Archive for June, 2014

Derbyshire & Sheffield

Friday, June 20th, 2014

It was good to get away from London for a weekend, although it was a bit rushed and not entirely relaxing.  But I was able to spend a little time using the Fuji XE1 and both the 14mm and 18-55mm and 8mm Samyang lenses.

The 14mm was great for some group pictures (not included on My London Diary) at the conference weekend I was taking part in, and also a good lens for some landscape pictures. But I did have one problem with it. It’s largely a matter of getting familiar with the system and I haven’t yet used it enough to spot the things that are likely to go wrong.

The focus ring on the lens has a nice feature which switches from manual to autofocus by a short push towards or away from the camera body, which also hides and displays the distance scale. It works very well and needs just enough of a push that you are unlikely to change it accidentally. It’s also very clear in the viewfinder when you are using autofocus, with a green rectangle or cross (depending on whether you are using single or continuous autofocus) appearing, But I still managed to make quite a few exposures with the lens in the manual position while I thought I was using autofocus.  I’ve now set it to make a beep as well – something I really find annoying, but perhaps I need it.

It’s particularly annoying, because one of the things I really like about the Fuji-X cameras is how quiet they are compared to the Nikons. The other great thing is of course their light weight and small size.

On the Saturday afternoon we had a free couple of hours and left hoping to get to the top of Mam Tor, which was not a huge distance from the conference centre. I took the XE1, three lenses and several spare batteries, the camera on a strap around my neck, a lens in each of the large pockets on left and right of my waterproof and one on the camera, the plastic bag of batteries in an inside pocket. No need for a camera bag.

It was raining on and off, and it was no problem to tuck the XE1 inside my jacket to keep it dry, unlike the Nikon with the 16-35mm which is just a little bulky to fit comfortably. I could easily have fitted in a second Fuji body and lens too.

There were a few times when I would have liked something longer than the 18-55mm (27-83mm equivalent); the extra reach of the Nikon DX 18-105mm is really a big advantage. But it does weigh 35% more and takes a 67mm filter compared to 58mm for the Fuji – despite the Fuji being almost a stop faster. Optically I don’t think there is much to choose between the two; despite the Nikon being one of the cheapest Nikon lenses it is a better performer than many in their range, though the build quality is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that I’m now on my third example. The Fuji certainly seems better built and is more expensive when bought alone.

Even more expensive at around £750 is the new Fuji XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR which is roughly the same size as the Nikon, but looks pretty impressive – and is weather resistant with a claim that it offers the equivalent of 5 stops of image stabilization to partly make up for its rather low maximum aperture.

But for most purposes you can use a bit of ‘digital magnification’, cropping the 4896 x 3264 pixels (16.3 Mp) to say 3264 x 2176 – still 7Mp – and enough for most purposes. That makes the 55mm into a respectable 127mm telephoto. I think I’ll stick with the 18-55mm, though possibly getting a longer zoom for those few occasions where length is vital. Of course it’s actually the wider end that interests me more, and the Fuji 10-24mm f4 R OIS is a rather lighter alternative to the Nikon 16-35mm, so may well be my next lens purchase.

Unfortunately we ran out of time and had to turn back before the final climb to the top of Mam Tor, but at least is wasn’t because of exhaustion at carrying a heavy camera bag. But it does still take longer to take photographs on Fuji than on Nikon, and there were still some of those frustrating moments where the quickest way to bring the camera into life was to turn it off and then on again. If only Fuji could follow Nikon’s example, where the lightest touch on the release instantly brings the camera back into picture-making mode.

There is still some steel in Sheffield

I had a second chance to use the camera on the way home, where I was able to take a more leisurely walk around a little of central Sheffield as we had an hour to two to wait for a train. With a little more time to take care over what I (and the Fuji EX1) was doing there were no problems with the photographs.

More pictures from Derbyshire and Sheffield.


Adobe Upgrades

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Today was I think a good day for photographers so far as Adobe products are concerned. I don’t know if the upgrade to Lightroom 5.5 really changes a great deal, but like most such upgrades, it does feel just a little snappier, which is no bad thing. And I’ve yet to try the updated Bridge and to do anything substantial with  Photoshop CC 2014, though I don’t think any of the enhancements that Julieanne Kost enthuses about will have any great impact on my work – or that of any other real photographer. If I want motion blur etc I’ll take photographs of things that are moving.

