Archive for March, 2015

Greek thoughts

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Let Greece Breathe! was a fairly busy event, with quite a few  photographers and videographers and fairly crowded, making it difficult to get exactly in the places I would like to have been.

Video and still photography have very different requirements, and sometimes this can be a problem. Video generally works best for most things when the camera is static for fairly long periods, at least much of the time, preferably on a tripod. In contrast, being in the same place for long as a still photographer is generally a bad thing, leading to too much repetition in your images. Even for simple things like photographing a speaker, its usually good to be able to vary the background. Composition is I think generally far more important in still images than in video.

At this event it was difficult for still photographers to move around without getting in the sight lines of a couple of video crews from foreign TV; it would have been easier had they set up closer to the tape separating the audience from the speaker. Though I tried hard not to get in the way I think that Greek TV viewers will have got the occasional view of my slightly bald patch on their screens.

To keep out of the way of the TV cameras I spent rather too much time close to one of the two speakers on stands at the front of the audience, and it was loud enough to probably damage my hearing and certainly to give me a headache – after a while I simply had to move away.

One of the things I try to do is to find an idea and then to pursue it until I’m happy that I have captured it (or sometimes simply have to give up.) One of the things that I noticed at this event was a Syriza poster of Alexis Tsipras with his head at roughly life size, and I tired to use this in pictures with the heads of real people, three of which you can see above.

Another little series of images was of the various speakers with the Syriza symbol on a flag behind them. This was made a little tricker as the flag was being waved around, and flags are in any case often something of a challenge as they get blown around – or simply droop when you need them to fly. Add to that the need to catch the speakers in interesting or dramatic expression or gesture – and with their eyes open and you have a challenge.

There are a few more of these and some variations in Let Greece Breathe!

A different challenge was posed by a line of people on the steps leading down into the square from the North Terrace where the rally was held. If you approached too close it was difficult to get the whole message, while if you moved back, someone was almost certain to get between you and the message.

Often in situations like this the 16mm fisheye with its 146 degree horizontal angle of view solves the problem of getting close but getting everything in the view. But in this case I didn’t find it entirely satisfactory. Although the verticals are straight (thanks to the FIshEye Hemi plugin) I find the curvature of both the step at the bottom and the roofline a little distirbing. It is possible to remove these but only at the expense of some rather curious heights of the people across the central row who would get considerably taller towards the edges.

I tried with the 16-35mm, both from a fairly central position and also form one side of the othere, but was even less happy with the results and none of my attempts appear on line (though a long line of photographers was busily taken them from there.) But later I did go some way futher down into the square, far enough back to take a picture at the wide end of the full-frame 70-300mm. There are a lot of people in front of the message, but they appear less imporant from a distance. Possibly going even further away, particularly if I could have got a little height from climbing on to the plinth of Nelson’s column, would have given a better view, but the people put down their letters and dispersed before I had time to try it.


Funny Valentine

Monday, March 30th, 2015

One annual event I always enjoy as well as photograph is the annual free Reclaim Love Valentine Party around the statue of Eros (well it isn’t really Eros) in Piccadilly Circus. Irish (or Irish/Indian) poet and love activist Venus CúMara (“nomadic lone wolf, poet, musician, songwriter, and storyteller“) began these events back in the early years of this Millennium and they have taken place every year since both here and elsewhere around the world.

Venus CúMara

I missed the first Reclaim Love event, which was in Trafalgar Square, as I spent Valentine’s Day in Paris in 2004, but was there for the first party at Eros in 2005, and have photographed the events every year since, including the one year that Venus was unable to attend and was organised by her friends. And it’s an event I have the t-shirt for, as in the early years they were given away free. One of my sons also has a pink one I gave him which he sometimes wears, with its winged heart on the chest and the message ‘May All The Beings In All The Worlds Be Happy And At Peace‘ on the back. I have a rather more tasteful pale blue version, though it is seldom seen in public.

Every year is different, although they follow the same basic pattern, with samba and dancing, people dressed up and in the middle of the afternoon everyone linking hands in a giant circle to chant the mantra above. Everyone except a few photographers like me, who run about dementedly trying to photograph the event. And while I may have a certain sceptism about the “Massive Healing Reclaim Love Meditation Circle beaming Love and Happiness and our Vision for world peace out into the cosmos” it’s always an impressive event.

