Archive for April, 2014

ICP 40

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

The International Center of Photography (ICP) is shortly celebrating 40 years of its existence, when Cornell Capa with the aid of Micha Bar-Am opened its doors on New York’s Fifth Avenue. It has grown over the years, and moved – and as an interview in the Lens Blog with executive director Mark Lubell, the former director of Magnum Photos, tells us, is moving again, though to an as yet undisclosed location. The opening of the ICP was actually on November 15, 1974 and you can see some pictures from the Founders Scrapbook.

Its history really begins earlier, when Cornell Capa set up the ‘International Fund for Concerned Photography‘ in 1966, and set up the exhibition and 1968 book, ‘The Concerned Photographer‘, featuring the work of six photographers, first shown at the Riverside Museum in New York. Four had had their brilliant careers cut short by early deaths while working, Werner Bischof in a car crash in Peru in 1964, Cornell’s brother Robert Capa killed nine days later by a land mine in Indo-China, ‘Chim‘ (David Seymour) in Suez in 1956 and Dan Weiner in a plane crash in 1959. Cornell in his introduction stated that ‘as brother, friend and colleague’ of these four men he had ‘become deeply involved in the fate of the work that a photographer leaves behind.’ Also included in the book was the work of two then still living photographers, André Kertész and Leonard Freed.

It was a  book that had a great influence on photographers when it was published, and is still worth reading and studying today, a fine tribute to those included. The book sold well, at least in the USA, and is still available second-hand at a sensible price, though postage from the USA sometimes costs several times as much as the book. The printing, harsh by today’s standards and with strong blacks, suits most of the work well. A second volume The Concerned Photographer 2, published in 1972, featured the photographs of Marc Riboud, Roman Vishniac, Bruce Davidson, Gordon Parks, Ernst Haas, Hiroshi Hamaya, Donald McCullin and W. Eugene Smith.

The Eye of Photography (L’Oeil de la Photographie) devotes it’s issue today to the 40th anniversary of  ICP, ”A mythical institution.’



Man Up?

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Blogger Duckrabbit‘s latest post Man up for the World Press Photo Awards has certainly stirred up a great deal of controversy, and deservedly so.  In it he starts with a reminder of the previous complaints by him and others about conflicts of interest in the judging of the WPP awards, and the “credibility problem when the chair of judges is required to chair over and vote on the work of a business partner“, something which WPP don’t apparently see as a problem.

To his credit that chair , Gary Knight, offered to stand down, but was told by the WPP that this was not necessary (and I understand that it was not possible for him to do so.)  I think he should have insisted on doing so, but that is of course something easier to say both in hindsight and from my position well outside the situation.

But Duckrabbit goes on to raise rather more fundamental problems in his typically robust fashion:

The biggest issue is that they appear to be unaware that the human race has two sexes and that black people don’t exist just to be photographed dying of starvation.

The WPP have just been having a two day awards event with 21 speakers, and Duckrabbit lists them, adding the comment:

Out of the 21 there is just a single woman. As far as I am aware not a single person on this list is black.

Fifteen years ago, when I started writing seriously (and for money) about photography, one of the major issues I tried to tackle was the chauvinistic nature of most of our thinking about photography.  Post-war the centre of gravity for many areas of photography other than photojournalism had shifted from Europe to North America, but anything that came from outside the major centres in those regions was off the photographic map.

Of course there were exceptions, and plenty of pioneers working away and bringing photography from places outside that narrow view. And the North American audience in particular was generally remarkably unaware of anything that had happened in Europe after the foundation of Magnum.  There were too parts of their own tradition – such as the Photo League – that they also tended to have forgotten. Photography in the USA had perhaps become rather tied up in a cold war attitude.

Things have move on a little both politically and in photography, but perhaps the WPP has failed to register this. Many of the more interesting photojournalists at the present time come from the majority world, and one of, if not the, leading centres for teaching photojournalism is the South Asian Institute Media Institute Pathshala, set up in 1998 by Shahidul Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

WPP of course know this – and I single out Pathshala as its students and former students have won a number of WPP awards, but there are other things happening in other countries too. But somehow the WPP seem to have failed to respond to the changes.

