Archive for May, 2014

April on My London Diary

Friday, May 30th, 2014

April was a busy month, and although I’d hoped to catch up with myself in May, that has also turned out to be pretty busy.  There are 30 days in April and I think 31 links below, though as usual there were quite a few things I would have liked to have photographed but was unable to get to for one reason or another.

April 2014

Stop HS2 Rally at Parliament

Workers Memorial Day
Cat Hill Protest against L&Q
IKEA Not Welcome on Greenwich Peninsula
Rana Plaza Anniversary at GAP
Staines & Wraysbury Walk
Easter Morning
Staines Passion
Good Friday in Staines
G4S Occupied on Palestinian Prisoners Day
Bill Gates end support of Israeli child torture
End Hunger Fast Vigil against Food Poverty
Barts cuts Health Advocacy & Interpreting
QE Olympic Park Panoramics
Somali Refugees mistreated in Kenya
Against the Electoral Masquerade in Algeria
Don’t Buy Sodastream at John Lewis
Bring Back Shaker Aamer Before He Dies
‘POP UP’ Syrian Refugee Camp
Wild Animal in Circuses ban
Vedanta Zambian Copper Scandal
In Deepest Surrey
Occupy London General Meeting

World Pillow Fight Day

Axe the Bedroom Tax at One Hyde Park

Muslims & Britain First Clash
Wave of Action
Shut down Yarl’s Wood
Probation Officers Strike for Justice

Kurds protest at Rojava attacks
DWP & Atos Work Assessments


Glenna Gordon & #bringbackourgirls

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

The New York Times Lens blog has a follow-up to its story about the abuse of images by Ami Vitale which were used to publicise the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram which I wrote about earlier (Image Abuse.)

In Bringing the Nigerian Schoolgirls Into View, James Estrin writes about the work by Glenna Gordon who having photographed the demonstrations over the kidnapping in Nigeria decided she needed to do something more personal about the missing girls, and made the difficult journey to meet with some of their relatives and friends. In the Lens blog, and on her own web site you can see pictures of some of the clothing, notebooks and other items that belonged to them, along with some short descriptions of them and their hopes in life and some pictures that their families allowed her to share with the world.

It is also worth looking at the other work on Gordon’s web site, which as well as the 16 pictures on the Lens feature includes a longer series, ‘the hunters who want to #bringbackourgirls’, vigilantes keen to take on Boko Haram, said to be better armed than the Nigerian Army, with bow and arrows and hunting rifles.

There is of course much more to look at on her web site, including a lovely series on Nigerian weddings, as well as a powerful set taken in King George Home for the Elderly in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Rana Plaza

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

I’ve little interest in fashion, and I think it’s almost 50 years since I bought something because it was fashionable. It was for going to university in 1963, really the first time I bought clothes for myself, and I wore denim jeans (skin tight that took some getting on and off) and a black polo neck under a sports jacket, just like the pictures I’d seen in the newspaper fashion pages. Most of the others in my classes still wore suits and ties.

I kept wearing polo necks for years, partly because in my first real job there was a dress code – men had to wear a tie. With the polo neck, my boss couldn’t tell that I wasn’t wearing one (and often not even a shirt) and somehow I got away with it.

And I still almost always wear ‘designer’ jeans. It began not as a fashion statement but for medical reasons. I’d fallen heavily on my backside one summer around 1980, with painful consequences, and eventually had to have a minor operation, which left me very tender. For weeks I couldn’t sit down without a rubber ring to sit on- and even that required considerable care. Wearing trousers was painful too, I was only really comfortable in a very light pair of summer-weight pyjamas, hardly the ideal kit for going out in.

Sitting cautiously in the doctor’s waiting room I read one of the old magazines left there. It’s the only place I ever read ‘Country Life’ or ‘Vogue’, but on this occasion I think it was some kind of magazine for walkers or outdoor life in some way. And there I read a review of Rohan Bags, which told me that they were tough but so light you had to look to check you were actually wearing trousers. It was I thought worth a try, and sent off for a pair that afternoon.