With all the commercial promotion of Valentine’s Day it would be hard to miss – though the party is on the nearest Saturday rather than the day itself. And the party is a reaction to that commercialisation, a celebration of love rather than money. Venus, when asked where she is from has said her place of origin is Love, and the Reclaim Lovemovement aims at restoring the true and infinite meaning of Love as a force for inner and outer change.”

This year was ‘Reclaim Love 13‘, though as the 2007 event was billed as Reclaim Love IV, I think it is only the 12th. The party is also an ‘unofficial’ event, and though Venus and friends certainly do some planning and reminding people to come and take part there is a great deal of spontaneity about the event, people coming and doing what they want to do. Some of those who take part know and some have come a long way across the country, but others come across it by accident, with tourists and shoppers joining in.

The police and security in the West End generally ignore it, or take a look to see what is happening and then go away -though obviously they keep an eye on it through CCTV – the party is after all more or less on top of London’s nerve centre for surveillance, the London main CCTV control room. They have intervened when people have climbed right up to Eros – it isn’t the most robust of sculptures, and there was a little trouble one year when the circle took place a short distance away in a ‘sacred circle’ of trees in Green Park – such things are not allowed in Royal Parks.

This year the weather was not too kind, and it was dull with the odd spot of rain in the air as people gathered for the party. I’d started working at ISO 800, but soon had to put that up to ISO 1600 and by the time I left, shortly after the big meditation circle around Piccadilly Circus I was needing ISO3200 to stop the action. Night was falling a little faster than normal with some large dark clouds, and when the rain began to fall I decided it was time for me to go.

I was a little disappointed with the pictures. Perhaps it wasn’t quite such a lively event as some earlier years – and poor weather has an effect on everbody, partygoers and photographers alike. I think it’s still a reasonable picture of an interesting event in the London calendar, certainly rather more interesting than many if not all that make either the tabloids or the Tatler. You can see my results from this year at Venus CuMara Reclaim Love 13 at Eros, as well as those from previous years (sometimes you will have to scroll down on the linked page to find the pictures.):

2005:  O-i-L, One in Love, Reclaim Love
2006:  One in Love, Reclaim Love
2007:  Reclaim Love IV
2008:  Reclaim Love
2009:  Reclaim Love
2010:  Reclaim Love
2011:  Reclaim Love
2012:  Reclaim Love
2013:  Reclaim Love
2014:  Reclaim Love


Truce Over – It’s War!

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

Last year I photographed around 20 protests by Class War outside a prestige block just to the east of the City of London, called One Commercial St. The recently built block contains a supermarket, a betting shop, a hotel, an entrance to Aldgate East Underground station and more, including car parking and both expensive private flats and some managed as social housing by a housing association.

Class War started their protests at the end of last July, and kept them up weekly – with the occasional extra special event until almost the end of November. Like many others they were appalled by finding out that while the residents in the privately owned flats had a posh entrance on the main street – Whitechapel High Street – into a comfortable lounge area with a 24 hour staffed reception desk, those in the social housing had to go down a dirty and dimly lit alley at one side of the block to a door with a card entry system into a long blank corridor with just a block of mail boxes. When I first went down it, the alley was strewn with rubbish and smelt strongly of urine. Because the entry system was broken, the door to the block was not locked and anyone could walk in off the street. Apparently too, there had been problems with getting repairs to the lift, and the flats are up on the 10th floor and above.

Increasingly this kind of social segregation is being built into new blocks where the developers are forced to include some element of social housing, and the protests by Class War are just one of several that have served to bring this to public attention and fairly wholesale public condemnation. It reeks of the separate entrances for servants and workmen that have now largely disappeared from houses and workplaces. Most feel there is no place for separate doors for rich and poor in our country today.

Its also a part of a larger movement over housing, particularly in London, where former working-class estates and areas are increasingly are subject to a so-called ‘regeneration’, which involves evicting the working class tenants and lease-holders, and either demolishing and rebuilding or refurbishing the properties for sale or letting at ‘market rents’. Many of those buying these properties are overseas investors who may not even live in them, instead seeing a good return on their investment as London house prices continue to rise – particularly in places such as One Commercial St, close to the Crossrail development. Investors are told they can expect a 35% price increase by the time Crossrail opens in around three years.

Local residents – both those whose families have lived in the area for generations and more recent migrants to the area – cannot afford either the market rents or the so-called ‘affordable rents’ which are often around 80% of the market rate.

