Archive for August, 2013

HSBC Food Banks

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

UK Uncut cakes to hand out and eat – but the rest of the food went to local food banks after the demo

This morning my wife was volunteering at our local food bank, as she does a couple of mornings most weeks, sorting and packing up food and delivering it to those who need it. Despite living in a reasonably affluent area on the fringe of London, there are plenty of them. Many because they have had benefits stopped. Or because they have to wait until benefits are sorted out, or while they appeal decisions – and now are somehow expected to be able to manage to live without any income at all.

Hard to believe but true – over half a million people in the UK now rely on food banks to keep them from starving.

The 10.5mm let me get the food bank in from a short distance

UK Uncut makes the point that the UK banks received enormous financial support from the public finances – variously estimated at between £700 and £26,500 per taxpayer (the higher figure ignoring the eventual recouping of some of the support when the banks are sold back into the private sector and the lower taking a particularly rosy view of the return when this happens.) They call for an end to ‘bank welfare’, and point out that the avoidance of taxes by large companies and the wealthy costs the country more than will be saved by the government cuts that disproportionately impact on the poor and disabled. And the banking sector is the biggest user of overseas ‘tax havens’ to avoid paying UK taxes.

The ‘big four’ UK banks, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and RBS, are reported to have over 1,600 tax haven subsidiaries between them, with HSBC being the largest offender, with over 550.  The amounts lost to the UK are several billions of pounds. Changes to the Controlled Foreign Company (CFC) rules by the government which came into effect this January were estimated to give another billion to the users of tax havens, a huge bonus while the rest of us were suffering from the cuts

UK Uncut’s protests at the premises of tax dodgers have certainly put the issue onto the political agenda, and made HMRC at least seem to take a little more action, as well as persuading some companies to contribute a few million more. Perhaps by setting up food banks at HSBC branches they will put the spotlight on the use of overseas tax havens by the banks to avoid taxes, and also on the Department for Work and Pensions, directly responsible for a large proportion of that half a million needing to use food banks, who appear to be conducting their own private war against welfare.

The food bank on the move to Oxford St HSBC

Photographically the event held few problems, although the pavements where the food banks were set up were at times rather crowded, not least with other photographers. The Oxford St pavement is rather narrow – the street should have been pedestrianised long ago – and police pushed the protesters back to allow pedestrians to walk past.

They stood along the edge a yard or two apart, but objected firmly when I stood between them to take photographs, arguing that I was “causing an obstruction.”  Clearly that wasn’t the case – and I was if anything less of an obstruction than they were, but logic isn’t a powerful argument against handcuffs and I had to move.

Photographing from inside the protest with the 10.5mm

So I went into the protest, using the 10.5mm to work at very close range. The alternative, to stand on the narrow strip in the middle of the road with a long lens, with a view obstructed by a line of police and the passing pedestrians, was taken by most of the press, but it wasn’t a good idea.

From the middle of Oxford St with the 70-300mm.

There are perhaps rather too many pictures from the event on My London Diary, but it was difficult to edit, as there were so many that I liked. Take a look at them at UK Uncut HSBC Food Banks.


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


Nam June Paik

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Video Chandelier No 1, 1989 and Global Groove video in the Talbot Rice Gallery

I’m generally not a great fan of video art, which seems to largely be a medium for inflicting terminal boredom on the viewer, usually saying very little at great length, sometimes taking 15 minutes to say what could have been summed up more elegantly in a single still image or perhaps a diptych or short series. But of course there are exceptions.

The Edinburgh Festival and its huge fringe isn’t a great place for the visual arts, and certainly not for photography shows. There is the Man Ray show already seen in London, and World Press Photo 2013, which doesn’t seem to be scheduled for London (though one year never seems greatly different from the last.) And the venerable International Exhibition of Photography organised by the Edinburgh Photographic Society, now in its 151st year – and I can’t help thinking the first 50 or so would still be of much greater interest.