Perhaps the improved content-aware fill tool will help improve retouching my scans but most of the other things – like most Photoshop features – are ways to destroy the photographic nature and content of your images rather than tools to enhance. At least 90% of Photoshop should be irrelevant to photographers, but we use it because it does the 10% better than anything else, though it sometimes needs a little help from plugins.

It’s taken a bit of fiddling around to get my favourite plugins working with 64bit Photoshop CC and with Photoshop CC 2014. There are strict instructions to use the plugin providers install software rather than trying to install by hand, but this didn’t work for me for some. Fortunately finding the correct ‘64.8bf’ files and copying them to the plugins directory does work. But having four versions of Photoshop on my system is probably confusing. Perhaps I can cut it down to two now.

But the good news (or at least slightly good news) is that the $9.99 per month photographers package is now a standard one rather than a special offer (with VAT that’s £8.78 in the UK – or you can save 50p a year with a pre-paid annual sub.) It isn’t quite the same, with less cloud storage and no ‘Behance’ portfolio for new subscribers (I haven’t used either) but seems to me to be reasonable value, costing not very much more than the regular upgrades to Lightroom used to. And if, as most photographers seem to nowadays you buy new cameras fairly often, you do need to keep Lightroom up to date. I’d want to in any case, as so far each new full version upgrade – the ones I had to pay for – has added welcome improvements.

It would be even better value if I had an iPad and iPhone now that Lightroom works on these too, something I can see many photographers making use of, though you are only able to work on ‘smart previews’ rather than the actual files.

I’d rather that Adobe had not gone the CC route, but I can see why they have elected to do so. So many photographers I know use somewhat less than legal versions of their software. And I can see why they do as well, given the cost of the old standalone versions – it was really just too expensive for many photographers. Until the announcement yesterday I was a little worried that Adobe had not got the message and might ramp up the price again, but it looks as if they now realise the different market.

My Panoramic Adventures

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

For those who missed my speech at the opening of City Streets and River Paths, here is the complete text – less only the few words of introduction and thanks and with a few minor corrections and some stage directions and explanations.  None of the illustrations to this post are included in the show, except for the image on the cover of Thamesgate Panoramas.

My Adventures in Panoramic Photography

My adventures in panoramic photography began close to the River Thames, the subject of my pictures in this show. Aged 16 I piled into the back of a battered van with nine other senior sea scouts and we took off for a tour of Scotland. On Skye, four of us were sent to walk across the Cuillins; in exact opposition to Baden Powell’s motto ‘Be Prepared’ we had little suitable equipment and only the sketchiest of maps.

We waded through bogs and streams, up hills and valleys, got soaked by torrential rain and exhausted.  We had a long detour as our expected crossing point of a major river was under feet of flood water, but finally on the second day when the sun had come out I climbed a ridge and saw in front of me a magnificent wide vista, across some lower peaks and down into a hidden valley were the sun was glinting on a lake.

I reached for my camera – there were still a few pictures remaining on the roll of 20 I’d bought for the fortnight holiday – raised it to my eye and immediately was hit by a deep frustration. The scene was this wide but the picture could only show this. (You will have to imagine my wide flung arms narrowing to a ‘standard’ lens view.)

The next day, coming down what are perhaps Britain’s most impressive mountains to our rendezvous I had another unforgettable panoramic experience. Losing my footing I found myself taking a vertical route through the air, the splendid view whirling upside-down for a second or two – and then – oblivion! (My right fist slammed into my left palm. In the event I came round to the anxious face of one of my companions who had climbed down more slowly to the small patch of grass on which I had landed, the large rucksack on my back cushioning the fall – but on the opening night I left my cliff hanging.)

The history of panoramic photography is virtually as old as photography itself; in the Daguerreotype era two approaches emerged that are still with us. The first was simply to take several pictures and display them side by side, and the second – patented in Austria in 1843 – involved some ingenious clockwork rotating a lens to scan the image onto a curved plate behind.