I don’t know what proportion of entries to the WPP come from the majority world, but Duckrabbit points out that only 14% of entrants last year were women.  I’m not sure what proportion of photojournalists are women, but it is surely rather higher than 1 in 7, and certainly many of the best photographers whose work I’m aware of are women (and some have had work in the WPP shows.)

One of them is Abbie Trayler-Smith, who has just been at WPP in Amsterdam talking about her work (her presentation followed that of Edward Burtynsky.) There is a picture of her giving it in Bas de Meijer’s post about the WPP Awards Days, The real value of the World Press Photo.

But Duckrabbit’s post is not about the award winners, but about invited speakers at the event. And it would be hard not to agree with his conclusions.

Liebling Revisited

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Some posts just get away, falling into the cracks in my computer system and my failing memory. Often I’ll see something and make a quick note, perhaps save a link as a draft post in WordPress, or in the text editor I usually write with – a kind of beefed up Notepad, which allows me to work on several documents but doesn’t add  the kind of formatting that word processors do, making it easier to paste text into various applications. I’ll save the draft or the text file, intending to come back to it later. But later is usually after I’ve been out taking pictures, and by the time I’ve finished dealing with these and writing the captions and text I’ll have forgotten all about the draft I wrote before I went out.

So I saved a draft a couple of weeks ago, and then came across it today, about an article on the New York Times Lens Blog, Look Again, With Love and Liebling, by James Estrin.

Well for me it was looking again, as I think all the pictures (certainly almost all) are in Jerome Liebling’s 1995 Aperture book The People, Yes which I have on a shelf downstairs. Its title comes from that of Carl Sandburg’s epic 300 page poem, published in 1936,  inspired by the the language and lives of ‘ordinary people’ in the economic and social upheavals of the 1930s, and Liebling’s work reflects a similar social and political outlook, reflecting his photographic studies with Walter Rosenblum and membership of the New York Photo League. I’ve written about Liebling in the past, but there was a good obituary with some details by Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian in 2011.

The Lens blog was published shortly before the end of a show of Liebling’s work at the Steven Kasher gallery in New York, which you can read more about on the Jerome Liebling web site. On the videos page there you can listen to him talking about his work and the people in his photographs:

“There are no superiors, I think we’re all about the same, but there certainly are advantages in life, and money and who writes the history ..  so I suppose I’m saying these are valuable people…”

He goes on to talk about his work as showing “the politics of everyday life” and the idea that going to look at the work should get people to challenge their ideas.

You can also read an interesting piece by Randy Kennedy in the New York Times in 2006, The Still-Life Mentor to a Filmmaking Generation which looks at Liebling’s influence on documentary film through his teaching in which “he tried mostly to impart a deep suspicion of dogma, of piousness and of the compromises that can lie just beneath the surface of American culture.”

New York Portfolio Review

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

I’ve always believed in the value of showing your photography to other people, particularly other photographers, but have had some doubts about ‘portfolio reviews’.

Most of these doubts are about how these events aid in the institutionalisation of photography and how they serve to legitimize and cement the control of the medium by a relatively small group of curators, editors and other controllers of taste who are the reviewers at such events. I’ve always been an outsider, and indeed have relished being an outsider, and a believer in photographers as being the most important people in our medium, and those most qualified to comment on photography and to shape its future direction. Of course curators and editors and critics have their place, but to me they are the tail and shouldn’t be wagging the dog.

I’ve never felt a need to take my own work to one of these events as a photographer, though I don’t doubt that I might get some useful advice – as I have done in the past when I’ve shown my work to other photographers – and on one or two occasions to curators. I’ve taken part in (and helped organise) events where photographers show their work to other photographers on a fairly large scale, and found them of some interest, but it has been the largely less formal and more long-term associations with a few other photographers that have for me been more productive.

The only review I’ve taken part in as a reviewer was an interesting and enjoyable experience – and also a great way of getting to know a large number of people in the wider photographic world, perhaps more about networking than about photography. I think at least some of those who showed me work will have gained a little insight from my views (and some still greet me in a friendly manner!) But reviewing the work of living photographers whether in print/web or in person is often somewhat fraught.