Ginsberg (I think) in Global Groove, 1973 showing in the Talbot Rice Gallery

But one show that is certainly worth a at least a short detour and continues until Oct 19, 2013 is Transmitted Live: Nam June Paik Resounds, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of Paik’s first solo exhibition, Exposition of Music –Electronic Television  at Wuppertal in 1963.  He was really the guy who invented video and electronic art, and the 26 minutes of his Global Grove from 1973 demonstrates the effect his work has had since then (you can watch the first three minutes on YouTube) and still I think stretches it in ways that others have not – and he was thinking in terms of the ‘electronic super highway‘ back in the pre-internet days of the 1970s. Among his collaborators were Stockhausen, Cage and Ginsberg.

I take a close look at TV Buddha, 1974 in the Talbot Rice Gallery

The Edinburgh show doesn’t have some of the larger works you can see on a BBC web page about his Smthsonian show, but is a finely curated show which celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first solo show at Wuppertal in 1963.  His official web page, which seems to have been left unchanged after listing the tributes to his death in 2006, is also worth a visit.

The Edinburgh show will also have great appeal for connoisseurs of outdated TV and video equipment and included a largish studio area of such junk as well as that in the actual works. If we sometimes feel that the archival preservation of photographic works is a challenge, the problems surrounding his work are massive.

Street Isn’t Documentary

Monday, August 12th, 2013

I’ve just read a rather nice essay by Evangelo Costadimas, Why Street Photography is not Documentary Photography on the Street View Photoography site, which examines the question of why street photography is so often confused with documentary photography.

Notting Hill, Peter Marshall

As he writes: “Street Photography does not concern itself with the Truth.” In fact it is largely concerned with making fictions, using a particular viewpoint or timing to create an image that misrepresents the subject.

But he goes on to write: “Street Photography concerns itself with Life” which I think is misleading. It doesn’t “concern itself” but uses life as subject matter. Usually if it concerns itself with anything it is with the reactions of the photographer and of a community of street photographers to the particular image that has been created.

Winogrand, used as an exemplar,  in some ways was not a street photographer, because his work was often if not always about wider issues of life in America, whereas much street photography is about ‘Oh what a clever and witty photographer I am.”

Peter Marshall

As I read that essay, I came along a piece of work by a photographer I know in London, Julio Etchart, a documentary photographer. In a way it isn’t special, just another typical example of his fine documentary work. But Muslims celebrate Eid Mubarak by the East London Mosque in Whitechapel is a good example of documentary photography on the street rather than street photography. Its’s important too that this is not a single image – documentary is always about project, about sets of images rather than a single picture – however fine some documentary images are, they always belong in a greater whole. The pictures made me wish I’d thought to get up early that morning and do something similar, but I live a little too far away and I’m not a morning person.

Whitechapel 1991, used on the poster for the London Street Photography show

The focus in documentary photography is always on the subject and on how you see it and what you can say about it. Street photography is about the photographer. I’ve photographed on the street for 40 years, was included in the book and  show London Street Photography, was inspired by the work of people like Winogrand, Tony Ray Jones, Lee Freidlander and others, but I hope I’ve never been just a street photographer.

Edgware Rd, Peter Marshall


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

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

To order prints or reproduce images


OMG Life But Not a Camera as we know it.

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

The name of the ‘OMG Life Autographer‘ is probably a pretty good sign that I am not the target audience for this device, decribed as ‘The World’s First Intelligent, Wearable Camera”, but it does look in some ways an intriguing device, though the images taken by Rankin on its web site really do less than nothing to make it appeal to me.

It seems to be a device to produce a photographic record of your day without the actual thought or effort of making photographs. It isn’t the first device that can do this, and I seem to recall artists who experimented wearing cameras set to take pictures at regular intervals way back in the days of film. And helmet cameras have really made such things commonplace. But the ‘OLA’ is at least rather less painful than ‘The Third I’ which involved New York University photography professor Wafaa Bilal having a 10Mp camera screwed into a “transdermal implant” on the back of his head and wearing it for a year (you can see some of the results on the web, and they are frankly exactly as interesting as you would expect.)

