Archive for February, 2014

Incestous Awards

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

As I started saying in my previous post, I’m not in favour of contests and awards. I very rarely enter my photographs in for any competitions, though I have occasionally submitted portfolios for some festivals etc in recent years. But essentially I don’t feel most awards are appropriate for a medium like ours.  There is a post I rather like by Paul Melcher on his Thoughts of a Bohemian blog, Photojournalism is not a competition that I think expresses why not rather well:

“It is not a function of photography to be better than another. Photojournalists do not go covering events thinking ” I have to beat that image Nachtwey took last week”. Photography, and photojournalism, is not a competition. So why would the resulting images be ?”

and of course the whole post is worth reading, though I don’t think his conclusion about judging is entirely sensible.

Of course some contests are largely money-making enterprises, hoping to attract large numbers of submissions, each with an entry fee. They lucky winner may get something worthwhile as a prize, but the real aim of the competition is simply to enrich the gallery or organisation running it. So one of my rules is never to enter anything that asks for what seems a nominal entry fee clearly designed to do nothing more than cover the actual costs of handling an entry. Where submission is digital, these should be very low indeed.

Other competitions are simply a cheap way of getting to use images, with companies making excessive rights grabs as a condition of entry. Always read the small print carefully!

But most of the well-known competitions in photography are genuine and well-run, or at least so I though until I read the post World Press Photo: great pics and the usual incest by (a blog that often has something of interest.)

This years WPP Picture of the year (you can see the results for 2014 contest announced a few days ago here) was an image by John Stanmeyer,  a founder and shareholder of the limited company VII photo. It’s actually rather an interesting picture in several ways (though perhaps it would not have been my choice as overall winner), but what raises some doubts is that the chair of the jury that chose it, Gary Knight, is a fellow founder and shareholder of the limited company VII photo.

It’s worth reading what duckrabbit has to say about the obvious conflict of interest and the apparent lack of any process at WPP for dealing with such conflicts, but it is perhaps even more interesting to read the comments on the article, one of which gives another example of such conflict which is perhaps more open to challenge.

There is also a link to an interesting piece of research, which can be downloaded in full from Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Awards, Archives, and Affects: Tropes in the World Press Photo Contest 2009 – 2011, by Zarzycka, M. (Marta) and Kleppe, M. (Martijn)

Last summer in Edinburgh, someone suggested I might like to go and see the World Press Photo exhibition there as a part of the festival, and my immediate response was “I’ve seen it already.”  I knew I hadn’t actually seen this actual show (it was coming to London in November) but simply that every year I get this feeling of déjà vu as I walk around the panels. Although there is always much fine photography, it is never a show I would go out of my way to see, and certainly not one I’d pay an entry fee for. More one I look at because it is in a handy place when I’ve a half hour to kill.

John Macpherson, who gave the link to the paper by Zarzycka & Kleppe also suggests the need for a complete rethink of the judging process, bringing in “more ‘ordinary’ people – ie actual consumers of WPP imagery, rather than those select few creators of such imagery.”  I have reservations about this, as I think that at least in some respects photographers are the best judges of photographs, but clearly a wider range of expertise would be useful.

Perhaps too there would be merit in excluding from the judging process completely those involved in organisations which submit images to the competition, and at least a recognition that any on the judging panel should have no involvement in the process when they have any conflict of interest. It isn’t enough to say as Paul Melcher does, that “It’s just a very small community” and there is nothing we can do about them. It is unlikely that WPP will take up his suggestion of becoming ‘World Press Magazine’ instead of Award, and even were it to do so it would still need proper mechanisms to guard against it being seen as, for example,’VII World Press Magazine.’ Changes and a sensible approach to conflicts of interest are in everyone’s interest.

Cleaning the Royal Opera

Monday, February 17th, 2014

.IWGB protesters inside the Royal Opera House foyer

I’m not in favour of contests and awards. Certainly I won’t go to photograph the stars arriving at things such as the BAFTA awards at the Royal Opera House (ROH), though I did pop in there briefly last month, along with workers from the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.) The bus taking them around on the second day of their strike at the University of London paid a visit there after the lunchtime rally outside Parliament stopped around the corner, and we were all told to get off quietly and made our way into the foyer of the ROH.

There was a little pushing I think to get inside, though I simply waited  briefly until they were occupied grabbing one or two and walked in with the rest of the protesters. Inside were a few police watching, as well as ROH staff, and members of the public at the box office.

