Archive for July, 2013

A New Walk for London

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Cody Dock in 2010 behind the fence – the end of the riverside walk along Bow Creek (part of 360 panorama)

One walk in London that you can’t make at the moment is alongside Bow Creek all the way from Bow Locks to the mouth at the River Thames. There are parts of it open to the public, other parts built as public walks in the last millennium that have still to be opened to the public and bits where there is no public access. But a key to opening a walk that would enable you to go from Bow Locks to the Thames is the Cody Dock project of the Gasworks Dock Partnership.

Cody Dock is the former dock to one of the largest of London’s Victorian gas works, and a group of enthusiasts has been busy for several years transforming it into marina, making it the centre of a ‘community hub filled with creative studios, workshops and social enterprises’.  This isn’t some huge commercial development being imposed on the area, but a project run by a small group that has already performed a task most thought impossible in getting support and permissions and clearing the site and making it available for community use. As you can see from there web page they are already organising some exciting events at the dock, which is a short walk from Star Lane DLR station.

Cody Dock cleared in April 2012. The dock mouth is still blocked – once cleared a new bridge is needed

They need money, largely to build a new wooden footbridge across the dock mouth that will carry the extended footpath and link to the existing riverside path.  Here’s the introduction to their current ‘Spacehive’ appeal:

Cody Dock sits in between London’s new cable car, Canary Wharf and the Olympic Park, built in the 1870s, it slipped through the cracks of east London’s regeneration, lying abandoned and sealed off for decades.

It’s the last barrier blocking people from walking the length of the Lea River.

This project will fund the construction of the new pedestrian bridge – the missing piece in the jigsaw that will enable us take down the gates and open up the dock for everyone to enjoy this lovely section of London’s second river.

At a stroke, we’ll be removing one of the final obstacles in a continuous 26-mile riverside walk, running all the way from Hertfordshire to the Thames.

Eventually, our vision is for the dock to become a thriving community hub filled with creative studios, workshops and social enterprises, all set around a new marina for canal boats and beautiful gardens.

It will be a truly special and unique place – a people-powered regeneration project.

Cody Dock cleared in July 2012.
There are more details on the Spacehive page Unlock London’s secret dock, and they need £79,142. So far 89 donors have together pledged £18,524 and there are only 18 days to go until the project ends on Aug 2nd – and the donors are only charged if the full amount is raised.

They say:

This inspiring project has already drawn the attention of national media and supporters includes the actor David Suchet, public artist Richard Wilson, Lord Andrew Mawson and the local born Billy Bragg. Do join them!

Bow Creek in Feb 2010.

You can see more of my pictures from the area in 2010 in Bow and The Fatwalk, where you can also see the full 360 degree panorama of the end of the footpath of which the image at the top of this post is a small selection. More of Cody Dock at Gasworks Dock Revived, and just a few pictures from a very brief visit at the end of one of their open days at Cody Dock Open Day.


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

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


Panorama Time

Monday, July 15th, 2013

DLR at Connaught Crossing, Royal Docks 1992

I’ve worked with panoramic images for a long time, making my first using multiple film exposures around 30 years ago, but my real involvement with them began in November 1991 when I spent almost a month’s salary from my full-time teaching job on a Japanese swing-lens camera, a Japanese Widelux F8, then the latest and last in a series of similar cameras made by Panon – the F8 has nothing to do with aperture, they started with F1, then came FV (presumably a Roman version!), F6, F7 and in 1988 the F8 that I still own, though I’m not sure whether it still works.

It was a simple camera. Fixed focus, three shutter speeds – 1/15, 1/125, 1/250th – a 26mm f2.8 lens that stopped down to f11, and a clockwork motor that rotated the lens around its centre in front of a curved film path to produce a negative a little over one and a half times longer than normal for 35mm film (59x24mm)  with a horizontal angle of view of 130 degrees. It also had a viewfinder that didn’t show you most of the view, and, more importantly, two large arrows on the top of the body which gave a pretty good indication of the limits of the image.

I first used it to take pictures of the Lord Mayor’s show, where I found out several important things about it, not least that it was all too easy to include at least one of your fingers in the picture. But I loved its ability to record things hand-held across a wide sweep, even including people and movement, something that wasn’t really possible with multiple image panoramas. Later I preferred other similar cameras, in particular the Russian Horizon 202, a rather clunkier camera, with a large plastic body hiding cruder mechanics but with a far better viewfinder including a handy bubble level and a wider range of shutter speeds but a slightly less wide view. I’d recommend its successor, the Horizon S3 Pro (or Perkeft) to anyone who wants to work simply with panoramas and is prepared to use negative film (colour or b/w) to do so. Still a great bargain even if you don’t buy yours – as I did my last 202 – shipped as a gift in a brown-paper parcel sent from a rather suspect private address in the Ukraine.

But the real forte for panoramas – at least for me – is urban landscape, and you can see some examples in ‘Thamesgate Panoramas‘ and on the Urban Landscapes site – as well as in Estuary.

