Archive for January, 2015

Slow Recovery

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

I’m sitting typing at my notebook, and using it to copying my files from 2007-8 from an old external hard disk onto my new Drobo 5N NAS. And rethinking how I intend to backup my work. This is a slow process, as the hard disk is only USB2, and at around 15Mb/s the 500Gb will take around 8 hours.(Later I found the speed roughly doubled if I actually plugged the Ethernet cable into the router, rather than just assuming it was connected and transferring over the wireless link.) I’ve another 9 disks to go through, some larger, though I’ll not transfer everything to the new system.

To my right, my desktop computer is still chuntering through Chkdsk on my drive G:, all 3TB of it. It’s now got on to telling me that there are around 450,000 files that need fixing and is looking at each in turn to tell me it can’t fix them. It says that it is 10% through, but I don’t believe the figures. Probably it will finish some time early next week. Meanwhile I’m doing the best I can with the notebook.

I got all ready to take pictures yesterday when I got a message telling me the event had been cancelled. There was a suggestion I might cover something else, but unfortunately by the time I read the message it seemed to late to get there.  I don’t have Lightroom installed on my notebook – I decided the screen was too small and the keyboard and pad wouldn’t make it worth having. I could install it now – or put it on my smartphone as the licence allows, but instead I’ve decided to work in RAW + Fine jpeg mode until I get back onto the desktop machine. I do have an old copy of Photoshop I can use to do some adjustments.

The Drobo has advantages and disadvantages. It should protect against a hard drive failure, enabling me to replace a failing disk without losing work, and it should also allow me to increase the capacity of the system by installing disks of higher capacity. It also means that should my computer go down I will be able to easily access all my files from any other computer I attach to the network. And it is certainly convenient to have access to so much work in the one place.

Its big disadvantages seem to me to be that it is a proprietary system, and that it is also a single point of failure. So while I’m backing up my files to it, I’m also looking at keeping at least one other copy of all important files elsewhere.

I’ll store the old external hard drives carefully – and hope they remain in working order unused. And I’ll keep another attached to my main computer to store current work, replacing that as it gets full. I suspect that they will remain usuable if stored well – at least so long as we still have hardware with USB ports.
I still have boxes full of CDs and DVDs with most of my digital work (and some scans) on them, going back now in some cases around 20 years. Despite the health warnings many have given over the years, so far these have remained readable – I did always look for disks which were supposedly of good quality. I gave up writing work to these around a year ago when with 32Mp files things really got out of hand. And some of the scans and panoramas come to around 250Mb a time, which makes DVD at 4.7Gb look rather small.

I’m thinking now of going back to them, though only for storing a copy of the jpegs that I develop from Lightroom – a much more manageable proposition. An alternative would be to use USB memory sticks, given the low prices of 64Gb USB3 sticks; again people say these are not suitable for long term storage, but those I wrote when they first came out remain readable. I’ll also consider getting a Blu-Ray – perhaps external – writer which are now available at a reasonable price, and 25Gb media at around a quid a piece, but I’m less sure about them.

Of course I should be using cloud storage, but I trust that less than I do optical media. Who can say which companies will still be in business next year – or whether the promises they make will be kept? And cloud storage for all of my work would be prohibitive in cost. It does provide a valuable safeguard against theft, flood or fire etc, but perhaps I’ll ask a friend to keep a small bag of memory sticks or box of disks instead.


Computer Problems

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Today I’m having computer problems. Yesterday while I was working we had a little power glitch; the light and my printer went off for a fraction of a second and then restarted; I don’t have a proper inyterruptible power supply, but the mickey-mouse protection on my fancy socket kept the computer working. People not far away had a power cut that lasted some hours, so we were fortunate. Unfortunately one of my external hard disks although it seemed to keep on working appears to have suffered some damage.

I turned on the computer it’s connected to today and went away to leave it to boot up, returning a minute of so later to find that it was running CHKSDK on my drive G:, with white figures about unreadable files flashing across the screen. Seven hours later it is still doing it, with a message telling me “10% complete”. It isn’t a good idea to interrupt CHKDSK (and I think the only way to do so is to turn off the power), so I’m working today on my notebook.