The process of regeneration was started, perhaps with good intentions, by the Labour government in the 1990s, but was poorly thought out – and the developers have managed to run rings around even the best intentioned councils. But most London councils have colluded with the developers – and often led the process of getting rid of their less well-off residents.

In November, the flats were sold by developers Redrow to Taylor McWilliams, and the new owner contacted Class War and offered talks to try an solve the problem. It seemed to me that relatively minor interior building works could have allowed all tenants to use the front entrance. I’d walked inside the block between the two sides myself, between separate lifts on the ground floor of the building when I was given a tour by one of the owners of a flat on the rich side. Class War were hopeful of a satisfactory settlement.

The meeting, when it came, was a shock. McWilliams told Class War he wasn’t prepared to make a single entrance so that everyone could enter from the front street. Complete intransigence. Class War told him what they thought and announced the protests would re-commence. They started with a short detour from the March for Homes at the end of January as it was going past the building, but the protests began again properly on 12th February, and are continuing every Thursday evening, from 6-7pm.

Like Class War, I was very disappointed by the response, and also as a photographer,  covering a regular protest like this presents problems. How do you keep going back to the same place  – and largely the same people – and making pictures that remain fresh?

There have been some minor changes. As you can see when the protesters returned there was building work taking place in the alley, and it is now rather more pleasant, and what was stygian is now well lit.

There are also some new protesters – with various groups including the 161 crew of Polish anti-fascists shown here holding what I euphemistically call Class War’s ‘Political Leaders‘ banner.  More about this banner in a later post, but while it is certainly in bad taste, most people seem to have a very positive reaction to it, often pointing and laughing. It’s certainly meant be and is provocative.

Class War does inject a certain amount of fun into politics, dealing with serious issues, but doing so in a theatrical way. But although I quite enjoy going to their protests, trying to cover them every week is sometimes difficult. I don’t really like working in the dark either, having to use flash or other artificial lighting much of the time. Even on a reasonably well-lit street parts of the pavement are pretty dark.  I’ve started using a LED light with the D700 (not least because it is now totally unpredictable with flash, suffering from old age) but that certainly has its limitations, and even at ISO3200 many images are blurred by subject movement. Again this is something I’m still not quite sure what I think about, but I will try and write more about later. Sometimes I seem to get some good results.

This is a project I’ve committed a great deal of time to and I hope to see it out.

More at Poor Doors Truce Over – It’s War! and of course in the following weeks.


Not In The Book

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Granite Wharf, Greenwich. 1980

One of the hardest things about putting a book like Deptford to Greenwich together is the pictures you have to leave out. Back in the 1970s and 1980s I didn’t take many pictures, not least because even buying film in bulk still worked out too expensive for me to be profligate, but there were still quite a few that didn’t made the final edit of around 80 images.

Greenwich. 1979

My first decision was not to use any of the small amount of colour work. Although at the time I mainly worked in colour, almost always I would have with me a second body loaded with colour film. Before 1985, for me that meant colour transparency, usually one of the E4/E6 films that could be bought in bulk rolls and then loaded in into casettes in the same way as the black and white film. And as with black and white, I processed the films at home.

Horseshoe Breach, Greenwich. 1980

At first I used a bulk film loader, a plastic box with a light-trapped chamber for the bulk film, which led into a smaller lightproof area which accomodated the cassette. The film coming out through the light trap was taped to the spool of the cassette, which was then assembled around it, pushed into place and the lid closed. A hold leading to the centre of the spool allowed you to fit a handle, which was then turned to roll the film from the main box around the spool. Some had a ‘frame counter’ but otherwise you just counted the correct number of turns before opening the lid and cutting the film, the end of which was then trimmed to give the right shape for loading into the camera.

Buying film in bulk cut the cost to less than half that of pre-loaded casettes, but there were downsides. Using the loader conventionally meant that the last frame or two of each loaded film was exposed to light. I would load perhaps 38-40 frames of film, and try to remember to stop taking pictures at frame 36, but it was hard to stop before the end of the film, and many end frames were all or partly lost. There was also the danger of dirt in the felt light-trap of the cassette, often resulting in scratches as the film was loaded and again when taking pictures and rewinding in camera.