But Autographer claims to be intelligent, though it isn’t clear exactly what this intelligence entails, it does incorporate six sensors, including a PIR sensor which I think detects movement in front of the camera, as well an accelerometer which determines the wearer’s movement, and temperature, colour and compass sensors. It also keeps track of where you with GPS. But there are no clues on the web site as to how it uses any of this information to decide when to take pictures.

The images Autographer produces are 5Mp semi-fisheye, with a 136 degree angle of view, and are about as good as you would expect – this isn’t a camera for those concerned with image quality. There is an excellent  Quick Review on Digital Photography Review which has some sample images from London and gives a fairly detailed look at the device.

The image distortion is interesting, and is different from that of the two semi-fisheye lenses I own, the Nikon 10.5mm and Samyang 8mm. I removed the curvature at the edges by using the FisheyeHemi plugin in Photoshop by increasing the canvas width from 2592 pixels to 3592 (giving a rectangle on each side 500px wide in the background colour), then applying the  ‘full-frame’ version of the plugin before cropping back to an image rectangle, now around 2472 x 1936 pixels. With some noise reduction, correction of contrast and brightness and light sharpening, the images when reduced to web size –  perhaps  around 600×450 px, are just about acceptable quality. But I guess for most potential users, bad will be better, and they won’t be satisfied with the output until it’s been further freaked with Instagram.

Although usually it takes pictures without human intervention, you can tell it that you want it to be ‘active’, though apparently it waits for 10 seconds before it starts to take pictures when you’ve pressed the button. And you can stop it taking pictures by covering the lens with the bright yellow rotating lens cap. It is small, weighs around 2 ounces and is said to be stylish, which I think means black with a leather strap. Certainly you would feel less of an oddity wearing it around your neck or clipped to a jacket than wearing a helmet camera in normal situations.

Perhaps the most interesting thing on the web site is a whole page of Autography Etiquette, including advice to get the agreement of friends and family, to follow laws on photography and to respect the privacy of others. Though I suspect the most interesting images will come from people who ignore this!

Given that its 8Gb of memory can store 28,000 pictures, users are likely to have an awful lot of editing to do, and I suspect we will be inundated by masses of largely random images on Facebook, Flickr and other social media and image-sharing sites. It rather reminds me o those millions of monkeys randomly typing to produce the works of Shakespeare. One could see it as those Lomography walls taken to a logical conclusion. Of course just a few of Autographer images will have some interest but I doubt we will ever see them found from the haystack.

Sick Pay, Holidays, Pensions, Now!

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

A cleaner speaks at the end of the ‘3 Cosas’ protest at the Senate House

London relies on its low paid workers to keep running. People like the cleaners are essential workers, but they get treated like dirt – one of their slogans is “We ain’t the dirt we clean for you” Politicians like David Cameron and Boris Johnson support the idea of the London Living Wage – the minimum hourly rate needed to live on in London – but do little if anything to persuade employers to pay it.  Those who are on low pay also usually get very poor conditions of service, with usually the legal minimum provisions for sick pay and holidays. Few if any are in pension schemes.

The cleaners, catering workers and  security staff at London University are not employed by the university. The university – and banks and other companies – have high ethical standards and give their employees decent levels of sickness pay,  holiday entitlement and pension schemes. But working in those same institutions are people who don’t get these – the university has delegated their employment to contractors, washing its hands of its responsibilities towards them.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett came to speak in support of the ‘3 Cosas’ campaign

It enables the university to feel good about its employment practices, but get the dirty work done on the cheap.  The ‘3 Cosas’ campaign, in which the cleaners are supported by students and many staff employed by the university points out the hypocrisy involved. Either the university should directly employ everyone who works there, or if it uses contractors, should insist that they pay the living wage, give workers there comparable conditions to those it gives its own employees and manage them with respect.