It isn’t a bad notebook, but the screen is around a third the area of my desktop, and the keyboard isn’t great for typing. But perhaps the main problem is that I can’t easily access the files stored on the desktop machine and its attached external drives.

For years I’ve been meaning to go over to network attached storage, but haven’t managed to persuade myself to pay out the cash for a decent system. Instead I’ve just added more external drives, though not all permanently connected.

I don’t know how much of the data on the disk currently being checked I will be able to recover. I think most or all of it will in any case be stored elsewhere, either on other hard disks or on CD or DVD. So I’m hoping little will be completely lost, though I anticipate it will take me quite a while to sort everything out.

Meanwhile, I’ve finally got around to ordering that NAS system I should have installed years ago, and once everything is up and running will be copying my work onto it. It will be a very long job, but should end up with things being better organised than before. It may mean rather less time for me to write here for a while.

Exploring Frank

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Thanks to a note on the NY Times Lens blog, Finding Robert Frank, Online by Maurice Berger
for pointing me to the recently published US National Gallery of Art web pages on
The Robert Frank Collection which was put on-line in time for his 90th birthday in November.

Its an illustrated guide to their vast collection of his works, and you can see selected images and contact sheets and more.  As well as the images available on line, the site enables you to search the collection, and you can then make an appointment to go to see the material you have selected at the The Robert Frank Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Though it would be rather a long journey for me.

Frank’s work is perhaps best seen not on-line, nor at the NGA, nor in the Pace/MacGill Gallery, but in the pages of two books. Most important is of course ‘The Americans‘ (or ‘Les Americains’) , and though a copy of the original publication might set you back over £3,000 you can find a more recent (and possibly better) edition for around £20. But of course if you have any interest in photography you will already have a well-thumbed copy on your bookshelf.

You can also view the book on a video. It’s best to download the HD version and play it with a proper viewer like VLC Media Player. Mute the sound, put your mouse cursor over the time line and you are ready to look at it, page by page.

Pegida Problems

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

It was a dark, damp night, with fluctuating rain, occasionally slackening to a standstill and at other times almost filling the air with fine drops, so fine it was deceptive, hardly appearing to be raining, but soaking everything and looking down I saw streams of water flowing across the barrel of my lens as it stuck out from my coat.

Any sensible person would have taken one look at the weather and decided they had better things to do than hanging around on a street corner as we were on the corner of Belgrave Square, in a dark area penned off by barriers, and most of those who had signed up for the event on Facebook had clearly come to that conclusion.

And it was dark. There were lights across the road, but even the bare winter trees of the square seemed to create an area of shadow. A small group of photographers chattered gloomily, one saying “they don’t tell people about this at media school”; standing in the cold, dark rain certainly is a less glamorous side of being a photographer.

I don’t like working in the dark. I don’t really have the best equipment for it, with no fast lenses for the Nikons, and good though the Nikon flash system can be, in the wide outdoors flash is seldom a good answer. Suddenly there was something to photograph, a man carrying a Union Flag walked past the Unite Against Fascism pen and started shouting insults as police came to move him on.

I rushed to the scene, framed and pressed the shutter release and absolutely nothing. It was too dark for the lens to focus. Just what focus assist is designed for, but Nikon thoughtfully disable it just for those occasions when it’s most necessary. Or at least only let you use it if you are using single-servo (S) focus mode AND you are either using auto-area AF OR have the centre focus point selected in other modes.

I fiddle with the camera in the dark, but before I’m able to solve the problem the guy has been led away to a pen 50 yards down the road where a few other right wing extremists are being looked after by police.