The IWGB strikers were there in support of their union colleagues who clean the ROH, and who are demanding a living wage and union recognition. Although the vast majority of cleaners and porters there are IWGB members , the ROH management and Mitie, the contracting firm that employs them, has recognised another union, Unison, and refuses to talk to the IWGB.

The IWGB was threatening to strike on the day of the BAFTA awards – Feb 16th. It was a strike that they ROH would have found intensely embarrassing and would have gained huge media coverage, with support from both Equity and the Musicians Union, and, unlike Labour Party  shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, trade unionists would not have crossed the IWGB picket lines.

The first response of the ROH and Mitie was to recognise another union that has few if any members among the cleaners and porters and to negotiate with them, conceding the demand for a living wage. The first the IWGB knew about this was when they began their protest inside the ROH, when a man who later introduced himself as the Unison Health and Safety Rep tried unsuccessfully to take the microphone away from IWGB President Alberto Durango, telling him that Unison had reached an agreement with the management.

Some time later Mitie did confirm in writing that they had agreed the proposals on the  IWGB  and the strike – which had received 100% support in a ballot of members – was called off.

Of course there is still a dispute over union recognition, though it seems to be crazy for management not to recognise the union that the workers actually belong to. It does seem to be an area of employment law (governed by the Employment Act 1999) which appears sadly deficient in some respects. Mitie doesn’t like the IWGB because it is good at organising members and representing their interests, and appears to be happier at dealing with a larger union which cannot involve the workers.

I’d set the ISO on my cameras to ISO 3200 as we entered the foyer, and the lighting inside was a little dim, but just workable. At full f4 aperture on the 16-35mm shutter speeds varied from 1/20 to 1/100 th in various areas.  For static subjects I would have been quite happy, but with these shutter speeds subject movement presented something of a problem. I prefer not to use flash if I can avoid it, both because it creates its own problems of uneven lighting and because I’ve found I more often get asked to stop taking pictures if I’m using flash, probably because it is just more obvious.

But once I was sure I had some pictures, I switched on the flash, still keeping the ISO at 3200 but bouncing in a little extra light onto the closer subjects from the low (and fairly white) ceiling and switching from program mode to shutter priority at 1/60th or 1/100th. Later when I moved in close to photograph an argument, I switched the flash off to be less intrusive. Bounce flash from the ceiling doesn’t work in any case when you are very close to your subject.

While I was photographing, one man, I think one of the ROH management talked to me, asking me why two of the other people taking photographs had masked their faces. “Are they ashamed of what they are doing?” he asked, “Why do they feel a need to hide their faces?”

It wasn’t a question I could answer. As I told him, I wasn’t ashamed, but proud and the only thing that hides my face is a beard. Personally I think masking by photographers is largely if not entirely an over- dramatic affectation.


North Kent 2

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Denton Wharf, Gravesend. June 1985

Some more pictures taken in 1985 on the Thames Estuary in North Kent – see also To Cliffe.

Denton Wharf, Gravesend. June 1985

Denton Wharf, Gravesend. June 1985

Denton Wharf is perhaps busier now than it was in 1985 as since 1993 it has been the base for the PLA (Port of London Authority) Marine Services  who maintain the whole of the tidal Thames.  It is on the eastern edge of Gravesend and the Saxon Shore Way runs past it.  Only a few yards away was possibly the last pub on the Thames, the Ship & Lobster, an opportunity not to be missed.

River Thames and Tilbury Power Station. June 1985

Walking past towards Cliffe there were ships on their way to and from Tilbury Docks across the river, and the tall chimneys and mass of Tilbury’s power stations. Tilbury A was out of use, but was not demolished until 1999, while Tilbury B – which kept England in power during the miners’ strike, running on imported coal – only closed in 2013, after having in part been converted to burn biomass.

Sand and gravel at Cliffe. June 1985
Sand and gravel from the Thames covered a large area at Cliffe, but there were still the remains of the cement industry – there are a few more pictures in To Cliffe.

Disused cement works at Cliffe. June 1985

Disused cement works at Cliffe. June 1985

At the time I took these pictures I was working with three cameras, mainly with a pair of Olympus OM series – probably at this time an OM1 and an OM2, though later I used two OM4s. The other camera, mainly used when photographing people, was a Leica M2. Probably most or all of these pictures would have been taken with the OM1 – and the OM2 would have been loaded with colour transparency film.

I’d tried out a 70-200mm zoom lens in the 1970s, but had eventually become disappointed with its performance and by this time was working with a fairly wide-ranging set of Olympus fixed focal lengths, mainly choosing the slightly slower alternatives in the range because of their lesser weight and smaller size. Optically, the Zuiko lenses were some of the best on the market, and one friend who was a Canon user switched because he was so impressed by the results I got.