Around 20 years later I made my first successful panorama by the first method, once again close to the Thames, on Bow Creek – the final few tidal miles of the River Lea, where the river turns through around 360 degrees in the first of two great bends – squeezing through a gap in fencing on Orchard Place and taking a careful series of five overlapping images as I rotated the camera on the tripod. Back home I printed these, trimmed them carefully and mounted them in a line. They almost fitted together (and the sixth on the right or the set I had to discard.)

Years later I combined them digitally with this result for an article on making panoramas

Ten years later still I read the book on Panoramic Photography, with its rules on making panoramas most of which I still regularly break today, but it did inspire me to save for a Japanese clockwork swing lens camera.  Soon after I bought it I went back to Bow Creek, now a building site, and left sunny central London to find the area covered in dense fog. I could hardly see the viaduct of the Dockland Light Railway being constructed that I’d come to photograph.

Shivering with cold I almost went home without taking a picture, but I’d made a long journey so thought I’d take one or two. You can see a little more in the pictures than I remember and one of them became one of my best-known pictures – and the first of mine to somehow mysteriously enter the Museum of London collection.

Docklands Light Railway crosses the River Lea, 1992

My earlier pictures on the wall from around 2000 came partly as a result of the breakup of the Russian Empire. This and the digital revolution that created the World Wide Web enabled me to order a Russian-made miniature swing-lens camera through the Ukrainian black market. It arrived as a ‘gift’ in plain brown-paper wrapping for £170 – probably the only camera I’ve ever bought that I’ve dared to tell my wife how much it cost.

Its big advantage was that – unlike the expensive Japanese model which made do with two arrows marked on its top to define its view – it had a viewfinder. During exposure the lens swings round through around a third of a circle, recording a roughly 120 degree view onto normal 35mm film, though the frames are the same width as a medium format camera.  Some of the pictures from the show are in this book

(At this point in my speech I should have held up Thamesgate Panoramas, but realised I’d left it in my bag on the other side of the room. But I did go and get the next exhibit below.)

Digital photography now means everyone has a camera or phone that can take panoramas, though for seamless high quality results you still need to take a series of images and stitch them together with specialised software. With Mireille Galinou’s help I was able to gain entry to a number of gardens behind those high private walls of St John’s Wood and make a series of images for this book and a show at the arts café she then ran. The image on the back of the book (and now 36 inches wide on my stairs) was produced from around a dozen separate exposures, which between them contained one full dog and around half a dozen dog parts as the animal rushed around the garden.

Since then I’ve been working on a method of making high quality digital panoramas with a single digital exposure, and the second half dozen of my images, from the Thames path in Battersea and Wandsworth were produced in this way.

Of course, in the end the techniques are just a means to an end, and it is the pictures that matter. I hope you enjoy them – and thanks for coming.


I wrote a little about the methods I was trying to make digital panoramas in January’s post New Panoramas, which included the above image. Unfortunately I got the maths slightly wrong and failed to display it correctly in the post. Here is how it should have looked (and it now does, as I’ve just corrected the original.)

The recent images in the current show are all roughly 42 x 22 cm, giving them an aspect ratio of 1.9 which I’m now using as a standard. It would have been good to print them larger – and at 300 dpi they would print around 75cm wide and would still look good larger still. But the costs of printing and framing dictated a smaller size for this show. Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to show more images and larger images, but for the moment you can see more more or less as I make them in various posts on My London Diary.


Singing about Vanessa

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Great to see a fine article by Sean O’Hagan, Vanessa Winship: the great, unsung chronicler of the world’s outsiders in The Guardian.  I’ve been telling people for quite a while about her photography  – back in 2008 I wrote in a piece about not going to Arles that – judging from the previews,

the outstanding pictures were by Vanessa Winship, whose work has deservedly done well in several competitions in recent years (and her ‘Albanian Landscapes‘ was screened at Arles in 2003)

and not long after, looking at a photo diary about the festival I also noted that so far “only Vanessa Winship’s exhibition seems worth more than a cursory glance.”

There are quite a few more mentions of her over the years on this site, particularly Sweet Nothings – Vanessa Winship (2009) and (2013) which are perhaps still worth reading. This piece seems to be the 14th time I’ve written about her here and I think I had mentioned her when I wrote elsewhere. Also worth reading is Michael Grieve’s review of ‘she dances on Jackson’ in 1000 Words, which I also linked to in an earlier post.

