Archive for January, 2014

Kennet & Avon – Fuji 14mm

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

I can see no distortion in the 14mm images

Usually either on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day my family – or that part of it which has managed to get together at that season like to go out for a walk. I’m just a little less enthusiastic than my wife or elder son, both of whom seem naturally to walk faster than me, and especially when I keep stopping to take pictures, I find myself spending most of the rest of the day trotting after them to catch up. Their idea of a good walk often seems more like a route march to me, I like to take my time, look around me and enjoy the scene – and take a few pictures. My son takes pictures too, but rather fewer than me, and he travels lighter, with just a Fuji X100. I tried doing the same, but find the 35mm equivalent lens too frustrating, seldom quite wide enough. A 28mm would be much better, I could perhaps live with that, and happily crop a bit where a 35 or a 50mm would have been more suitable. With files almost 5000 pixels wide you can afford to lose quite a bit unless you want seriously large prints.

All images in this post: Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji-x 14mm f2.8

Actually, no I couldn’t really live with that. Because even with the Fuji X-Pro1 and the 18-55mm zoom, equivalent to 27-82mm, I found myself often wanting something wider. And shortly before Christmas I succumbed to the Fuji-X 14mm f2.8, finding I could buy it from Hong Kong at a little over half the recommended price it had launched at here.

It’s been my experience over the years that photo equipment very seldom goes wrong until at least a month after the guarantee expires – even for someone like me who uses rather than mollycoddles equipment. The only exception I can think of, the importer refused to honour the guarantee telling me the lens had been subject to ‘impact damage’. I hadn’t dropped it, just carried it in a camera bag on on a camera around my neck – any impact it had suffered I had too, and it hadn’t gone beyond what I’d consider normal wear and tear. So I’m not too worried that it may be more difficult to claim on the guarantee. If the price difference was only a few pounds I’d probably have bought it from a UK dealer, but it was well over a hundred difference.

It arrived beautifully wrapped and on a Friday only five days after I ordered on-line (and two of those were Christmas and Boxing Day.) Unfortunately I was out, so all I got was a postcard, and the first day I could be in for delivery was the following Monday, when I finally got to unwrap and see it.

It is a lens that really looks and feels good; rather large for a 14mm (21mm equivalent) though not huge, and it makes either the X-Pro1 or the X-E1 into a reasonably compact camera – comparable to a Leica rather than pocketable. Autofocus is fast (with the latest firmware upgrades for camera and lens) though with a 14mm focussing is largely unnecessary. The focus ring pushes forwards for autofocus, but pulls back to reveal a focus scale with depth of field markings for manual focus. The only less than impressive aspect is the removable lens hood, which is identical to that for the 18-55 zoom. The lens works nicely with the X-Pro1 optical viewfinder which is probably the main way I’d use it, and is also good with the electronic viewfinder.

It’s hard to measure or quantify some things, but this lens just feels right on the X-Pro1, just as the Minolta 28mm did on the Minolta CLE (always ny favourite Leica) or the old 35mm Summilux I used for years on the M2 (the later versions are too large and far too expensive.) So I was keen to try it out and this walk was the first real opportunity.

As we walked on it began to get noticeably darker

In general I was very pleased with the results, and the lens was a joy to use. Though I still have some doubts about the camera system as a whole. Although the results are excellent, I’m still unsure that Lightroom gets the best out of the system. The images seem fine, but when you zoom to 100% the images have an odd quality, quite unlike those from a Nikon, looking rather more like paintings than photographs. It may not be important at normal images sizes, but I find it disturbing.

I took both the Fuji X-Pro1 with the 14mm and the X-E1 with the 18-55 zoom and also the Samyang 8mm fisheye, giving me a pretty wide range of possiblities, but even with both bodies weighing altogether less than a Nikon D700 with the 16-35 zoom.

The home of the Newbury Sausage – and we arrived just before it closed.

I can recommend the Newbury sausages, and also the Fuji 14mm f2.8.

More pictures with the 14mm, 18-55mm and a few with the 8mm at Kennett & Avon: Newbury. It’s a lens I’ll be using more of later this year.