My usual set of Zuiko lenses was: 20mm f3.5, 28mm f2.8, 35 mm F2.8 Shift, 50mm f1.8 and 200mm f5. I also had one non-Zuiko lens, a Tamron 105mm which also seemed a decent performer. Most of the time the 35mm shift lens stayed on the black and white body, and most of the colour work was taken with the 50mm.

There were many things about the OM system that I liked. It was relatively small and light. As I’ve said the lenses were superb and the slower versions reasonably affordable. The control layout was better thought out, with the shutter speeds around the lens throat in a much better position than the standard dial on top of the body, and lens changing was a breeze; I still find Nikon rather a pain by comparison with either Olympus or Leica. (Fuji-X is better too.)

But the real thing I fell in love with was the 35mm shift lens. It made perspective control into a natural movement when taking pictures and I still often find myself trying to push other lenses across in the way I used to with this lens. Perhaps its only real problem was that it was a ‘manual’ lens, and although the lever for closing down the lens aperture was in just the right place, it was possible at times to forget to ‘stop down’ and make the exposure at full aperture. Although automatic exposure would probably still get exposure correct, at full f2.8 and full shift the image might not be quite crisp.


Open Top Bus with ‘3 Cosas’

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

The bus in front of Senate House, University of London

I’m not generally an early riser or at my best in the early morning. Getting up when it’s dark seems unnatural to me, though I did it for around 30 years every winter when I worked as a full-time teacher, I never really adjusted to it, nor to leaving work after dark to come home.

For some years I travelled to work by train, but fortunately further away from London than where I live, so travelled in relative comfort, looking across to the crowded platform on the up side of commuters who would be standing in packed trains and bumped around the 40 or so minutes to Waterloo. My wife then took a train around an hour earlier than me to be reasonably sure of getting a seat.

Occasionally now I find myself coming back from London during the rush hour, often having to stand at least part of the way, which after four or five hours working on my feet is something of a pain. Sometimes the trains are so packed that even if you can’t find anything within reach to hold on to there is no room to fall down. Though the trains do run a little more smoothly than they used to.

But the journey times are longer now than when we moved here, thanks largely to the threat of penalties for late running introduced in a misguided attempt to make a privatised railway more competitive. And for the privilege of travelling during these uncomfortable times you pay more. It costs me roughly double the fare to go to London before 10am (and it is cheaper after noon.)  A return fare to Waterloo is more or less the average payment I get from my main agency for image use – and about ten times the lowest fee they sold an image for last month.

So it has to be a very special event that gets me out of bed early and on a crowded train at around 7.30am. I was lucky to get the last empty seat in a full carriage, already with some people standing when it drew in, having to squeeze between two rather wider commuters on a seat made for three people of normal width.

At Waterloo, the queue for the bus I’d intended to get stretched way back, and I decided to walk the mile and a half instead, though I managed to jump on a different bus at the next stop for a third of the mile of it.

And it was a special day. The cleaners from the IWGB were on the second day of a three day strike at the University of London in their struggle for the same conditions of work – sick pay, holidays and pensions – as directly employed workers there. These three things are the ‘3 Cosas’ in the name of their struggle, which unites workers (many Spanish-speaking and originally for Latin America, hence the name) from various unions with the support of students and university staff, though this strike was also about getting recognition for their union and saving jobs of staff currently employed at some of the University halls of residence. The main union, to which most of the cleaners belong is the small IWGB, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, and this is not recognised by the University or their contract employers, now Cofely GDF-Suez. The IWGB had arranged for an open-top bus to take them on a tour around London to various suitable locations to protest or hold rallies.

I’ve photographed many protests with the IWGB, including those inside John Lewis stores in Stratford Westfield and Oxford St, as well as at the University of London Senate House, and when I’d met some of the leading figures from ‘3 Cosas’ at a protest the previous week they had urged me to come, telling me they’d reserved a seat on the bus for me.

Fortunately although this was a January and the wettest January since proper records began, the sun shone on us (at least most of the time.)  The top of the bus was very crowded, but I was able to find a good position, though it was tricky to move around much (and if I moved away I would have been unlikely to get back), so most of my pictures were taken from a relatively small area, working very close to people.

