Archive for October, 2013

For the Victims of the Arms Trade

Friday, October 18th, 2013

I don’t often put my family pictures or others from my private life on My London Diary, except for some largely landscape images from some of the walks we do together – such as those along the Thames Path earlier this year.  And an occasional image of my family sometimes creeps into these. But Wreath for Victims of London Arms Fair is an example of where my private and public lives rather overlap, with my wife playing a major role in the event.

It more or less happened by accident. Although she doesn’t often accompany me to protests, this was one time when she was free and  had decided to take part in, and as the organisers requested she had dressed in black for the occasion.  She isn’t a member of East London Against the Arms Fair (who organised the event) because we live to the west of London, but when she arrived she was asked if she would lead the procession carrying the wreath around Royal Victoria Dock., and so has a leading role in my pictures.

I had serious photographic competition from a number of young reporters from the local primary school who had come along to view the event as a part of their school projects. They were also interviewing people, though when asked about my experiences in the Second World War I declined to answer on grounds of age.

I did find it a little different photographing someone I know rather well and who knows me – there was a very different dynamic when working close with a wide-angle (mainly the 16-35mm, though I did take a few pictures with the 10.5mm fisheye), although not for the few images I made with the 70-300mm like that above (at 135mm – 202mm equiv.)

Linda handed the wreath over to one of the ELAAF members for the short ceremony when the wreath was floated on the dock. It would have been better to have photographed this from a boat, but I hadn’t brought one with me, so was crouching as close as possible on the dock side, just a little worried as I leant out about falling in.  I wanted to get some of the several warships moored at the arms fair in the background, so was working with the 16-35mm.  The shoe at the left of the image was pretty close to me and sharp, but the ships in the distance are out of focus. But importantly the wreath is sharp.  It might look better if I cropped the image at left and bottom.

Afterwards I switched to the 18-105mm to frame the wreath floating on the water before it moved too far away; fortunately most of the message on it was still visible. You can see that and the other images at Wreath for Victims of London Arms Fair.



Friday, October 18th, 2013

I’m not a great fan of Philip-Lorca diCorcia, whose methods of working have always made me uneasy. Kind of substituting a movie set for real life, pictures that too often feel to me like a photographer saying look how clever I am at making powerful images. In the short clip about his ‘Hustlers’ on ASX, he talks about his favourite image, liking it because it shows something that was only their for perhaps 1/400s when his flash lit up the foreground, bouncing blue light from the guy’s shirt into a triangle on his cheek and elsewhere, something he only saw on the Polaroid before he made the picture.  But although the way his work seems to undermine documentary worries me, I can’t deny that this is an interesting series with some fine pictures, and that series was, as a feature today on ‘Time Lightbox‘ points out, “a defiant response to (largely) right-wing bigotry targeting the First Amendment rights of homosexuals — specifically, those working in the arts.”

You can see much more about his work on the ASX page devoted to him.  And I still feel uneasy, just as I also do about the work of Jeff Wall and others who seem to me to be more concerned about playing to the art market than telling stories about the world.


Occupy at DSEi

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Occupy London General Meeting votes to stay at St Pauls. 15 October 2011

I was surprised to be reminded as I write that it was two years ago yesterday (October 15, 2011)  that Occupy London tried to set up camp at the Stock Exchange and ended up in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, having been repulsed by an injunction and a large force of police. Occupy London lasted the longest of all the occupations, and along with the others did change the way we think about many things, something that is still working itself out. The actual decision – lots of people putting up their hands – didn’t make a great picture, but perhaps is an important record.

Last month the Stop the Arms Fair coalition of around 25 groups, including the London Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), Disarm DSEi and East London Against Arms Fairs, supported others including the remnant of Occupy London and Quakers for Peace set up a temporary occupation on a roundabout next to the East London Arms Fair, DSEi. You can read the story about this at Occupy vs the Arms Fair.

I’d lagged just a little behind the leading members of the group that walked and trotted up the paths a few hundred yards from the Prince Regent bus stop to the roundabout at the eastern entrance to the ExCel centre where the arms fair is held. Some of them had the advantage of knowing where they were going and I let myself be a little distracted by the other things that were happening, photographing the people with banners and taking my eye off the ball – or rather off the tents.  I would have liked to be there when the first few were erected, but was a few seconds late,  running through an overgrown flowerbed just seconds after I’d seen them appear. Though I think I was still the first photographer on the scene.