It isn’t the only problem I have with the D700. A few minutes later when I’ve been taking pictures using manual exposure, 1/30s at f2.8, I hear it making a rather more lengthy exposure and find it has altered the ISO to 800 from the 3200 I had set, and changed mode and set the aperture to f32. Clearly it is suffering from mad camera disease. I fiddle with it a bit more and find I do have auto-ISO set, which doesn’t account for the rest of the changes, but the camera begins to work more sensibly when I turn this off. I think it’s probably suffering from old age, I will have been using it for six years next month, and has taken over 370,000 pictures (according to the EXIF data) well over twice the minimum rating of 150,000. Probably it’s due either for an expensive service or replacement. As it has a few other peculiarities perhaps a replacement would make more sense. You can get a D700 in good working order with a reasonably low shutter count but some cosmetic damage for under £500, but probably it’s time to upgrade.

If the camera is now doing its best, with the SB800 attached the system is still playing a few tricks, with seemingly random exposures, and I more or less give up on the flash. There is occasional and rather unpredictable light from several people using video lights on their cameras, often a real nuisance as I have to keep moving as it shines direct into my lens, but at times giving me some dramatic lighting (though of course very flat for those who are supplying it.)

I have the camera set to ISO3200, but also have the exposure compensation at around -2 stops. Working without considerable compensation gives results that are just too bright – and can end up looking as if they are taken in daylight rather than at night. Despite the compensation I think the results are what you would expect at in terms of image noise from ISO3200.

Much of the time, having set the ISO and compensation I actually work using manual exposure in any case, taking no notice of what the camera meter indicates but looking at the image on the camera back and in particular the histogram. I kept wishing I was using the Fuji XT-1 because I think the electronic viewfinder would be better than an optical one; the Nikons do have ‘Live View’, but it’s clunky and you only see it on the camera back, and I find unusable for taking still images of action. The faster lenses for the Fuji would also have been useful. But my XT-1 body is currently in for servicing.

The video lights  of several people working with video let me work without flash when the small group of right wingers (they seem to come from the various overlapping groups I’ve photographed before – EDL, South East Alliance, NF, Casuals United, Golden Dawn… and for this occasion some at least of them have called themselves UK Pegida.

Police led them off from the embassy and took the street leading towards Victoria Station. I thought about following with them and taking more pictures, but decided I’d had enough, and walk off in a different direction to get a bus, while the UAF vigil continued.

The following afternoon a friend of mine showed me a cheap LED light – under £30 –  he has bought that seems considerably more powerful than those I’ve previously tried – as the more expensive models used by the videographers clearly are too. I’ll perhaps give one a try – and report back later.

More about the event at Solidarity with German anti-Pegida – and more pictures.


‘Je suis Charlie’ London – Clegg et Sylvie

Monday, January 12th, 2015

I’d decided some months ago that on Sunday 11th January, as on too many previous January 11ths I would be covering the event to mark the anniversary of the setting up of the illegal Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and decided to stick to that decision even though the major news event in London was the ‘Je suis Charlie’ vigil in Trafalgar Square. So I only arrived there after I’d spent over an hour outside the US embassy, at just after half past three, and had expected to miss the French Ambassador.

A large crowd filled the square and the steps up to the National Gallery when I arrived but there was nothing obvious going on, so I plunged into the crowd and worked my way across the square taking pictures. I really didn’t feel I was getting a great deal, and knew that many other photographers were doing much the same as me, and had more or less decided to give up.

I’d walked around to the front of the square, in front of an empty and taped off area in front of the plinth and was looking at the crowd, wondering if I could take a good overall picture, when I noticed a commotion in the centre of the crowd, with cameras being raised above photographer’s heads to take pictures. Something was clearly happening, and I made my way in that direction, to meet with security men hustling obviously important guests away through the crowd. There were people at the front I didn’t recognise, then I saw a man being interviewed as he walked along who was vaguely familiar. Could it be Nick Clegg? I walked backwards taking pictures, and he stopped as a French woman grabbed his arm and complimented him on his French accent, asking where he had learnt it. “At school” he told her and after a second or so moved on, by which time I had seen the French Ambassador behind him. The two came together and I took a few pictures as they walked along, not easy as there were people in the way and a horde of press photographers was just catching up with us. After a few yards I decided I’d got my pictures and gave up, leaving the others to chase after them.

