Archive for March, 2015

Scarcity and Waste opens

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Part of the ‘thematic’ area of the exhibition

On Wednesday I went to see ‘Scarcity and Waste‘, an exhibition of the second Syngenta Photography Award, currently showing at Somerset House, London until 10 April 2015, free, and open daily from 10.00-18.00.

Rasel Chowdury and Karen Irvine

It’s an interesting show, and I was pleased to be taken with other bloggers on a tour of it by one of the jury, Karen Irvine, the Curator and Associate Director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago, who also chaired a panel of four of the award-winning photographers. It was interesting to hear them talking about their work, and also to have the opportunity to talk with them and drink a glass or two of wine afterwards.

Rasel Chowdury talks with a man from Syngenta

I’ll come to the photography later, but first I want to say something about Syngenta. Although it isn’t a name that immediately meant much to me, I find it is the world’s second largest agro-company, and while walking around the show before the guided tour I began to feel just a few little seeds of doubt. And on coming home, my thoughts were confirmed when I googled ‘Seeds of Debt‘, made by Danish filmmaker Jens Pedersen, a film which blames Syngenta for suicides by Indian farmers unable to repay their debts. After threats of legal action by Syngenta, the film rights were purchased by DanWatch, “an independent media and research centre that investigates the impact of businesses on humans and the environment world-wide” whose Editor in Chief Louise Voller said they took full responsibility for its content, commenting: “We believe the message is too important. When companies like Syngenta try to threathen journalist, documentarists and vulnerable sources to silence them, we at DanWatch will take lead in making sure, that investigative journalism with documentation of human rights violations is published.”

You can watch the full 30 minute film online, or get a quick summary from the 47s trailer. Syngenta in January published a rebuttal, Looking after those who produce our seeds which you can also read, which elicited a replay by DanWatch the following day, standing by the allegations made in the film.

India isn’t the only place that Syngenta has hit the headlines, with at least two big stories from the USA. One, according to lawyers Wright & Schulte LLC is about the claims filed against them by “hundreds of U.S. farmers, corn growers, exporters and distributers…. after they allegedly incurred significant financial losses due to Syngenta, Inc.’s attempt to commercialize its Viptera GMO (genetically-modified) corn seed before the product was approved by Chinese regulators” and the other, perhaps more relevant to the exhibition, was settled in 2012, when Syngenta reached a $105 million settlement with over 1,000 MidWest community water suppliers over allegations in a class action pursued for over 8 years that  agricultural herbicide Atrazine had contaminated water supplies. A water supplier alleged in 2004  “that Syngenta knew atrazine would run off into surface water but decided to market the product with complete disregard for the expense water providers would ultimately pay to remove the chemical from the water before supplying it to consumers.

Having said that – and its information that you certainly won’t find in the material generously provided at the show or on the Sygenta Photo web site – the photography on display, whatever one may think of the corporate entity funding the show, certainly addresses fairly bluntly some of the major issues the world faces. Who too can argue with the premise of the show “In a world of limited resources, scarcity and waste have become fundamental social, political and environmental issues of our time“? Or with the conclusion “Something needs to change.” Though we might disagree rather fundamentally about the nature and direction of those changes. And perhaps shows like this may also lead at least some people to question the role of agribusiness generally – and Sygenta in particular – in actually creating some of the problems that we increasingly face.

Back to the photographs – and I deliberately haven’t included any of there here as they are shown better on the exhibition web site than I could. So I’ll include some appropriate links.

Mustafah Abdulaziz

Mustafah Abdulaziz, born in New York and based in Berlin, was certainly a worthy winner with the ten superb images you can see online. Although the top of the page has a slide show, it’s better to scroll down below to the grid of images and click on the grey rectangle, when the individual images then appear with their captions. Although these are powerful images, I think it devalues them to be seen without this essential context. Abdulaziz spoke eloquently about his work, and I was told that there will be video of the talk available on the site later.

Entrants for the Professional Commision are also required to submit a proposal for a further project related to the theme. At first I was a little surprised, even a little disappointed, that Abdulaziz’s proposal was “to look at California through the prism of water” (read more about it at the bottom of the web site page.) But on reflection it certainly makdes a lot of sense – the USA is of course the most profligate consumer of the world’s limited resources and will surely need to change more than the rest of the world.