I’d started off taking pictures mainly with the 16-35mm on the D700, but I found I was just too close most of the time for this to be useful. I could take pictures of individuals with the 18-105mm, like that of IWFB president Alberto Durango (38/57mm, 1/500s f8 ISO 800) but wanted to give more of the impression of the event as a whole. There were quite a few IWGB flags around which I wanted to get in the background, but they were blowing around even here as the bus started to move off, and I was pleased to have got a frame where the logo was visible behind Alberto shouting to encourage the workers. The background at left is Russell Square and at bottom right through the bus window is part of the address of the university offices in Stewart House.

I’d decided the best position would be close to but not quite at the front of the bus, and most of the pictures were taken from here. There are quite a few I like, and you can see the best of them in ‘3 Cosas’ Strike Picket and Battle Bus.

16mm rectilinear view – 16-35 f4 Nikon zoom. 1/160 f6.3 ISO 800

As the bus was getting ready to leave, I was photographing mainly with the 16-35mm and switching between this and the Nikon 16mm f2.8 D AF full-frame fisheye on the D700, keeping the DX 18-105 (27-157eq) on the D800. I’m impressed by the 16mm, a beautifully light and compact lens for full-frame, and the results are perhaps slightly better than the 10.5mm DX (which is also slightly heavier.)  Most if not all the pictures I took with this lens have been post-processed using the Fisheye-Hemi plugin, which retains the centre of all four edges of the frame, but loses a little from each corner to provide a very wide but more natural view. It requires just a little mental gymnastics in use, remembering that the corners of what you see will be lost, but the results are interesting. The two pictures above and below are a couple of ‘before and after’ pictures, the first made with the 16-35mm rectilinear lens, and the second a minute or so later from the same position after a lens change, with the fisheye and later processed with the plugin.

16mm cylindrical view – 16mm Nikon f2.8 D AF full-frame fisheye/Fisheye-Hemi processed. 1/160 f6.3 ISO 800

Of course people have moved a little betwen the two pictures, but it gives a very good idea of the different views the two lenses give. The 16mm rectilinear lens gives a horizontal angle of view of around 96 degrees while that of the fisheye is significantly greater at around 140 degrees. It is a great lens for working in very confined spaces – such as on the top of the bus.

Both 16mm’s offer a great deal of depth of field, even if wide open, and with the fisheye, auto-focus is normally just a nuisance. After it had focussed a couple of times on objects less than a foot away I remembered to turn to manual focussing, set it at around 5ft and forgot it. It was a bright day, and once we had pulled out of the shadow of buildings and on to the road the exposures were around 1/500 – fast enough to counteract the vibration on the bus – and f11, where everything from around 18 inches away to infinity was sharp. Of course I could have worked at lower ISO, but there seldom seems to be any real point given the quality at that rating.

Once the bus was moving it was difficult to change lenses – I had to leave my bag out of the way under a seat to move around a little in the crush – but I didn’t want too in any case, as the fisheye was so useful, producing many images I like and could have got no other way

Of course I was also finding pictures to take with the D800E and the 18-105mm DX, including this one of the bus reflected in the glass-fronted building, which gives a better idea of how crowded the bus actually was. I’m almost invisible in the image, just able to poke a lens between a couple of people from the middle of the bus. It was pretty hard to get a clear view from where I was standing, and I was also watching careful to get a good view of the flags blowing in the wind. It would perhaps be a good idea to flip the image horizontally so that the mirrored text read the right way, but I rather find it annoying when people do that, or turn reflections upside down, so I’ve left it as a mirror image.

It was a long ride, taking in much of north London mainly because of one-way road systems and the difficulty of taking a large vehicle along narrow streets. I also rather suspect the driver got a little lost, especially when we went past Kentish Town station (and we passed Mornington Crescent both on the way to The Guardian and on the journey down to Parliament.)

More at  ‘3 Cosas’ Strike Picket and Battle Bus.


Twilight at the Israeli Embassy

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Solidarity with African Refugees in Israel was the third protest I managed to photograph on Wednesday 22 Jan, after starting shortly after 11am at the Irish Embassy for Release Margaretta D’Arcy Now!, and then going on to Malet St to photograph the Student march to protect Education. It was a long day for me, although it perhaps wouldn’t seem much if I said I was actually taking pictures for around four hours, I also spent another roughly three hours travelling, and then probably five or six hours editing the images and writing and posting the three stories, it all adds up to around 13 hours.

Few photographers spend the time I do editing their work or writing stories. It doesn’t pay. To increase the chances your pictures will be used you need to file them within minutes of taking them. This often means filing almost before the event has started – take a few pictures, file, then if you have time and it looks as if something interesting might happen and you don’t have another story to cover, perhaps hang around and take a few more.