I don’t much like working with the kind of press pack you get around celebrities at events such as this. I don’t like being barged and pushed when taking pictures, though at times I try and stand my ground. And I find the pictures that people get in such situations are seldom of much interest to me – if apparently loved by editors.

I decided it was worth trying to take some more interesting pictures to go with the few of Clegg and Syvie and made my way on into the crowd from where they had come, finding a few things I was happier with.

There was supposed to be a projection of the French flag on the National Gallery at 4pm, but they appeared to be having some technical problems, and after 20 minutes of waiting with just one projector apparently working with a test pattern on the wall I saw a 139 bus across the square and decided to get on it.

Back home I tried to get the pictures to Demotix. Their server kept dropping the connection. It wasn’t until after 9.30pm that I managed to get the 25 pictures uploaded. Then they held it up more making a stupid change to the headline…

You can see 25 pictures from the event on Demotix now (I’ve corrected the headline again) – and shortly with the story (which Demotix no longer publishes) on My London Diary.


December 2014

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

December was a month when I took rather fewer pictures than most. In the first couple of weeks there were several work-related Christmas celebrations, some of which took me away from covering events, then the last ten days or so were spent mainly with my family.  I seldom post pictures from these and other private events on-line, partly to respect the privacy of family and friends, but also because they are probably of little interest outside of those taking part.

We do however go on a number of walks together, mainly away from cities, and some of the landscape pictures may be of wider interest, and I’ve included pictures from several of these in My London Diary.

As always, the links give more information and a link to more pictures from the event.

My London Diary Dec 2014

Staines & Laleham

Derbyshire Snow

Belper Walk
Boxing Day Walk
Don’t Buy Israeli ‘Blood Diamonds’
Occupy Democracy Return To Parliament Square

Dying For Heat
Birthday Vigil for Chelsea Manning
Release Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo
Father Pleads ‘NHS let Baby Olivia Live’
Sack Boris over 90% youth & education cuts

Cleaners Xmas Protest in John Lewis
Class War: ‘Evict Westbrook, Not New Era’
‘Santa’s Naughty List’ Living Wage
Dickens & Lincoln’s Inn

Santacon North London
Fossil Free Nativity – Churches Divest!
South London March for Free Education
Santacon Start in Clapham
Lewisham Housing Action

Students Occupy Universities UK
Student bodies spell out ‘NO FEES’

Russell Brand marches with New Era


William Klein

Friday, January 9th, 2015

William Klein is a photographer I’ve written about on several occasions, though not recently. He found his home in Paris, and his work does appear to have had a particular resonance with the French rather more than on this side of the channel. I’ve made brief references to him in some of my pieces on Paris Photo in past years, and in particular the comparison between his work and that of Japanese photographers particularly Daido Moriyama.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from a longish essay about him I polished for publication in 2000:

One man, Henri Cartier-Bresson, with his idea of the ‘decisive moment’, catching that fleeting instant when everything in the frame was dynamically balanced, dominated photography, particularly in Europe, in the early 1950s. Although he appreciated this work, Klein wanted to photograph in his own way; in the spirit of the defiant iconoclasm he had acquired from Leger he determined to turn Cartier-Bresson’s approach on its head. Rules were there only to be broken.

Cartier-Bresson had attempted to melt into the background, to become an ‘invisible man’ or ‘fly on the wall’, unnoticed by his subjects. Klein often talked to the people as he was photographing them, sometimes almost literally pushing the camera in their face to generate a reaction. Cartier-Bresson never cropped, so Klein often or always did. Klein abandoned the idea of careful and considered composition in favour of chance and the grabbed shot, often blurred or out of focus. His printing was harsh and gutsy, at times more graphic than photographic in effect, often extremely grainy as his negatives were often severely over-exposed (few photographers used a meter in those days, relying on experience – and Klein was short on this.) The pictures that resulted were raw, edgy, vibrant and nothing like most people at the time expected of a photograph.