I’d chosen the Widelux F8 for several reasons, some practical others aesthetic, relying very much on a few pages in a book on the subject with provided descriptions and details of the whole range of panoramic cameras available new or commonly on the second-hand market, but, most importantly, a series of images made with them from the same place.  I’d already decided I wasn’t interested in making 360 degree images such as those of Kenneth Snelson – I bought a copy of his 1990 book ‘Full Circle’, and though I admired the work it seemed too contrived for me, nor could I afford the approach of another of my panoramic heroes Art Sinsabaugh, slaving away with a 20×12″ banquet camera, cropping the results from the 24″ lens down to perhaps 20×5″ or even 20×1″. I wanted a camera I could carry easily, could afford to use and would make images that took in something like the whole width of my own vision from a single viewpoint – and the the Widelux was more or less a perfect match.

But now everything can enjoy the many advantages of digital, but the market for panoramic cameras isn’t enough to produce digital versions at sensible prices. Instead most cheaper digital models come with a panoramic mode, where the camera ‘stitches’ together a series of images as you swing it around. They kind of work, but I’ve yet to find a camera that will consistently even and seamless results. They can produce some fun images, but don’t see capable of serious results.

Single fisheye image converted – around 140 degrees horizontal

So far I’ve found two approaches to get good digital panoramics. One which is a little limited on image size, at least with my current equipment is to take a single image with a fisheye lens – such as the 10.5mm DX. This can then be converted with software to a different perspective which retains the wide angle of view  and can then be cropped if desired to a panoramic format. The 16Mp DX images on the D800E produce decent images, but an FX fisheye would be a better starting point at 32Mp.

Slightly over 180 degrees from a number of 16mm portrait format images

Or you can stitch several images, either from fisheye or other wide-angle lenses. I tend to use the 16mm in vertical format. You can get good results hand-held, rotating the camera about the nodal point of the lens (near the front on the 16-35) as closely as possible.  Its a little easier with the 10.5 fisheye as you need fewer images for a given angle of view and the nodal point is close to the front edge of the body.

Around the Royal Victoria Dock and on Stratford Marsh I made pictures both ways. All are handheld. None of them have been completely optimised and there may be small defects which can usually be ironed out with a little masking of the individual images. PtGui is a really powerful program for getting these things right, though unless you work a lot with panoramas the cost of keeping up with the upgrades many seem just a little steep.  A tripod would bea slight help, though to be really useful I think you need a specialised panoramic head set up for the lens you are going to use.  You can see more examples from Victoria Dock here – and compare them with non-panoramic images taken at the same time in Victoria Dock and Silvertown.

Slightly under 180 degrees from a number of 16mm portrait format images

From the south side of Victoria Dock I walked down to Silvertown West on the DLR and took the train to Stratford High St, walking from there to the View Tube, still open on the Greenway, but it closes at 5pm more or less as I arrived. I wasn’t in time to try and photograph from its viewing gallery, but there were a number of other locations along the Greenway I’d photographed from at intervals from around 1990 on. One or two remained accessible except for a few months around the games when the whole area was locked off, but others are still behind the ugly tall security fence with its razor wire that I rather suspect is going to be one of the permanent Olympic legacies.

When I make a series of images to produce a panorama, it is seldom possible to exactly predict the result, with both horizontal and vertical coverage often not ending exactly as intended. Usually I have a good idea of what I want for the two vertical edges at the side of the image when I take the series of pictures, but you then have to take a little extra at both ends. You need to start and finish with the edge of the eventual picture in the centre of the frame to ensure you have enough of the scene at top and bottom, and if you want a high vertical coverage you need to overlap succeeding images significantly – as much as a half the image width.

There are a few more panoramic images of the Olympic site from  the short time I was there on Stratford Greenway Olympic Revisit.


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

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


Emirates Cable Link

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

D800 – 28-105mm 30mm (45 eq)

Despite its usefulness there are many little things that annoy me about Transport For London (TfL)’s Journey Planner. Invaluable though it is for working out how to get around London, it very seldom yields the best answer for any but the simplest journeys directly. Of course it isn’t a simple problem, and way back in 1993 I worked in a menial capacity on a rather simpler subset for my son’s A-level Maths project, sitting on underground trains  and timing the stops (the information in the timetables wasn’t particularly reliable), and the platform to platform timings at the major interchanges.  He did all the maths involved working with Djikstra’s algorithm and the result was a pretty reliable way of working out the fastest way between any two stations in Central London. For a while I found it useful in my work, but once he’d got his A level there was no incentive to keep it up to date. But TfL covers a much wider area and many more modes of transport which makes it a much more complex problem, so it’s hardly surprising it sometime gives some very curious results – or that it’s often much better to break a journey into simpler steps and look up each separately.

One of the more annoying things about it is that there is no simple switch on the modes of transport to say that you are using a travelcard, and it will happily supply routes for which a travelcard is not valid. It will also give routes for that are not valid for certain rail tickets and often fails to spot simple walking routes that will significantly cut times. When I went to an opening at London Fields it suggested I change buses halfway rather than simply walk another 50 yards from the direct route. An so on.