Ctein & Prints & Slides

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Ctein is a printer and photographer whose thoughts on photography I’ve occasionally read and been informed by for many years, once upon a time in print and now on the web where he has a weekly column on The Online Photographer. His latest post there, Fashion and Fad in Fine Photography, is what he calls “a quick, anecdotal look at history” in particular related to prints and photography, and makes some debatable points about prints and the history of photography.

I don’t fully agree with much of what he says. Prints became important from the start of photography, when the in many respects highly inferior Calotype process soon dominated the Daguerreotype largely because it enabled the production of prints, crude though they were compared to the minute detail of the silvered plate. Prints enabled photographs to be shared, to be made into books, stuck onto cards, and in the first 50 or so years of photography artistic concerns were generally hand-in-hand with technical advances such as the albumen print and wet and dry plates which enhanced finer reproduction of detail, better tonality and also ease of use. Even processes such as platinum printing were prized for their ease and convenience, and even photographers with a somewhat cavalier attitude to sharpness and detail in making their artistic negatives printed their work in a straightforward manner.

Contrary to what he suggests it was only after some fifty years of largely straightforward print-making that some photographers, wishing to distinguish themselves as ‘artists’ from the common herd of commercial photographers began to aspire to “prints that emulated, in some fashion or another, painting or drawing.” And for some twenty or thirty years this became the dominant fashion in art photography.

Ctein is I think wrong to suggest about the move back to realism represented by f64 (and of course others), that “Although wrapped in the flag of artistic sensibility, it was at least as much a pragmatic decision.”  Having myself dabbled in some of the darker arts of alternative processes, I think in many ways processes such as gum bichromate are considerably more forgiving than the making of fine ‘straight’ photographic prints. Anyone who thinks otherwise is invited to study the Daybooks of Edward Weston and the Basic Photo Series of Ansel Adams.

But less contentions and more interesting to my mind are his comments about colour printing, and particularly on working for print publication. As he says until some time in the 1950s, “printing houses and press operators swore that you couldn’t get good reproduction from a slide; you had to work from a print.” But by the time I came to photography in the 1970s “most printing houses had forgotten how to deal with prints and slides had become the canon.”

At that time, colour negative film was almost entirely seen as an amateur medium. Anyone serious about colour worked with slide film. I spent 15 years cursing it, and paying good money for bad prints when I wanted to frame work – or struggling myself with the toxic chemistry of Cibachrome and cursing its over-high contrast.  Spending hours making unsharp masks or trying to get sensible results with Agfa reversal print chemistry. Ctein became well-known as a maker of dye-transfer prints, and remains one of very few printers still able to offer these, but that was something out of my price range.

I saw the light in the mid 80’s, largely as a result of the adoption of colour negative by a number of fine-art photographers, but also because I realised that since so little of my work in colour was actually being published it made little sense to sing to the publishers tune when colour negative would give me better prints. It still remained a tricky job to print from colour neg, involving considerable investment in a roller processor and expensive enlarger as well as a lot of cursing to get colour balance right, and there is something in what Ctein says about black and white remaining as the preference for photographers because it was easier to produce. Certainly now it has become easier to produce good colour prints than good black and white, with digital camera and inkjet printing, I can find little reason to want to work in black and white.

One major development for me was the introduction of film scanners. At first an expensive option through a lab, and later with a high quality desktop film scanner of my own, it removed the difference between whether  you worked in negative or transparency (except for the inherent defects of both types of film) or even if you worked in black and white. What publications now wanted was not prints or slides but a digital file.

Now I’ve moved completely to digital cameras. Even the few niches that I used to think I needed film for I’ve now found ways to do them with digital, either as well or better.  I can make prints on my own inkjet printer – black and white or colour – or send the files to a lab on-line and get prints – inkjet or C-types. Though more and more I’m working for the screen rather than paper. Though I’m still working on books of my work I’m intending to publish them as PDFs rather than in print (with perhaps the option of a print version of the PDF for anyone still addicted to paper.)