I prefer to take pictures until either the event finishes or I have to leave, then think about them and how they relate to the event before I file them.  I do more post-processing than most photographers, though I try to be careful not to let it show. I want the colour balance and contrast to be how I see them, and to dodge and burn to get the tonal right too. Of course I don’t add or subtract content, and my aim is always to get the image to work , to convey what I was trying to convey when I took it.

The protest was in support of African asylum seekers detained without trial in Israel who are on hunger strike

Back to that Wednesday, by the time I got to the protest opposite the Israeli Embassy it was 4.30pm, more or less sunset, though the sun had mainly long disappeared behind the buildings of Kensington High St, and I was working in twilight. Fortunately the protesters had chosen to defy the police and set up on the lighter side of the street, in front of the road on which the embassy stands. Occasionally you can just see an Israeli flag flying if you look down on the left, but I think they often take it down when protests are expected, and I don’t think it was there.

I started with taking pictures at ISO 1600, but soon the light was falling quickly, and to get reasonable shutter speeds  I had to increase the ISO setting, ending up within around 15 minutes at ISO 3200.

Police try to get protesters to move across the road. They agreed not to block access but stayed

This was a fairly lively protest, and most of the pictures were taken at 1/80th second. Using wide-angles as I mainly do, slower shutter speeds can give sharp images and camera shake would seldom be a problem even at 1/15th – especially if I remembered to check that image stabilisation was on with the 16-35mm, but many parts of the image would be blurred  unless people were standing still and quiet.

Available light, D700 16mm (16-35 zoom)

There is just a little blur at the left and around three quarters of the way up the frame in some of these images – due to a small greasy mark on the lens which wasn’t really noticeable in the viewfinder or display on the back of the camera. Nor for that matter did it really show up when I looked at the front of the lens, though it was there if you looked carefully.

It’s possible to reduce the diffusion that this creates, using Lightroom‘s Adjustment brush with a little added contrast and ‘clarity’ and sometimes a little decrease in  ‘highlights’ and adjusting the ‘exposure’ settings on the brush helps too, but it doesn’t quite disappear, though it is perhaps unlikely to be noticed by most. I’ve perhaps left it a little too light in the image above.

A minute later, same lens & camera, with SB800 flash

I took some pictures with available light and then switched to flash, working in Shutter priority mode with shutter speeds of 1/30 to 1/80s.  The difference between the two pictures above, taken around a minute apart is fairly obvious. The available light image makes it look lighter than it was, but the lighting is much more even. With flash, using a single SB800 unit on the hot shoe, there is a very obvious falling off in the flash illumination, even though I’ve burnt in the closer parts of the scene to compensate to some extent.

The upper image actually makes it look rather lighter than it was when I took the picture – probably I should have made it darker – it hardly looks as if it was getting dark at all. The flash picture is better in this respect, and the uneven lighting concentrates attention on the nearest figure, the woman bashing the pan lid. The upper image is more about the overall scene, with the policeman’s hand in particular claiming our attention; together with the expression on the face of the woman closest to the camera it makes a more interesting image.

Both were taken with the 16-35mm at its widest on the D700. In available light I was using Program mode at ISO 2800 at f4. There is greater depth of field in the flash image, as this was taken using Aperture priority at f8.  Looking at larger images the wooden spoon is a little blurred in the upper image (at 1/80s) but pin sharp with the flash. In part this is because it was not actually moving when I took the picture, because although the short flash duration would have made it sharp in any case, there would have also been a blur with the ambient exposure. It’s an effect that might have improved the image, and one that you can see in some of the other pictures in Solidarity with African Refugees in Israel.

The effect of flash falls off dramatically with distance – roughly following the ‘inverse square law’ which states that if the distance doubles the amount of light drops by a factor of four.  You can minimise the effect by trying to keep everything more or less the same distance away, for example by taking a group with a banner from directly in front, but that tends to be rather static and boring.  One small trick is to try and make use of the natural fall-off in flash illumination towards the edges of its coverage, by swivelling the flash head away from the closer parts of the subject, but most flash images require considerable burning in  of the closer parts and brightening up of the more distant areas.

Wherever possible I like to use available light, as it usually preserves more of the atmosphere of the scene, as well as often cutting down on the post-processing required. By the time I finished taking pictures at this protest, around 40 minutes after sunset, twilight had passed and most of the available light came from the street lighting.  In the final picture I took, this was augmented a little by a man in the picture with a light on his camcorder. Working at 1/15s at ISO 3200 I had an exposure bias of -1.33 stops to get it to look like night, so the real ISO  was around ISO 10,000  and set the aperture at f8 to give me sufficient depth of field from the speaker I was standing next to right to the street behind at 16mm.