It does allow you to chose modes of transport, and by far the silliest is called the ‘Emirates Air Line’ .  It’s actually quite unnecessary to have a box to select or un-select it, because there is probably one one journey for which it provides the best route – from the Greenwich Peninsula to Victoria Dock.  If  you are travelling from anywhere to anywhere else on bus or tube, a journey under the river from North Greenwich to Canning Town is almost certain to provide a faster route, and one that doesn’t close down when its windy and keeps going rather later at night.

Calling the cable car an ‘Air Line’ is perhaps as ridiculous as the suggestion that it is a viable part of London’s transport system. Many Londoners have adopted the name I think proposed by blogger ‘Diamond Geezer’ of ‘Arab Dangleway’ though I prefer the simpler ‘dangleway’.

I really think it’s great – a tourist attraction but at a price which Londoners can afford. It gives you great views over some interesting areas of London, though a little far out from the City. But at a tenth of the price of a visit to the Shard a much better bargain. Not quite as high either, although the only way to actually get to the top of the Shard is to climb up the outside as I watched the six women team from Greenpeace do yesterday in their daring #iceclimb in protest against Shell and other oil companies threat to destroy the Arctic ( and with it life on Earth as we know it.) I have problems these days climbing on a two foot wall.

D700 – 16-35mm at 18mm

The first problem is actually getting there. The southern terminal had of course to be sited close to the river, but it is a rather long walk from North Greenwich station, perhaps a quarter of a mile.  Once there it’s easy to buy a ticket, and to walk on to a pod. I shared mine with five tourists, but there were few as crowded and they hold ten people.

There was just a slight feeling of side to side movement as the pod climbed up but not enough to worry me at all. I was too busy looking out of the large windows and taking pictures – as were most of the others in the pod.

D800E, 18-105mm at 70mm (eq 105mm)

East London may not have quite the same fascination for everyone as it does for me, and the view dead behind as the pod ascended of the Greenwich Peninsula is largely of a giant car park. But to one side you see the river and the Millenium Dome (I can’t bring myself to call it by its even sillier name) and beyond that the tall towers of Canary Wharf, and in the distance the City of London (do choose a clear day to visit).  Ahead and to the left is Stratford, Stratford City and the former Olympic site – with its own silly read Meccano helter-skelter viewing tower looking very small, and closer, the mouth of Bow Creek, where the River Lea meets the Thames.  The cable goes over Thames Wharf which still has some riverside activity and is one of the still inaccessible riverside areas.

D800E, 18-105mm at 62mm (eq 93mm)
Ahead and to the right is the Royal Victoria Dock, or as I always think of it, Victoria Dock, and further around to the right Silvertown and the Thames Barrier, beyond the threatened sugar refinery and, perhaps too far distant to be of great interest, Woolwich.

D800E, 18-105mm at 105mm (eq 157mm)
The windows of our pod were pretty clean, and I had few problems with reflections, either working close to the window or across the pod out of the other side. You can see an odd part of the pod (or perhaps a fellow traveller) in the picture above.

D800E, 18-105mm at 105mm (eq 157mm)

I’m not sure how many pods are in use on the cable – there are 14 visible in the picture looking across the top of the cable – which you can see sags quite a lot between the tall towers (one on the south bank and two on the north) and 22 in a picture I took at ground level just after I got off (I suspect that should be disembarked.)

Tourists might prefer to get a return ticket and stay on for the round trip, then there are nice walks by the river either to the Thames Barrier and on to Charlton Station, or west and then south to Greenwich past the dome, a couple of large sculptures in the river and the Greenwich Meridian marker.  There is little industry left now, but this was important in the nineteenth century, and there are some reminders, for example of the works which produced the undersea cables which formed telecommunications links around the world.

From the EXIF data I can see that my ‘flight’ took around 8 minutes, just a little slower than the timetabled 7 minutes, but I wasn’t complaining. This isn’t transport, so the slower the better for the customers. Perhaps it goes faster if they are ever busy, but I wasn’t complaining.  For the wide-angle images with the 16-35mm I took of the lens hood and worked as close to the window as possible wrapping my hand around the lens to prevent the metal contacting the window which could transmit vibration. I took more pictures with the 18-105 (on the D800E, so 27-157 equiv), some in the same way, but others were taken through windows on the other side of the pod. There is a warning that you should stay in your seat during the transit, but I decided there would be no risk in some careful movement.

More on my walk around Victoria Dock and Silvertown in a later post. You can see more pictures from the dangleway at Emirates ‘Airline’ – Arab Dangleway.


You want to be a war photographer?

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Read the article Woman’s work: The twisted reality of an Italian freelancer in Syria by Francesca Borri in Columbia Journalism Review for a view of what it is really is working in Syria.*

Making a living as a freelance is pretty tough anywhere, but in Syria people like Francesca Borri are risking their lives and getting virtually no support from the people who use their pictures, and the same kind of inadequate payments for pictures that photographers get working on our safe streets here.

As she says

But the dirty secret is that instead of being united, we are our own worst enemies; and the reason for the $70 per piece isn’t that there isn’t any money, because there is always money for a piece on Berlusconi’s girlfriends. The true reason is that you ask for $100 and somebody else is ready to do it for $70.

In February the Press Gazette reported that The Sunday Times refused to accept work made by British freelance Rick Findler, telling him that although “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” they “have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great“. And it soon became clear that other leading UK papers, including The Times, Guardian, Observer and Independent had similar policies.