Sitting here writing this, I’m still wearing Bags, though not the same pair, but the design has changed little. They are comfortable, practical and reasonably hard-wearing, though they don’t quite stand up to the rigours of a photographic life, and I often have to ask my wife to patch the knees.  In a ruck outside the Israeli embassy a few years back one of the pockets got torn halfway off and I lost a CF card with most of my pictures on it, and covering the May Day march one year I heard a loud tearing sound as I knelt rapidly to photograph a group of children, and found a split up the front from crotch to waist – I spent the rest of the day photographing with my jacket tied around my waist as a skirt to keep me decent.

But generally they are great, and I can’t live without the four large pockets to (usually) keep things secure. I’ve tried others but I always come back to Bags. Rohan’s various jackets too are among the best, and I now seldom go out in anything else, and my two favourite jumpers are also from them.

A rare case where I got someone to pose so I could read both her t-shirt and the two GAP
signs – but she was still doing almost exactly the same as before I talked to her

Rohan has been described in the Daily Telegraph fashion column as “a British brand to relish, both for its practicality and glorious immunity to fashion”, and its an immunity that appeals to me.

But although the designs are British they are made internationally, including some in Bangladesh. The company has been a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) since 2005, working with their clearly set out standards for the treatment of factory workers in areas such as wages, working hours, conditions, forced and child labour which they insist all their garment suppliers sign up to. They regularly visit the suppliers throughout the year and pay independent and highly qualified auditors to check up on them.

War on Want organised the protest outside GAP as they were one of the outlets for clothing produced in the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh where 1,138 workers died on April 24, 2013. GAP is one of several companies who have refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety launched by War on Want and their Bangladeshi partners the National Garment Workers Federation.

There were quite a few video teams from various media organisations present, always a problem as they all want to do video interviews with anyone at all well known, which often means taking them away from the action for rather long periods. Still photographers want to photograph them in the centre of things, and if they do direct them (I seldom do) and stop the flow of things it is seldom for more than a few seconds. At times too, there was quite a scrum around fashion designer Katherine Hamnett in particular, making it difficult to take pictures.

While I think the main media often concentrate far too much on celebrities (and sometimes the actual event can be almost entirely neglected) as someone who tries to sell images to the media I do of course need to take pictures of the main figures at any protest, especially if they are well known. But I try hard to keep a balance.

But there are plenty of pictures in Rana Plaza Anniversary at GAP of Katherine Hamnett both modelling the t-shirt design she has donated to War on Want and speaking at the event, as well as of Amin Haque from the National Garment Workers speaking, and a few others of both. Another public figure taking part in the protest (and in my pictures) was London’s Green MEP Jean Lambert.

And this was another occasion where the 16mm fisheye came in useful – used here on the D700. There isn’t any real point putting it on the D800E for pictures like this as you don’t need a 32Mp file.


Inkjet musings

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Recently I’ve been making a set of prints for a show next month in London – details and invite coming shortly. It’s not a big deal, a dozen prints in a show together with around the same number by another artist whose work – watercolours and prints – I admire.

Again, I’ll perhaps write more about the subject matter later, but for the moment I’ll just say my contribution is in two parts, work I took on film around 2000, and digital images from this year. The practical details of the show have got me thinking quite a lot about the differences between film and digital and the possible methods of printing both of these.

Most of the earlier pictures I printed before, around the time I took it. In 2000 I made the prints in my own darkroom where  I had a Durst roller processor system running using RA4 chemicals. They were exposed using a Durst AC707 enlarger that was a sweet piece of kit and was fitted with the best enlarging lenses that money could buy. Then, a dozen exhibition prints would have taken me perhaps a full week of printing, as despite some fairly expensive automation each would require a small mountain of tests as I built up a map of the dodging, burning and filtration changes to get just the result I wanted. Two images a day was good, three a real success and four would have been a red letter occasion. I’m not sure I ever made four really good prints in a day’s work.

I thought briefly about using these prints, but I couldn’t find all I wanted, and would like a set that would match. And looking on the wall high in front of me where I have hanging one of the images printed using my Epson R2400 inkjet and Ultrachrome K3 pigment inks on a watercolour paper and decided I liked this better than the C-types.