Ctein is right to conclude that for photography “the sensibilities and pronouncements are likely to continue to change with technology and convenience” but there is more to it than that. It isn’t just about convenience, but that technology enables us to do things better as well as easier, makes new opportunities possible.


Getting Bailey

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

The first post that I wrote for ‘About Photography’, where for around 8 years I wrote a regular weekly photography column as well as setting up a web site dedicated to photography, was about David Bailey.  Looking back, it wasn’t one of my better articles, but – perhaps because it had a touch of humour as well as a little insight – it got me the job.

Bailey has never really been one of my favourite photographers, but there are certainly things about him and his work that I admire. And clearly he is a guy with a dedication to photography, and a fashion photographer only because that was (according to him) an easy way to make a living so he could take pictures.

While some BBC Radio programmes never make it to iPlayer and others disappear after a week, you have, according to the web site, ‘over a year’ to listen to David Bailey talking to (and photographing) presenter Tim Marlow about how he got started and his attitude to portraiture and fashion. The first of two programmes in the series ‘Getting the Picture’, The Camera Has Attitudes, can be heard now, and the second part of the conversation with Bailey, He Seduces Everybody! will be on-line after it has been broadcast on Monday 20th January.

These programmes come in advance of a new show at London’s National Portrait Gallery, Bailey’s Stardust, which runs from 6th February to 1 June 2014. Meanwhile you can search the gallery’s collection both for pictures taken by him and pictures of him.

There are quite a few sites around the web with articles on Bailey, and more with some of his pictures. But perhaps the most interesting of them is by Francis Hodgson, David Bailey – Still Troubling After All These Years. Writing at the time of the show David Bailey’s East End at the Compressor House in  London’s former Royal Docks in 2012 (a show dedicated to , Hodgson comments:

David Bailey has had insufficient attention. That sounds absurd. One of the most famous photographers we have? Certainly, but he’s almost never had a public show – one big one at the Barbican (and the Barbican is oddly funded, it’s not really a national venue) otherwise scraps. It is impossible to imagine a German photographer of equivalent status, a French or a Dutch, to have received so little public confirmation. Our curators really haven’t been doing their work if Bailey can unearth treasures on this scale in a few months of trawling his own files.

And it is so obviously true, and something the show at the National Portrait Gallery will really do little to correct, because its focus is simply on one very limited aspect of Bailey’s work and perhaps this is not really his strongest suit.  Some of them are excellent for the genre, and certainly head and shoulders (excuse me!) above some of the mediocrity that seems to be the NPG’s forte, but there is much more to the man than these images which are largely about celebrity.

Of course, Hodgson’s complaint is one that could be echoed about many other British photographers and about the British establishment’s attitude to photography in general.  And if our own institutions don’t bat for them it’s hardly surprising that so many have not gained the international reputation they deserve.

Hodgson finishes with the final footnote :

I see that the show is dedicated to the late Claire de Rouen, bookseller of the Charing Cross Road, and a person whose enthusiasm for photography was the engine for an entire generation of UK practitioners.

Many of us were indeed encouraged and stimulated by her enthusiasm at the Photographers’ Gallery where I first got to know her (and in the Porcupine)  and then later at Zwemmers and then her own bookshop further up the Charing Cross Road.  If only there were more like her.

Around Erith, 1985

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Erith Yacht Club, 1985

My photographic excursion on the lower Thames continued towards Erith, its slow pace suiting both my photographic needs and those of my six year old assistant, busily taking his own pictures, though I think he found the wide open spaces defeated him.

Manor Road, Erith. 1985

Getting towards Erith, past the Yacht club we had to divert from the river along a busy and dusty road, rather dreary walking, with just the occasional interesting but unphotographable distant glimpse of riverside industry. In 1985 there was no Thames Path (I think it was a few years later that I got an early draft and contributed some comments to the consultation), but now it still has to follow more or less the route we took.

I had the Ordnance Survey maps, which marked most of the paths; some were shown as public rights of way, while many other roads and tracks on the map were behind gates. Often more useful in finding my way were the large scale street-maps which had the advantage of showing road names, though not always paths.