Shortly afterwards I also missed the group of three protesters locking themselves together in front of one of the gates, being distracted by the various things happening, which were probably planned to distract the police. Cyclists from the Critical Mass ride that had come from Bank in the centre of the City were going around the roundabout, a group of dancers were performing and more tents were going up and I was talking to a unicorn when I realised something was happening by the gate. I still got there some time before the police photographer.

I didn’t find it an easy event to photograph. It was largely messy with not a great deal happening. After an hour or so there were a few speeches, including one by the Green Party Leader, Natalie Bennett.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett speaks – and workers on the DLR viaduct above watch

The policing was restrained, with officers just standing back and watching for several hours before they decided it was time to do something. At first around 20 walked across and talked quietly to small groups of protesters, saying that the protest had been allowed to go on for some time and would people please now get off the road so that traffic – mainly to and from the hotels around the corner – could flow freely.

To many of the protesters it seemed a reasonable request, and many complied with it, but then a small group decided to stay on the road, and sat down, then decided to hold a ‘die-in’, and others rushed to join them.  The police retreated to rethink the situation. At first it looked as if the weather would resolve the situation, with a very heavy shower making the dead rise and rush for shelter under the DLR viaduct that ran across the roundabout. Then a few realised that the road was still fairly dry when it ran above, and started a second sit-down in that smaller area.

Shortly after this, the police returned looking rather more determined and in a group. I got pushed off the road onto the roundabout, and got very firmly told I had to stay there even when I showed my press card, while other officers surrounded those sitting on the roadway. They were told they could either get up and leave or stay on the road and be arrested.

A few journalists who had stayed on the opposite side of the road were able to photograph more closely, but a line of police prevented the rest of us from getting to those being arrested. I took the picture above kneeling on the ground behind that line, with my lens between the legs of two officers but was soon moved away by other police.

Most left, but half a dozen stayed sitting or lying. They were given a final chance to leave, then arrested and either walked out or if they refused to walk, carried across to a neighbouring grass area, where they were briefly searched and then cuffed and taken to waiting police vans.

Other than a little lack of co-operation by the police at this point, I’d had few problems with taking pictures. But there had been a few very heavy showers that had caused some disruption. As usual I was walking around with a handkerchief loosely balled in front of the lens filter to keep it dry between taking pictures, but I could only do this for one of the two cameras around my neck, with the other tucked inside my waterproof jacket.

But you have to take the camera out to take pictures, occasionally allowing the odd raindrop to fall on the glass.  You can see the result of this, with some yellow flare and loss of detail in the top of the tent to the left of the half-naked figure in the picture above. He was in the dry (though a strong cold wind was blowing) but I’d just rushed through a heavy shower to take the picture. I’ve done a little retouching, but the problem is still visible, and some other images were lost in a similar fashion.

More pictures at Occupy vs the Arms Fair.

Only in England

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Only in England: Photographs bv Tony Ray-Jones & Martin Parr
Media Space, Science Museum, London 21 Sept 2013 -16 March 2014
National Media Museum, Bradford, 22 March 2014-29 June 2014

Admission £8, Concessions £5

It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this review since I went to see the show a week ago, mainly because I’ve been away from home, and although I had a notebook as well as a real notebook with the ten sides of notes I took at the Science Museum, I didn’t have with me the three books and various magazines containing work by Tony Ray-Jones (TRJ) for reference.

First let me say that anyone with the slightest interest in photography who is going to be near London in the next 5 months should visit this show at least once – and give yourself a couple of hours to do so. It really is one of the most significant shows of photography here in the UK for some years. If you don’t already know the work of TRJ (see my Tony Ray-Jones Discovered Yet Again), then you are obviously very new to photography, and it will be a revelation, and if you do know his work, you probably will not need my urging to make you want to see a large number of vintage prints again, though I think you may probably learn little new about him. But for all who were not around in photography in the 1970s, the black and white work by Martin Parr may come as something of a surprise, and it was certainly good to see his pictures from ‘The Nonconformists‘ again.