I wasn’t sure how much of the difference was that the inkjet print was printed from a scan – which had then been extensively adjusted in Photoshop to do exactly the kind of things I used to do in the darkroom but much more precisely – or because of the actual printing process. I considered for a while the halfway house of sending the scanned files to be printed as digital C-types on Fuji Crystal Archive – I have some great prints made this way from digital hanging on my bathroom wall.  But in the end decided to print them myself using the R2400/K3 setup. It would be a little cheaper, take me rather less time. Either way I’d be spending the same time in Photoshop, but I’d save the journey to the lab to take in the files. But the main reason was that I thought I could make better prints.

One of the dozen images I had to print was the odd man out, in that I’d taken it shortly after moving to digital. It stands out to me for two reasons, that the colour is cleaner and truer than those made on film, and that there is just a little lack in fine detail, as the Nikon D100 I was using when I took it just didn’t have quite enough pixels. To make an image at the same size as the others I had to print at 250 dpi, while the high quality film scans are scaled down from around 450 dpi.

The second set of half a dozen pictures in the show were taken with the D800E and the superior qualities of digital over film are clearly visible. The file sizes are roughly the same as the scans from film, but much smoother; I’m not sure there is any more detail but it is clearer and sharper.  And the prints – also on the R2400/K3 –  are certainly better.

I thought and wrote about this because of a short series of article – and some rather long sets of comments upon them – on The Online Photographer blog about the continuing prejudice in some circles against inkjet prints, and suggesting we might need a special name for those produced with quality and longevity in mind as opposed to the typical output from cheap inkjets on cheap paper. Perhaps the only point that almost all are in agreement on is that we shouldn’t call them giclée!

As on any internet forum there are some very ill-informed comments and sheer nonsense, but here there are also some interesting comments from some authorities. In a comment on his first article, Big Mystery,  editor Michael Johnson makes the point that:

“with the exception that most past techniques had distinctive ‘looks’ that specific individuals might have liked and preferred. In terms of controllability, color purity, sharpness, lightfastness, enlargeability, and permanence, the best 2014 inkjet technology surpasses any and all ‘readily available, practical’ traditional color techniques”

to which the site’s Technical Editor, Ctein adds:

“Speaking to the point that Mike didn’t—color gamut—inkjet printing is vastly superior to any chromogenic or dye-bleach process. This isn’t debatable”

and continues to speak about dye transfer, a process for which he has a great reputation:

“Any assertion that dye transfer prints are objectively superior has to be questioned closely.”

A follow-on feature, P+I+P Standards: A Proposal for Future Printmaking Standardization which picks up a point made in the comments is perhaps of less interest. It’s suggestion of some fancy name (IHD) for certain inkjet prints seems to me as silly and unnecessary as the use of the term giclée and the suggestion of ISO or some other certification is I think both unnecessary and unworkable.

To me, IHD sounds too much like that nastily heat-treated milk that makes tea undrinkable, and the other set of proposed initials, VSD, is surely something you should see your doctor about.*

Perhaps the best think is again in the comments, with Ctein again coming out strong.  But as others suggest, this is a non-solution to a non-problem. Some of the most expensive photographic prints sold have been inkjet prints, and certainly these have been common in many galleries for years, often described under obfuscatory names (something I’ve often had a little fun in commenting on in the past.) And if a few dealers have a particular prejudice against them (as some certainly do) it has nothing to do with the actual quality or longevity of the prints.

That it has taken rather longer for black and white inkjet prints to be accepted is perhaps connected to the rather poorer quality of black and white prints produced by most printer manufacturer’s inksets, a problem that has certainly been overcome by the efforts of third party ink makers such as Jon Cone with his several generations of ‘Piezography’ inks.  Ink sets such as his have also prompted the printer manufacturers to raise their monochrome game, and prints made by – for example – Epson’s K3 inks using their ABW printing are now almost in the same league. Many – including photographers – have mistaken mine made on baryta papers for silver gelatin prints.

What in the end was not the final piece, On Vintage Prints (A Last Word) ends (at least at the moment) with a comment by Kenneth Tanaka: “I have seen, and done, more than enough inkjet printing to know that the medium is no longer a valid basis for prejudicial judgement. If you see an ugly print blame the Printer not the printer.”

And, perhaps finally (but I wouldn’t bet on it), Are They Or Aren’t They? beings with a long comment from, the mysteriously named  ‘MHMG’ which perhaps sums up the technical side of things.