Mustafah Abdulaziz, Richard Allenby-Pratt and Rasel Chowdhury talking

I found Rasel Chowdhury‘s work challenging. His chosen subject – the killing of Dhaka’s river by urbanisation and largely uncontrolled industrial activity – and in particular his treatment of it in dull, subdued and sombre tones is powerful, so much so that I found it hard to stay long in the room that houses it. In the leaflet and on the web site the images seem a little less extreme, perhaps rather warmer. But these are certainly not pictures I would want to hang on my wall.

Richard Allenby-Pratt

Third place went to UK photographer Richard Allenby-Pratt who has been based for some years in Dubai. Working as a commercial photographer, the landscape images from the UAE in his project ‘Consumption’ are a personal project  which  “explores aspects of the supply chain associated with the modern consumer; from the extraction of resources, to processing, manufacturing, energy production, construction, food production, logistics and retail, through to waste management and reuse.”

On the wall, I found these works rather cold, and I think they come over better on the web site (again better seen further down the page, where the captions also help to explain the inexplicable.) There is a surreal quality in thes images that appeals, particularly a half-built flyover, some pylons in the sea and trees left by gravel extraction), but on the wall I found the deliberate uniformity of approach which has very consciously been used for the project became just a little boring.  Some of the screen images seem just a little more definite than the prints and I think this is an improvement, though those pylons need to be viewed in the orginal.

Stefano De Luigi makes a point in the discussion

After the 3 rooms of the main prize-winners came the 3 winners of the Open Competition.  Benedikt Partenheimer‘s ‘Particulate Matter‘ with images through pollution with the location and air quality index as titles I think do need to be seen on the wall, and on the web lack the subtlety which is their major attraction. For me ShiziazHuang, AQI 360 was so much more impressive than the other two that I rather wish it had been the only one on show. Stefano De Luigi, winner of so many awards, including WPP in 1998, 2008 and 2010, had three great images, particularly one of a group of women attempting to get water from the bottom of a 20meter deep hole dug by villagers in Kenya, though his dead, twisted giraffe in a dried up riverbed is unforgettable.  Camille Michel’s pictures from Lapland of abandoned equipment on the fringes of Sami villages were certainly interesting. It was perhaps surprising that she was the only woman to feature in the prizewinners.

One of the questions raised at the talk concerned the tension between the aesthetic approach and the content of work addressing serious issues such as scarcity and waste.  It’s something I’ve sometimes felt difficult about in the work of photographers tackling environmental images which have produced beautiful images of hideeous pollution to be sold as high-priced art.  To a lesser extent it’s something we always face when making documentary images, the need to produce images which will interest people enough to get them looked at them while ‘telling it how it is’ and will also encouraging people to action.

The exhibition also includes several rooms of work by around 40 other photographers selected from the very large entry, which included quite a few images that intrigued or amused me, with a wide range of approaches. Although many were of interest, it seemed perhaps a little lacking in coherence. But certainly the show is worth a visit if you are in London.


February Finished

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Class War block Tower Bridge – and the banner than police threatened arrest over the following week

I had  late night last night and finished uploading images and text to My London Diary for February 2015.

I’m still catching up after several weeks of computer problems, and my heart sank yesterday morning when my desktop seemed to be refusing to start up. The initial checks before Windows start to load normally only take a few seconds, but yesterday it was over 5 minutes. I went away, did something else and came back to find that eventually it loaded.

So I took a little look at the Windows log files etc, ran the troubleshooters and there wasn’t anything that told me I had a particular problem (or at least not anything I didn’t know about and have been living with for ages.)  Later I found from Skype that my microphone wasn’t working and that told me I had no sound card. Well I knew that – its on the motherboard! But other than that everything seemed to be working OK.  But I decided that while I had the computer on and working I’d get February completed in case it wouldn’t start up again – and around 15 hours later I had, although perhaps given more time I would have written more about some of the events.

I also did something I’ve been meaning to do for some time, and blew the dust out of the computer. My previous machine died after it had collected so much dust inside that one of the fans stopped working, and it overheated. I’ve been meaning to open the box and give this machine a spring clean ever since, and today’s problem prompted me to do so. It was pretty dusty.

Today, to my relief, the computer started up more or less normally. The microphone still wasn’t working, so I removed and replaced the USB wireless link for my microphone, then pressed the ID button to link it up, and that’s now fine too. But much as I like the advantages of digital photography and computer processing and the web, I still feel uneasy about having to rely so profoundly on sometimes temperamental systems that none of us truly understands.