Of course the two things are rather different, and in person as well as trying to understand and appreciate the work perhaps my main preoccupation was in exploring the differences in how the photographer and I as a viewer see the work and in suggesting possibilities for further development and exploitation. In writing reviews there is a greater need for evaluation and communication with the readers rather than the photographer. Usually photographers have appreciated what I’ve written but I’ve had just a few angry emails and phone calls over the years.  It’s safer reviewing the dead!

The New York Times Portfolio Review stands out from the others for several reasons. As Jonathan Blaustein writes in  APhotoEditor,

“it is free, which is rare. It’s announced via a Lens blog post, and then the photographers are selected from applicants all over the world. Even the application process is free, so you might consider applying next year.”

In this, the first of two posts about the review he shows the work of half of those he saw over the two days of the event, of whom he states “all of them had a voice, and showed me at least one picture I found worth publishing here.”

I can’t say I react positively to every picture that he has selected, but there is plenty to look at here and on the web sites of the photographers he features – worth following most of all of his links in the piece. I look forward to seeing the second part of this post and the work in it.

The fact that this review is free is I’m sure important, and the reason for the overall high quality of the work. It’s perhaps more a matter of attitude than actuality, for many of the photographers will have travelled long distances and have high hotel and other bills to bring their work to New York for the event. But it does mean that the work will already have been carefully selected for the review, while some other such events are open to anyone who signs up and pays while places are still available.

Time March is On

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Time March is on is certainly what I’ve been thinking for a while about My London Diary, though it was a lot easier to think than to do.  There are 38 stories in the month and as usual the odd little things that get missed out or where there simply wasn’t a story to be told.  And of course although its my diary, there are aspects of my life that for various reasons don’t get recorded in it.

But I think this is complete now:

March 2014

Keep Soho Sexy

World Sindhi Congress Protest

Mothers Against Fracking

Fellow Students Fight for Yashika
Kilburn Uniform Day
Mothers march for justice
Teachers March on NUT Strike Day
Wandsworth Panoramas

Kites Not Drones Solidarity with Afghanistan
Stand Up to Racism
SOAS Cleaners Strike Again
Japanese Dolphin Massacre Protest
Druids celebrate the Spring Equinox

People’s Assembly Budget Day Protest
Protest over Uganda Gay Hate Laws
Fracked Future Carnival at Shale Gas Forum
Fracked Future Carnival in Knightsbridge
Climate Revolution March to Fracked Future Carnival
SOAS Insight Day – Justice for Cleaners
Save Our Lions – Ban Canned Hunting
English Volunteer Force march in London
Fukushima Nuclear Melt-down Remembered
Syrians March for International Action
London March for Freedom for Tibet
Ukraine Vigil

End Sexual Abuse at Yarl’s Wood
Badger Army Says End Culls
Pay UAL Cleaners a Living Wage
Stop Hospital Killer Clause 119
Reopen Chase Farm A&E
Million Women Rise March
Outraged Lawyers Legal Aid Protest
London is not for sale
Anniversary Tribute to Chavez
Ash Wednesday Act of Resistance

SOAS Cleaners Picket Line
City of London Pancake Races
Against Worldwide Government Corruption


Teachers on the March

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Education is something almost everyone thinks they are an expert on. After all, we all (or almost all) went to at least one school. Those who end up running education ministries obviously did very well at it. So it’s hard for them to realise what it is like for those who don’t succeed. It’s also very hard for those who haven’t experience it to understand what it is like to be on the other side of the experience, as a teacher, particularly a teacher in very different schools to those that most government ministers attended. Though Michael Gove wasn’t one of the Etonians; an adopted child (his birth mother an impoverished student in Edinburgh), he did very well at the state primary he attended in Aberdeen, well enough to pass the scholarship to one of Scotland’s best private schools, and later to get a scholarship to meet the costs, and then on to Oxford – in the days of student grants and before students paid fees. His was hardly a typical experience of our state education system.

Back in my own twenties and thirties, I spent almost ten years teaching in one of the country’s largest comprehensive schools. People used to think teaching was an easy job, but I saw the toll it took on some of my colleagues, several who had to leave the profession after breakdowns and felt the stress myself. Actual teaching – ‘contact time’ – was around 25 hours a week, but with meetings, marking, lesson preparation and record-keeping I was putting in over 60 hours a week during term-time.