Canadian broadcaster CBC’s ‘the Current’ set up a radio discussion on the subject with an interview with Findler and a panel discussion with freelance photographer Bruno Stevens, academic Romayne Smith Fullerton & former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News Tony Burman, which has some interesting points. My own feeling is that papers should cover dangerous situations so far as possible by giving proper support and commissioning work, and in areas such as Syria should make greater use of local photographers, who will often be facing similar risks even if not taking pictures.

The paragraph from Borri I quoted above continues as follows:

It’s the fiercest competition. Like Beatriz, who today pointed me in the wrong direction so she would be the only one to cover the demonstration, and I found myself amid the snipers as a result of her deception. Just to cover a demonstration, like hundreds of others.

Even in safe London, those of us working on the streets often need to know they can rely on the help of others, and there is a great deal of support when covering some events, along with sharing of information. For example on Tuesday I met a photographer I’d bumped into a few times before covering an event, and told him that I was leaving in a few minutes to go to another demonstration – and he shared with me news of a meeting later in the day. We walked together the short distance to the second event. Later another photographer I knew came along – and I told him about the first event.  Except for information we’ve been given in confidence, I think most of us share what we know at least most of the time.

A week or so earlier, I was standing with a photographer watching a protest when a third photographer arrived, and the guy I was standing with said to me “We’ve got competition.” At first I didn’t understand him, I don’t really think of other photographers as competition. I’ve thought of them as colleagues. If my work is any good it’s because I’ve managed to express my own personal view which will be different to that of other photographers, so it doesn’t matter if they are there or not. So long as they don’t keep getting in my way.

* you can also read another article (no pictures) Borri wrote about Allepo.


Bow Gurdwara Rebuilt

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

I always like visiting a Gurdwara, because I’ve always been made welcome. As I rushed out to catch my train I’d remembered to pick up a rumal – a triangular handkerchief to tie around my head to cover my hair as a sign of respect, and I put this on as I walked down the Harley Grove towards the Gurdwara, having realised that I was the only person around with uncovered hair.

Tying a reef knot at the back of my head isn’t something I do every day, so I usually leave it tied, and then it’s just a matter of pushing the peak of the triangle under the knot and pulling it down. The knot was a little too loose, and I don’t think I did it very neatly, but it’s making the effort that is important. Once covered I made my way through the crowd to the front of the Gurdwara, and arrived just in time as the Guru Granth Sahib was being brought out to the float for its procession around the neighbourhood. It is the Sikh Holy Scripture, revered as the final Sikh Guru, and is always treated with great reverence.

Bringing out the Guru Granth Sahib

The occasion had a particular importance as it marked the reopening of the Gurdwara which had been destroyed by an arsonist in 2009. A women’s meeting was taking place in the building at the time, but fortunately they all left safely. A man had been seen in the building shortly before the fire was noticed, but the police inquiries and the offer of a large reward failed to find the culprit. Some thought that the police hadn’t tried that hard, but that may well not be fair. They were there today keeping the procession safe.

I’d hoped to arrive in time to look around the building, originally built as Harley Street Congregational Chapel in the 1850s and a splendid Grade II listed structure. The restoration of the exterior is impressive. I’d arrived a few minutes before the time for the procession and somehow had not really expected it to start dead on time. Perhaps next time I’m in the area I’ll go in to have a look.

Usually I’ve photographed processions like this at Vaisakhi, in April. There are small variations in them at the different Gurdwaras around the London area, but they follow the same basic pattern, with the Sikh standard bearers and the five Sikhs with raised swords ahead of the float containing the sacred book and the congregation following behind.

Ahead of the procession the road is swept and sprayed with water, and at some events everyone is barefoot or at least without shoes – and on some occasions I’ve needed to take my shoes off – as always in the Gurdwara – to take pictures. Fortunately this wasn’t necessary today, as at every check-up my nurse always tells me I should never go barefoot because diabetes can lead to a lack of feeling in the feet and unnoticed injuries with possible serious complications – even amputation, although as yet my feet are still healthily sensitive – and rather ticklish.

The procession was going around the local area, up to Roman Road and then back, with further celebrations at the Gurdwara with an official opening ceremony. But I left earlier having other things to do later in the day. More about the story and more pictures on Gurdwara Rebuilt After Arson.


Photo Reviews

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Ignacio Evangelista is a Spanish photographer with a degree in Psychology whose work you can see on the Turn On Art web site in his 2013 project After Schengen which shows some of the border crossings in the EU that were abandoned in 1995 when the Schengen treaty brough free movement of people and goods across much of the EU.  It’s a nice idea, which got him the 2013 Project Development Grant from CENTER in New Mexico, though I can’t get very excited about the large format images as they are presented on screen – perhaps they look rather better for real.

But what brought me to Turn on Art was not his photography, but a feature written by Evangelista, Are photo reviews a good investment? in which he writes about the growing number of portfolio review events for photographers and proposes “to edit a guide based on Portfolio Reviewers, such as hotels or restaurants guides, with scores marked by coloured stars and users’ comments.” (Thanks to Alan Griffiths of Luminous Lint for bringing it to my attention on Facebook.)