Anyway, here is February:

My London Diary

Feb 2015

Judging the cake competition
Grow Heathrow’s 5th Birthday
People’s Republic Of Aldgate Free Speech Fight

Lambeth against £90m cuts
RMT protest Underground Job Cuts
Welfare Advocacy not a Crime

Striking Firefighters block traffic
Free Shaker Aamer at Parliament
Bracknell Forest
Take Back Our World – Global Justice Now
Shoreditch & Brick Lane
Poor Doors to Rich Gardens
End Isolation Torture for Kevan
Deport Altaf Hussain

Let Greece Breathe!
Occupy Democracy return

Venus CuMara Reclaim Love 13 at Eros
Valentine Day – 13 years for Shaker Aamer
‘BadBoy Borises’ in Global Divestment Day

Poor Doors Truce Over – It’s War!
Muslim Lives Matter – BBC protest
Aylesbury rubble to Southwark Council

Surround Harmondsworth 6
Burberry Cleaners Strike
Sanctions protest at Croydon Job Centre
Getting By – Lisa’s Book Launch
Aylesbury Estate Occupation
Around the Elephant
No Privatisation At National Gallery
Close Guantanamo – 8 Years of protest

Unnecessary Replication

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Although one can greatly admire the ingenuity and professionalism of both photographer Sandro Miller and “legendary Hollywood A-Lister John Malkovich” (I had to look him up, but that just shows how out of touch I am) and presumably also the makeup artists etc involved, the work in ‘Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to photographic masters‘ recently shown at the Catherine Edelman Gallery and on sale as ‘pigment prints’ (which almost certainly means inkjet prints using pigment-based ‘inks’) in editions of 35 + 5 artists proofs at prices from $3,200 to $12,000, raises a number of questions.

In his discussion of the work in The Photographer and the Painting (5), A D Coleman looks mainly at the copyright angle, and whether the aping of famous images by well-known photographers, mainly still in copyright, could possibly constitute ‘fair use’ under US copyright law. Although careful to disclaim any legal expertise, he  details his thoughts on the subject using the University of Minnesota’s online ‘Thinking Through Fair Use‘ which appears to me to be very useful tool. Though again they add a clear disclaimer: “it does NOT tell you whether a proposed use is fair or not, and does NOT provide any kind of legal advice. It simply helps you structure your own reflections about the fair use factors, and provides a record that you did consider relevant issues.

Coleman also provides a link to Bored Panda which publishes 16 pairs of images, putting the remake by Miller/Malkovitch next to the original images which have been recreated, so you can judge how closely they have acheived the aim of reproducing the original works.

My initial reaction to these image pairs was “how very clever, but how entirely pointless“. And on further reflection, I think it was absolutely correct. What is the point? Other than of course to make money for Miller and the gallery (and perhaps Malkovich, who with more than 70 films under his belt, a video game and an Italian clothing line surely doesn’t need it?) And Coleman questions “The creative ethicality, if I may call it that, of generating such straightforwardly replicative ‘derivative works,’ even if legal questions don’t pertain.” Absolutely so.

What is perhaps most surprising is to learn from Coleman not only that Miller informed him that he took legal advice which told him thatthe work would be covered by “fair use”, but that the possible legal problems have not been mentioned in the many publications on the work which he lists in his post. I don’t expect it’s possible to sue lawyers for their advice, but if so I think it fairly likely that Miller may have to do so. But of course I’m not a lawyer either.

I imagine the images will sell, if only because a man who has been in over 70 films must surely have fans, some of whom are sure to have more money than sense. As a commercial proposition it would seem to make sense, but it is the commercial possibility that seems to this non-lawyer to be both something that makes ‘fair use’ far less likely to apply and also to greatly increase the chances that one of the rights-holders in the 40 out of the 42 images not in the public domain will sue.

When I taught photography, it wasn’t unusual for students to copy or attempt to copy works by well-known photographers, though usually their efforts were usually so different from the originals despite their intentions that there would have been zero danger of a law suit. But after they had done so, I would discuss with them what they had learnt from the exercise and tell them to go out and make their own work. We all learn by ‘beg, borrow and steal’, or to put it more positively, exploring the tradition and becoming a part of it, but our aim should surely be to contribute, rather than simply replicate the work of others.