Although we didn’t have Ofsted then, there were various inspections and observations. One man came into my lesson armed with some kind of form for recording what teachers actually did; at the end of the lesson – a science practical class for 12-year-olds – I asked him about it. His reply was that he simply could not keep up with me, and supervising 15 pairs of students carrying out various practical tasks was often physically as well as mentally demanding.

After ten years I was feeling exhausted, and took a pay cut to move to a former grammar school that was in the final transition to a sixth-form college. It had the advantage too of being closer to home – a couple of miles on a bike – so I could spend a little more time with my young family (see my first ever web site.) For a few years things were easier, but soon things began to ratchet up, particularly with the greater demands for highly detailed lesson plans, the national curriculum and in 1992, Ofsted. Teacher morale became very low, and staff turnover – with many colleagues leaving the profession or moving to the private sector – reached an all time high. Even in a relatively easy outer London suburban area (although there were particular local problems with a bullying principal), one year around a third of the staff changed.  I was relieved when I began to earn enough outside of teaching from my photography related activities to go part-time, and then to stop teaching altogether.

The whole trend of education (and other) policies in the UK over the past 20 or so years has been driven by successive governments taking away powers from local authorities and both centralising control and handing some out to non-elected private bodies. The result is chaos and competition in a system which needs cooperation and organisation. Students suffer, and so even more do teachers. And Gove wants to make things even worse.

I’m still a member of the NUT – though a retired one – as well as of the NUJ, and have considerable sympathy for the teachers who were striking and marching though London.

The day started off rather dull, with just the occasional spot of rain – just enough to make it necessary to keep a watch on the lens filters for a drop and for the occasional image to be ruined when I missed this.

Those tall flags were something of a problem when close to the protest, but I suppose they showed up well from a distance – as when the march was entering Trafalgar Square, where it was also hit by a really heavy shower.

I’d thought of some obvious key points at which to photograph the march, apart from the start, always a good place as people are crowded together and relatively static. It was actually a little too crowded on this occasion, making it very difficult, particularly with the banners in the way, to move around. The march gathered in a fairly narrow street and it was very full.

The first of these points was Broadcasting House, particularly since the teachers (like almost all other protesters) feel they are not given fair treatment. In the weeks leading up to the strike the BBC had largely ignored the case being made by the teachers and given rather more prominence to the governments view that this was an unnecessary strike, and had also very much minimised the effect it would have in closing schools. In most parts of London a very high proportion of schools were affected – either fully closed or with large numbers of pupils told not to attend, and the same seems to have been true across the country.

On the day, the BBC did give a lot of coverage to the strike, and NUT General Secretary Christine Blower was interviewed on the Today programme, though there were some slightly curious aspects to some of their comments. Their report of the London march as by ‘over 1500’ teachers is as usual significantly lower than most estimates.

Other key points were those that say ‘London’ strongly, such as Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, and I didn’t really do to well as either of these, partly because of the heavy shower. I paused briefly at 10 Downing St to record some of the shouting and gesturing at that point, but the main attraction for almost all of the photographers was of course Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

There are quite a few more pictures taken with that clock in the background in Teachers March on NUT Strike Day and a couple are not bad, but perhaps not quite as strong as I would have liked. You need a little luck working in complex situations like this, with protesters moving, people holding placards (and often obscuring the background) and passing traffic as police kept the road open, and today it didn’t quite happen.


Fine Skies at Wandsworth

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Wandsworth is just along the Thames from Battersea, where Britain’s finest painter, J M W Turner spent a great deal of time in his later years painting the skies from a small room above the porch of St Mary’s church, as I mentioned in an earlier post.  That church, a mile away, is just visible in centre of the full-size version of the image above, though impossible to see in the reduced image.

Years ago, Turner would get a mentioned in my lessons about landscape photography, and I used some of this material in a piece I wrote about the Turner prize on show at Tate Britain a mile or two further downstream.

‘John Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was the son of a London barber. His mother died in his infancy and he was brought up by his father, who taught him to read but little else. Turner early showed a gift for art and at the age of 15 was admitted to the Royal Academy school; within a year he had a painting accepted for their exhibition. As well as his fine work in oils, Turner was the master of the watercolour sketch and is often considered the father of watercolour painting.