So I like to photograph these protests, because these are people who are being mistreated and deserve support.  They also campaign in a way that is both effective and visually interesting, making it easy to photograph. The rise of grass-roots trade-unionism is also an interesting phenomenon, and I think points to problems within the trade union movement, which for various reasons has unfortunately largely failed these lower paid workers, a matter of some regret to me as a trade unionist (I belong to two unions and was for many years a union rep at my former workplace.)

The latest response by the University, which followed an incident in which a student  was arrested after chalking a slogan across the foundation stone (and charged with criminal damage as well as two charges of assaulting a police officer when she was being arrested – she has pleaded not guilty to all offences)  has been to ban student protests in the areas in which most of the pictures here were taken, the Senate House cloister entrance and the East and West car-parks, and to threaten to prosecute students (and presumably others) who protest there as trespassers.

I don’t know what effect this will have on future protests, but feel that instead of making such threats they should be addressing the issues that have led to the protests.

More about the protest and more pictures at London University Cleaners Protest.


To Up or Not to Up?

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I was very much in two minds about going to see the swan upping this year. I’ve photographed in on quite a few occasions, starting on film in 2001, and I got my best pictures then or in the next few years I covered the event.

Swan Upping at Laleham in 2001.  Konica RF, Fuji film

Then it was easier, partly because there were fewer photographers and fewer spectators. Often I was the only photographer for much of the time, with perhaps two or three on the official press boat who usually arrived when the real business was over, having had to wait to be put on shore. The were often a handful of people who’d seen it happening and come to watch, some with a compact camera taking pictures, but seldom getting in my way.

In those early years I was even able to take some panoramic images with the Hassleblad X-Pan and the 30mm lens as well as images like the above, I think probably made with a 21mm on a Konica Hexar RF camera – a modernised version of a Leica M with power wind and decent auto-exposure, quite possibly the best film ‘Leica’ ever made, though not quite the build quality of the older Leicas.  The 2001 swan upping pictures start here.

Today taking the same picture I’d have at least one photographer poking his lens into the image on the left and quite possibly a guy holding his phone up next to the man in the hat – if not in front of my lens.  There just isn’t the room to work any more. I think it is all a small part of the attempt to make our royalty more popular, though perhaps a better gesture would be to give back the swans that Henry II stole from us in 1186 to the people. Though probably we wouldn’t want to eat them now.

Swan Upping 2004.  Nikon D100, Sigma 12-24mm

By the time I next went to the swan upping pictures in 2004, I was already noticing a difference, writing “i was the almost the only photographer who bothered to turn up three years ago, while today there was a press launch with a group of snappers and a film crew.” But I was still able to get some good pictures, like the one above, made with a Nikon D100 and the Sigma 12-24mm at 16mm (24mm equiv.) My bike had got there before the press launch and there was a line of photographers on either side of me, right along the edge of the bank so nobody could get in front of us. Despite being only 6Mp, this made a decent display print 2.3 metres wide.

Another thing that made it easier to work back then was that man in the hat at the left of the top picture. Those swans weren’t at that nice landing stage by accident, but because Eric – who I got to know a little as we cycled along the towpath together – had got there a quarter of an hour before the boats and lured them to a suitable position with some crushed digestive biscuits, first throwing larger lumps in their direction to gain their attention. He went ahead of the uppers on his bike, acting as their ‘spotter’ for the cygnets. This had the added advantage that most of them were attracted to the towpath side of the river for the uppers. Swans and cygnets do in any case have a certain tendency to swim on the towpath side, because that’s mainly where the public feed them.

Nowadays the spotting is done by the Queen’s Swan Warden Prof Chris Perrins  and his two assistants in a small boat with an outboard, who travel a little ahead of the rowers, and there is no luring to the towpath bank, so more are upped on the other side.

One advantage of being on the press boat is that you can get to either bank, and of course it involves rather less effort than riding a bike on the towpath. But almost always it’s better to be on a bike – you get there first. Of course you can also get a different view from the boat, but usually from too far away or from behind the uppers. The only part of the event I’d really prefer to cover from the river is the actual release of the swans after they have been checked, listed, weighed, ringed and measured and are carefully put back in the water.