It’s sharp but very noisy, but the noise on the D700 (and D800E) has a quality that reminds me of film grain, though more even, and I think in this image is attractive. Rather less so are the horizontal streaks that the Nikon sensor gives in highly underexposed areas, but these are hardly noticeable here even in the full-size image, and making those areas a little darker would reduce the effect further. In this case, mainly because of very uneven lighting, quite a lot of post-processing was needed.



Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Pinkwashing was a new term for me, though I’ve photographed events about ‘greenwashing‘ before (for example Rev Billy’s protest against BP sponsorship of Tate Modern), and both are forms of deception practiced by the public relations industry, trying to cover up the real situation. In this case it was the Israeli Tourist Board who were promoting Israel as a great place for gay holidays,

It perhaps attracted more attention than might otherwise have been the case because they were doing so on the same day as several protests were taking place against Israel on the 5th anniversary of the ending of the Gaza Massacre, Operation Cast Lead. The protesters outside the arcade where the Gay Star Beach Party LGBT tourism event was being held hoped to persuade those intending to visit the party to boycott Israel until it ends human rights abuses and recognises the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and complies with international law.

I like this picture because it seems to encapsulate what the event was about as well as having some visual interest. It wasn’t set up in any way, and took quite a few frames to get what I wanted. It would have been a short cut to have directed the person holding the Palestinian flag to hold it in the correct place, but this was definitely one of those ‘images snatched on the run’ (perhaps a possible translation of  ‘Images a la Sauvette‘) although I had to make several snatches before I got what I wanted.

The person holding the flag was talking with someone else and facing away from me, holding the flag on a fairly long pole back over the right shoulder. The flag was fluttering a little in the breeze and also moving fairly dramatically, and I was trying to catch a moment when I could read the text of the banner, see the flag properly, seethe person speaking and read the message on her poster, ‘Queers opppose Israel’s Occupation of Palestine‘. And all of this would be nothing if it didn’t make a decent picture.

Most of the rest of the work was more straight-forward people doing the kind of things that people do at protests – speaking, holding placards, banners etc. One or two of the pictures stand out for various reasons, perhaps a memorable face or a slightly unusual pose or a gesture. I like this one because the woman is very obviously reading the poster she is holding up, which is perhaps a little odd, and the man on her right is looking at it too, and again I’ve been able to move to a position to get a Palestinian flag in the background.

Later in the protest was a rather unusual incident, in which someone who appeared to be drunk came up and started shouting and contradicting the man who was speaking. As he became more agitated and moved towards the speaker in an aggressive manner I felt that perhaps I should actually physically intervene, but decided that I needed to take pictures in case there was to be a need for evidence of what had occurred. Fortunately others did intervene, in particular the woman in this picture and the following three or four frames show something of how the situation developed.

I continued to photograph him, mainly from fairly close with the 16-35mm lens, but working calmly and trying hard not to be confrontational. Another photographer, a woman, made a point of ensuring he knew she was photographing his threatening behaviour, and he started to chase after her until another of the protesters got between them and started talking to him.

It was probably a coincidence that although the police had come to take a look at the protest earlier there were none to be seen when this man was threatening the protesters and the photographer, though there have been occasions when the police have deliberately gone away on similar occasions. One of the protesters did phone for the police but it was probably a coincidence that he left a few minutes later, well before they arrived.

You can see more pictures in Israeli Gay Tourism Pinkwashing.


Staines Flooding

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Flooded towpath in Staines, around a mile from my house

Monday in Staines

I’m sitting in the upper floor of my home typing this, early on Monday, around 16 hours after we received a severe flood warning, telling us we were likely to be flooded by the rising Thames and might have to be evacuated.  At the moment there is water in the street outside and if it goes up perhaps 6 inches it will start to come inside.  Worse still, it isn’t actually the River Thames that the water is coming from, but it is coming up the sewers. We can no longer pour water down our own drains or flush the toilet, and it is possible that before long we will lose power, so I may not finish this post, and their could be a few days before my next.

Flooding on the tow-path in Laleham, around a mile and a half from where I live, Sun 9 Feb 2014

That’s the scenic side of flooding, and I’ve never seen so many people out with their cameras taking pictures before (it was almost hardly worth me bothering.) It was also unusual that everyone was talking to each other about the situation. Here too we blame the Environment Agency, in part for not properly dredging the Thames, but I think that’s probably a minor issue.