Although the two photographers both concerned themselves with ‘the English’ their approaches were very different. TRJ’s view was essentially ironic and surreal, witty and superbly framed, very much about the image rather than the subject, while Parr’s was documentary, concerned and often reverential, even loving. Their very different visions overlap in a few of the pictures in this show, but it was only perhaps in other projects and his colour work in the early 1980s that Parr really developed a kind of amused detachment towards the subject that perhaps derived from TRJ. TRJ was perhaps more interested in general themes, rather as his friend, photographer John Benton-Harris, styles himself, a visual sociologist, while Parr concentrates on the individuals and there eccentricities, a very English obsession.

The wall text states that all of the images in the first section of the show – the work that TRJ himself selected for exhibition and publication – was actually printed by the photographer. I rather doubt this to be the case, having listened to some of those who knew him – and at least one who printed his work both before and after his tragically young demise. There are stories – some in the show – which suggest that he was a skilled printer, but this hardly fits some of what I’ve been told. His time in the USA will have introduced him to the rather different attitudes to photographic printing there compared to the generally unsophisticated methods taught in the UK at that time. For many of us, texts like the Ansel Adams Basic Photo series ‘The Print’ came as something of a revelation.

What I think is true is that TRJ had a very good idea of what he wanted his prints to look like, and probably suffered a great deal of frustration in trying to get them so. Although I’d defer to those closer to the photographer, my guess on looking at the Media Space show would be that around half were made by him. Those we can certainly be sure of are the five images from his 1969 ICA show from Martin Parr’s collection. It’s perhaps a pity that an effort was not made to locate more of the images from this show for the current exhibition – I would certainly have been willing to lend the one I own. I don’t know how closely the selection for the Media Space show follows the photographer’s own selections, either for that show or his book dummies, but clearly all those in this first section of the exhibition were images that the photographer himself had selected as successfully representing his intentions.

Comparing the five ICA show prints with both the other prints in the show from the same negative and with the printing of other photographs does indicate some subtle differences, but clearly most but not quite all have been made with similar intentions, if not by the photographer himself by others responsive to his requirements. But I think TRJ would have been even more pleased with the prints made for ‘The English‘ at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television at Bradford in 2004, and the reproductions in the accompanying book by Russell Roberts, ‘Tony Ray-Jones’ (Chris Boot Ltd, 2004) which I think are the best published versions of most of his work. Unfortunately if you haven’t already got a copy this is now advertised on Amazon at over $5,000! Though diligent searching may find a rather cheaper copy.

The remaining prints in the show, both by Parr and those selected from TRJ’s contact prints by Parr, were larger pigment inkjet prints (or as the labels rather confusingly call them, pigment prints.)  Parr’s own work may come as a surprise to those who missed the Camerawork show in 1981 or the various publications in magazines at that time about his work. I’ve always regarded  The Nonconformists – along with other black and white projects including his ‘Beauty Spots‘, shown at the Photographers’ Gallery in London in the mid-70s, as some of his more interesting work. It is perhaps a little surprising to see The Non-Conformists chosen in preference to Beauty Spots for this show, as the latter work shows very much more clearly the influence on the younger photographer of the work of TRJ. Perhaps it was felt to be too clear and the comparison not always flattering!

But Parr’s work in The Non-Conformists, if perhaps closer to the traditional British social documentary tradition is still an impressive body of work, and well worth showing, with some fine portraiture as well as some of the better-known images such as the storm hitting the tables of a Leeds street party of the figures sitting on the terrace of Halifax Rugby League ground, covered with grass or the plate filling at the Mayor of Todmorden’s inaugural banquet. There is a strength of feeling, a humanity, about most of these images which seems absent in much of Parr’s later work.

There are pictures that I imagine TRJ would have appreciated – for example of a cow watching and being watched as the Congregation make their way to Crimsworth Dean Chapel Anniversary. And the buffet lunch at Steep Lane Baptist did remind me a little of TRJ’s very different Blackpool picnickers  from 1967 surrounded by their paraphernalia but keeping very much apart on the front under an image of an idyllic couple entwined in a rural tableaux.

The inkjet printing and the relatively large scale of the prints I think enhances the work, bringing out more detail than I remember. Good injket prints like these can often allow greater subtlety than was possible in the darkroom days. And of course the pigment inks are generally far more stable than silver. Making silver gelatine prints has perhaps become more of an affectation than an aesthetic choice now.