The feature gives a good description of what these reviews are and of the costs and possible benefits they bring to photographers.  I’ve never attended one as a photographer, but back in the days when I wrote for a slightly more popular and influential web site than >Re:PHOTO (it had perhaps six times the readership here, though of course what matters is really quality!) I was invited to attend just one as a reviewer. You can read a whole series of posts about the event and some of the better photographers that brought there work to show me, starting with Rhubarb Rhubarb: Three Canons.

We reviewers certainly had a great time, and for a few of the photographers it was an important stepping-stone in their careers, with several exhibitions and at least a couple of books coming out of the event. But I was left wondering whether I would go to such an event – and from what I’ve heard this was one of the best – as a photographer.

Back in olden times, when I was beginning my active fascination with the medium there were no such things, but I did find it very helpful to show my work to other photographers and to talk with them about it. I went to a number of photographic workshops run by photographers who I admired, quite a few just days or afternoons, but some over a long weekend, where there would be sometimes very lengthy group crits, as well as often the opportunity to talk more over meals and at the pub. Most of them were relatively cheap events compared the the costs of attending a photo review, and in those days it was normal to just come along with a set of prints in an old Ilford box (and one of the most interesting of photographers who came to see me in Birmingham brought his 10×8 prints in an old Kodak box.)

There were also more informal events where photographers got together, and for some years I met monthly with a group of friends where we would bring our latest work, hot from the darkroom, to discuss, sometimes with a bluntness that you are unlikely to find at photo reviews. Among those who used to meet was Derek Ridgers, whose blog ‘The Ponytail Pontifications‘ gives a good idea of his style, though I think he has mellowed rather over the years (or perhaps fears legal action if he put some of his views in writing.) It wasn’t always an easy ride when you brought work, fools were sometimes not suffered gladly and some people never came a second time. Occasionally other better-known photographers would be invited along to show their work and to comment on ours, and we also organised a few shows, particularly under the title of ‘Framework’.

Groups a little like this still exist, including a number that I helped to start when I was on the committee of London Independent Photography, and I still occasionally attend one, although somehow it isn’t quite like the old days, when I think we were rather more inclined to call spades spades.

What both workshops and groups had in common where that the people who took part in them were all photographers. Sometimes well-known – I learnt a lot from meeting and showing my work to people like Raymond Moore, Paul Hill, John Blakemore, Lewis Baltz, Charles Harbutt, Fay Godwin, Ralph Gibson, Leonard Freed, Martin Parr and the others over the years, and from many who never became well-known.

Photo reviews are very different. Mostly those who review are not photographers (or at least not there as photographers) but those who have become the gatekeepers of our medium, running galleries, museum departments, photography festivals and photo reviews, publishing photo books and magazines and so on. I had been invited because I was then writing a photography blog and web site which was gaining a reputation around the world  – and around a million visits a month, mainly to read the fairly long weekly articles that I wrote about photographers or aspects of photography.

Some of those people are definitely very well informed on photography (though others are better informed on book-keeping), but I think that it is the opinions of photographers which should drive the medium. Sometimes the relationship between artists and curators etc can be symbiotic, but all too often it seems merely parasitic.

After getting the invitation and about 2 months before going to Rhubarb-Rhubarb, my long-running dispute with bosses over my determination to continue to write seriously about photography had come to a head, with the termination of my contract. (I wrote just a little about the problems at the time, for example here.) So to some extent I was there as a reviewer under false pretences, although I think I worked hard and gave good value, if not necessarily always pleasing the reviewees. And although my current sites don’t have quite the same visibility (or the backing of the New York Times), they – mainly >Re:PHOTO and My London Diary – are currently getting around 400,000 hits a month, almost now up to half the level the commercial site enjoyed. One big difference is that you had to struggle through the ads to see my stuff before, and of course little of what I put on line then was my own photography.  And of course those annoying ads then did more or less provide me with a living.

But back to photo reviews. Whereas the things we used to do were about developing ourselves as photographers, photo reviews are all about developing your careers.

Of course most of those attending – certainly in my experience – are not going to have much of a career in photography.  In most cases because there work lacks interest or novelty (more important these days.)  Just because a photographer is fascinated by staring at his/her navel does not mean the world will have any great interest in him/her. Some work is probably best kept to yourself, and I wish photographic education would give students a more realistic appraisal of their work, rather than rushing to sign up bodies to fill their courses. We are simply turning out far too many people with at least a certain technical facility (not that you need a great deal these days) but with little vision.

I saw some great photography at the review. It was easy to look at, to explore and to discuss with the photographers, who were keen to listen to what people thought. Others came along with work it was hard to find anything positive in, but were full of their own importance. There were some that I hardly had time to get a word in during our session together, they were so busy telling me how good their work was. Of course I tried to give them some guidance, but it wasn’t welcome. I imagine I got some fairly negative reviews from some of my reviewees, while some of the other reviewers who had suffered the same people told me they just sat there and nodded.