Horseshoe Breach, Greenwich. 1980

It was tedious, but necessary to very carefully clean the cassettes before reloading, and I seldom suffered from scratches. To avoid exposing the final frames, I moved on to using the bulk loader in total darkness (tricky but possible) or loading the film without a bulk loader again in totally dark conditions. A nail on the wall to hang the end of the film on, another the correct distance below to find and cut against, then taping the film to the spool, winding it around and fitting on the cassette shell in total blackness was possible, and I got to prefer it to using the bulk loader. Though it got rather tedious loading the 19 cassettes which I got from a tin of film. You could at least then turn on the light to cut the leaders.

Granite Wharf, Greenwich. 1980

So often I’d spend a day taking pictures, and only make perhaps 70 or 100 exposures, sometimes even less. Some days much less, though still rather more than those few occasions when I worked with 4×5 film, when I had only half a dozen dark slides and a Grafmatic magazine with me.

Wood Wharf. Greenwich. 1980

Because for me film was still expensive I seldom took more than one frame of any particular subject, and often that wasn’t quite right. Now, at least with static subject matter, I’ll take several frames until I’ve convinced myself that I have got the picture I want – and of course I can look at the image to see, though usually I know and don’t look. But there were still quite a few images that got edited out because they were just too similar to others.

Some of the pictures were now of less interest to me. Those where I was concentrating on things that really seem now to have little real connection with the area, perhaps some scrawls on a wall or a pattern of light, often the ‘artier’ side of my image-making. Perhaps where I was concentrating on pictures rather than on the subject.

New Charlton. 1982

Others where where I’d taken different pictures of more or less the same subject, perhaps from a different angle or in different light. In the book there are some examples I’ve included – for example three quite different images of the giant concrete silos, but often I’ve decided one image was enough and have left out others. It hurts when some of those that I’ve left out were pictures I like.

Angerstein Wharf, New Charlton. 1982

Anyway, the images above are the first of perhaps several batches of those that got left out. These are some of the earlier images, taken in 1979 to 1982.


Deptford to Woolwich now available

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Here’s the preview of the fifth and final volume in my London Docklands series of books with pictures taken before 1985 which shows around half the book. There are 90 pages with 82 b/w photographs.


Definitely Not Cricket

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

To my surprise I find this is not the first post I’ve written about cricket.  I’ve never really been a cricketer, and when we had the choice at school in the summer term I always opted for athletics, though we did get a little compulsory  cricket training.  I learnt the forward defensive and backward defensive strokes, but for attacking was left using the playground wallop. I don’t think I ever really got into the swing of overarm bowling either, somehow my shoulder didn’t quite let my arm follow the necessary trajectory, and my deliveries ended as slow and guileless, occasionally getting a wicket when the batsman lost patience waiting for the ball to arrive and swung too early.

Of course being English I had to play the odd game, getting roped in for various school and college sides, and even for Air India when they were desperately short of players. They were a class side, but so much class that anyone below five in the batting order (and I was well below five) seldom got a knock, and it took only a fairly short wander around by the boundary untroubled by the proximity of that nasty hard ball watching the other side coming out and going back to the pavillion before we were all back in and at the bar too.

I find I’ve even written before about my cricket photography. Back in 2001 I got a commision from the local council under an Arts Council scheme to photograph Shepperton Ladies Cricket Club, and particularly the work they were doing with young girls.  It was an interesting assignment, and one I enjoyed doing, spending far more time on it than was sensible for the money.

I wasn’t really a sports photographer, and certainly didn’t then have the kind of equipment that proper cricket photographers would have, being seriously underpowered in the telephoto area.  The longest lens I owned was a 200mm, which hardly gets you into the league, as the boundary is a serious distance from the wicket at most grounds.  I had a 2x converter, but adding that made the 200mm f5 into a 400mm f10, which even on sunny days was a lttile slow for action especially as ISO 400 film was the fastest I could sensibly use. Even in bright sun I needed to work wide open to get a suitably fast shutter speed of 1/500th, and wide open with a 2x converter was never too sharp.

Without the converter, things were rather better, but few of the pictures I made were absolutely sharp, and even fewer managed to be from the right position at the right time. This didn’t worry me, because this wasn’t really what I was trying to do, and the real work I was making was in black and white, with a 65mm wideangle on 6×7, both of the ladies team but more importantly of the work they were doing with girls from a very young age.

Cricket wasn’t seen by those training the girls as just a game. It was about developing the character, encouraging independence and self-reliance.

I’ve written a little more about this project in a 2012 piece about my rather limited sports photography, Sports and Me, so I won’t repeat myself even more. I also wrote another post five years ago, Not Cricket.