One year I did apply to go on the press boat and got all the details fixed. Then a day or two before the event got an email saying sorry, there wasn’t room for me. As a freelancer working for a small agency I didn’t count when at the last minute more important people wanted to cover the event.  I’ve not bothered to apply since.

I’ve been most years since 2004, usually following the boats to Windsor, where there are still just a few things I’d like to do better than I have. Last year there was no swan upping because the river levels were too high,  and this year I wasn’t going to bother. But sitting at my computer on that hot summer morning I suddenly decided it would be a pity to miss the spectacle taking place less than half a mile away and jumped on my bike with my camera bag.

Swan uppers creep slowly in towards the birds on land. 2013

It’s always an interesting spectacle, though I didn’t really get any decent pictures in the hour or two I spent with them. The only cygnets on my side of the river were under the railway bridge, in deep shade with strong areas of sunlight, a contrast well beyond the ability of either digital or film (and I couldn’t use flash.)  The uppers did their business and rowed away across the river to the Swan Inn, and I got on my bike and rode home for my own lunch. I didn’t bother to go back and follow them that afternoon. Perhaps, if it isn’t so hot, next year.

Other pictures from this year- Swan Upping.  You can also see more from 2004, 20052006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011.

Dancing In Mourning Across America

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

I’ve been slow to mention Vanessa Winship‘s ‘She Dances on Jackson‘, which was on show in Paris at the Fondation Henri-Cartier Bresson from May 15-July 28 this year. I’d half-hoped I would find time for a weekend in Paris, and would certainly have gone to see the show if I’d been there, but unfortunately it never happened.

As well as the show in Paris, there is of course a book of the work published by Mack, though it isn’t the same as the show. And so much has been written about the book that my thoughts are probably redundant now – though perhaps I’ll try to write something when I’ve more time – and perhaps we may some time see a show of this work in London. But for the moment I’ll suggest if you don’t already know all there is to know about it that you start by reading Liz Jobey in FT Magazine, which will tell you about the background to the project and explains a lot about why and when Winship visited many of the places in the book.  Then you may like to read Christer Ek’s blog post which expresses his slight disappointment with the organisation of the show, and the lack in the book of the personal material which was in the exhibition, and in particular:

what appears to be Vanessa’s diary. It is a large A3 size book that has been made with emails that she exchanged with her sister and some hand written notes. The book is enriched by all the prints that are hanged on the wall in a very small format (around 8 x 10 cm). The small prints are some kind of reading prints on a beautiful warm tone argentic paper.

Christer feels that once you have seen this:

you can only consider that this is the real entire work and you start to imagine what could have been a book including all those pieces.

I haven’t seen it, and so can hardly comment, but looking through the book and the pictures on line it seems to me that it is a fine body of work, and it is what the photographer has presented to us, and what we have to deal with. But it can’t be divorced from the personal life of the photographer, and the cruel blow of fate that as she was about to leave for America, having been awarded the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation prize of €30,000 to enable her to make it, she learnt that her father had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer from which he died three months later.

Finally, in the on-line gallery ‘The Great Leap Sideways‘ you can see 20 of the images from the book, as well as read an interesting essay: The Democracy of Universal Vulnerability: Vanessa Winship’s “she dances on Jackson”, though I’m not quite sure I follow all it has to say. There is at times a certain vagueness about it, where I would like the writer to get more involved with the specifics of the images.  Also on the page is a video ‘leaf-through’ of the book which enables you to glimpse all the images in sequence.

ASX Eikoh Hosoe

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

video on ASX of Eikoh Hosoe, a leading figure in Japanese photography talking about his work and inspirations at the launch of the exhibition ‘Eikoh Hosoe: theatre of memory’ at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2011 brought back some fond memories from meeting him in 2005.

We both had shows as a part of the first FotoArtFestival in Bielsko-Biala in Poland, which brought together work by 25 photographers from 25 countries around the world along with a group show of Polish  photoreportage of the 1970s and 80s.  It was I think a deliberately eclectic selection, including different types of photography and photographers of all ages, including a few no longer living – Inge Morath, Russian war photographer Robert Diament and Mario Giacomelli, and a mixture of well-known names and relatively unknown photographers including me.