For me the least satisfying and most problematic aspect of the show were the 50 ‘new’ pictures selected by Parr from the 2700 contact sheets in the TRJ archive (around 90,000 images.) As the wall text says “Parr did not attempt to reproduce Ray-Jones’s selection process but instead reconsidered the work with the benefit of over 40 years’ experience as a photographer, collector and curator.

There are photographers and collections of work for which such a process is necessary or even possibly desirable, but I remain unconvinced that the relatively small opus of TRJ, which was very intensively studied by the photographer himself is one. What we can be sure of is that every image in this part of the show is one that the photographer himself considered and rejected. His standards were exacting – and these images did not live up to them. I felt there were perhaps half a dozen that perhaps added something to his reputation, but the majority told us what we already know and his contact sheets on display in the exhibition show. Like many photographers, he worked hard to get his pictures exactly as he wanted them – and that like the rest of us, even the best of photographers mainly fail. We should celebrate his many successes rather than dwell on the others.

As a further text tells us “The prints are larger than those made by Ray-Jones, reflecting Parr’s aesthetic preferences, while retaining the tonal range and detail that Ray-Jones sought in his own printing.”  To give some figures, the TRJ prints are generally between around 8×6″ and 12×8″ and those made by Parr either 16×11 or 20″x13″ (though I didn’t have a ruler with me.) In terms of tonality, the new prints seemed very different to me from those by TRJ, much lighter and more open, and the attempt to match them seems to have been a fairly total failure.

The vintage prints in the show are small and intense, images that work well on a relatively intimate scale. Most of the ‘new’ work seems to me less interesting both because of its content – it lacks the incisiveness of the best images by TRJ – and also because of its presentation. This is an exercise that I feel reflects badly on him and also on what 40 years have taught Parr.

Even if what we are seeing is not the photographer’s best work, and perhaps rather poorly presented it still retains some interest if just as a larger version of a few frames of his contacts, though I did rather wonder if TRJ might at least be shifting uneasily in his grave. Like his earlier colour work which is also being published in a book, and the contact prints it may provide some insight into how he worked, but is not the work by which he felt he should be remembered.

So while this is a show not to be missed, with fine work by both Ray-Jones and Parr, it is not without its defects – and there are a few small clangers such as the reference to the photographer ‘Robert Kappa‘ and ‘the seasons‘ rather than ‘the season‘  (i.e. the ‘London ‘ season rather than the time of year) but it is great to see some of the fine collection of the National Media Museum on display in London as the first show in the Media Space. This aims to “showcase the National Photography Collection from the National Media Museum through a series of major exhibitions” and I look forward to seeing more. Though it would be better to have rather shorter shows and more of them than the almost six months of this show. For Londoners, Bradford was very much a move too far – it’s cheaper and quicker to get to Paris.

EDL March to Tower Hamlets

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Kevin Carroll and Tommy Robinson in Bermondsey

I’m not sure how to take the news that both ‘Tommy Robinson’ and his sidekick Kevin Carroll have both defected from the EDL, though Tommy’s comment that he was tired of being associated with morons who advocate violence against Muslims was welcome if puzzling. It seemed to come from a very different man to the one I’d heard speaking to a right-wing crowd only a few weeks ago, a crowd which had been vociferously shouting anti-Muslim chants and trying to intimidate the people of Tower Hamlets.

It isn’t as if the EDL has changed. Key supporters have always included people with some rabid racist views, with plenty of former members of the BNP and National Front among them. Tommy and Kevin would have to have been marching blindfold and brain-dead not to have been fully aware of them. But it would be churlish not to welcome their conversion, however tardy it seems.

Unlike some on the left, I’ve never felt that every single person who marched with groups like the EDL or March For England was an irredeemable racist. Over the years I’ve had discussions with many of them, and  occasionally found some points of agreement as well often having to make clear my disagreements with openly racist views.

Many I think have simply been misled by the constant propaganda of newspapers and even ‘respectable’ media and political parties over migration and immigrants as well as other issues – as for example the continual use of terms such as ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘benefit scroungers’ . Some of the things they feel strongly about are legitimate, but too often they have been persuaded to blame other disadvantaged groups rather than the real causes and those who really aren’t in it with the rest of us, who manipulate our lives for their advantage.