Space Hijackers -an international band of anarchitects who battle to save our streets…

What got me thinking and writing about this again was a message from Suzy Gillett, who I met when she was making the short film Epiphany (and also, rather embarrasingly another post titled Epiphany, which should have been Epiphany 2.) She is now the producer for another film in the making, This is Not Cricket, on which director Jacopo de Bertoldi has been working on since meeting the Piazza Vittorio Cricket team in 2012. This is anarchist cricket of a very different stamp to that I photographed back in 2005. They hope to complete the 90 minute feature-length documentary by the end of 2015 and urgently need cash, and are seeking it from crowdfunding.

Here are the first two paragraphs of the Synopsis:

Immigrants in Italy are under siege from increasingly violent xenophobic demonstrations and punishing laws. European austerity measures hit society, fanning the fire of intolerance.

Two adolescents in Rome, Shince from India and Fernando from Italy set out to rebuild their cricket team with a singular political vision to combat fascism, to integrate young people, and to play cricket. Their team was the strongest under 18s club in Italy, until it was forced to disband by the same problems they are determined to overcome: religious and social discrimination.

The trailer, on the same page is also worth viewing. I’ve just made a small gesture of support at the ‘Daisy Cutter’ level which seemed appropriate for my level of cricketing prowess; so far the appeal for $15,000 for the next stage of the product has had just over a third pledged, and you can also follow the project on Facebook. Some of the ‘rewards’ offered for higher levels of contribution appeal rather less. What would I do with a cricket bat!





It Isn’t the Rules

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Although I found much to agree with in the article by VII photographer Donald Weber on Vantage, The Rules of Photojournalism Are Keeping Us From the Truth, which I certainly recommend you read, I think both the title of the piece and his conclusion are wrong. It isn’t the ‘rules’ of photojournalism that are keeping us from the truth, but, as he correctly asserts, the role which photography has come to occupy in the media which largely provides the framework of financial support for photojournalism, and which agencies such as VII depend on.

Photography isn’t used for storytelling, but to decorate the story that has already been decided on by others. Sometimes by a journalist for the newspaper or magazine using a picture, but more often by a media consensus of what the story is about, to which the individual contributions of both writers and photographers are sacrificed.

I think too there is a good argument that competitions such as WPP encourage what might be called the entertainment aspect of photography, images that are used simply because they are dramatic, becoming disaster porn rather than a real attempt to address the issues.  I used to confuse students by telling them that “photography isn’t about making pictures”; important though form, framing, shape, line, texture etc are they are not the end in themselves, but tools we use to communicate clearly our stories.

Its certainly hard to argue with his thesis about the coverage of the events in Maidan Square, where virtually all content focussed on a small choreographed area, the frontline, for which “a media pass was needed. To get a media pass, you went to the Media HQ, showed your press credentials, signed and got your ticket. That day, I was ticket number 230. 229 accredited press before me.” And probably many more after.

Towards the end of the piece he writes:

“What makes photography faithful is not laborious inquisitions into levels of image-processing. Well, that is part of it, but mostly it is our collective faith in the intent of the story.
Eugene Smith once said: “The honesty lies in my?—?the photographer’s?—?ability to understand.” It has nothing to do with aesthetic and technical execution of the photograph, but in the author’s integrity in developing a story.”

In the first paragraph he admits that what he calls “labourious inquisitions” into the image-processing is “part of it.” I don’t feel that the kind of inquiries that the WPP and others make are particularly labourious, and more than being part of it, they are the very foundation on which all else rests.  His comment seems suspiciously like special pleading on behalf of those photographers who have been caught with their pants down.

He is totally right about integrity (as I’ve insisted time and time again), and that must have as its basis such things as not adding or subtracting objects from the image or altering it beyond recognition. As well as not setting up images and presenting them as if they were not set up or obviously misrepresenting them in captions.

Gene Smith would certainly have got himself disqualfied from the WPP for some of the things he did in the darkroom, but these were essentially a minor area of his work. It is certainly hard to draw clear guidelines as to exactly how much is allowable, and in the end it is intention and integrity that matters.

What also for me lets down his piece are the photographic examples, some of which at least I think involve unacceptable manipulation, but I leave it to you to judge on that.

