in a café window facing the street we clearly expect to be seen and have no expectation of privacy. If Svenson had restricted himself to photographing people looking out of their windows I would have no problem with his work.

But both by his choice of viewpoint – his own second floor flat in the building across the street – and the technical means used – a long telephoto lens (he refers to it as a ‘bird-watching’ lens) and carefully working “from the shadows of my home into theirs” he has penetrated into their homes in a way that would not be possible for the normal viewer on the street. Were I the judge he would lose the case.

The Photography is Not a Crime site linked above has an excellent summary of US and New York law relating to the case and concludes: “we have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes unless we are standing in front of a clear window where anybody walking or driving by can see us.”

It goes on to link the case with the use of surveillance by police and government, suggesting that they may not want to prosecute Svenson because they want to increasingly carry out their own surveillance using drones.

While Iverson’s black and white pictures do have an unsavoury air, Svenson’s are far more elegant, but there are a few among them that make me feel uneasy, a feeling of embarrassment at seeing something that I shouldn’t.  In real life I rather hope I would turn away rather than continue to stare, and though curiosity might get the better of me it would make me feel guilty.