* And just in case you are wondering, I simply describe my prints as “pigment inkjet prints”, though of course if anyone asks I’m happy to give them more details – for example that they are printed on the now discontinued Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk (rumoured soon to be produced again.) The only people who ever do are other photographers.

Staines Passion

Monday, May 26th, 2014

I had been asked if I would take some photographs of the Staines Passion play, which was being put on with a large cast of volunteer actors by Churches Together in Staines on Holy Saturday, and agreed to do so. Four years ago I’d photographed the ‘Passion of Jesus‘ performed on by the players from Wintershall on Good Friday in Trafalgar Square, so I had a good idea of what to expect,as this was based on their version of the gospel stories.

There were two major differences between this and Trafalgar Square. One was of course the venue, and the other the scale of the event, with a few of the scenes being rather reduced, but the story was the same, roughly following the gospel versions at least until the final scene after the discovery of the empty tomb, where the gospel stories perhaps get too diffuse to make good theatre.

Staines is pretty flat and lacks the terrace, the fountains, that rather tall column, the statuary and the surrounding grand buildings of Trafalgar Square. The action in Staines all took place on a rather nondescript grassy area between the Riverside car park and the Methodist Church, which is part of the Memorial Gardens. These were redeveloped perhaps 20 years ago when the memorial was moved a few yards away to what had been the Market Square in front of the former Town Hall. That square could have become a fine piece of townscape, but the possibilities were scuppered when they closed the museum in the Old Fire Station and gave the Town Hall away to become a pub (since closed.)

The gardens themselves were given a makeover that more or less lost any atmosphere they once had, though it was a real shame that the rather gloomy bandstand was so seldom used. There are a couple of mildly interesting entrance arches (they have been compared to the crossed swords of the Arc of Triumph in Baghdad and the whalebone arches of Whitby and elsewhere) and a replica of the London Stone, replaced not far from its original position after a long period hidden in a park half a mile up river, but otherwise are rather a disaster. In particular their is a long strip of ‘water feature’, a narrow stone ditch that most people only notice when it trips them up and local wags occasionally fill with detergent. Hard to think why this was thought a good idea when there is a much larger water feature – the River Thames – running alongside the gardens, and a few months ago threatening to engulf them. The car park did get flooded, by an own goal, with water being pumped from the Thames by the council to feed Sweep’s Ditch fortunately failing to do so as the outlet got blocked by flood debris.

The few small artificial lumps in the grass and some small areas of planting made it possible to adapt one edge of the grass to serve as three or four different areas for the performance, with a large open grass area for seating in front of them. For most of the audience, sitting on the grass, there was a good view except for one area, which was largely obscured by others in the audience standing at that side. But most will have seen rather more of what was happening than in the Trafalgar Square performance.

The sound too, was rather better than in Trafalgar Square (though things may have improved since 2010) but the row of speakers at regular intervals along the front of the audience seated on the grass did sometimes rather get in the way when taking photographs.

It was rather tricky to get to the right place at the right time through the performance, as the action moved from one side to the other. There were just a few things I missed completely, or didn’t quite manage to photograph as I would have liked. I could have come back and taken more at the second performance, but instead I went home to sort the pictures out.

The performance was being officially recorded on video, with several cameras in different positions, and proper stills coverage would have needed several photographers as well. But I think I did pretty well in terms of telling the story – but you can judge for yourself in the selection of pictures at
Staines Passion.

There are other similar performances elsewhere – and Wintershall themselves were putting on a performance in Guildford High St at the same time as that in Staines, which moves along the High St among the shoppers as well as those who have come specifically to watch. The Staines Passion is expected to take place in later years and may perhaps evolve, but it seemed to get off to a very successful start.


Roman Staines

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Good Friday is a day when Christians in different places around the country engage in processions of witness. I’ve often photographed these in Westminster and a few other places in central London, where there are some rather fancier churches and some better known people taking part.

2010 I photographed my third Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nicholls, now Cardinal Vincent Nichols, but there were so many photographers present, and I felt their presence was considerably too intrusive. Of course I tried to behave with appropriate reverence, but others did not, and I wasn’t too keen to go and repeat the experience another year.