Of course reporting from events such as those in Kiev shouldn’t be limited to a small ‘front-line’ controlled and choreographed for the media, and its always easy to find poor photography of events. But I suspect there were some of those 229 photographers who got their media pass before him on the day he attended will also have photographed elsewhere – and indeed may even have left before he turned up to do so.  Obviously Weber, photographer 230, was himself not having a good day.

I’ve seen good photojournalism from Kiev – and so I’m sure have you. But I also know that many photographers who tried to go outside the predictable failed to get their work published. To find much of the best work from many situations around the globe you will have to look at alternative media and photographers’ own web sites. And perhaps some of the more specialised agencies, and even occasionally on VII where photographers follow their own paths rather than provide media fodder.

My heart sinks when I turn up at any event and see a large crowd of photographers – I covered one such yesterday when there were, certainly at the start, more photographers than the 50 or so protesters. Had I known it would be like that in advance I would not have bothered. But among the protesters I recognised many from the group concerned I’ve photographed at various other of their protests, where often there were only one or two photographers present, that hadn’t attracted the media circus.

It was very much the kind of event where when you see an opportunity and start taking pictures you suddenly find people on both your shoulders and working over your head, with others standing further back asking you to move back… And where every other picture has someone else’s lens poking into the corner of your frame. Usually with one of those red rings round it.  I’ll confess to one of my photographic ‘sins’ here – in a few pictures taken in such circumstances I have occasionally rather desaturated one of those red rings, cursing Canon as I did so. It’s something I think should be written into the rules of what is allowable for photojournalists.

Surround Harmondsworth 6

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

It was back in 2006 that I first went to photograph a protest outside the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook immigration detention centres, just to the north of London’s Heathrow airport.  It’s an occasion I remember for several reasons. Perhaps most strongly the intense shame that I felt listening to some of those held inside speaking about how badly they were being treated – they were able to speak from inside on mobile phones, with their voices then amplified by holding a microphone to a phone at the protest outside the prisons.  I was ashamed that my country, which often prides itself on democracy, freedom and the rule of law was clearly behaving in such a clearly racist and unlawful manner – and then it was under a government of a party I had voted for, the party I had until then supported all of my life.

It was a protest with a strong police presence, with lots of barriers, and at one point a number of protesters who had walked down a public footpath to protest at one side of the site were surrounded by police and brought back to the main road outside. I stood on an earth bank with a couple of other photographers and photographed them, looking down.

One videographer was being held by the police inside the kettle (just visible between the uniforms above), and was showing his press card asking to be let out. But the police told him that it wasn’t a proper press card. Despite the statement on the back “The Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland recognise the holder of this card as a bona fide newsgatherer” and a verification phone number, the police simply refused to acknowledge it. This was not at the time unusual, and it still happens now despite a long campaign.

The videographer appealed to the three of us for help, asking us to show them what a press card looked like to verify that his was genuine. It left me in a slightly awkward position, as when I arrived at the protest I’d noticed that my own press card had expired at the end of the previous month, and had got through the police line to take pictures with my thumb holding it by the corner so it covered the expiry date. Fortunately one of those next to me went and showed his card, and eventually after some further persuasion the officers released the man from the kettle.  The protesters were less fortunate, and were held until the end of the protest before being forced to give their names and addresses or be arrested, and were then escorted to their coach.

UK Press cards are issued by a number of bodies, including my union, the NUJ, acting for the UK Press Card Authority and there are continuing arguments about exactly who should qualify for them. I seldom take mine out of my pocket when working, but there are a few occasions when I need it access press areas or leave events through police lines without one. That doesn’t always work, though usually when one officer refuses to let me through I’ve simply walked a few yards down the line and tried again with success, only occasionally having to appeal to a more senior officer. I also wear it visibily on a few occasions where I think it will reassure the people I’m photographing – particularly at events involving children. But for the great majority of events it stays in my pocket, tied in a holder with a cord around my belt for security.

Protesters march up the drive towards the detention centre

I had a little argument with the security guards at the start of the protest Surround Harmondsworth 6 the latest in a new series of protests at Harmondsworth & Colnbrook (this year brought together under new private management and renamed Heathrow) when they tried to push me inside the barriers with the protesters.  Eventually we came to an arrangement that suited me, but I wanted to make the point for myself and the other photographer and TV crew that enabled us to work as we wanted.  I did mainly want to photograph inside with the protesters, but I don’t like being pushed around and wanted to take some pictures of the banners draped in front of them on the barriers.