River Crane at Baber Bridge

More importantly we’ve allowed so much of the area to be concreted over, and failed to keep drainage and sewage systems up to date. In 2011 the Environment Agency deliberately release sewage from Heathrow into the River Crane rather than let it back up into the airport after a flow control valve jammed. Here the sewers are ancient and work has not been carried out to keep them in good working order, let alone replacing them by a more modern system which would separate sewage and rainwater. The sewers here and genuinely Victorian, more houses have been added since they were laid and there seems to be little understanding of the system by the people who work on them.

But of course the underlying problem is climate change. We’ve known about the problems of greenhouse gases and global warming for many years, although there are still some (mainly in the pay of fossil fuel industries) who continue to deny them. What little action has been taken by governments around the world, ours included, have been too half-hearted and too late.  Again the fossil fuel industry with its extensive lobbying, particularly in the US, but also in the UK and elsewhere must bear much of the responsibility.

Though we can take pretty pictures of floods, the reality isn’t so nice.

This is a street a little nearer to us, one that was flooded in January and is now flooded again. My own street is rather narrower and at the moment has less water. It can take weeks, months or even years to recover from flooding. If we get flooded I’ll try and document it, but may be rather busy!

Finally, here’s a picture from Sunday evening of one of our local parks. Normally the only water is in a paddling pool way out of picture.

We’ve been busy moving all we can either to our upper floor or at least onto tables etc a few feet above ground, but there are limits to what you can do in preparation.

Wednesday Update

Today, Wednesday, we are still waiting to see if we will flood, with water on the street outside, but at the moment it is running away into our ditch (the same one that made the Environment Agency classify our property as at ‘serious flood risk’, which led to an insurance company refusing to give me a quote) and so far that has saved us. Drains remain blocked. The Thames has gone down two inches since yesterday when it reached its peak level here in the afternoon, but groundwater is still rising. Heavy rain is forecast for tonight. But so far we’ve been relatively fortunate; every news bulletin there are reports of people in the area whose homes have been flooded.

Whither Anonymous?

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

I first came across ‘Anonymous’ in 2008, at a protest the group organised against the Church of Scientology following attempts by the CoS to censor coverage of their activities on Internet sites, and also their attacks on their critics under a so-called ‘fair game’ policy which allowed them to carry out all sorts of dirty tricks on anyone they saw as an enemy of Scientology. Being anonymous then was important to avoid retaliation.

It was perhaps also important for a few to retain anonymity in the ‘Occupy’ movement although some suspect this was more the case for undercover police than the real protesters.  Certainly by then the identities of those who wore the ‘V for Vendetta’ mask as regular protesters were largely well-known to the police.

Although both ‘Occupy’ and ‘Anonymous’ linger on, they do appear to have lost the momentum they once had, and I wasn’t surprised to find only a relatively small crowd – perhaps around a hundred people – gathered in Trafalgar Square for their ‘March for Freedom UK’. Of course it lacked the obvious Guy Fawkes connection of the much larger Bonfire Night protest last November. But among the faces, both masked and unmasked, were many  familiar to me from Occupy London and other protests.

Charlie Chaplin is of course a face familiar to us all, and he was there too!

After a number of short speeches and a mime performance from Mr Chaplin, there was a suggestion it was time to march which was put to a public vote and appeared to be carried. Some set off immediately, while others took longer to organise themselves, but eventually almost everyone was waiting at the traffic lights at the southern edge of the square.

Rather curiously those at the front of the march did not seem very clear on what they were doing, and it was a police liaison officer who told them where to go.

It wasn’t really much like a march, more just a group of people going down the roadway, and it was perhaps only the masks that made it stand out.

Again as they reached Parliament, the protesters were unsure where to go, though this time they didn’t follow the police advice, but simply walked on and came to a stop outside Parliament where they held a rally.

Of course there is a great deal of common-sense in much of what they say. We do need to keep our National Health Service and to improve it rather than simply hand out lucrative contracts to private enterprise. We need reform to make our parliament reflect the needs of the people rather than the greed of a small minority, and so on. I’m not sure that this kind of event contributes much to achieving those aims, but at least it serves just a little to raise awareness of the problems.

More pictures at Anonymous March For Freedom UK.


Gaza Anniversary

Monday, February 10th, 2014

I don’t much like photographing protests at the Israeli Embassy. The actual embassy is hidden away down a private side street where photography and protests are forbidden, and protests take place on the busy roadway of High St Kensington. Sometimes there are problems with police not allowing photographers to stand in front of the protest pen, either telling you that you can’t walk along there, or opening up a narrow area for the public to walk through and telling photographers they have to keep moving.  Fortunately on this occasion they were not doing either, but allowing photographers reasonable access, but it still was to a narrow restricted area, with traffic moving past on the other side of a row of cones a couple of feet in front of the protest.