So I can only echo the sentiment under the headline of O’Hagan’s Guardian blog:

“From Mississippi to the Black Sea, Winship’s poetic, masterful photographs show how hard it is for people to belong … so why don’t British galleries acknowledge her as this large Madrid retrospective does? She deserves it”

Though I’m afraid the explanation is unfortunately rather simple. She is a real photographer, and there is no major British gallery with a real interest in photography.

Opening Night

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Last night’s opening of ‘City Streets and River Paths‘ went well, and I didn’t get much time to take photographs, though there were quite a few others doing so, with a number of great photographers and artists present.  The picture above of Hilary Rosen speaking at the show was made while I was waiting to make my own speech, and perhaps isn’t one of my best efforts, and only shows the fringe of the audience listening to her.

I went a quarter of an hour before the opening began, meaning to take some installation pictures, but hadn’t quite finished the job when I was interrupted by people arriving. But they do give a reasonable impression of the hanging, though not really showing the space.

The Street Gallery is a very wide corridor along the street front of University College Hospital at pavement level, its north-facing front being almost entirely glass. The whole length is visible from the street, though you would need binoculars to get a good view of the pictures.  During most of the day it is a busy corridor, with people going along it to a canteen, the hospital pharmacy and other areas from the reception area, but it is wide enough for people to stop and look at the work on the wall without creating an obstruction. It really is a nice area for an exhibition, and I think the work looks good on the wall.

The gallery area is three separate lengths of wall, which I’ve shown in the 3 installation views. We could have chosen to hang our work separately, but tried to mix it together in a way that emphasized some of the commonalities between our work while preserving our identities  with clear blocks of work – so my 12 images are in two groups of three and one of six pictures.

At the opening, after an introduction by Guy Noble of UCLH Arts and Heritage, Hilary talked mainly about how we had come to collaborate together, which was followed by a rather longer speech by me on “my adventures with panoramas” – which will in new course appear, with some illustrations, as a post here.  I’d written it in my head lying awake in the early hours of the day, but as so often had forgotten some of the more striking phrases by the time I scribbled it down after breakfast. I should really have jumped out of bed and written it down in the middle of the night. It was mainly stories of some of the things that have happened to me, but did have a little about the history and different ways of working to create panoramas, including the impact of the digital revolution.

It was great to meet again so many old friends –  including several I’d not seen for a few years – and to meet a few new people. One of the advantages of showing with another artist for both of you is that you each attract your own group of friends and contacts. Of course many of those invited were unable to come – with quite a few out of the country as well as those with prior engagements, who sent messages promising to come and see the show at a later date. They have plenty of time, as the show doesn’t close until 30 July and is open at all hours.

Panoramas & Excalibur

Monday, June 16th, 2014

First, a final reminder that if you are in London tonight, Monday 16 June, you are welcome to come to the opening of my show with Hilary Rosen at the gallery in University College Hospital (details here.)

The show continues until the 30th July and I have two sets of six pictures, all panoramas. The first set were mainly made when I was working with two panoramic film cameras, the Hasselblad XPan and a considerably cheaper Russian Horizon 202.

The Hasselblad (actually a Fuji camera) received rave reviews, but at first I’d been a little disappointed. It came with a 45mm lens, which really didn’t give a very wide view. What really transformed it for me (though at high cost) was the 30mm, which with an angle of view of around 94 degrees stretched rectilinear perspective to its limits.  Vignetting was absurd, and the already slow F5.6 lens needed always to be used with a centre spot filter, reducing the exposure in the middle of the frame, making the light transmission more like an f10 or fll lens. But as with most Fuji lenses it was superb, and the lens the widest rectilinear lens available for any ‘medium format’ camera – which the XPan essentially was despite using 35mm film, with its 24 x 65mm frame.

But although that kit probably cost something approaching 20 times as much as the Horizon 202 (by then I was onto my second one of these, I think £170 sent in a plain brown-paper parcel from a private address in the Ukraine)  I think most of my best pictures were taken with this clockwork Russian swing-lens model.

It wasn’t just the wider angle of view – around 120 degrees – but the different perspective with the lens rotating about its centre to produce the image on film with the same centre of curvature (so keeping a constant lens centre to film distance and zero vignetting) that made it more interesting and more demanding to use. Stopped down to f5.6 or f8 the quality was similar to that of the Hasselblad too, and the negatives were quite similar in size. All except one of the six earlier pictures in the show was I think taken with the Horizon – and that sixth was made with a Nikon.