I came across another case which is more debatable on Sunday, when a photographer pointed out in an online forum that a picture of sculptor Hans Haacke holding up his design for the new sculpture on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth published in The Guardian and attributed to “Hans Haacke/VG Bild-Kunst. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York” was rather similar to one he had made earlier and that was published in the New York Times last October.

There are of course similarities as you can see from the links above. It is the same man, and he is holding up the same drawing. And being known for his dislike of having his face photographed he is holding the drawing in front of most of his face.  But there are also clear differences. In the image in the Guardian the framing is portrait which I think better suits the subject, and Haacke holds the image up with two hands instead of one. He also carefully holds his drawing so that none of the horse is obscured, and the photographer has shown rather more of his black glasses, the arc of which at the left of the white print is important in the image.

There is a delicate line to be drawn. I’ve photographed Tower Bridge many times, but would not claim any breach of my rights in anyone else’s photograph of that building, even if taken from exactly the same position. For the photographer to have a valid claim I think he would have to persuade a court that Haacke had never ever held up a photograph or drawing in front of his face before, and that he was the first photographer ever to have got him to do that – or perhaps even to have got any other artist to do the same thing. It would be tough.

I’ve taken far too many pictures of people holding things in front of their faces, usually when I don’t want them to, but also on a few occasions when people haven’t wanted their face to be shown. Resemblance it seems to me isn’t enough, there has to be some real originality to claim infringement, and for me the idea isn’t orginal enough and the similarity perhaps not close enough. Of course a court might see it differently. Again, IANAL.

There was clearly an originality about Doisneau’s ‘Picasso and the Loaves‘, with two “main de Nice” replacing the painter’s hands, and it’s something that has been reused by some others, in a way that I think is fair use.  But I dimly recall a case where Doisneau’s estate prevented a rip-off of this image being used in an advertisement.

Nan Goldin

Monday, March 9th, 2015

I’ve always beeen a little ambivalent about the work of Nan Goldin, and it seems a totally appropriate reaction.  A recently published feature on her on Dangerous Minds is labelled with the topics: Art; Drugs; Queer; Sex; Unorthodox; often I wonder if my own interest in the pictures might be labelled prurient. Not that I would consider them pornographic or abusive (unlike the Gateshead police). But I certainly find her work interesting.

The article, Being human: Sexuality, gender and belonging to family in Nan Goldin’s photography (NSFW) might not be safe for your work, but seems fairly tame for mine and includes a fairly short video of Goldin talking about her life and work. Although she speaks with great candour, and her work has made aspects of her life very public, I sometimes feel she does not entirely admit (perhaps even to herself) the control she exerts in making her images.

Commenting many years ago I wrote about her work “It only offers us glimpses, framed and caught with more or less skill by the person who directs it – and Goldin’s control as a director is remarkable.” Even when she is in bed and using a long cable release to a camera placed earlier on a tripod across the room.

One of the skills that distinguish good photographers of events develop is that of visualising a scene from a different viewpoint.  When you may see something happening while you may immediately make an exposure even though you are not in the right position just in case,  but the first reaction is to think where your camera should be to best photograph the scene, and to try to get there.  If the camera is fixed and you are in a different position, choosing the right moment to press the release is not largely a matter of chance but again of visualisation. And of course after the event editing, selecting the images that work best.

I first wrote about her after seeing her work in the book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, (you can see a 42 minute video version to a soundtrack by The Tiger Lilies on Vimeo, but it seems incredibly slow moving compared to her slide show which I saw – and there are various other shorter versions on YouTube) which she described as “the diary I let people read” and revised the piece as Nan Goldin’s Mirror on Life in 2002 after seeing her work at the Whitechapel Gallery, and again in 2007 to put on this site.

Still Life

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

I suppose like most photographers I’ve occasionally taken what might be labelled a ‘still life’ but it has never been a genre that has held my interest in photography. Some I’ve done because people have asked me for a particular purpose, like recording the flowers that my wife has been sent or a birthday cake she made, though these are perhaps not truly still life.

Here’s the start of what Wikipedia has to say:

A still life (plural still lifes) is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural (food, flowers, dead animals, plants, rocks, or shells) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, and so on).

The whole article is worth reading, and the Wikipedia MediaViewer shows images of some great examples, none of which is a photograph, though the last example is a computer generated image.