Of course, Westminster is not the only game in town, and I’ve also photographed processions in Waterloo, Islington and Archway, as well as the Butterworth Charity at St Bartholemew the Great in Smithfield, and possibly elsewhere. But in the last few years I’ve stayed closer to home and photographed the procession in the town where I live, Staines.

There is nothing very special about Staines. There were settlements in the area thousands of years before the Romans came, and while they built a town here where their road to the south-west went over the Thames, all that was soon gone (though archaeologists made many interesting discoveries in the last half of the last century where they managed to get on to sites before the concrete was poured.) When I was young you could still see cattle being driven down one of its major roads, but it had one major claim to fame. Around the world people walked on linoleum made here – and the air was heavy with the stench of linseed oil. Vinyl put paid to lino; the works is now a shopping centre, and the air is now thick with the pollution and fumes from the M25 and Heathrow instead.

And it was to that shopping centre that the Staines Procession of Witness made its way from the Methodist Church close to the River Thames (spitting distance from where the Romans probably crossed it) to the former lino, now the ‘Two Rivers Shopping Centre’. Neither of the rivers is the Thames; the lino came here in the 1860s to a mill on the River Colne, and around the site’s western edge runs the Wyradisbury River, one of several distributaries of the Colne. A third stream, Sweep’s Ditch.  ran from the Colne along the southern edge of the site, but was blocked by redevelopment in the 1970s and now begins half a mile to the south, with water pumped specially from the Thames.

But it did seem appropriate because of the town’s history that there should be a group of four Roman soldiers taking part in the procession, although their presence was rather connected with the history of Christianity and the Holy Land than Staines past. It was Staines one day on that they were there to publicise, when Christians in the town were staging for the first time an open-air performance of the Staines Passion, based loosely on the Passion of Jesus as performed on by the players from Wintershall in Trafalgar Square which I photographed it in 2010.

Staines used to be one of the major towns of Middlesex, but is now a rather minor partner in Spelthorne, whose true blue councillors don’t much care for the downmarket area of the borough, and whose council officers would like to cover it most of it with high-rise offices (and but for the crash might have succeeded.)  It’s also since 1965 a part of Surrey, rather to the disgust of many Staines residents who thus failed to get the advantages of being a part of Greater London – like regular buses.   More recently they played a nasty trick on the town, changing its official name to ‘Staines Upon Thames’, though I’ve never heard any real Staines resident use the new name except in mockery. It appears to have happened because of a drunken bet in the Conservative Club and was achieved by a pathetically bent consultation. Apparently some Conservatives thought that Ali G had given Staines a bad name – but that just shows they have no sense of humour. The local football club had adopted him as their mascot, with some die-hard fans copying his mode of dress for matches.

But a few years ago, Spelthorne did try and spend a little money on Staines, producing a disastrous riverside area and an ‘Art Trail’ with some artworks of very varied quality.  A couple of these were on the route of the procession, and I tried hard to feature them in my pictures, though not too successfully.  The mosaic is one of the better pieces, but the soldiers marched around the wrong side of it for my picture, showing the rather plain backs of their shields.

But it was better than my attempt to use the sculpture of the lino workers, where there were just too many people in the way for the picture to work. The goal of the procession was another of the art works, Time Continuum (aka the Two Dancers) which supposedly represents two thousand years of Staines, and is a sundial made with the two figures (supposedly a Roman man and a modern woman) on a mound.

As usual the 16mm fisheye came in useful, both held way up above my head and a couple of Roman soldiers to give an overall view, and in the top picture on this post, where I think the perspective adds a little interest to the three women singing, although I think the Sally Army woman is a little worried that I was getting so close.

After the event had finished and all the hot cross buns were given out (and I had my second of the day) I waited around for the Roman soldiers to march back to the Methodist Church were they would be changing back into civvies and continuing their rehearsals for the following day’s Passion play.

I’d hoped to get a picture of them together with that sculpture of the men with the lino, and I did, but not a good one, as one of them suffered a severe wardrobe malfunction just before they reached it, with the strap on his shield becoming unstrapped. So although you can see a picture in Good Friday in Staines it only has two or the soldiers rather than the neat patrol of four I’d hoped for.