Not from the show, but a recent digital panorama from the Excalibur Estate in Catford

It’s taken me some time to really work out how best to work with a DSLR to make panoramic images. I did one project I like using Pt Gui and stitching multiple negatives. Its fine, but time-consuming and tricky with moving subjects, and needs fairly precise rotation around the nodal point if there are any really close objects in the scene – which is why many panoramas avoid any foreground. Images from a high viewpoint make life easy. But seldom makes for pictures that interest me.

Two road that meet at roughly a right angle. Excalibur Estate, Catford, 2014

The pictures from the Excalibur Estate in Catford that illustrate this post are my latest effort at producing digital panoramas. They have a horizontal angle of view of around 145 degrees and an aspect ration of 1.9:1, and almost all of them have plenty of foreground. None of these images have any moving objects in them, but that would cause no problem. And yes, I used PT Gui to make them.

Close objects are no problem. Excalibur Estate, Catford, 2014

I’m still working on the details – the images in the UCH show were made in a different way, and I keep having different ideas about how best to work, so it would perhaps be premature to give the details of how these were made, though it shouldn’t be difficult for anyone with a particular interest to work it out.

The Prefab Museum. Excalibur Estate, Catford, 2014

One of the empty pre-fabs on the Excalibur Estate has been transformed into a Prefab Museum, now open to the general public only on Saturdays (11am-5pm) and closing at the end of September. More details about this as well as a full set of 64 pictures from the historic estate, already part-demolished and most of the rest due to follow soon in Excalibur Estate on My London Diary


Prison Visit

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Technically Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre isn’t a prison, but people are still locked up there, some for many months on a stretch, though under different conditions to prison. They are locked up without trial and often get little recourse to justice. ‘Fast Track’ procedures were introduced because asylum seekers were making use of our justice system to appeal when refused asylum, and the Home Office decided that it would be better to deny them the chance to put their cases properly and whenever possible to get rid of them without proper consideration.

Handing the running of these immigration prisons to private companies has resulted in various corners being cut to increase profits. Conditions inside them have been strongly criticised by various reports, and led to hunger strikes. People are treated in a way that simply should not happen in any civilised society. We should all as a nation be ashamed of what happens inside them.

When I walked on to the site there were few protesters around and I and a couple of other photographers wandered up the drive to photograph the outside of the buildings. Workers coming out of the Colnbrook Detention Centre called out to one of the photographers, telling him that photography was not allowed there. They would like us to know nothing about these places or what goes in in them.

When the protest actually started, there were no problems with taking pictures, and the police had come to ask the protesters what they intended to do. The officer failed to get much of an answer, as nobody was in charge, but he told them that so long as they behaved sensibly the police would give them no problems.

Three police officers followed the protesters onto the road through the centre of the site –  with Harmondsworth Detention Centre on the left and Colnbrook on the right. It is a private road, though the barrier on it was raised and we walked past it. It leads at the end to a site belonging to BT, and the whole area was until 1966 the home of the Road Research Laboratory which I visited while in the sixth form.

The officers – and the two men in Serco jackets who joined them – kept their distance and watched the protesters, but didn’t interfere with the protest, even when there was a complaint that it was disturbing the airport security dogs in their kennels just to the north of the prison.  Last time I photographed a protest here, in November 2012,  when the protesters kept drumming on the tall prison fence they were told that they would be arrested if they continued, and then issued a warning that they were committing an aggravated trespass and would be arrested if they returned to the site within 3 months, but today the police just stood and watched.

Most of the drumming today came from a drum, and I didn’t see anyone kicking the fence, though it was attacked rather firmly by a frying pan, though even more effective was thumping it with palms, which made the whole structure resonate.

Those inside the prison responded to the protest, waving out of the windows. Phone calls to and from some of those inside told the protesters how pleased the inmates were to know that some people at least in the UK cared what was happening to them.

Few of the windows are visible except through a tall – roughly 12 ft  – fence, with fairly narrow gaps between the parallel wires that run along it. Auto-focus has no problems with focussing on the wire, but it is almost impossible to get it to auto-focus on the windows some distance behind.  I was using the 70-300mm at or close to the longer end on either the D700 or the D800E, and the images are cropped down, and depth of field was minimal.