Landscape photographers can learn much from a study of Turner’s work – and that of his contemporary, John Constable (1776-1837), in particular for the close attention both paid to the weather and clouds in their work. Constable started to paint great landscapes with clouds in his native Suffolk and continued after he moved to London. Turner recalled that, ‘as a boy, I used to lie for hours on my back watching the skies, and then go home and paint them; and there was a stall in Soho Bazaar where they sold drawing materials, and they used to buy my skies. They gave me 1s6d for the small ones and 3s6d for the larger ones.’

This was an age of great interest in natural phenomena, and at the very time that Turner was on his back gazing into the heavens, scientists were also making their observations. In France, Jean Baptiste Lamarck proposed the first classification of clouds in 1801, but it was nearer to hand in east London that the Quaker factory owner Luke Howard took time from chemical manufacture to make the detailed daily studies. Larmarck’s proposals sank without trace, but Howard’s ‘cumulus’, ‘stratus’ and ‘cirrus’ presented in his 1802 paper ‘On the Modification of Clouds’ form the basis of our current system of classification. It is a subject that should be dear to the heart of all landscape photographers.

Turner first read Howard’s work almost 20 years later and was inspired by it to paint a fine series of cloud studies. Turner was – even by photographic standards – a prolific worker, and at his death left some 19,000 works to the British Nation. These works form one of the basic collections of the Tate Gallery – now called ‘Tate Britain’ – in London, which houses the largest collection of his paintings, drawings and watercolours, many on display and some reproduced in the on-line catalogue.’

Battersea started on the road to gentrification years ago, and large stretches of its main streets are now solely occupied by estate agents, profiting excessively from what appears to be the UK’s only growth industry, the rise in house prices.  Battersea has more of a cachet than Wandsworth, which used to be largely industrial, with gas works, brewery and more and is spreading rather so far as the property descriptions are concerned. So while the flats at the top of this post are in Wandsworth (and for almost six months the site of the Pure GeniusWandsworth Eco Village‘) they are ‘Battersea Reach’.  The gas works and brewery and its Shire horses at the centre of Wandsworth are now in the past, but there is still some industry, with sand and gravel from the estuary being loaded onto lorries and London’s rubbish being taken on barges in the opposite direction from a large riverside waste-transfer station. Though it must surely be only a matter of time before all these are replaces by investment flats for the Chinese and Arab oil money.

I was there to take photographs, but also and appropriately to show the area to a friend of mine who is a fine watercolourist, though today she was only making sketches. Even so it gave me plenty of time to reflect on the scenes and the fine clouds.  When you images cover a horizontal angle of 146 degrees and the sky is often almost half the image, you really need a few clouds. Clear blue skies are boring and also something of a photographic problem, as the differences in intensity over that wide sweep can be extreme. It’s possible of course to ‘dodge’ and ‘burn’ – or at least their digital equivalents – to even things out a little, but pretty tricky to do so entirely evenly and without any obvious tonal steps.

I’m still not entirely sure about the projection to use for these images, but think I have standardised on that in use here, though I may decide to work to a more panoramic format, though at around 1.57:1 these fit rather well on a wide-angle screen (the one I use is 1.6:1).

The sun was just outside the top left corner of this image, and in some others was actually inside the frame. Although the Nikon 16mm is remarkably resistant to flare, there was a little which required some corrective work. As well as burning in the sky and the clouds, the railings along the top of the waste-transfer station needed some attention, with an increase in contrast and saturation along with a decrease in exposure to make the flare less noticeable.

I hung around for quite a while hoping for a cloud to shade the sun, but it didn’t happen and I finally gave up. But had it done so the image would have lost the light and shade which I think are essential.

A little further on we came to the spit between the two streams of the mouth of the Wandle. I’m still wasn’t quite sure that I’ve managed to capture what I wanted at this point, but but we were beginning to get a little cold and didn’t stay too long before making our way back to The Ship, a rather fine riverside pub close to Wandsworth Bridge.

After I’d taken my friend back to the station I had 25 minutes to wait for my own train and decided to take a few more pictures, getting back with just a few minutes to spare so I could go up onto the wrong platform and photograph the scene over the wall looking out on part of Wandsworth. It’s a street that has gone considerably up-market over the past 20 years, with general stores being turned into art galleries (where I went for an opening last year) and more.

Wandsworth Panoramas


Bleeding London – re-Inventing Streetview?