There were really few photographic problems, though some of the stories from protesters who had previously been held in Harmondsworth or other detention centres of their treatment were shameful, and at one point I was working through tears steaming up my glasses making using the viewfinder difficult. Fortunately autofocus works even if you can’t see the image clearly.  But this was an emotional protest for those taking part and for me. I hope it shows in some of the pictures.

As usual at these protests there was a great deal of noise, and also a lot of dancing and movement. Although security and police kept the protesters to the front of the site, well away from the detention blocks, those inside were able to hear us, letting people know by phone, and thanking the protesters for coming.

16-35mm, 16mm
Working in the middle of the protesters, wide-angle lenses were often needed, and many of the pictures were taken at the wider end of the 16-35mm, and some too with the 16mm fisheye. As usual these were later processed with the Fisheye-Hemi plugin to give the less distracting cylindrical perspective. For images of people it produces a more normal result than an extreme wide rectilinear lens, where the elongation at edges and corners can seem very odd. It often gets noticeable at 16mm, but really gets objectionable in many images if I use the even wider 12-24mm Sigma – which although it covers the full frame is better used as a DX lens. The Nikon 16-35mm, with a similar range of focal lengths on FX to the Sigma on DX is also a  sharper lens, so there is really little point in my ever using the Sigma.

16mm, Fisheye-Hemi

I prefer to use the 16mm fisheye on the D700, usually keeping the 18-105mm DX on the D800E. The reason is file size, as using the Fisheye-Hemi plug in generates a 16 bit ProPhoto RGB Tiff file with 6 bytes per pixel from the Nikon NEF file.  With the 12Mp D700 (typically giving NEF files compressed to around 12Mb) this ends up at around 70Mb.

16-35mm, 18mm
As I write this, a month after Surround Harmondsworth 6, protests are taking place inside this and other detention centres, and there are a number of more spontaneous protests with groups arriving unannounced to protest outside. A number of aspects of the treatment of asylum seekers have been found to be illegal, and a parliamentary has called for changes. Inside the centres, the legal niceties and human rights continue to be abused, but there is certainly now some hope of real change, thanks largely to the publicity generated by protests inside and outside these immigration prisons.

Feeling Blue

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Anna Atkins was born 216 years ago on 16 March 1799 and the anniversary was celebrated by Google this year with a doodle.  Her Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843 is generally thought to be the first book to have been produced – if only in a very limited edition – with photographic images.  These were ‘cyanotype impressions’, photograms of handwritten pages and of the algae specimens.

The cyanotype process had been invented by Sir John Herschel the previous year, and is a simple process to use for making prints, and is now often used in children’s workshops as well as for some more serious work. There were later adaptions and improvements to it (most recently by Mike Ware who thoroughly investigated the process and came up with a technically improved ‘New Cyanotype ‘.)

I’m not aware of any evidence that Atkins ever used a camera, though she has sometimes been cited as the first woman photographer. Certainly no camera produced images made by her have survived, nor are they any by another woman also awarded the title, Constance Talbot, the wife of the inventor of photogenic drawing and the calotype. Possibly one or other of them was the first woman to print a photograph.

I would describe the pages of ‘British Algae‘ as photograms rather than photographs, in a distinction I feel useful, though certainly not one that has always been present in photography. Until the 1930s it was common to use the term photogram interchangeably with photograph, and I have a number of copies of the annual publication ‘Photograms of the Year’, none of which contain what we would now call a photogram.

I have to admit that I’m not in general a great fan of cyanotypes, and have only kept a few of those that I have made. Several of them are from a session photographing a nude female artists model, something I’ve done very rarely, and were taken on 5×4″ during a workshop session where it was important to have a suitable subject on hand to produce images in a fairly limited time.

The problem I have with cyanotypes is that they are blue, and often not a very pleasant shade of blue – certainly one that does nothing for the model in this image.

It doesn’t really suit this street image either, but it illustrates one of the common problems of the traditional cyanotype – it is very easy to lose highlight detail. The problem here is partly that the negative was made for salted paper printing and has a very high contrast, too high for a good cyanotype print. Much better as a salt print.

It is possible to moderate the blue colour, and there are various ways to tone cyanotype images, though the results are not always permanent. In this case I started with a slightly weak salt print, and rather than throw it away (good quality watercolour paper costs as much as bromide paper) I overprinted it in register using cyanotype. The result was mildly interesting and I made a few more prints that way. Most but not all of the salt print disappears during the overprinting butas the image above shows, the blue is considerably altered.