Causeway- No Admittance. Erith, 1985

At that time you could only return to the riverside right in the centre of the town, with parts of the riverside still very much a closed off working river. Now you can walk back to the east a little, and some of what was industrial land is now a ‘superstore’.

Belvedere from riverside at Erith, 1985

From the riverside path there were views of the riverside industry on the same bank upstream at Belvedere. We walked a little way towards these before making our way back to the station for the train home.

Riverside path, Erith, 1985

That April walk was not the only photographic project I was working on at that time, and earlier in the month I had been busy taking pictures around the Old Kent Road in Peckham, Bermondsey and Camberwell, as well as of the flooding in Richmond (a frequent occurrence at high tides) and a few other things elsewhere. Later in the month I found time for another visit, making my way from Charlton to Greenwich, which I’ll post some pictures of another day.

Ponytail Pontifications: The Sayle Twins

Monday, January 13th, 2014

I’ve written previously about the blog by an old friend of mine – though our paths seem seldom to cross these days – Derek Ridgers, whose Ponytail Pontifications are always of interest. His latest post about meeting and photographing Alexei Sayle, and his invention of the Sayle Twins is a good example.

Back in the 1980s, Derek and I used to meet up regularly with some other photographers to criticise each other’s work, and Derek pulled no punches, as I mentioned in a post Photo Reviews. As I commented there, these critical gatherings “were about developing ourselves as photographers, photo reviews are all about developing your careers” and I know that they were important for me, and I like to think that some of my comments (though rather more polite and less controversial than his) may have at least encouraged him, and occasionally  I think we both gained from a little mutual advice.

Derek has worked for over 35 years for UK magazines and Newspapers like NME, The Face, The Independent, The Sunday Telegraph, Time Out and Loaded, and has a remarkable archive of work, including much on his web site.  Sabotage Times last month published an interview with him about a book of his pictures from the London Tattoo Convention with a gallery of 13  pictures.

Derek has a new book, Derek Ridgers: 78-87 London Youth, due to be published on March 31, 2014, and you can see and hear him talking about his photography in a promo video. His pictures are on show at Ketchum Pleon at 35-41 Folgate Street in Spitalfields, London E1 6BX in February 2014.

South of the Thames

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Flood barrier at mouth of River Darent, 1985

I’ve published or exhibited very few of the images I took along the Thames Estuary in the outer boroughs of Greater London and North Kent in the 1980s. A handful appeared with a couple of articles I wrote in ‘Amateur Photographer’ at the time, and one or two were in various shows. A few are already on the web too, a couple on this site in a post Controversial Landscapes a little over a year ago.

There were various reasons for this, then and now. By the time I’d actually finished the project, working on odd days for a little over a year, I was beginning to work on another larger project on London which was to take up much of my next 15 years.

I was also having some technical problems. Wanting more detail and smoother tonality in particular in the wide-open landscapes I was working much of the time with Kodak’s Technical Pan, discontinued around ten years ago (they stopped making it some years earlier but had a large fridge.)

River Darent, 1985

It was a film developed for technical purposes as the name suggests, and was a panchromatic film with extended red sensitivity, rendering reds lighter and blues darker than normal pan films. Kodak described it as a versatile film and their “slowest and finest-grained black-and-white film for pictorial photography (when developed in KODAK TECHNIDOL Liquid Developer).” It had been produced at first for applications such as microfilm and astronomy and normal development gave a contrast that was way too contrasty for printing on any available photographic papers.

View across the Thames to Purfleet, 1985

For high contrast uses it could be exposed at reasonable ISO, typically ISO 125, but to get normal contrast involved using dilute or modified developers that required several stops more exposure – typically I was exposing it at perhaps ISO 12 or 25, and with some developers even at ISO 6.  Until Kodak’s own Technidol became my developer of choice, the results were often dismal, with contrast either too high or too low and a high risk of both uneven development and underexposure. But when you were fortunate the results were really only limited by your lenses. It was often said it produced ‘5×4’ quality from 35mm and that could be more or less true.