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

I was interested to read about the latest RPS project, Bleeding London, which calls itself ” the most ambitious photo project that the capital has ever seen – to photograph every street in London” because  it is more or less what I set out to do all on my own in the 1980s.

Samuel Stores, Artillery Lane, Spitalfields 1978  from London Dérives

Of course they aim to enrol a large army of volunteers and to do the job in six months, while I spent approaching 20 years, and didn’t quite finish it (and I started out knowing I wouldn’t literally do so.) They also restrict themselves to the ‘standard A to Z‘ while I made use of the rather wider Greater London version. Whatever the results, I think my project can claim to have been considerably (if not foolishly) more ‘ambitious’, and ended up with over 100,000 images.

Bungalows on edge of London, Hamsey Green, Tandridge, from London Buildings

Their inspiration – and title – comes from Geoff Nicholson‘s 1997 novel Bleeding London rather than directly from the A-Z London Atlas first published in 1938 by Phyllis Pearsall, who founded the Geographers’ Map Company to produce up-to-date street mapping of London in 1936. It is said that it was only in legend that “Working for up to eighteen hours a day, she walked a total of 3,000 miles while mapping London’s 23,000 streets” though probably a great deal of legwork was involved in checking details.

It is however completely untrue that the 1919 Ordnance Survey was the “most recently published London street map she could find” unless it means she simply did not look very hard. There were other street atlases existing. Perhaps she used that 1919 map because it was the only overall source of mapping she could use as a basis for her own for copyright reasons?

As Bruce Hunt states in his History of London Street Maps, the first London street atlas appears to have been published in 1720, pre-dating the A-Z by around 215 years, containing both a general map and “thirty-six maps of the Wards, Parishes and Liberties“.  Bacon‘s pocket series began in 1896, Bartholomew‘s in 1988, Philip‘s in 1902 and Geographia around 1922. All were readily available when Pearsall started work.

Her A-Z was successful because it was better organised than existing street atlases, as well as cheaper and lighter than most. I have a suspicion that she got the idea for the name from the ‘Philips A.B.C. Pocket Atlas Guide to London and its Outer Districts’  which was in to its 17th edition at the time (and which had rather clearer maps, in colour rather than the black and white of the early A-Z.) Her title was snappier, and A-Z appears rather more inclusive. The A-Z also gave some indication of street numbering on the major streets which could be extremely useful.

Shoreditch, 1978 From London Derives

My own work was inspired more by the work of photographers, notably Eugene Atget, than by novelists, and although I intended to look down every street in those areas I covered, I wanted only to photograph those aspects that interested me as either being typical or in some respect exceptional.

In particular I set out to show the whole range of London buildings, both the exceptional and the typical, including industrial, commercial, domestic and other types of buildings, but on those same long perambulations I also worked on other projects such as Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise.

From the website and book ‘1989’

There may have been a literary inspiration too. In my book 1989 which is a kind of fictionalised account of a little of my work in that year my introduction (written in 2006) starts with a section that mentions two books, one the A-Z but also has oblique references to other written works:

“It was in 1989 that I met Upton Trent in Stratford and embarked on series of rambling walks through the streets of northeast London and that writer’s mind. Research for a novel that somehow never quite materialised and now that he is dead, never will, unless I write it myself. All that I have are the notes that I took on our excursions, as we headed up unlikely streets and alleys in a deliberate avoidance of any actual route or end, or jumped on buses that came to rest at lights or crossings as we passed (wherever possible he avoided both bus stops and full stops.)

We carried two books as guides on our journeys. One of course was Aragon’s ‘Paris Paysan’, and the other that we consulted only when lost and exhausted, his London ‘A-Z’. Half the pages of this were missing – probably removed for emergency duties – so it was often of little help.  Occasionally he’d pull out a crumpled magazine feature, book page or newspaper article from his pocket, liberated during his visits to dentist’s waiting rooms and libraries, but we could seldom make out more than a few incomplete sentences. I never bothered to take notes from these; after all I could always repeat the process myself, as his pickings seemed entirely random.  I think it was how he wrote most of his novels.”

You can also see my comments on ‘1989’ in two posts on this site, ‘1989‘ and  A Book At Last: 1989 and there is an earlier version of the work on the web.