Of course it isn’t quite true that HC-B never cropped – possibly his best-known image is of a man trying to jump a puddle is quite severely cropped. But  it was a part of the legend – just like the ‘fact’ he always used a standard lens.

On The Online Photographer you can read Klein and the Anti-Technicians, the most recent of the two features a year that John Kennerdell contributes to the site, which places Klein in the history of photography, particularly for his influence on the ‘Provoke‘ group of Japanese photographers. It’s well worth reading.

On the Reporters sans frontières web site, William Klein pour la liberté de la presse, one of a series by a number of photographers appears still to be available for €5.79 EUR and the ‘Books on Books’ Errata edition of his William Klein: Life is Good & Good for You in New York can still be found for a reasonable price, although the original sells for over $500.


Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Shared from Facebook – image by Lucille Clerc

By the time I heard the details of the protest in Trafalgar Square last night over the shooting at Charlie Hebdo it was a little late for me to drop what I was doing and get there, though this morning I regret my absence. I should have been there, at least with a pen if not with a camera.

It isn’t a matter of religion, but one of humanity. Something that we can all abhor, whether we read the Quran, the Bible or other religious texts, or are agnostics or atheists.  You, like me will probably have read many of the comments about the attack from people around the world, so I’ll only quote two of them. On the radio this morning I heard a leading Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan being interviewed, and his comment (also on Democracy Now!) was “This is just a pure betrayal of our religion & our principles”  and my own union statement ends “Supporters of free speech and civil liberties must stand together with governments to condemn this act and defend the right of all journalists to do their job without fear of threats, intimidation and brutal murder.

The news of the killing took my mind back to 2006 and the protests then against the publication of cartoons by a Danish magazine.

Of course I respect the right to peaceful demonstration, but the call for ‘global civility’ steps over my right to free speech once there is any suggestion it should be imposed.

The following month I was back in Trafalgar Square, photographing a protest to ‘protect free expression’ at which some of those present held up placards containing some of the Danish cartoons – which were republished in France by Charlie Hebdo in 2005.

Charlie Hebdo was certainly not afraid to criticize Islam. Or Christianity or any other religion or politicians of all colours or anything else, but I’m sorry to have to admit that I censored some of the images that I took on that day to avoid offending people, blurring the cartoons. I should not have done so and will not do so again.

I hope that all journalists and publications around the world will stand up and be counted on the side of freedom of speech (though I know there are some countries where this is not possible.) Some will be holding a short silence at 11.00 am today (when I’ll join them and post this), and many newspapers have published cartoons about the shooting – including some of those from Charlie Hebdo that offended the killers. Perhaps we should name January 7 ‘Charlie Hebdo Day’ and make it an annual celebration, publishing their work again.

I hope too that Charlie Hebdo will continue, and continue to offend people of all faiths and none. And I certainly have no time at all for those who try to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators.

from Charlie Hebdo


Decisive Moments

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

I don’t think I have ever stolen a book from a library, although many do disappear, and I have bought quite a number when libraries have decided to de-accession them. Ex-library books are often found as bargains too in the lists or shelves of second-hand bookshops, and I’ve bought a few this way too, though I’ve found several of them have had pages removed by people who apparently take a razor blade with them when they visit their library – and its often the pages with nude images that disappear. Of course some librarians have felt it their duty to censor such images from the books in their collections too.

But I was severely tempted, back in the 1970s, at the school where I was then working, and setting up an O Level photography course. This 2000+ pupil comprehensive had a large ‘Art’ section to its library, and among the several hundred volumes was I think a single photography book, Cartier-Bresson’s ‘The Decisive Moment‘, with its Matisse cover.

The most senior of the several teachers of Art turned out to be something of a fan of HC-B, and had either got the school to buy a copy back when it was still in print or perhaps had even donated it to the library. I got them to buy a few more photography books to go with it, and took ‘The Decisive Moment’ home with me over the summer holidays. School libraries in those days were not highly protected and staff regularly walked in and out with piles of books for use by their classes, and I could have hung on to it and probably no one would have noticed. But I’m basically an honest guy and I took it back for the start of the Autumn term.