Many of those still living had come in person to the festival to talk about their own work, and in addition I’d offered to give a couple of lectures – one on the work two rather different British photographers who had influenced me, Tony Ray Jones and Raymond Moore, both of whom were more or less unknown in Poland at the time (and Moore still is, largely because his work is still inaccessible, but Ray Jones was featured in a festival at nearby Krakow a couple of years later), and the other on the work of some of my photographer friends in London. It was something of a disappointment that neither Boris Mikhajlov and Malick Sidibe were able to attend, but great to meet the others – including Eikoh Hosoe, certainly the best known of those present.

Here’s what ASX says about him:

Eikoh Hosoe was born in Yonezawa, Yamagata in 1933 and graduated from Tokyo College of Photography in 1951. He exhibited in his first solo show in 1956 and has since established himself as an internationally acclaimed photographer. Hosoe’s figures have a Surrealist quality that is startlingly intimate, yet also render the flesh abstract and strange.”

I don’t think he was present for the initial press conference, an interesting event for me when I found myself under attack for Britain’s colonial past by one of the other photographers who had been liberally enjoying the local hospitality – I’d decided myself that the only way to survive was never to drink vodka, a resolution I think I almost managed to keep. In an exchange (which I don’t think was entirely followed by the local press) I told him that those very same people who had screwed his ancestors had liberally screwed mine too, and after a little argument we became good friends – and afterwards I helped him down the street to another bar along with some of the other photographers.

Eikoh Hosoe, Jutka Kovacs and Stefan Bremer at the reception in the castle

It was later after a grand opening ceremony with projections of the our images to a fantastic live piano accompaniment by Janusz Kohut that I first met Eikoh as we both made our way out into the foyer on the way to a party at the castle. I went up to him and told him how much I liked his work and that I’d been an admirer of his work and had written about it – it must have been a rather embarrassing moment but he remained charming and extremely courteous.

Eikoh Hosoe, Ami Vitale and me at the meeting: photo by Jutka Kovacs

Being 72 at the time (born in 1933) he didn’t join the group of photographers who went to a local bar when the wine ran out (there was still vodka, but I expect he needed some rest.) But probably his head was rather clearer than most of us the following morning for the start of the ‘author sessions’ where the photographers talked about their work, and clearly took a great interest.

The next day the sessions all overran, and everyone decided a break was needed before my rather long performance, talking about my own work as well as the two short lectures, though I’d rather have got on with it. A group of the photographers went together for a pizza, and took him along with us. A beer or two helped to steady my nerves too, and we all indulged in taking silly pictures of each other as we waited for the food to come.

The pink phone was the only camera Eikoh Hosoe had with him, and I think it was a new toy, Fortunately someone was able to show him how to see the pictures he had been taking (which he hadn’t found how to do) and above you can see his reaction.

Later, after my talk, and another by Stefan Bremer, it was his turn to present work as the finale of the event. The light in the large hall came from the computer projector, and Hosoe moved into it on various occasions to talk about the work. I tried hard to catch him at just the right moment, and I think the image below was my best attempt before the battery on the small compact Canon Ixus ran out.

Eikoe Hosoe makes a point about one of his pictures

You can see a good selection of Hosoe’s work at the Howard Greenberg Gallery site. There are some more pictures with him in – as well as many others – in the FotoArtFestival Diary I wrote when I was in Poland, and I’m pleased to see that at least some of the links to the Wayback Machine with the posts I wrote at the time for are now working again.


Police Watch

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

I try not to get obsessive about the police. We need a police force of some kind, and some of the things that they do I’m thankful for, even though there are other things that I condemn. I’ve been rather glad that they were there when people have threatened to smash my cameras as I photographed them, or when a right wing crowd moved rather menacingly towards me. And there have been many other occasions when they’ve acted sensibly and professionally, as well as those others where their actions seem arbitrary and senseless. And at times downright criminal.