More often I’ve photographed inanimate objects as objets trouvés, and perhaps an important point that the definition above omits is the element of arrangement in creating still life compositions.  So looking at the Pencil of Nature,  Talbot’s image of a fruit bowl

A Fruit Piece LACMA M.2008.40.908

to my mind qualifies as a still life (if perhaps a rather poor one) while other images including ‘A Scene in a Library’ and ‘Articles of China’ are not, as although the photographer has carefully framed the pictures he has not (or not effectively) arranged the objects for the purpose of the photograph.

Licenced under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - wiki/File:Articles_of_China.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Articles_of_China.jpg
Articles of China” by William Fox Talbot – The Pencil of Nature, 1844.

There have been relatively few photographers who have made still life images that I find of much interest. Perhaps the best of these was Josef Sudek, who produced some truly fine examples. Of course many other photographers produced some fine still lifes, including Edward Weston (and many of his nudes were more still life than nude.)

What sent me thinking about this, and almost made me miss a train starting to write about it on Saturday morning, was a Facebook post about an article in Vice magazine, No More Lazy Still-Life Photography, Please , by Vice photo editor Matthew Leifheit, which includes illustrations by another phtoographer whose work in the genre I’ve also long admired, particularly for her colour work, Jan Groover. Again, Google Images is a good place to see a large selection of her work.

As Leifheit writes “any 13-year-old with a camera flash can throw some pineapples onto a brightly-colored backdrop and call it art. ” But making a really satisfying still life with a camera is I think something rather more difficult. Perhaps even more difficult than doing it with a paintbrush.

Dirty Weather

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

At lunchtime on Jan 28th I was with the cleaners, but it was certainly very dirty weather. Bouts of driving rain and gusts that blew umbrellas inside out if not out of your hands. I was in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a large open area now a public park, in the centre of London.  Not as well known as some others, but it is the largest public square in central London, and was first laid out around 1630, and many of the buildings around date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Dickins based his ‘Bleak House‘ on one of them, and the east side is formed by Lincoln’s Inn itself. For a long time filled with lawyers, the square is now being increasingly colonised by the London School of Economics, better known as the LSE. In the Thatcher era, when we first saw large numbers of people living on the streets in England, Lincoln’s Inn Fields became home to many of them, until in 1992 a tall fence was put around the grassed area of the square with gates that are locked at night to keep out the rough sleepers.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England moved here (as The Company of Surgeons) in 1797, though they built a new building in 1833 with a splendid portico, which still faces onto the square; most of the rest of the building was rebuilt after it was destroyed by a German incendiary bomb in 1941.

I was here because although the RCSE is “committed to enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care” (according to its mission statement) it isn’t yet committed to paying its cleaners enough to live on.  Unison was here to protest for the London Living Wage, contractual sick pay and holidays for the people who clean the building, as well as for them to be treated with dignity and respect by their managers. Like many companies and organisations, the RCSE would almost certainly be ashamed of treating any of its own employees so shabbily, so they pay another company, Ocean, to do their dirty work for them.

Cleaners at the RCSE belong to Unison, and the protest was mainly by cleaners and supporters from other Unison branches, particularly in the University of London, including a number I’ve met and photographed before in Living Wage and  ‘3 Cosas’ campaigns.

Although I always carry a small folding umbrella in my camera bag (weather in the UK is often changeable) I hate to use it while actually taking pictures. But soon after the protest started the rain came down so hard there was no real choice.

It’s hard to hold both an umbrella and a camera to photograph in a high wind, and it was tiring on my left wrist. I had to stop quite a few times to turn the umbrella around after it had blown inside out to get the wind to blow it back again, and I didn’t stay very dry underneath it, but without it I would have got soaked, and there was nowhere nearby to shelter. A few images were ruined by drops of rain on the lens filter, though yet another thing in my left had was my microfibre cloth to keep wiping the lens clear with.

At times too, the gusts pushed the umbrella down and into my field of view. But I kept on taking pictures, and there were some compensations. The union flags held by some of the protesters blew well in the strong wind, and otherwise rather dreary areas of pavement look much better when wet, and sometimes have good reflections. And the rain also brought out the umbrellas in Unison (and other) colours.

But I was pleased when I had to leave, shortly before the scheduled end of the protest, as I was cold and wet, and it was good to get to some more sheltered places away from that large fairly open square. And as I did so the sun came out.