I’m sure photo reviews can be good at the right time for photographers. The right time is when you have good work too show and are prepared to listen to advice. You are then likely to get your money’s worth – and you just might be offered opportunities that would otherwise not come your way. Perhaps if such things had been around when  Vivian Maier was taking pictures and she had been able to afford to take her work there she might have got the odd publication or show, though I think we would have rather less hype about her work now!

Anyway, here is a little piece of advice I published on this site immediately after my experience as a reviewer to those who intend to take their work to such things. The third is a reference to the then current refuge of the apparently untalented and perhaps may by now have been replaced by something else that would get up my critical nose:

 Three Canons for Reviewees

  1. Be still, let your work speak and your reviewer think. Say only what is necessary.
  2. When making your pictures think for yourself; when preparing to present your work, think of your audience.
  3. Erase the word memory from your memory, your statements, your discourse. Let your work be memory, if so, then no one will need to be reminded.



Dyke March London 2013

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Women applaud a speaker at the rally before the march

I wasn’t quite the only man present when I arrived to photograph the Dyke March – London’s second in recent years – which was starting in a corner of Berkeley Square, but almost, and I did feel just a little intimidated. Not that I had any real need to worry, everyone I talked to was fine, and it had in advance been made very clear that this wasn’t an all-women event – as the interesting FAQ on the event site states:

“There will be no policing of gender or sexuality on the march, least of all due to the diversity of dyke gender expression and presentation. In particular, we do not want any women to be challenged on their right to be at Dyke March – whether due to an androgynous, ambiguous, masculine or feminine (or other) presentation.

Because our focus is on dykes, we’re not actively seeking to involve men with the march, but they are welcome if they want to march with us (as are all supporters of dykes).”

In any case I was of course there not as any kind of dyke or even as a supporter of dykes but as a photographer and journalist. And I was welcome to take photographs, though just a few people turned away or hid their faces when I raised my camera, but this isn’t unusual at public protests, curious and illogical it may be.  I don’t really understand why I should have felt at all nervous (or any more nervous than I am at other events.) It really isn’t unusual for me now to walk into an event where I look or talk or dress different to everyone or nearly everyone present. But perhaps I was just a little shaken still after being pushed around a bit by the police (though not with any particular malice) at a previous event.

Of course I wasn’t quite dressed right for the situation, as you can see from the picture of one of the other photographers covering it. Though the dark waterproof jacket I had on was perhaps more practical for the twenty minutes or so of rain before the rally started. Even so, while it was at its heaviest I packed tightly into a doorway with half a dozen of so of the women.

In March 2012 I photographed the first Dyke March in London for over 20 years, and around 800 ‘dykes and their allies’ came. This year it was rather smaller, certainly at the start there were only around 200, although by the time I left it at Piccadilly Circus it had grown to around 300. Perhaps by the time it got to its destination of Soho Square it was larger still. Berkeley Square seemed a curious choice of a meeting place, as I’ve written ‘hidden away in the middle of Mayfair and about as far as it is possible to be from the tube in central London’. Last year too the event started later, and perhaps some who work on a Saturday were able to join it.

The web site welcomes as “all dykes, lesbians, bois, queers, andros, femmes, butches, inbetweenies, lipstick lesbians, leather dykes, dandies, drag kings, bisexuals, transwomen and their allies “to the march and although I couldn’t claim to identify all of these types, there certainly were some interesting looking people, and some of them appear in my pictures.

The Dyke March retains some of the atmosphere and spirit of the Pride marches of perhaps 20 years ago, before it became a parade. Organised by volunteers, it describes itself as “a grassroots, non-commercial, anti-racist, community-centred, accessible, inclusive event” all of which endears it to me. I was sorry to leave it as it went through Piccadilly Circus on its route to Soho Square, but by then I was tired and needed to get home.

The route was based on that taken by a Suffragette march – many of the leading suffragettes were lesbian or bisexual, although at the time this was generally not commented on in public, and certainly not in the press. But perhaps much of the strength of the movement came from the close bonds between many of the women involved.

More pictures at Dykes March, though I think I captured the event and the atmosphere better at the previous London Dyke March in 2012.

Anarchists, Anonymous and ENA

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Saturday was a bitty day for me. If I hadn’t been taking photographs I might have attended the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, although I wasn’t convinced it would be anything more than another talking shop with no real outcomes, and too many people defending the largely indefensible Labour Party. I don’t like photographing conferences, but I did go along and take a few pictures of the events around it, particularly at lunchtime when many of the few thousand attending came outside.

Some of the better known anarchist in the UK including Ian Bone at left

In fact there wasn’t a great deal happening. Anarchist blogger Ian Bone had called for a protest outside, but hadn’t managed to find more than a dozen or so people who could be bothered to come. Most of them spoke at a little rally, but they only arrived after most people had disappeared back into the conference sittings which were taking place inside Methodist Central Hall (MCH), and in a kind of tent outside and a hall around the corner to which any dissident voices – including Ken Loach – were exiled.

Two young men on a golfing pub crawl come to find out more
Occupy London people were also around, and visually rather more interesting than the anarchists, with Anonymous masks rather than cloth caps. There was a little vignette of farce when they net up with a couple of young men on a golfing pub crawl, but otherwise little to photograph.