I actually like to work close to people when photographing, but this was at times just a little too close even for my taste, and your presence is always very much felt by the protesters. The actual pen is always fairly narrow too, so it gets very crowded inside, and its often tantalising to see an opportunity for a photograph but not being able to get the the right position to make it.

Although mostly I was using the wider end of the 16-35mm zoom (on the D700) there were also some pictures where by working up to the barriers and aiming the camera roughly along them I was able to get a little more distance – as the the picture above of the woman and the placards. Unfortunately it was a dull day and the 18-105mm seems to have been having a few problems with autofocus recently – and this image is not quite sharp on her face. Later I took a few more simiilar images – and there are some in Gaza Massacre 5th Anniversary – but as often happens, the first image was the one that I thought best – apart from its softness. I took it soon after I arrived and there were relatively few photographers (and protesters) present, but soon lots of other photographers were also photographing her and I think she got very concious about being photographed, and was smiling most of the time.

Another woman had a very nicely drawn poster and I wanted to photograph her holding it in the protest, but it was hard to get a picture I liked.  The plastic sheet over the poster was also a problem with reflections. I took a few working close to her, but they didn’t work – as it seldom does if you ask people to hold their poster or placard for a photograph. Later, from a little further back with the 18-105mm I made this one which was more what I wanted.

There is rather less of a problem in photographing people wearing ‘Anonymous’ masks in that their expression doesn’t change when they are aware of the camera. But it was still a better picture when I photographed this guy as he walked through the crowd rather than the posed image above.

Of course the scarf makes a difference, but it is mainly the hand up to his mouth which produces something more immediate, and the people and placards around the figure work better.

I couldn’t stay for all of the protest, and was anxious to get off to go to another event. but one particular person was worrying me. He was one of the most noticeable of those protesting, and had appeared in more or less the first image I took, as well as several others. But I just wasn’t too happy with pictures like the one above; it wasn’t bad, but I felt there must be more I could do. I’d turned away and walked a few yards towards the tube, then turned back and decided to make one last effort. I took a short series of images ending up with the one below.

It didn’t look quite like that on the camera back – his face was in fairly deep shadow and the flag at top left was rather pale, with light shining through the thin material. But I felt I had essentially captured what I wanted and put my camera away. This really was the final frame I took of the protest.


Jeremy Nicholls interviewed

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

I’ve often linked here to posts by Jeremy Nicholl on his The Russian Photos blog, for example his excellent coverage of the Morel vs AFP/Getty saga (the agencies have lost twice but are still fighting – perhaps just to benefit the lawyers) and it was interesting to read an interview with him today on the ‘SellNews Blog‘.

The heading to the post there also made me smile a  little.  “A comfortable pair of shoes is one of the most important pieces of photo equipment” is a quotation from Nicholls, but was also almost word for word my reply some years ago when I was being interviewed for some amateur photographic magazine.  There it was the kind of interview that went through a stock series of questions, and one at the end was “What is your most useful photographic accessory?” and my answer “A comfortable pair of shoes” was not really what the interviewer wanted.

A few years later in another similar interview, about my urban landscape work, my answer had changed, and had become my Brompton, a superb British-made folding bicycle that had made my later work in the Thames Gateway possible. The distances there were too much for convenient walking, and the bike took me to places that a car would not have reached (and in any case I’ve given up driving) and let me stop almost anywhere on the roads to photograph. No nonsense about finding somewhere to park and walking miles back to find the light had changes or that what looked interesting at 5o mph didn’t quite look so good when you got back to it. The Brompton has the big advantage that once folded it could also always be taken on trains and the underground across London (and on buses, but usually it’s quicker to ride.)

More recently it’s back to shoes again for me, with much more of my work in central London, and often at events where a bike might be damaged or be very likely to be stolen if locked out of the way.  So it’s back to buses and walking – and sometimes the tube or Overground. My taste in shoes has changed – then I went for lightweight hand-sewn leather, while now I prefer rather heavier, warmer and more expensive and waterproof  models that provide more support.

But Nicholl’s interview isn’t just about shoes and the Morel case, and there is a nice section where he gives his view that photographers have to be not neutral but honest, as well as his views on social media, his problems photographing in Russia, his equipment and his clear advice to those amateur photographers who wish to become professional: “marry into money.” Though he does go on to say more. The whole piece is worth reading.