I met some of the same cleaners (and Unison reps and organiser) the following lunchtime at SOAS, where campaigns over the years supported by students and SOAS staff have resulted in some successes, but the cleaners still want parity of treatment with staff directly employed by the University.  They say ‘One Workplace, One Workforce’. Outsourcing adds complexity and extra layers of management and can only cut costs by cutting the pay and conditions of workers. Time to get rid of it.

SOAS Cleaners demand Dignity & Respect
Cleaners protest at Royal College of Surgeons

POYi 72

Friday, March 6th, 2015

I’ve not yet had time to look at all the pictures from the winning entries in the University of Missouri School of Journalism‘s 72nd annual Pictures of the Year International competition, though I can say that there are some fine images among those I have viewed on the POYi web site.

One photographer who gets a number of mentions is Brad Vest, 2011 Alexia award winner, with a portfolio of 40 images from Memphis local newspaper The Commercial Appeal winning the Newspaper Photographer of the Year award, as well as two mentions in the Newspaper Issue Reporting Picture Story category with first place for “Last One Standing” about the last public housing project in Memphis and an Award of Excellence for “Paul Joseph Oliver” on the lives of the family and friends of a Marine after his death.

The competition has its roots in 1944, when

the Missouri School of Journalism sponsored its “First Annual Fifty-Print Exhibition” contest. Its stated purpose was, “to pay tribute to those press photographers and newspapers which, despite tremendous war-time difficulties, are doing a splendid job; to provide an opportunity for photographers of the nation to meet in open competition; and to compile and preserve…a collection of the best in current, home-front press pictures.”

For many years it was a USA only contest, and was run jointly with the NPPA, but since 2001 it has again become solely the responsibility of the Missouri School of Journalism, and an international competition (POY became POYi), and has slowly become less dominated by US photographers and organisations, though still keeping a very US flavour and not quite yet POYI. Funding for it comes from endowments and also sponsors Fujjifilm, US cable and satellite company MSNBC, National Geographic as well as the entrance fees to the yearly competition.

There is also an archive with many thousands of winning images (either 41,766 or over 60,000 depending on where you look) over the years, starting from 1943. It gives an interesting overview of the changes in news photography over the years.

The Missouri School of Journalism has always had a clear view of photographic ethics, and the USA generally has a rather more clear view on news photography than pertains in the UK. It was something I was made very aware of when I spent 7 years working for a US company from London, and which I applauded. Although there may be disagreement about whether the best work won in some categories, there is unlikely to be the kind of controversy that the WPP has recently attracted. The staging in Je Suis Chaleroi? would certainly never have been thought acceptable here.

Stuck in the right place

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Dame Vivienne Westwood: 18-105mm DX, 105mm (157mmmm)

I think I made some good images of the speakers at No Fracking Anywhere! in Old Palace Yard in front of Parliament on Jan 26, but despite this and my support for the issues, it wasn’t an event I really enjoyed covering. And although I’m on good terms with many of the photographers present and like to meet them while covering events, this was one of those times when there were just far, far too many of us.

Bianca Jagger: 18-105mm DX, 90mm (135mm)

The reason for the huge interest was undoubtedly the fact that two ‘celebrities’ were among the speakers, Bianca Jagger and Dame Vivienne Westwood, and once they had both spoken the ranks thinned out considerably, making life rather easier.

Caroline Lucas MP: 18-105mm DX, 38mm (57mm)

Fortunately when I saw that the speakers were to be using a relatively small trolley as a makeshift stage, along with a few other photographers I realised things were going to be very tight. Two rather large and tall press photographers had stationed themselves rather close to it and bang in the centre in front of the microphone, establishing where the front line of photographers would be, and I went and stood at their side. Ideally I would have liked to be a metre or so further back, but knew that if I moved back others would simply come in front of me.  I  was also glad they had chosen to stand in the middle, as I seldom if ever like to work from dead centre, not least because the microphone is then always in the way.

Soon there was a vidographer pressing on my right shoulder, and several rows of photographers behind. At one guy’s request I put my camera bag on the floor in front of me so he could work through the narrow gap between my thighs and those of the man on my left, whose shoulder I was being pushed into. Other photographers were poking lenses over both my shoulders, and there were others further back trying to take pictures over our heads,  easier over mine than the two six-footers to my left, though at least one photograph was up on his step ladder.