Starting a quarter a mile down the road was a march by the English National Alliance, a small extreme right group – or ‘patriots’ as they prefer to call themselves. I’ve photographed their events before, and although I make clear I don’t share their views, I’ve tried to report them and the events clearly and accurately. I do so not just because of my ethical standards as a journalist, but because I think exposing their views and actions to the light makes clear to all what they stand for.

I walked up towards the meeting point and found a small group of photographers standing across the road looking at a few ENA protesters outside the pub. I asked if any of them had talked to the ENA, and no-one had, so I walked across the road towards them. I was warmly greeted and for the next ten minutes or so we talked and argued about what they felt was happening to our country and their feeling that they did not get a fair deal in the media. I doubt if they particularly liked what I wrote about the protest, but I think it was – as I assured them it would be – fair and accurate.

The left on the left and the right on the right – one in a brown jacket shouts and another gives a finger

There were only 11 of them – they had expected rather more, but eventually they decided not to wait and to carry out their march as planned. I think their decision to march directly in front of MCH where the People’s Assembly was being held was deliberately meant to provoke, and shouting – as some of them did – ‘No Surrender!’ seemed to be proof of that. A minute earlier, one of the younger protesters had boasted as we went along Tothill St that he wasn’t scared and that he could take on 25 of the ‘commies’. There were few people around outside the hall, mainly on several literature stall, and they heard the shouts and saw the ENA t-shirt worn by their leader and reacted, milling around and shouting ‘Racist Scum!’ and other similar insults, and shouting matches between the two groups ensued.

A woman on the ENA march points and shouts at a man who has called her a racist

I was surprised that the police had allowed them to turn down in front of MCH rather than continuing along the direct route. There were just not enough police present to keep the two groups apart, and I think it was an error of judgement to allow the ENA to proceed without further police reinforement – which did arrive after the trouble had started. But the situation would have been much easier to control had the ENA simply continued directly into Broad Sanctuary rather than confronting the leftists.

A woman police officer hold back an ENA protest while a leftist points and shouts at thim

There was quite a lot of pointing and one of the ENA giving the finger to the leftists and such like  but I didn’t see any  physical violence by any of the leftists, and the police pushed there way through them and kept pushing the ENA (and me) to keep them moving. The situation was pretty confused, but I did see one of the ENA trying to hit out at someone and being restrained by police. I was told one was arrested by police, though I don’t know for what offence and if he was charged. One of my photographer colleagues says she was hit by one of the ENA with his walking stick and came to ask me if I had got a picture of the assault, but I hadn’t seen it. My pictures show the left shouting but keeping back, and the police having to restrain some of the ENA, though mainly they were simply trying to keep them moving and get them away from the left.

It’s difficult to work and get decent pictures in situations like this, and I’m not too good at it. I was being pushed around, and was working at rather a low an ISO given the dull weather. At some point too, I got something on the camera filter which left a diffuse spot on the images – it wasn’t really visible in the viewfinder, but messes up many of the pictures. Possibly it was a finger mark when I was being pushed around. There was even a curious 10 seconds or so when everything I took was out of focus, despite using the 16-35mm on autofocus, and a camera setting which isn’t supposed to take a picture unless it has focussed.

The ENA leader was wearing an ENA t-shirt with the St George’s flag and carrying flowers for the Cenotaph

I wasn’t too happy with the pictures I had taken, although at times I’d been in the right place, I think at times I was too close, and hadn’t taken the time to look around and see what else was going on. I do tend to get too involved in keeping taking pictures when at times it would be better to stand back a little. But then you might miss the picture, and once quite a few other photographers had joined us at MCH, if you step back two other people step forward into the space you have vacated. I’d also decided most of the time to keep with the leader of the ENA, because he was the only one with distinctive clothing that would show in pictures – an ENA t-shirt with the St George’s flag – and because of the bunch of flowers he was carrying. But some of the younger ENA were probably more likely to get physically involved.

The police pushed the ENA past the first confrontation, but by now others were aware of what was happening, and a larger group came to meet them and shout at them in front of the QEII Conference Hall. Again police tried to keep the ENA moving, and finally managed to get them out onto Broad Sanctuary and to hold most of the left back, though a few followed them and continued to shout at them from a distance.

By the time the ENA march reached Whitehall it seemed to be down to seven or eight from the original eleven. There was a brief pause while the flowers were laid at the Cenotaph, then they continued to Downing St, where some were to go in to deliver a letter for the Prime Minister. Earlier outside the pub I’d been given a copy of that letter and was able to give a summary of its contents in my article.  It was very long and I felt rather confused and said so, and repeated most of what had already been said in their previous letter to David Cameron. I didn’t go into Downing St to photograph the letter being handed over because I was on my way to a final event for the day. But I don’t like Downing St. It’s a pain having to empty your pockets to go through the metal detector and to have your bag searched, and the opportunities for taking pictures are very limited. They had planned on a rally afterwards, but I think had decided there were not enough of them.