Curved Images

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

This picture and that below this paragraph were both taken from more or less the same position and more or less the same time. As you can see, I’ve moved just a little to my right in to taken the lower image, hiding the lower part of the Banksy image behind the Palestinian flag.

Both are images take with a lens of focal length 16mm on full-frame sensors. The upper image was made with the 16-35mm on the D700 and the lower with the 16mm Nikon full-frame fisheye. The most obvious difference is the much wider angle of view both horizontally and vertically in the lower image.

The difference in perspective is very marked, particularly in the floor tile and in the ceiling, but much less so in the central strip where the people and the banners are. The differences between the two images would be rather greater if I had not used the Fisheye-Hemi plug-in for Photoshop on the lower image, transforming it to cylindrical perspective. In the original fisheye image those hefty square pillars were curved, but here the verticals remain straight.

The plug-in also makes the centre of the lower image jump out a little less; straight from the camera it would have been more dominant, and objects close to the edges, such as the man on the left such as the figures at either edge would have been noticeably thin and curved. You also lose a little at each corner of the image and have to allow for this in framing our images. Somehow looking though the viewfinder these corner parts that are lost aren’t very important, perhaps because of the their smaller scale and curvature.

I don’t like to use the word ‘distortion’ about them; it isn’t really a distortion, just a different perspective. The fisheye in fact seems to have very little distortion, and the rectilinear lens rather more. Some time back I decided that for the kind of subject matter I more often photograph a little distortion is seldom a problem, and changed the default profile Lightroom uses with images from the 16-35mm so as not to bother to correct it.  It shows up in the upper image, particular in the lines in the floor which have a slight curve. If I had thought about it when I was processing these images in Lightroom I would have corrected this by turning the distortion setting on the profile tab for Lens corrections back to 100% for these rectilinear images. Then those lines would have been truly straight.

Lightroom’s default for the 16mm is also to try and straighten these curves for the lower image, forcing it into rectilinear perspective but this just does not work. The image just gets too stretched and blurred towards the corners – where there just aren’t enough pixels to work with.

You can use this and crop the image to remove the soft edges, but you end up with an image that could have been taken with the 16mm rectilinear lens (or perhaps just a little wider.) If you don’t use very wide angles very often and your widest other lens was something like a 21mm or a 24mm it might be more useful to supplement this with the semi-fisheye 16mm (or its equivalent on the DX format, the 10.5mm) especially if you use a D800 which has plenty of pixels to spare. Then you would have the really extreme (180 degree diagonal angle of view and around 147 degrees horizontal) fisheye or, after cropping the equivalent of something like a 12-20mm digital zoom in a very small and light and relatively cheap package. With 32Mp to play with you can crop quite a lot and still end up with a decent size hi-res image.

The same kind of think is also possible at the long end. At times I leave the 70-300mm at home knowing that in an emergency I can crop  the 16Mp DX image I get from the 18-105mm DX lens and crop the images from that to give myself the equivalent of the 300mm with enough pixels for almost all purposes.

The occasion for a whole series of six truly ultrawide images was when a protest outside the G4S offices in Victoria St against the services they provide for Israeli prisons where Palestinians are locked up, often without charge or trial and many are tortured decided to move inside into the office foyer. Most of the images were made with the 16-35mm, but there is a series of half a dozen starting with the one above that were made with the fish-eye.

Here is another. It’s obvious when you look at it and think about it, but I don’t think most people would notice. And it is the pictures that don’t immediately make you think ‘fisheye’ (or anything else about how they were made) but get you looking at and thinking about the subject matter than I think are successful.

More pictures (and text) at G4S Occupied on Palestinian Prisoners Day.

Barts Tries Censorship

Monday, May 19th, 2014

I never take kindly to being told I can’t take photographs anywhere.  I was at the protest outside the Royal Whitechapel Hospital in Whitechapel in a crowd of around a hundred people, probably at least half of whom were using their phones or compact cameras when a security man came up to me and asked “Excuse me, Sir, are you from the press?”

It’s a question that always makes me remember a film showing one of the greatest pioneers of photojournalism, ‘Eisie’, Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995) working on the streets of New York, photographing kids at play, who when asked whether he was a professional replied that no, he was just an amateur*.  And of course he was a great amateur in the original sense of the word, a lover of photography. And so too am I. And given the current level of fees the press are willing to pay we are all getting to be amateurs in every sense now.