Joan Walley MP: 18-105mm DX, 66mm (99mm)

I don’t find it easy to stand in one place, hardly able to move an inch, difficult at times even to swivel my upper body around, for over an hour. Much of that time there was little or nothing taking place to be photographed, but having got a good position I didn’t want to move and lose it until things were over. But by the end of that time it was getting quite painful, suffering in both legs and my back.

Tina-Louise Rothery: D800e, 18-105mm DX, 18mm (27mm)

There were other photographers to the left of the ‘stage’, some actually sitting on it, though I think they will have had little opportunity to take photographs of the speakers, and would probably have been better off drifting away to photograph the rest of the protesters. But unless I wanted them in my pictures (and generally I didn’t) I couldn’t work with a very wide lens. Most if not all of the pictures I took in that hour and a quarter were with the 18-105mm lens, enabling me to show speakers from the waist up at the wider end to tightly framed heads at the long.

D800e, 18-105mm DX, 42mm (63mm)

There were fortunately a number of people with placards and banners, as the area of the Houses of Parliament behind the speakers from my position wasn’t really too exciting.

John Ashton, Former UK Government Special Representative for Climate Change: D800e, 18-105mm DX, 28mm (42mm)
There are quite a few more portraits of these and the other speakers, as well as other pictures from  the event at No Fracking Anywhere!

The only picture in this post with the D700 and 16-35mm – at 21mm
Many of the press photographers sped away to file their images of Dame Vivienne as soon as she ended her speech, making it a little easier to photograph the rest of the event – and I could even use my favourite 16-35mm wideangle.  I rather liked this group around the Greenpeace House, with Julian Huppert MP, Norman Baker MP, Bianca Jagger, Caroline Lucas MP and John Ashton, though the hand at the right of the image is perhaps a little annoying.

Parliament Square Saga Continues

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

After the CND rally against Trident replacement, several hundred of those taking part walked the short distance to Parliament Square and stepped over the low wire with warnings against trespass to protest with Occupy Democracy on the sacred grass.

It was the latest in a series of protests by Occupy, part of their attempt to introduce real democracy to the UK which has certainly resulted in some strangely extreme responses from parts of our establishment, particularly London’s Mayor and his private security force. Though there have been times when I would not have been surprised if they had called in the troops.

There are relatively few of Boris’s Heritage Wardens, but they seem to have been able to call on the Metropolitan Police to make some very doubtful interventions in the square. Its something that has been going on for some years; long before ‘Occupy’ it was the peace protest by Brian Haw and his associates, and later the Democracy camp that attracted their attention.

It has never quite seemed rational to me, perhaps because I’ve always considered Parliament Square to be a missed opportunity in London. Until fairly recently it was an almost impossible to reach square of grass, surrounded by traffic with no way to reach it except putting your life at risk and hoping not to be run down as you dashed across in the gaps. Now at least there are several light-controlled crossings to the central area, though still not one at the most used and most needed crossing point at the corner leading to Parliament St.

As grass goes, for a country which invented the lawn mower and prides itself on the quality of its lawns, from the striped close-trimmed gardens of suburbia to the sacred turf of Lords, Parliament Square, at least as long as I’ve known it, has always been a disgrace. It starts by being badly drained, but has never had the kind of care it requires and probably suffers from the wrong kind of grass.

But for an area at the centre of a World Heritage Site, the whole area is wrong. Closing the roads along the south and west sides might be a good start, but it also needs some sensible landscaping, which could also replace or cover the ugly defences around Parliament, while providing equally effective protection. We should long ago have had a competition to redesign the square, probably including smaller areas of grass with larger paved areas where protests and celebrations could occur. Although given the official lack of any care for the grass the current fanatical attempts to prevent protests on it are nonsensical, if the area was improved it would be sensible to try and make it more robust.

On this occasion at least the police behaved sensibly and did nothing but keep an eye on things, despite what appeared to be a certain amount of jumping up and down from the ‘heritage wardens’.

I listened briefly to the wardens complaining to the police, thenspent some time talking with an officer at the corner of the square where a crossing is needed, near the statue of Churchill. It seemed the police had no worries about a few hundred people having a peaceful meeting on the grass, but did fear that there might be some who wanted to show their hatred for Churchill by desecrating his statue on the 50th anniversary of his death on 24 January 1965. Although many revere him for his inspirational leadership in the Second World War, there are others who cannot forgive his hostility to socialism and the 1926 General Strike, support for the Black and Tans in Ireland, anti-semitism and opposition to Indian independence and other policies.