River Thames, 1985

The downside, apart from the many images spoilt by development faults was having to carry and a tripod to avoid any camera shake with these low ISOs. Many of the places I visited were some way from convenient public transport and typically I was walking perhaps ten or twelve miles a day carrying my gear, and the extra 5.5 lbs of the Manfrotto and head was often a literal pain. I tried lighter alternatives, but found nothing sufficiently tall and solid. It perhaps led to my aversion to tripods, which to this day I seldom use outside the house and garden.

River Wall, River Thames, 1985

My interest in this project came in particular from two sources, the first a geography text, South East England, Thameside and the Weald, by Roy Millward and Adrian Robinson (1971), which contained a section ‘The cement industry of Lower Thameside’, and the rather more fanciful and poetic ‘Pilgrimage of the Thames’ by writer and illustrator Donald Maxwell (1932) whose journey began at Gravesend and finished at Oxford. In the preface he writes that in existing books on the river “I realised that no attention whatever had been paid to many matters that I, for one, find thrillingly interesting.” and goes on to give several examples beginning with “Who has written on the cement country with any conviction or attention?” It seemed something of a photographic challenge too as I looked at his drawing of the ‘The Ravine of Greenhithe’.

River Thames, 1985

My first visit was for a simple walk from Slade Green station (the last in Zone 6 on a Travelcard) back along by the Rivers Darenth and Thames to Erith, and then to leave the riverside and make my way down to Belvedere station for the journey home, and the pictures here are from the first half of that day.

River Thames, 1985

I’ve revisited the area occasionally over the years, and some later panoramas are in my book Thamesgate Panoramas where the Blurb preview has a selection of 36 pages. Like most of my books it is available as a PDF, either from Blurb and also in a slightly better version at the same price direct from me.

River Wall, River Thames, 1985

I’ll write more about this work, and how some of the later images were made from the negatives using the D800E in some later posts. But all of this first set – which are displayed here as ‘unspotted’ work images are from high-res scans on the Minolta Dimage Scan Multi-Pro.


Time’s Flow – Adam Magyar

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Over the years I’ve seen a number of photographs making use of scanners and photo-finish cameras and various multiple exposure techniques and never found them more than amusing novelties. But there is something rather more compelling about Adam Magyar’s stainless (video).  Perhaps because video is essentially a transient experience, while in still images I want something deeper, that says more than ‘how clever’ or even ‘I wonder how he did it?’

You can see more of his other work – and it is impressive if largely not to my taste on his web site linked above, and learn much about Magyar’s ingenuity and perseverance in a feature  ‘Einstein’s Camera’, which also includes the video along with other work.

I’m rather sceptical about any link with Einstein – and most other such claims made by artists – but that doesn’t detract from the work. Wikipedia has this quote from Arthur Eddington

Let us draw an arrow arbitrarily. If as we follow the arrow we find more and more of the random element in the state of the world, then the arrow is pointing towards the future; if the random element decreases the arrow points towards the past. That is the only distinction known to physics. This follows at once if our fundamental contention is admitted that the introduction of randomness is the only thing which cannot be undone. I shall use the phrase ‘time’s arrow’ to express this one-way property of time which has no analogue in space.

which might be more appropriate, but ‘Eddington’s Camera’ wouldn’t have the same attraction.

The ‘Medium‘ site on which this piece appears has some other articles that may be of interest, though on a quick look through I found no other significant photography. One of the site’s features is to tell you how long each will take to read. For ‘Einstein’s Camera’ it tells you ’22 minutes’.

Thanks to Peggy Sue Amison of the Sirius Arts Centre in Cork, Ireland for bringing this work to my attention by a post on Facebook. Magyar is bow based in Berlin where she is a consultant and curator at Picture Berlin. The video was also shot in Berlin, and reminded me of my visit there a couple of years ago, when I also took the U-Bahn from Rosa Luxemburg Platz to Alexanderplatz, both close to where I stayed, though I took few pictures.



Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Bone, Ian Bone. I first met him around ten years ago, in Trafalgar Square on the edge of some demo or other. May Day I think. The radical fringe, autonomous bloc, black but very white. I crawled through a densely packed small crowd to where the anarchists were calling for revolt and attempting to clobber photographers who dared raise a lens. Elbows came in very useful, forearms parried fists and I pushed on and found myself photographing Mr Bone.