Of course I’ll try to photograph them when they behave badly, but equally I do my best to photograph when others attack them. But mostly I’m not at events to photograph the police except as they get themselves involved with those taking part.

But I was photographing a protest Against Undercover Police in Protests which was about police behaving badly. Police posing as protesters, living a life undercover infiltrating groups involved in legal protest. At times trying to persuade other protesters to engage in illegal acts, or starting and encouraging trouble at otherwise peaceful protests. Pretending to fall in love with other protesters – and some fathering children by them. Taking the names of dead children to produce fake identities.

Other operations like deliberately setting out to try and discredit witnesses such as Duwayne Brooks; beating up people who they claim are resisting arrest; ‘restraining’ people to death; shooting unarmed people and claiming they pulled a gun when the evidence shows otherwise; lying to protect colleagues and otherwise frustrating the attempts to investigate other officers; taking bribes and illegal payments for information and so on. It is a very long list.

Of course, not all coppers are bent and despite the song, not all are bastards, but too many are and too many get away with it despite their colleagues knowing. Just as there was (and to some extent still is) institutional racism there are other institutionalised faults in the police. But at least here in the UK we expect our police to behave properly and legally – in some countries it would be virtually unthinkable. Many of us do still feel a little surprise when we find our police behaving badly.

So I didn’t feel too bad about a little photographic exaggeration when I was photographing one of the speakers at the event, talking about police surveillance and harassment. Perhaps 20 yards behind her were two police standing and watching the protest, and it seemed a good idea to use a very long  lens to make them seem rather closer.  The picture above was taken at an equivalent focal length of 45mm – a standard lens.

Changing to 168mm gives a rather different impression, of the officers being much closer and I’ve also used a lower viewpoint so the male officer seems to be looking down on the speaker – Zita Holbourne of BARAC (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts) and the PCS union.

It is perhaps a little unfair, as I don’t think these two officers were actually taking a great interest in what was happening – I didn’t see either making a single note – though they had obviously been posted there to keep an eye on things.

The protest was taking place in front of a wall of blue glass at Scotland Yard. I don’t think the police can see out through this, but I don’t know. It did reflect the protesters and it also had the police coat of arms at intervals, which I’ve brought out a little in the pictures, increasing the contrast a little.  The blue colour is significant too – the colour of the lamp which marked all police stations.

I couldn’t resist making use of that blue glass to suggest a solution to the problem of lack of police manpower. Again I’ve used a longish focal length, and have cheated a little in the post-processing, removing much but not all of the blue from the glass in the reflection at left and adjusting the contrast and brightness to almost match. It’s just a pity that I didn’t quite get the image pin-sharp – I think the focus was a little out. I needed to take it in a hurry before they noticed me and moved.


Brixton Blues

Monday, August 5th, 2013

A few years ago these properties were mainly in a poor state, many squatted and near derelict. Now each block is worth millions.

Nothing is what it used to be, and certainly Brixton isn’t.  First developed with large middle-class housing along the main roads out of London to the south and south-west at an easy distance from work in Westminster or the city, by the start of the 20th century it had become a largely working-class inner London area, with many of the larger houses converted to boarding houses or flats and streets of working class housing. In the 1930s it was the best shopping centre in South London, and it still has one of the best markets in London.

The London County Council and the local council built social housing in large estates around the area in the 1930s, and more followed bomb damage and slum clearance after the war. The first postwar Caribbean migrants came from Jamaica on the Empire Windrush in 1948, and were given temporary housing just up the road in the Clapham deep air-raid shelter, and they found local jobs at the nearby Labour Exchange in Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, moving out into the local boarding houses and flats, forming the nucleus of a new community in the area.

By the 1980s as well as being a centre of London’s Afro-Caribbean community, it was also a haven for white squatters, often unemployed. The area had a huge waiting list for social housing and much of the housing stock was substandard; there was very high unemployment, particularly among the black community and the crime rate was double that of any other area of London. One area was known as the ‘Frontline’,  an area the police could neither understand or control, limiting themselves to occasional skirmishes which largely served to further antagonise the local mainly black population.