More pictures  at:
People’s Assembly
Action Not Talk?
Anonymous Occupy the Grass
ENA Meet Left Opposition


Trade Union Turks Protest

Monday, July 8th, 2013

The protest at the Turkish Embassy on Friday 21st was called by the London Taksim Solidarity Committee and the trade unions, including international trade unions and the TUC, and I think there was relatively little overlap between these protesters and those I had photographed the previous Sunday. As well as international unions including the  ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) and IUF (International Union of Food workers), there were also people from Unite, RMT, PCS, UCU and NUT at the protest, several of whom spoke, and the main attraction for the bunch of photographers present was Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary.

I’ve photographed her a number of times, and unlike some other public figures she is always a pleasure to photograph, going out of her way to make sure photographers get their pictures. And the group of trade unionists and others going across the road with their arms linked to take a letter to the Turkish Embassy certainly made a good picture of solidarity. I’d watched (and photographed) them getting ready for it, but it wasn’t until they were halfway across the road that I got a clear picture of the whole line without anyone standing between me and them, and by then it seemed a little less dynamic, and as they got closer my frame was filled by other photographers running across in front of me to get close to the embassy door.

I moved back and slightly to the side. The second image is full frame and you can see one photographer’s foot at the extreme left, but I don’t think it was in the viewfinder and I wouldn’t normally hesitate to crop it out.  But I was in a rush to get the images on-line after the event and didn’t, nor as you can see did I get rid of the slight red cast that the Nikon autobalance has given the image.  O’Grady stands out in part as the only woman in the line of nine, but also because of the forward lean of her body, almost as if she is pulling the rest of them forward, and the white rectangle of the letter she is holding.

After this there were a few moments of confusion as the group unlinked arms; the police on duty decided that only one person should go up the steps to deliver the letter. And up she went, the press moving behind her to the bottom of the steps as she rang the bell.

I’d been about the first photographer on the spot and had chosen my position well (and with a little luck) looking at the door and the brass plate and where she would stand, but really it was her performance and the sheer delight she had in it that I think makes the image. Though it didn’t make the Turks inside come to the door! Which gave us plenty of time for some more pictures, and for her to play up to the cameras.

Of course public figures like her share a common interest with the press, but they don’t always seem to recognise this. I’m lucky not to want to photograph pop stars.

Of course there were others at the protest, and my favourite images came from some of the Turks from Halk Cephesi, variously translated as ‘Popular Front’ or ‘People’s Front’, though I’m not sure either gives the right impression in English.

This is one of several images that I particularly liked, I think here because of the almost symmetrical figure in the middle with arms over each other in front of his body. But the head disappearing into the red flags and apron at the left is important, and almost balanced by the third head in the image at right. It’s a nice touch to have some blue at both edges – and also the blue shirt of the central figure.  There are a couple more I rather like on My London Diary, along with other pictures that help to round out the story, TUC Support for Turkish Protests. There are some others of Frances O’Grady I like too.

Colin O’Brien: Traveller Children

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Colin O’Brien at the wall where he took the pictures in 1987

Yesterday I went to the launch party for Colin O’Brien‘s book, ‘Travellers’ Children in London Fields‘, the result of a chance encounter in 1987, when he was photographing a deserted warehouse on the edge of London Fields in Hackney.

A group of largely Irish travellers had parked their caravans here on the derelict streets. Back in those days kids would often come up to photographers on the streets and say ‘Take me picture Mister‘ whenever you photographed in areas like this, and in those days the main concern was the cost of the film. O’Brien realised the opportunity, got to know the families involved and gained their confidence, in part by giving them Polaroids of their kids, and over a period of around 3 weeks he went back and took more portraits, building up a great series of images of the children, largely posed images against a particular short stretch of the wall of a building. Then one day he went back and the caravans and children were gone and his project was at an end.

You can see some of these pictures on O’Brien’s web site – or at the Independent – along with much of his other work, but the book ‘Travellers’ Children in London Fields‘ ISBN 978-0-9576569-0-1 presents a good collection of them (you can get a signed copy from Spitalfields Life), where you can also see some fine images that there wasn’t space for in the book, as well as several other posts about this and other work by O’Brien, from his first pictures taken as a young boy outside his Clerkenwell home in 1948 with a box camera to recent work, a remarkable 65 years of photography.

The book is a fine start to Spitalfields Life Books as a publisher, and look forward to seeing further volumes from them. It’s a nicely designed small book edited by ‘The Gentle Author‘ of Spitalfields Life and printed locally at The Aldgate Press, and at the reasonable price of only £10.

The book launch was at the E5 Bakehouse in the arches underneath London Fields Station, only 50 yards from where the pictures were taken, and there were a number of the travellers who were photographed 26 years ago along with others from the family at the event. After we had finished the barrel of another local product, Trumans Beer (from the new Truman’s brewery in Hackney Wick), and Colin had made his speech, he led us the short walk to the wall where he had made these images.

I hadn’t gone to the event with the intention of taking photographs, but I seldom go further than the local shops without a camera, and I’d taken a few pictures on my way to the event. I wasn’t entirely happy with the performance of the Fuji X-E1, which didn’t always want to take pictures when I wanted it too, and despite some published reviews and tests, the image quality in relatively low light does not seem in the same league as the Nikons.

I’ll put some more images from the event into my photographic diary, My London Diary, in due course.