Coopers Lane/High Road Leyton from ‘1989’

You can learn more about the ‘Bleeding London’ project by reading through FAQs, and it is a project open to anyone who wants to take part using almost any way of taking photographs. The newsletter says that there are 300 people already signed up, and they need at least 1,000.

My  last paper edition of the ‘standard’ A-Z is dated 1990, and has 140 pages of street names from Abbess Clo. to Zoffany St., each with 4 columns of around 85 lines. Most street entries take a single line, but some occupy two, but at a rough estimate, this makes for around 45,000 streets, and a few more have been added in the last 25 years. So with a thousand members that makes around 45 each. The number isn’t a great problem, but the organisation certainly is.

I did think briefly about taking part when I heard about it a couple of weeks ago, but not for long. It’s an idea which I think is past its time. Because almost every street in London is now available at the click of a mouse thanks to Google Street View.

Druids Again

Friday, April 18th, 2014

I like the Druids. Not that I’d want to be one, but they have an eccentricity that appeals to me, and visually they are rather striking. I don’t like them enough to go to Stonehenge for the solstices (and things get rather crowded and confused there with so many claiming a right to the space) but their two annual performances in London are certainly worth a visit from time to time.  I don’t intend to be rude or belittling when I describe them as eccentric; eccentricity is one of the great British characteristics, and something that many of us share to some extent. And something that I admire if not in this particular aspect wanting to share.

Though I do feel a little eccentric holding up a camera on top of a pole and pressing the cable release to take pictures like the one above. Or even leaning out over a wall to photograph the procession as in the picture below.

I wasn’t sure about the angle when I took this picture, lining up the edge of the frame carefully (or at least fairly carefully – you can still see a little of it at the bottom right) with the edge of the wall in this uncropped image) but it seems to have a certain logic. As you can see in Druids celebrate the Spring Equinox I made some pictures with the camera level (or intended to be level and not far off) too, but the wall rather gets in the way to my eye.

Back to the monopod image, I’ve still not found a good way to keep the camera level when holding it up above my head. And for these images taken with the 16mm full-frame fisheye that is rather important.  It needs to be level in two dimensions, with both ends of the camera to avoid a tilted horizon, and with the lens not looking up or down in order to get a straight horizon. As you can see above, I’ve not quite managed this, though I don’t find the fairly slight curve of the horizon too distracting.

This image was converted using the Fisheye Hemi plugin as I do with most images taken with this lens, which removes the curvature of vertical lines. But if the camera is tilted, these lines will either converge or diverge, which can sometimes look odd. There is a very slight divergence visible in the building at the right of the image, but hardly noticeable.

My reason for making the picture from this side of the circle was partly because of the position of the sun, just out of picture to the right, but mainly to put the Tower of London and Tower Bridge more or less in the middle of the picture.  Another reason is that the leading figures in the Druid circle and the standards are also visible on the far side of the circle – their backs are less interesting.

You can of course see them more clearly in a conventional photograph taken with the 18-105mm from a normal eye level, which also shows how the high viewpoint of the top image makes the Tower and Tower Bridge more prominent.

I’d forgotten to put back the 70-300mm in my camera bag when I rushed out to catch the train, and this is an event you have to work from outside the circle, and the distances across it are rather high. But it would have been one more lens to work with, and changing lenses can be a pain. It’s probably best to leave it at home except on those occasions a very long lens is essential.

With people standing in a circle, you can take pictures like this that most people think were taken from inside, standing behind people further around the circle and aiming my 18-105mm lens though the gap between two of them. It was probably taken from more or less the same  position as the image below, made shortly before with the 16mm fisheye.

This part of the event, with the figures around the circle joining hands to renew their vows as druids is one of the visual high points, and you can see different ways I’ve tried to show it in My London Diary.

The pictures in Druids celebrate the Spring Equinox are posted in the sequence that I took them (with possibly some very minor variations) and along with the text I hope give a good idea of what happens. You can also find some other examples of my pictures from Tower Hill in previous years, most recently in 2009.

What is rather surprising about the event is how few people came to watch it. I’d come with an old friend and there was another photographer and just a handful of onlookers. The event at Primrose Hill for the Autumn Equinox attracts more people, but again I think relatively few who have actually come for the event.