Preparing for the protest. The council removed the seats that used to surround this tree because they didn’t like the kind of people who sat on them.

Iused to go there occasionally, particularly to buy surplus photographic materials from a shop just a few yards away. I’d occasionally wander down the Railton Road, perhaps go into a shop and buy a drink or snack. I even took a few pictures. Occasionally I politely refused an offer to buy what could have been (and probably was) weed as I passed a small crowd of youths.

Few were surprised when there were riots in 1981 – known by some as the ‘Brixton Uprising’.  More surprising that it hadn’t happened before and didn’t happen more often.  What was perhaps surprising were some of the stories of the solidarity between black and white people involved in defending their area, and some of the more lurid lies in the media about what was happening.

Brixton is now rather a different place, though its history gives if a certain chic for some, and it’s not too long since I looked out of a window and saw a man in the street with a gun, and even shorter that I was last offered drugs on the street.  Good transport links and its nearness to the city make it a very desirable place for young professionals. House and flat prices have soared, estate agents have taken over many of the once useful shops, and many of the once-squatted buildings – often converted into short-term lets – are now being renovated. The tenants who have little or no rights are evicted, the flats modernised and then sold or let at ridiculous prices.

There is little new social housing, and nothing affordable for those who are evicted. Even squatting is less of an option now, with recent law making squatting in residential properties a criminal offence.

Whether you choose to describe the changes as regeneration or gentrification, the consequences for many of the poorer residents of the area is the same – there is nowhere for them to live in the area once they are evicted. It is a process that is difficult to fight or even to know how to fight, as the discussion at the protest against the evictions on Rushcroft Road demonstrated. It demonstrates a lack of any concern for people involved that seems shocking in a civilised society, but we seem no longer to live in a civilised society, or at least one which is only civilised for the wealthy. As the recent report Human Development Report from the The United Nations Development Programme indicates, the UK is the most unequal society in the western world, on a par with Nigeria. Of industrialised countries only Russia is more unequal. In the UK, the poorest fifth have incomes on average one tenth of the richest fifth, and have incomes per head a third less in the US and 44% less than in the Netherlands.

This woman and child stopped for a while at the protest

And in the UK the gap is growing rapidly – twenty years ago the gap between rich and poor was only 6.7 times – it has increase by around 50% over the last 20 years. It isn’t surprising that there are problems in the poorer areas of the country, only that in general the poor are so passive about it most of the time.  Of course the circuses are being trowled on thick – Olympics, Royal Wedding, Royal Jubilee, Royal Birth, a new Dr Who… – but the bread is getting thin.

People listened intently to the discussion once it got going

It wasn’t an easy event to photograph for various reasons. There was an awful lot of frustration in the air, and a certain negativity towards photographers, and really not very much happening.

There were disturbances in Brixton following the events in Tottenham over the shooting of Mark Duggan a couple of years ago, but our ‘riots’ then were relatively mild and didn’t spread a great deal. But events like these evictions do make me feel that a spring is slowly being wound up that at some point may lead to truly major insurrection. It didn’t seem likely in the former Soviet Union before it happened, nor in Libya or Egypt, but perhaps one day we will have a truly British (or, post-devolution an English and Welsh) Spring. Though I sincerely hope it won’t be another Syria.

I felt depressed as I left Windrush Square, with such rather gloomy thoughts in my mind, and was even more depressed on crossing Coldharbour Lane as I stopped to read the posters of a group of Black Hebrew Israelites or Black Jews. As I stood there the preacher started to attack a black woman passing by – her sin according to him that she was with a white man. She stood her ground and argued against this nonsense, and I felt like congratulating her. But I moved away, not wanting to get involved, and I felt bad about it.

More pictures from Brixton at Brixton Protests Gentrification & Evictions.  Earlier in the day I photographed the annual International Brigade Commemoration in Waterloo, a reminder of the commitment and sacrifice of many in the 1930s.