And for the final image, I carefully avoided painting the cyanotype solution over the poster at right in the initial salt print.

But then I came to my senses and realised that I spending far too much time playing with chemicals and not spending enough of it on taking pictures. And a few years later I found that inkjet printing was a far more flexible way to produce images.

Deptford to Woolwich

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Available soon

I’ve been busy the last few days, not just with taking pictures as usual, but getting my latest Blurb book ready for publication. You can see the cover of it above, and I’lll post more when its available on-line.

It’s taken me four or five months to select the images from the scans I made a year or two ago, and retouch them. There are around 80 images in the final selection, with around ten of those that I initially selected omitted for various reasons. On average each of those 80 images will have had about an hour’s work done on it.

The scans are large TIF files, typically 7250 x 4850 pixels and around 68Mb, large enough to make good prints (so long as the negatives are sharp) up to around 24″ wide, though I seldom print that big. Working on the full-size files takes longer but makes retouching less visible, though some have considerable damage, mainly from insect infestation, that needs repair.

Tiny bugs live on gelatin, making tracks, excreting and also leaving body parts embedded in the negatives. They are a variety of booklice or ‘psocids’ of which more than 5,500 species have been identified, though these are smaller than most – and could even be a previously unknown type.

I first encountered them years ago in my darkroom, when looking through the focussing microscope I found a small creature wandering around my image and looking back at me. At first I thought I was hallucinating, but was soon able to convince myself it was real. But it was some years before I realised the significance of what I had seen, and by the time I got around belatedly to treating the infestation it was far too late. The little bugs had wrought havoc and almost certainly left.

Rather annoyingly I also found some of the scans suffered from Newton’s Rings. It’s hard to get rid of these entirely, but I did work a little to reduce their impact.

Once the big files are ready and adjusted for contrast and brightness etc, a couple of Photoshop actions then produce files with the correct specifications for book production. The TIF files are 16 bit with Gray Gamma 2.2 profile, and I have a RIP which prints from these. For Blurb I want smaller files and I generate these as 8 bit CMYK jpegs with the Blurb ICC profile, adding a little slight warming on the way.

Absolutely neutral files printed through Blurb can sometimes end up with just a hint of green or blue in the blacks, just enough to annoy me, though most viewers would probably not notice. Adding just a little warmth should keep the prints neutral or slightly warm, which is far more to my taste. In the darkroom my favourite papers – in the old days Agfa Record Rapid – had slightly warm blacks.

With all the material – titles, text, captions, images – to hand, the actual putting the book together generally isn’t a very long process. Book design can take a while, and some photo books – particularly those that win prestigious prizes – are now more about the designer’s art than the photographers work.

My books aren’t like this. I aim for a simple basic design that shows the pictures and presents essential information. In this book I wanted one image per page, along with the caption (place, date) and also my file reference and a page number. I dislike having to turn to a list at the back of the book to find out the basic details, but don’t want them to compete too much with the image. And I want to show the pictures as large as possible while still maintaining a decent border.

There is also the problem of using both landscape and portrait images. I’d like both to be the same size, but this is a problem with a 10×8″ book. Since most of the pictures are landscape format I’ve chosen to make a landscape format book. The landscape images are around 22x15cm and the portrait images 20x14cm, which gives them a similar weight.

This latest book is the fifth and last in my ‘London Docklands‘ series from the 1970s to the mid 80s and I’ve gradually evolved a format which I think works, and so most of the design is already there, with type styles and layouts that can be re-used. The next one with different material may need more design thinking. But I’ll probably still keep it simple.

Blurb actually have some fairly good software available for free download that I used for my first few books, but it’s a little difficult to get things exactly how you want them. So I decided to use Adobe InDesign, which I’d actually used the first version of years ago when I taught a little (very little) DTP, as I could get a fairly cheap upgrade to InDesign CS5.5, which would also enable me to edit my old Pagemaker files. Blurb supply a plugin which makes it easy to use for making their books. InDesign does also enable me to produce my own PDFs, though though the published one is made by Blurb and available on their web site.

As with other recent books, it will officially be published as a PDF (with an ISBN), but I will also make a printed version of this available, both through Blurb and also directly from me. It won’t become available on Blurb until I’ve seen the printed copy in around 10 days time – when I’ll post again. Proof-reading on screen is difficult – and I’ve spent around four hours making various minor corrections, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find more errors.