Anti-Fracking Carnival

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The march led by Vivienne Westwood with her ‘Climate Revolution’ met up with other anti-fracking protesters at Knightsbridge for the Fracked Future Carnival, an event intended to let the government and the energy companies trying to develop fracking in the UK of the growing opposition to their plans. The depth of that opposition has been made clear at Balcombe and now at Barton Moss, and there were a number who had been at both places at the protest.

The protest carnival had been planned to take place outside the hotel where the ‘Shale Gas Forum’ of government and industry was to take place, but shortly before the event, the forum had been moved to a ‘secret location’ to avoid the protest. Of course it wasn’t possible to keep that location secret, as among those attending the forum were some who realise the power of the arguments against fracking and were sympathetic to the protesters.

Increasingly informed opinion is that to avoid disastrous global warming we need to move away from using coal, oil and gas as fuels, either leaving them in the ground or using them only for chemical feedstock or some increasingly niche energy uses. Highly carbon intensive hydrocarbon sources such as tar sands and shale might result in profits for the companies who exploit them (and even governments who tax them) but only lead to catastrophe for the planet.

As the organisers of the Fracked Future Carnival say, “We know fracking won’t lower our bills and it won’t bring significant jobs. It has the potential to ruin our land, our water, our soil and will keep us dependent on fossil fuels.”

What we need is a determined shift towards renewable energy, as well as an increased investment in reducing energy use. Both will provide jobs. Energy saving will start to reduce bills immediately, and renewable energy will also do so in the longer term. Solar panels have already reduced dramatically in cost and increased in efficiency, although on-shore wind still currently has the greatest potential in the UK. But the coalition government seem keen to support opposition to it.

Photographically, the largest problem outside the hotel where protesters held a rally as previously planned before moving on to the new location was simply the crowd of people with cameras around the speakers and Vivienne Westwood in particular. Away from this fairly small area it was relatively easy to work, although there were still too many photographers for us to keep out of each other’s way.

But while I was occasionally frustrated by photographers moving into my frame, there were also occasional gains. It was a photographer standing next to me who asked two girls with the message ‘Frack Off’ on their cheeks to kiss, but I was able to take advantage of the moment – and I think was at a slightly better angle than him. I didn’t set it up, but it happened and I photographed it – and I think my caption made clear that the two girls were posing for a photograph.

It was a neat solution to the problem of trying to see the message clearly when photographing a single person with a message across both cheeks – the curvature of the face generally makes it hard to read in its entirety. There was a great deal of posing going on, with many of those taking part in the event taking ‘selfies’ while waiting until it was time to move off.

I’d hoped to take some pictures of people travelling across London to the military location where the event had been rescheduled, but the protesters got very dispersed and when I did get on the underground with a small group it was too crowded – the train was fuller than normal with a large school party of young children spread across several carriages. The lighting in the carriages isn’t too kind for photographers or to their subjects, with a fairly discontinuous spectrum and also with the actual light sources in the picture. Although I managed one or two pictures they were just a little disappointing and have a slightly odd colour, though perhaps that improves them.

I lost touch with that group when we had to change trains at Kings Cross, and although I’d hung around for quite a while waiting to take pictures in Knightsbridge station, I still managed to be one of the first to arrive at Old Street. The underground can still be rather confusing for those who aren’t familiar with it.

There was a lot of building work on the corner of Old Street, making the space for meeting there very restricted, and photography rather difficult. Things were much easier once the protesters marched off and rallied outside the two gates to the Territorial Army centre where the forum was taking place. As intended, the protest was peaceful though at times very noisy, with the Rhythms of Resistance samba band making their presence felt, and the event did have something of a carnival nature, as well as some very serious speeches by people concerned with the future of our country and the planet. The frackers inside will certainly have been aware of the opposition.

I rather liked this image of Tina Louise from Residents Action on Fylde Fracking facing a line of police, as much as anything as a little homage towards a far stronger and deservedly famous image, where Marc Riboud photographed a young woman holding up a flower to a row of soldiers with bayonets fixed outside the Pentagon in 1967.  Riboud’s Flower Child image had a power which this lacks, and it flashed into my mind as I made this image – and was a reminder of how powerful still images shape the way we see the world.

Fracked Future Carnival at Shale Gas Forum
Fracked Future Carnival in Knightsbridge