So it’s always something of a judgement call what to reply to such questions. And there are a few events where I wear my press card visibly, around my neck, but rather more where I keep it in my pocket. Everyone has a right to photograph and I don’t usually want to claim any special privileges.

But it was a polite question, and he showed me his ID card, and when I told him I was a freelance journalist he told me I could not photograph as this was land owned by the Barts Hospital NHS Trust.

I had several problems with that. Firstly it was clear that he was not attempting to stop others around me from taking pictures, so this seemed clearly to be an attack on the freedom of the press to report events, and an attempt at censorship. Secondly, the NHS trust is a public body, paid for out of my taxes as a member of the public and I feel that gives me some rights. But overriding everything was the legitimate public interest in what was happening.

So I made it clear that I intended to continue taking pictures and did so, and the security didn’t bother me any more. It seemed a particularly inept attempt to control media coverage of the event, and one that was aimed at me alone. Among the others recording the event were a couple of professional videographers who were not approached. Or perhaps they just gave up after they found I told them they had to be joking.

Local GP Dr Anna Livingstone,

It wasn’t a hugely photogenic event as you can see at Barts cuts Health Advocacy & Interpreting but over an issue which is of great importance to the local community as well as arising out of wider issues over the future of the NHS across the country. It wasn’t the first time I’d photographed in the grounds of the hospital either, and there had been some rather strange responses from security last October at the protest  Scrap Royal London NHS PFI Debt
when police had to persuade them to let the protest happen in the roadway leading to the hospital after it was clear the numbers were creating a severe problem on the Whitechapel Road.

Mark Cubbon, Executive Director of Delivery came to receive the petition

You can see more of the hugely expensive new building, both on the outside and some views from the staff canteen area in Whitechapel – Hospital Views.

* I don’t think the film I used to play to classes about ‘Eisie’ is available on-line, and although some of his best work is on the LIFE site, this seems to be a site which really fails to celebrate the photographers and it is difficult to look at more than odd pieces of work by him. But on YouTube you can watch in four parts a BBC programme Alfred Eisenstaedt Master Photographer from 1983 where he says the same thing at the end of part 3.


Olympic Park’s Sad Legacy

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Wednesday 16 April was a fine day, warm and with a clear blue sky. I had a couple of events in the early evening in my diary to photograph, but it was far too nice a day not to go out before then and enjoy. And since the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park had opened to the public a few days earlier it seemed a good idea to go there (it was almost on my way) and spend the afternoon looking around it and taking pictures.

I’d already decided that I wanted to make panoramic images, and it wasn’t really a perfect day for that, as the sky was just blue. Almost all panoramics contain large areas of it, and the images almost always work better with some impressive clouds breaking up the blue, as I’d been fortunate enough to have on my previous panoramic outing to Wandsworth.

Occasionally you can avoid large areas of blue sky. But is this a park?

Blue skies are rather bland, but also when working with a wide angle of view pose problems because there is a gradation across them as recorded on film or digital that can look very unnatural – something our visual system largely corrects.  It’s quite difficult to correct the effect in post processing and get it looking natural and very easy to get light and dark patches. It was particularly a problem in the park as many of the views included the sun. The 16mm Nikon full-frame fisheye I was using is remarkably flare-free but of course the sensor can’t quite handle the extremes of brightness this presents, and there is some ‘burning out’ in the sky area around the sun, simply more light than the sensor can respond to.

Tests such as that by DXOMark showed the D800 sensor gave it the highest score ever recorded for dynamic range at 14.4 EV and it is certainly very effective at handling high contrast scenes (I think better than colour neg film ever was – and of course transparency film allowed you no hope.)  And with no clouds in the sky to reflect light into the shadows there was very high contrast (and very blue shadows.)

So technically it was workable, though not always too attractive. And while I’ve previously been looking at using the full vertical scope of the image at its centre in the perspective transformation, for these images I decided they were going to look better with rather less sky, and made them thinking in terms of cropping the vertical dimension.  A few of the full-frame images actually have some of my fingers visible in the image, being used as a ‘flag’ to block the direct sun, and later cropped out, though this seldom seemed to make a huge difference. You do get some flare close to the sun, so it is a problem if you have subject matter there you want to include so you can’t crop that area, but otherwise it seldom seems to make a great difference to the rest of the image.