But on September 9th, things were still as usual, with the EDL meeting in Bermondsey, ready to march across Tower Bridge and into Tower Hamlets. Bermondsey is I think where I first seriously photographed a racist march, and was perhaps an appropriate starting point, with a long history of racism among the poor white working class. The EDL seemed to be on their best behaviour, though the large number of police around undoubtedly made me feel rather safer as I walked, along with other photographers, into the centre of several hundred supporters, some of whom were happily playing up to the media, shouting slogans and making gestures to the cameras. It was a different atmosphere to that at some previous EDL events I’ve covered.

Once the march began to get ready to start, the atmosphere changed rather, with a little aggravation, particularly from some of the stewards, and the policing was also sometimes over the top. The police made it hard to photograph during the march, continually pushing photographers further and further in front of the marchers – at one point on the other side of Tower Bridge we were still being told to move back when we were a good 50 yards, if not a hundred in front of the marchers.

It did place us in a better position to rush towards a counter-protest which made itself known by throwing some rather ineffectual red smoke flares when the march was still perhaps 300 yards away. Police let us through without any checks to photograph the anti-fascists, but I made the mistake of trying to go around a different route back to the EDL protest, and missed the actual confrontation – around 50 yards apart – of the two groups. I’ve not seen any pictures of this and I think police probably prevented everyone getting close enough to take them.

The only good pictures I’ve seen taken on the actual march were by a colleague of mine, who decided to get inside the march before it started and stayed in there for some time. I did something similar with a National Front march in Bermondsey back in 2001, and like him, had some problems with arguing my way out through the police cordon when my presence inside became a little problematic.

Almost as the march reached its destination, I did manage to take a few pictures standing on a raised flowerbed a little to the side of the march. A couple of TV crews also took up position there, and this perhaps made the police decide not to clear us. I think many of the marchers welcomed seeing us there, giving them something to do on what had otherwise been a fairly uneventful march, though not all the gestures were friendly.

I took a few pictures as marchers arrived for the final rally, but it was difficult to find a good viewpoint, and after taking pictures of both Tommy and Kevin speaking decided to leave. There were an impressive number of police lines to get through between the EDL and, around a quarter of a mile down the road, the mass of people of Tower Hamlets who had come out determined to stop them. My press card got checked at least half a dozen times, but got me through.

Photographically most things were straightforward, though because of the policing I did occasionally find myself wishing for a 1000mm lens or perhaps a drone carrying my camera. It was one of those times when I sometimes regretted not having brought my monopod and cable release to lift up the camera so I could photograph over the heads of police, as a few photographers and videographers were doing. It would be a little extra weight, but apart from the lack of control over framing (which even a camera with tilting screen would not greatly improve) the main thing that stops me is not having a monopod that fits inside my camera bag when folded.  Perhaps I should do another search on what is available.

More pictures at EDL March Returns to Tower Hamlets.


Hostile Environments

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Petapixel has published My Experience Photographing on the Front Lines of the Syrian Civil War by Cengiz Yar Jr, (originally published by Japan Camera Hunter) which gives a very personal insight into what it is like to work in a such a dangerous situation. It makes me very sure that I don’t want to go there, however much I appreciate the work that he and other photographers are risking their lives to do, but I think others may be inspired to emulate him.

Last month the monthly meeting of NUJ London Photographers’ Branch had a presentation on Working in Hostile Environments, which unfortunately I was unable to attend, but have just been catching up by listening to the audio recording of the two talks and discussion. It isn’t a professional quality recording and comes with some very annoying noise during parts of the discussion, and of course the pictures by the two speakers are absent but it is still worth listening to if you are a photographer or have any interest in the kind of problems that photographers have and how they tackle them. Quite a lot would also apply to other journalists too, though in the nature of things photographers have to stick their necks out rather more. They can’t cover a war from a hotel bar as some writers have been known to do.

Guy Smallman talks with a great deal of personal experience as you will find if you listen, and you can see his pictures, particularly those from Afghanistan on Photoshelter.  He starts with emphasising the importance of  training for working in hostile environments (HET), which many responsible media outlets insist it and there is a useful list of training programmes on the page. Later he talks about his own training, after he had worked in various dangerous places, and that although he had felt he had little to learn, how wrong he found he had been.