The protest caused no trouble and dispersed peacefully, though by that time I was home and eating dinner. There are a few more pictures at Occupy defy GLA ban on Democracy.


Trident Rally

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Photographers sometimes complain that Jeremy Corbyn always closes his eyes when speaking. Well, not all the time

After the scarf and the short march (see ) came the rally in a fairly crowded Old Palace Yard opposite Parliament, and again CND had organised things fairly well for the press, with a reasonably uncrowded area between the crowd  and the fairly low stage. It was possible to move fairly freely around – although limited by the presence of other photographers and videographers.

It is mainly videographers that cause a problem for photographers, and on this occasion one that had set up a little way back and perhaps on too low a tripod and was then objecting to any photographers standing in line closer to the stage.  I suspect my bald patch appears in some parts of his video, though I tried hard not to obstruct his view of the speakers – and he could have avoided me by zooming more tightly. Mostly I think it is people who aren’t used to working in crowded areas like this who cause such problems.

In general still photographers cooperate well with each other; most of us try hard not to get in the way of those who get there before us, and work over their shoulder or to one side. One more recent problem is with those who now use backpacks and are often just not aware when these are rudely pushing against others. Shoulder bags can get in the way, but it’s more obvious as they tend to come off your shoulder.

There is a definite advantage to being tall and able to work over the heads of others – and often press photographers will bring step ladders with them. I’ve never bothered with carrying one around, though I have sometimes thought about using a folding stool which would give me a few more inches. There are some very light ones that wouldn’t be a great burden to carry.

Heather Wakefield, Unison’s Head of Local Government, Police and Justice

On this occasion, apart from that one videographer who was something of a pain, (and perhaps he will learn from the number of photographers who walked across his video)  it was fairly easy to move around and to get in something like the right place for photographing most of the speakers.

For me there are two main aspects to finding the right place, the placement and use of the microphone and the background. There isn’t one right place, as different speakers approach the microphone differently, some almost swallowing it, and others standing back. Usually I prefer to see a face unobstructed by the microphone, or, failing that, to see clearly most or all of the mouth. And eyes are often vital. Some people stand like statues as they speak, while others move and look around. Faces differ, and an angle that works with one speaker will not for others. Taking all your pictures from the same place would in any case be rather boringly repetitive – an easy trap to fall into.

CND veteran Bruce Kent

Backgrounds are often a problem, and this had a rather ugly roof over the stage which features in most of the images as I was working roughly from the level of the speakers feet. Mostly this is a little subdued by being out of focus, working at fairly wide apertures with fairly long lenses (mainly 100-300 mm, with the Nikon 18-105mm DX on the D800E and the Nikon 70-300 FX on the D700.) At the longer end it becomes hard to get enough depth of field on faces, and all too easy to autofocus by mistake on the microphone rather than the eyes. Sometime, when speakers make interesting gestures, you have a choice of whether the focus is on the hand or the eyes, and it’s one that the camera may make for you as you rapidly catch the moment. Some cameras have ‘face detection’ which might help – unless you want the hand sharp.

Julie Ward, Labour MEP for the North West of England

Mostly getting good images is about watching and being prepared to catch the moment. It’s only too easy to get the moment after, perhaps when the speaker’s eyes have closed or the pointing hand dropped half out of frame. Digital makes things easier by letting you know what you have taken – and this is one of the few times I actually sometimes look at the previews when I’m working – and sometimes delete images. The good thing is that most speakers repeat themselves, if not in what they say in what they do. If you fail to catch that glance up the first time you can be ready to do so later.

Lindsey German, Stop the War, waiting to speak

It’s also good to keep an eye on what else is happening on the platform. Sometimes the best pictures come before or after people speak – and on this occasion this was important for the background as well, enabling me to get away from that roof.  The picture of Lindsey German waiting to speak with a clear graphic behind her is far better than any I managed while she was speaking.

And of course the rally is more than the speakers (though pictures of well-known names are more likely to be used) but the audience may well be more interesting.

You can see some of my other attempts to photograph these and other speakers and people in the audience at CND Scrap Trident rally at Parliament.