Auto-focus is great, but one of the small problems with cameras that rely on it is that manual focus becomes rather more tricky. Focussing screens just aren’t made to work as well as they did when we relied on manual focus. But manual was the only way to get the hands at the window anything like sharp. I don’t think they clean the windows, and inside them I think there is also a rather dirty and sometimes scratched plastic pane. So people and hands were hard to see. But they certainly wanted to be seen.

I couldn’t really tell on the camera read screen if there was anything sharp on these frames. The raw files opened in Lightroom gave flat and rather indistinct images, and there were problems too with colour balance, as well as with the whole image being seen between those well out of focus wires.  Considerable post-processing was needed to get anything as distinct as you see here, and the horizontal wires and thicker vertical supports are still clearly visible over most of the image. What is rather surprising is the clarity of the designs on the shirts of two of the three men in the picture, although their hands and faces are still impressionistic.

On the west side of the prison, the car park stretches some way back, to a low bank covered with trees. Standing a little up this gave a clear view over the top of the fence of the top of the top floor windows. Reflections of the sky in the glass still made the  view far from clear, and quite a bit of post-processing, using the adjustment brush with various settings on different areas was needed.

You probably aren’t allowed to photograph here, but I’m sure there is an overriding public interest in making what is happening at places like this known.

Protest at the Opera

Friday, June 13th, 2014

I almost missed the International Workers (IWGB) cleaners protest at the Royal Opera House (ROH) in Covent Garden. I’d been told they would be there at 5pm and either the time had changed or whoever told me had got it wrong, and they were actually planning to start at 5.30pm.

But there was clearly nobody around, or at least no protesters when I arrived a little before 5pm, having been photographing a few other things on the way – a Rastafarian protest calling for the Restoration of the Ethiopian Monarchy (I couldn’t at all understand why they thought that would help in ‘Economic Liberation), then on my way back on the top deck of a double-decker bus I saw the weekly Anti-Fur Picket at Harvey Nichols and decided I had time to cover that on my way to finding a large crowd of Anglican women priests celebrating 20 years of Women Vicars. They were marching from a rally outside Church House, the Anglican HQ where the decision to allow them was taken (rather belatedly as some other Christians had allowed women to take a full part in their work many years earlier – even centuries ago.  Then, as so often when walking up Whitehall I’d come across another couple of protests, and photographed one of them, a token Baloch Hunger Strike in sympathy with that about to enter its second week in Karachi.

At 5pm outside the ROH I really thought I’d had enough for the day, and thought about going home; but I’d promised the cleaners I would be there, and sat down in the sun to read a book and wait.

A lot of press photographers spend a lot of time waiting, often outside the homes of people who don’t want to be photographed, or outside courts during celebrity trials, opposite the door of 10 Downing St, and more. I don’t, partly because I’m not desperate for money, mainly because I don’t want to hound the innocent or glorify celebrities. And also because I’m very impatient (and not on payroll.) Anything over ten minutes is really beyond the call of duty for me.

But it was a nice May early evening, and I found a comfortable place in the sun – not then too hot to sit out in and was well into a chapter or two when I was suddenly disturbed by the unmistakable sound of iron-shod hooves and wheels on tarmac and got up to see a whole string of horses and traps approaching at a brisk trot.

I stood up and prepared to take pictures as they came past, but then the leading trap took a fast left turn down Floral St by the side of the Royal Opera House, and I had to run across and down the street to photograph them.

On Floral Street they soon slowed down as the leaders stopped to decide which way to go, before slowly turning to their right and parking up, appropriately by the Nags Head pub. Soon after I’d finished taking a few pictures of them – they included at least one cart rather like those my grandfather had a business making – and made my way back to the front of the ROH, a couple of the cleaners came round looking for people, and I found they were meeting up around the corner at 5.30pm.

A man in a funny suit gets angry – and the security guard steps in as he grabs IWGB leader Alberto Durango, who refuses to be provoked.

You can see more about their protest and read about why they were at the ROH in IWGB Cleaners at Royal Opera on My London Diary.