Among other things, Smallman talks about protective equipment – including recommending what I think is a skate helmet from Halfords at £15.99, while later in the discussion another photographer suggests a Kevlar helmet as a better alternative.  Later in the discussion there are some other suggestions from other photographers too. You don’t just need head protection in war zones or foreign riots, but at times in British protests – both against injuries from protesters and police. I’ve so far decided not to use a helmet – and have often had to walk away when things start getting nasty. It’s not a sensible approach, and I don’t commend it to anyone.

There are some vital tips scattered throughout the talk, and I learnt a few things. Perhaps I should give up wearing polyester for example. Listen and you will find out why, as well as why if you buy a gas mask for use against tear gas the first thing you should do is throw the filter away and buy a new one.

Something there is no alternative to for photographers and other journalists who work in hazardous conditions is the membership of an organisation like the NUJ, and he talks about the great support it gave him after he was injured by Swiss police, and the fight over a number of years which eventually ended in a considerable compensation payout. You can find information about joining the NUJ on-line.

After some questions and discussion with Guy, Laura El-Tantawy talks briefly about living and working in Egypt and the problems she faces.  Her  ‘In the Shadow of the Pyramids‘, a project  documenting the everyday life of Egyptians which “continued through the Egyptian revolution and the violence prompted against the pro-democracy movement” is stunning work with an emotionally powerful view of people and events. You can see far more of her work on the web than she was able to show at the meeting.

The discussion with both speakers and the audience of photographers continues, occasionally rather losing the thread, but every now and again something of interest emerges, and it’s worth listening to the end. Perhaps like me you’ll find you have plenty of time to do so while looking at the photographs by the two speakers on the web.

Back to Cengiz, some may like his 10 reasons you should shoot film. I have one good reason not to – I’m just not cut out for masochism.

Pants to IDS

Monday, October 7th, 2013

A woman in a wheelchair pegs up a pair of pants with a message for Ian Duncan Smith

I’d hoped that the protesters from DPAC were going to repeat their occupation of the Dept of Work and Pensions as I photographed them doing last August (DPAC Occupy Dept of Work & Pensions) but it wasn’t going to happen. The police were probably ready for it this time, with the lunchtime protests in four other Whitehall ministries it was perhaps fairly obvious that they might be considering a visit to the DWP afterwards, even though this had not been advertised.

DPAC do have a couple of advantages over other protesters so far as keeping their plans quiet are concerned. The police don’t I think have any disabled officers, which makes it harder for them to go ‘underground’ and become central to the movement as they have done in many other protest groups. And most police officers are unhappy about pushing and shoving people in wheelchairs in the way they treat able-bodied protesters, and pictures of riot police wielding their batons or tasering people in wheelchairs would be very bad publicity.   There is a notably different approach to their protests when they block roads or carry out other actions which might normally get a vigorous response.

Protesters spread across the pavement in front of the DWP

But by the time the more active members of DPAC arrived, others who had come earlier were already protesting outside the ministry, with police at its entrance preventing entry to the protesters. So the protest continued on the pavement outside, and even though it was effectively blocked by around 35 wheelchairs along with the other protesters, police made no attempt to keep a path clear.  Of course the road wasn’t a very busy one, and it was easy for pedestrians to cross to the other side, but that doesn’t usually stop police threatening protesters (and photographers) with arrest for ‘obstructing the pavement’. But there was non of that at this protest.

Citizen Smart singing

There were some excellent speeches from a number of people, mainly themselves disabled, some songs from Citizen Smart (Alan Smart) from Glasgow, including a hilarious English translation of his ‘You Canny Have a Spare Room in A Pokey Coouncil Flat’ (he makes a cheap CD available including the original version which he will sell at cut price to all bona fide Anti-Bedroom Tax groups in UK who can then sell it to make a profit for their funds) and some other appropriate songs.

Richard Reiser, co ordinator for UK Disability History Month speaks

The only low point for me was an performance by TV performer Heydon Prowse, a man who let the Evening Standard know that he “finds some of what David Cameron says appealing“, who closely follows right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes “and has a co-operative relationship with the Taxpayer’s Alliance“, a right-wing pressure group funded mainly by wealthy Conservatives and their businesses.