Pacing the horizon high helps this image, where the top half would be rather empty otherwise

Using the camera and lens in this way does give the equivalent of a rising or falling front. One small problem with panoramas is the need to keep the camera level (something the level indicators in the D800E viewfinder make much simpler.) So assuming the horizon is visible, it will always go across dead centre of the image. Cropping vertically allows you to place it above or below the centre and provide some variation.

And the low horizon helps here, eliminating some rather empty foreground.

It wasn’t easy at times to work out where I was in relation to the old area. The whole land surface has been replaced, and there are no longer hills and slopes in the same places. Everything has gone, and virtually the only things that are still there from before are the various streams of the River Lea (except for the Pudding Mill River, for some years mostly only a small stream.)   But all the old buildings and trees have gone and what is left seems to me more like a desert than a park.

I listened to some of the other people also exploring the park. All that I heard where people who only knew it from the Olympics and were recognising some of the changes since then. Some of them seemed to be quite enthusiastic, but there was little I could see that made me feel at all positive.

This was perhaps one of the best views. It is hardly a picture of a park. You can see the rest of what I took online at QE Olympic Park Panoramics.



Friday, May 16th, 2014

A protester signals ‘No Fourth term’ for President Bouteflika

I have to admit to having no idea who ‘Boutef’ was before getting an invitation on Facebook to cover a protest at the Algerian embassy. Nor for that matter did I know where the Algerian embassy was, though I recognised the address on the Facebook page as being just around the corner from the BBC.

In case you are as ignorant as me, Abdelaziz Bouteflika is the President of Algeria and has been so since 1999, with constitutional amendments allowing him to stand for a third term in 2009 and again to stand for a fourth term from 2014.

Six days after this London protest he was re-elected, having gained 81% of the votes in an election in which slightly over half of those eligible voted. Opposition parties boycotted the vote amid allegations of fraud and the rigging of the whole system, particularly through state-run TV and radio.

There were widespread protests in Algeria in 2010-12 during the ‘Arab Spring’ but these were at first heavily suppressed and then largely bought off by decreases in basic food prices and led to no real change.  Protest remains illegal in Algeria.

This part of Riding House Street is gloomy and narrow, with high buildings on both sides, and it is easy to miss the Algerian embassy. The protest was in the street outside, with people occasionally having to clear the road for a car to pass by, but there was little traffic and it was all slow-moving, inconvenient rather than dangerous, but it did perhaps inhibit the protest.

My biggest problem was with the various masks that people had brought along and wore or held. I’m poor on recognition skills of UK politicians (quite a few Conservative ministers seem rather lacking in character) but totally out of my depth when it comes to Algerians.

At least these facial images were largely clear and well-produced, unlike so many used in protests, where considerable post-processing is often needed to make them look even vaguely human.  But as to who they were pictures of, I had to admit defeat.

Usually when I have problems over the identity of people I turn to Google. It’s usually great when I’ve a name written down but am unsure of the spelling or if I’m not quite sure who was who. I can search for names and for images to find out who it was that I photographed.

But on this occasion, checking on Google images when writing the story simply made me more confused. I hope I got what captions I did add correct, but there were some I just could not identify.

One thing I could easily identify was the Algerian flag, which many of the protesters were waving and was soon revealed on a cake.   I particularly liked the hands that all came to join in the cutting of it.

The cake created a small problem for the protesters, with it being impossible to eat through a cardboard mask, though some tried for the photographers.

And that is a bit of off-target green cream on this mask, though don’t ask me whose face it is.

Dedicated photographer that I am, I was still busily taking pictures when one of my colleagues handed me a paper plate with a very large slice of it, including a part of that light green tall creamy border and the deep green flag. At that point photography ceased while I attended to more serious matters.

More pictures at Against the Electoral Masquerade in Algeria.

I did take a few more pictures after eating the cake – including the one at the top of this post, but had to leave shortly after for another protest, conveniently just a short walk away. But it was one without cake.