As often seems to be the case at the moment the police, when they arrived some time after the protest had started, seemed to be unsure whether they were present to defend the right to protest or to defend the interests of the wealthy – in this case the ROH and its clients. And at one point when a couple more vans had arrived, they simply seemed to lose the plot completely. It was just lucky those water cannons haven’t arrived yet.

I’m not an opera fan, though I often listen to bits of it as my wife is something of a singer, though her choir sings choral works rather than opera, and often listens to Radio 3 as well as going to some of the Proms and other classical concerts. My favourite singer is BillIe Holiday, who only puts in very rare appearances on Radio 3, though it does have the occasional jazz programme. I favour public subsidies for the arts but object to the fact so much of it goes to opera and in particular the huge £26m for the ROH*. More generally I think it’s time to give a finger to the star system and pay the ‘stars’ less. I think the BBC should take a lead too with truly drastic cuts in what they pay often rather dubious ‘talent’ and management. But if the odd fat lady or gentleman decides not to sing in London, it’s no great loss, and many of the ROH audience will fly abroad to see them in any case.

I’d certainly hope that any future Labour government would make it a requirement for any organisation that receives Arts Council funding in England (and any remaining parts of the UK still under Westminster control) to pay all employees (direct and indirect like the cleaners) a living wage and have decent conditions of employment.

* Disgruntled northerners may like to know that Opera North gets another £9.6m and these two organisations account for around 11% of the budget. The total grant of grants to 699 organisations is £339m, an average for each of £485,000.

Joint Enterprise

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

The last fatal duel in England took place a short bike ride from where I live (or if I’m feeling lazy there are a couple of buses that more or less take me up the hill) ino Englefield Green, where in 1852 two Frenchmen came with their four companions to settle their differences. One of them, politician Frederick Constant Cournet, described by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables as “a man of tall stature; he had broad shoulders, a red face, a muscular arm, a bold heart, a loyal soul, a sincere and terrible eye. Intrepid, energetic, irascible, stormy, the most cordial of men, the most formidable of warriors” received a fatal wound and died in the local pub, where you can read a possibly not very accurate account of the event.

Cournet had been one of the engineers on the streets of Paris in the 1848 revolution – Hugo describes his massive barricade in the Faubourg St Antoine as “three stories high and seven hundred feet long.” He was elected to the National Assembly in 1850, but then sentenced to a year in prison for abetting the escape from jail of Eugen Pottier who later composed ‘L’Internationale‘. In December 1851 Cournet was in trouble again, having been one of the leaders of a failed coup d’état against Louis Napoleon and had to flee to London.

His opponent in the duel was another veteran of the 1848 barricades, Emmanuel Barthélemy, and although the dispute is sometimes claimed to be about remarks Cournet made about a former girl-friend of his, more likely it was because Barthélemy was a supporter of Louis Blanc, and Cournet  a supporter of his opponent among the emigre French socialists in London, Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin.

Duelling was illegal, and three Frenchman who got on the train at Datchet were detained on arrival at Waterloo following a message (presumably by telegraph) from the Windsor police. Barthelemey was first charged with murder, but this was later reduced to manslaughter and his sentence was a short one. But less than three years later he was caught in the act of murdering his employer and a neighbour and was hanged at Newgate in 1855. For those who are interested there is more about the duel from the trial (in brief, Cournet fired first and missed, Barthélemy had the second shot, but his pistol did not fire – so Cournet lent him his, and was then fatally wounded) as well as information about the murder on a rather grisly site,

All this came to mind (and prompted a little research, though I’d read the not entirely accurate account inside the bar of  the Barley Mow a while back) when I went to photograph a protest by the oddly named JENGbA, short for Joint Enterprise – NOT Guilty By Association, a campaigning group against the injustice of ‘Joint Enterprise’, an offence said to have been “introduced three hundred years ago in a clamp-down on dueling, enabling the seconds and doctors who attended duels to be arrested as well as the actual duelists.”

Being Common Law rather than defined by any statute the exact history is hard to trace, though there are a number of key cases which serve as precedents to define it. But its Common Law orgin also renders it liable to be misused and subject to political pressures on those responsible for prosecutions who attempt to widen its application. What makes good sense in very limited circumstances has over recent years been expanded into a catch-all offence in what is seen as a war on gang killings. Surprisingly there are no official statistics, but through freedom of information requests researchers concluded recently that more than 1,800 people had been charged with homicide (and many convicted) under joint enterprise in the previous eight years.