Heydon Prowse gives a pale imitation of the Rev Billy

Prowse has appeared at a number of protests, recording material for TV shows. Of course some of what he has produced is pretty funny, and it’s hard to fault things like his expose of Pay Day loans, but at times he seems to be taking the piss out of real protesters and laughing all the way to the bank. Protest for profit? But his performance here as the Rev Billy (complete with a three woman choir)  was a pretty pathetic attempt. If you want to put the Rev on TV insist on the real thing.

Complete the phrase for IDS, ‘Kiss…’
But fortunately things brightened up considerably after that, with pairs of pants being handed out to all who wanted to write a message on them for Ian Duncan Smith (who was caught out in 2003 claiming his underwear on parliamentary expenses.) The pants were then hung on a line between a couple of lamp posts on the street outside the DWP.

They did present a slight problem, in that few of the messages were fit to print!

1000 Words

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

There are so many good on-line photography magazines now, and 1000 Words is one of them, “dedicated to contemporary photography in the UK and beyond”. As its name suggests, it includes writing about photography as well as images, and publishes some excellent illustrated reviews of photographic books.

Two things in particular appealed to me in the latest issue, #16, now on-line (there is a small oddity on the web site which means that if  you access the 15 back issues they also have #16 at the top right of the page.) But this one really is #16, though there doesn’t seem to be any way to create a ‘permalink’ to it.

Outstanding in this edition is the work of Vanessa Winship from her book ‘she dances on Jackson‘ mentioned here a couple of months back, with a thoughtful review by Deputy Editor Michael Grieve.  The book is finely produced and

But there is also a beautiful essay ‘Tractor Boys‘ by Swedish photographer Martin Bogren, with an essay by Christian Caujolle, one of the founders and artistic director of Agence Vu. There is a splendid unity in these black and white images.




Four in One Protest

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Protesters from DPAC outside the Dept of Health

DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) have led the active protests against austerity in the UK, showing a determination that has seemed altogether lacking in the Labour party and only present in a few of the trade unions, mainly from local activists rather than the hierarchy.

Its perhaps not surprising, for they are the people who have really felt the brunt of the cuts in services and in benefits, at the same time as being subjected to savage changes in the welfare system and the abuse of Atos-administered tests which even reports commissioned by the government have shown to be sadly failing. Whistle-blowers have also revealed how they were ordered to trick disabled people by picking on statements that could be used to deny them benefits to which they were clearly entitled, and how they were asked by supervisors to alter the assessments of some they had found qualified for benefit to fail them. The system provides Atos with a built-in financial incentive to fail claimants and it would appear they are desperate to maximise their profits rather than concerned to perform the tests diligently.

Although the text rather dominates this image, I took care to place the DPAC logo above this man’s head

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Dept of Work and Pensions under Ian Duncan Smith cynically saw the disabled as an easy target, thinking they would be able to get away with removing benefits from those who they saw as weak and disabled. IDS could not have been more wrong. Although the withdrawal of benefits has driven a few to suicide, it has radicalised others, and united them to fight against the cuts. Calling people disabled I think gives a wrong impression; although they each have a particular disabiity, these are people who have impressed me with their abilities and with their determination.

Protesters are often labelled as ‘extremists’ and this woman is ‘Proud to be a disability extremist’ in the protest outside the Department of Health in Whitehall

In covering the ‘Freedom Drive’ which came as the culmination of a week of meetings and actions, I started with a problem. Four different actions were taking place at four different government ministries at the same time, and being in four places at once is tricky. True they were not a great distance apart, but from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in Whitehall Place to the Dept of Transport on Horseferry Road is almost a mile, with the other two ministries en route.

I decided to start at one of those in the middle, the Department of Health, partly because I thought this would be the largest of the four groups, but also because I’d actually been invited to the event by one of the people who would be there. It was perhaps also the ministry of the four involved with the most obvious links to the disabled, and I’ve been involved with many of the protests about cuts and privatisation of our NHS.

Andy Greene of DPAC speaking about fuel poverty outside the DECC in Whitehall Place.