We met again over the years, and again, usually on the edges of protests, scarpering when the Bill arrived, leaving the youth death squad to be kettled, and I began to appreciate his tactical intelligence. Now it seems he’s a film star. And a director. Dark glasses. But is it the real Bone?

I’ve this memory or dream, standing in front of the lifts somewhere on the South Bank. RFH or perhaps Tate Modern, in a crowd. The lift doors open and Bone pushes in to a lift full of guys in dark glasses. No room for me. I run down the stairs to the lobby; no sign of Bone. No dark glasses. Check the bar. Not there. Sirens wail, blue lights flash along past St Thomas’s, over Lambeth Bridge.

Sitting in a chair in the cinema museum for the première on Sunday, talking to Bond, listening to him with his old mates from Swansea I sense a barrier. No trace of Swansea in him. Is this the real Bone I ask myself or have our spooks replaced him with a clone? Then on screen. Bone or an actor playing Bone? Film always lies, though some of the lies are beautiful, life seen through a glass of beer. Sparkling, not darkly.

Epiphany. London insurrection, 1661 and 2013 (minus the hanging, drawing and quartering.) Don’t miss it, Almost the latest edit on Vimeo, sans credits – watch it. Mad photographer appears at times, comes into frame around 29:50; I go left at 30:11 when everyone else goes right. Fifth Monarchists storm St Paul’s yet again, with the aid of a piked Muggletonian.

Nice film Suzy. Sorry for not writing about it. Perhaps I will one day. Looking forward to the next part on the Muggletonians. Perhaps Bone is a secret Muggletonian – or you or me. Who knows?

More Raw Files

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Pete Brook writing his Raw File blog for Wired magazine often comes up with some interesting work that’s new to me, and a couple of recent posts are worth a look.

I like the long exposure night images of Alnis Stakle in Ghostly Photos Reveal Subzero Shortcuts Through Post-Soviet Cities (that’s almost an essay rather than a title), made with exposures of several minutes on film in a Hassleblad. The lengthy exposures lose much of the feeling of night but produce some strange effects (with the peculiarities of Fuji Reala 100 and Kodak Ektar 100 doubtless adding their contribution.)

It’s also worth looking at Stakle’s own web site and the other projects there, a reminder of the great interest and depth of photography in central and eastern Europe, perhaps rather more vital now than the west.  I was reminded at times of the book ‘Lab East’ whose launch I photographed at Paris Photo in 2010.

Another recent post I enjoyed on Raw File was by German photographer Gesche Würfel, a set of images of the basements of apartment buildings in New York made while hunting for a flat there with her husband with another typically long title, Photographer Finds Cockatiels, Jesus in NYC Basements.  Among the other projects on her web site is a set of pictures by Würfel taken around the London Olympic site, Go for Gold!, covering areas I’ve myself documented over 35 years, some work from which is on my River Lea/Lea Valley site and in my book Before the Olympics.

One of my pictures from Before the Olympics – on Waterden Rd, Hackney Wick in 2005

December 2013 Posts

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Tributes to Mandela in Parliament Square

December 2013

Walks around Staines

Reinstate Colombian Mayor Petro
Harrods & IRA Bomb Victims Memorial
Vigil for Chelsea (Bradley) Manning
Staines Moor

Against PayDay Loans and Austerity

‘Elf Not Wealth’ Anonymous Event
Hunger Strike for Sikh Freedom

Hizb ut-Tahrir Spokesman held in Pakistan
Cops Off Campus National Student Protest
Human Rights Day Candlelit Vigil for Syria

Against Sex Segregation in Universities
Human Rights Day Pilgrimages for Syria
Tibetans Walk Backwards for Human Rights

Photographers Support Photography
‘Cops Off Campus’ Protest Police Brutality
Bereaved protest at CPS Failures
Tributes to Mandela
EDL Protest Supports Marine A

PMOI continue Hunger Strike
Release Shaker Aamer