I was shocked when I read about some of the cases of injustice that JENGbA has taken up, one or two of which I mention in My London Diary. Although there has been considerable disquiet over this in legal circles with a Bureau of Investigative Journalism study and a report by the House of Commons Justice Committee, there has really not been the public outcry that it demands, probably because most of those convicted come from disadvantaged groups and many are tarred, often inaccurately, with belonging to criminal gangs.

It is just one other aspect where ‘British justice’ no longer meets the standards we used to believe in – as too are the police killings of suspects during arrests like that of Mark Duggan and the many suspicious deaths in custody.

Obviously I wanted the Houses of Parliament in the background, but also carefully framed for the shadow at right

Photographically the main problem I had in covering the march by JENGbA was one of contrast, with the low sun often seeming to come from exactly the wrong direction for my purposes. Of course I should probably have used some flash fill, but somehow I felt this might be a little intrusive and upset what felt like a rather delicate relationship between me and the families involved in the protest.

I’m also getting a little worried about the 16-35mm lens. It does seem to be giving far more flare than it used, and I wonder if it is in need of a good clean. But given the bill I got the last time I took it for repair I’m not keen to repeat the experience, particularly when I’m not quite convinced it is necessary.

I do seem to get both more specular flares (aka ghosts), bright spots of light, sometimes coloured and often hexagonal, and also more veiling flare, the diffuse creeping of light from over-bright into shadow areas of the picture.

Ghosts sometimes add a little to the image and are usually difficult to remove or ameliorate. Somtimes it is possible totone them down a little. Small ones entirely in areas like sky can be cloned away if necessary. With the diffusion, using an adjustment brush on the affected area to increase contrast, reduce highlights and increases clarity can help, sometimes with a slight positive or negative exposure change.  I’ve tried to do this, perhaps a little clumsily on the head of the leading figure with a megaphone on the top image in this post.

Shortly after the start of the march, it came across the rather macabre site above on the pavement, in an area well away from any buildings in front of the large yard of Chelsea College of Art.

More about the march and a little about some of the cases at Joint Enterprise – NOT Guilty By Association.


Private View Invitation

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

uclh arts and heritage

invites you to

City Streets and River Paths

Watercolours by Hilary Rosen MA (RCA) and photographs by Peter Marshall

Private View
6.00pm-7.30pm 16th June 2014

Exhibition Dates
13 June 2014 – 30 July 2014

The Street Gallery
University College Hospital, 235 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BU

RSVP 020 344 75451
uclh arts had been generously funded by UCLH Charity

Download the official invitation here


Regular readers will have noticed I’ve not been posting as much as usual in the past few days. As usual that’s partly because I’ve been busy taking photographs, and sometime in the last week or so I passed what perhaps should have been a significant milestone, publishing my 1,000th story on the main agency I send work to, Demotix. I think it happened on the last dayt of May, but I was too busy to notice. They didn’t either.

One little extra that has occupied me in the last few days is sending out invitations to the show ‘City Streets and River Paths’ with work by myself and painter Hilary Rosen. It should be easy to do, particularly when most go by e-mail, but although scammers seem pretty good at sending multiple e-mails it took me quite a while to get lists of e-mails together and then to get my mail service to let me send the messages out. Inevitably too some of the addresses were out of date, and I then had to look to see if I had a newer e-mail for the person concerned.

So if you’ve not had an invitation yet by e-mail, it may not be because I didn’t mean to send you one, but simply down to my incompetence. Of course you may have been really unlucky and got two or three invitations… And one from Hilary!

I was hoping to post the actual invite on this blog, but came up with one practical problem. My picture on the invitation (there were two versions printed, one using a picture of mine and the other one by Hilary) is rather long and thin and the card is 1/3 A4, about 210 x 97 mm. It’s an aspect ratio that doesn’t fit well on this blog, where portrait format images fit rather better. So at the top of the page is my small re-written version.

So you are welcome to have a better copy – but will need to download it as a PDF here, or come along in person on Monday, when I should still have a few copies of the actual card left. And of course it would be good to see any >Re:PHOTO readers, whether old or new friends.