I was correct and it was the largest of the morning protests – you can see the pictures and story at DPAC Picket Ministries – with eventually around 50 people present, but it was rather slow to start, and I spent well over an hour taking pictures there, before rushing the quarter mile up the road the protest at the DECC. There were more familiar faces in a protest about energy prices – with many disabled people suffering from fuel poverty. By now I was running seriously late in my plan to visit all four sites, so I quickly took some pictures before rushing off to the Department of Education.

It was a day when my bicycle would have been very useful, but I don’t like taking it with me when I’m covering protests. Finding good places to lock a bike isn’t always easy, and the chance of it being stolen – particularly for a folding bike like mine – are very high. The best cycle locks only delay the well-equipped thief for 30 seconds. It’s just too much to worry about.

The protesters were determined – and finally after I left a small group were allowed to take their manifesto in at the Dept for Education & Skills.

Failing a bike, almost certainly the fastest way to cover the two thirds of a mile to the Dept for Education & Skills would be on foot (I never feel rich enough to take a taxi, and in any case it can sometimes take a while to find one.) I’m no longer fit enough to run the whole distance with a heavy bag, but could still make it in perhaps 8 minutes if I had to. I thought about it and decided to take a bus, the journey in the traffic only took around 4 minutes longer.

There I found the liveliest of the four protests, with a man in a wheelchair demanding they be let in to deliver the manifesto – or for someone responsible to come out to talk to the protesters and take it. I took a few pictures, but the situation appeared to have reached something of a stalemate (later I heard a deputation had been allowed in.)

As I was intending the go to visit the final of the four protests, I saw the people from that making their way up the street towards me with their banner. I took a few pictures of them, but didn’t in the end use any. But I was pleased I’d managed to cover three out of the four events that lunchtime.

DPAC Picket Ministries

Life Force

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Life Force magazine is a free, online, monthly reportage magazine which celebrates the art-form of the photo-essay. Started in 2011 it is sponsored by what it describes as “The quality British national newspaper, the Telegraph”, a publication I view with few positive feelings.

The paper, often referred to as ‘The Torygraph’ generally represents the views of the Conservative Party and its owners, the Barclay Brothers, reclusive British businessmen who also own the Ritz Hotel and much else. The tax affairs of the various companies they own have often been questioned and they are attempting, according to residents, to take over the Channel Island of Sark (they own around a third of it and have a castle on Brecqhou, an island a few yards away from the mainland which is part of Sark.)

But Life Force seems to be untainted by all of that. Its title an obvious reference to Life Magazine, it also gets in the name of the most famous British picture magazine on its front page where it states:

“It has been described as the “Picture Post of the 21st Century” – a photo-led magazine that explores the world and the human condition through the narrative use of photography.”

In its issues it has published some fine photography, living up to its “vision” to

use photo-essays to entertain and enlighten whilst at the same time never missing an opportunity to speak out for those in need or without a voice ”  and reflecting its  statement “We don’t believe in voyeurism or in the exploitation of those less fortunate than ourselves.

The title Life Force also refers to the kind of content it publishes, photo-essays that “capture life by observing and recording fleeting moments of human energy that are about hope, strength and optimism, despite perhaps adversity.”  It also reflects the desire that many photojournalists have – including its editor Damian Bird – to “empower those that figure in our photography.”

It really has published a great deal of fine photography – and you can still see the previous issued back to the start in Jan 2011 (click on the menu item  ‘*This month’s photo-essays* to see the content.) The list of contributors is impressive, with links to their web sites.

The October 2013 issue contains Greg Marinovich‘s Dead Zone, The Last Samurai by David James, Kashmir by Ami Vitale, editor Damian Bird‘s Camp Afghanistan,  Ladakh India by Kalpana Chatterjee, Senegalese Cotton by Sean Hawkey, Myanmar by Catherine Karnow, 21 Days in China by Raymond Gehman, Andrew Gehman‘s Mason-Dixon Line, an interview (with some of his portraits) with Terry O’Neil and work taken by David Eustace as a part of the advertising campaign for the Lumix G6.

All the essays are worth a look, though I found those by Marinovich, James, Vitale and Hawkey of most interest.  You can also possibly sign up for a monthly newsletter giving details of each new issue, though I’m not sure if this worked when I tried it.