Later, when I moved to a college, as well as the college library we had a shelf or two of books in our photography base, and I’d often leave some of my own books there for use by students. I wish all of them had been honest too – and more careful with books. Much later I found that one of my colleagues was actually encouraging students to cut out pictures from them to put into their scrapbooks and personal studies, and I stopped taking books in, though I still lent many personally to students – and most came back, if some rather dog-eared and a few with broken backs.

What reminded me of this was an article in The Guardian around Christmas by Sean O’Hagan on the republication by Steidl of ‘The Decisive Moment’, which first came out in 1952. He comments – as I and many others have done before – of the difference between the French and English titles and its significance.  ‘Images a la Sauvette‘, often translated as ‘Images on the Run’ has a feeling of illegality, of moments stolen from the flux; there is an edginess about it, something which is appropriate to some of HC-B’s early work. ‘The Decisive Moment‘ is rather more static and monumental (despite HC-B’s definition which O’Hagan quotes), more fitted to what I find the least satisfying of his images, what one well-known American photographer called his ‘waiters’, where the photographer had clearly found a particular location that satisfied his feeling for composition and waited for someone to walk or run into its core.

O’Hagan writes “For me, what is interesting about the republishing of The Decisive Moment is that it has happened too late. The book is now a historical artefact.” For many photographers that became true back in the 1950’s and it was certainly so for those of us who came across it in the 1970s. We might still admire HC-B, but we didn’t take him as a model, and although very flattered I wasn’t entirely happy when someone compared my work to his back in my early years in the medium. The critical watershed was 1958-9, when Robert Frank‘s ‘Les Americains / The Americans‘ was published first in France and then in the UK, calling into question and sometimes deliberately toying with or parodying the work of Cartier-Bresson. By the 1970s we were also looking at the work of photographers like Friedlander, Winogrand, Arbus… Cartier-Bresson was history, if a very illustrious history, and of course still active. Younger French photopgraphers too were redefining photojournalism.

I probably won’t be buying ‘The Decisive Moment’. At € 98.00 it seems a little expensive (currently you can buy it in the UK for around £52, around a third less than the full price) though I think it is likely to be a good investment, as it is already on offer for rather more than this though some on-line photography bookshops.

Photocritic International etc

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Another blogger who has been reviewing his year is critic and photo-historian A D Coleman, whose work on-line I’ve often mentioned here, most notably in recent times his epic series dismantling the Capa D-Day legend – and as he reminds us in his 2014: That Was The Year That Was there are still a few loose ends to be cleared up.

There is of course a lot more than this, and he starts the piece – as I also did the other day – by looking at his web site statistics. I can only comment that he deserves a much higher readership, and perhaps the new website on which he is planning to publish more of his work will give him this (and there is some more detail in his December ‘Birthday Musings‘.) He is also asking for support, both financial and “in-kind services from volunteers” and if I wasn’t far too busy I would be tempted to help. There is also a review of the main topics his blog has covered, and it is worth checking if there is anything you have missed.

His previous Year-End Ends and Odds is full of acute observations, some of which may amuse you. I don’t always agree with him (wouldn’t life be dull…), but if you like your thoughts being provoked this is a site worth adding to your favourites. One thing I don’t share is his apparent enthusiasm for the work of William Mortensen (see those ‘Birthday Musings’), though of course he should not be written out of the history of photography. We do need bad examples (a thought I sometimes console myself with.)

Whenever I find myself forgetting how bad a photographer he was I reach down my copy of his ‘The New Projection Control‘ (3rd edition 1945 – a gift, I didn’t buy it) and look at the examples he used there. And it would be hard to find a better guide to how to destroy the integrity of your images. My copy even came with a small print of a kitten between its pages as a bookmark. I doubt it was made by Mortensen but it is bad enough to have been. His “Le Chatte” included in the book is even worse, though it could well be the same animal.

For yet more looking back at the year that was, I’d recommend another site I’ve often mentioned, where you can see The Best of LensCulture in 2014 as selected by the Editors of LensCulture.