Archive for July, 2015

Freedom of Panorama

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

CETA (TTIP) Trade Deal

Although I’m pleased to hear the news today in Peta Pixel and elsewhere that an overwhelming majority of European Members of Parliament voted to a  reject a controversial proposal that threatened to restrict the photography of copyrighted buildings and sculptures from public places, I’m not convinced that its passing would have made a great deal of difference to most of us.

According to Petapixel, who on June 20th published a report based on Wikipedia’s Signpost, the proposal that “the commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior authorisation from the authors or any proxy acting for them” would have brought all European countries into line with those, including France and Italy where such laws already exist.

Stop TTIP rally

I’ve yet to notice any great outcry among French or Italian photographers at the problems that they face in photographing in their cities, and certainly I’ve never felt encumbered by this aspect of their law.  Except in the one case of photographing the Eiffel Tower at night, where apparently the lighting is trademarked, and that is at times enforced. And of course there have sometimes been problems related to quite different issues of privacy.

For the same reason, there are also some problems already in London over the London Eye in commercial photography. While these may mean you would need permission to use it as the background for a fashion shoot, it has never prevented the kind of use that Signpost illustrated in a graphic, of the London Eye seen in a wider view of London landscape.

#NoTTIP – Hands off our democracy

Another ‘No-No’ for commercial photograph in London is of course the Underground roundel, again a trademark.  It is almost certainly (at least in two-dimensional form) protected by UK copyright law as also would be billboards, posters, graffiti, murals and all 2D artwork displayed in public. But their incidental inclusion in photographs has never been a problem, and many of us have also published images where murals and graffiti were the main or only subject without comeback.

UK Copyright law explicitly gives us permission to photograph buildings in the public eye, and also sculptures displayed in public. Probably as photographers we are quite pleased that our work, even if visible in public, is still protected along with paintings and drawings.

CETA Trade Deal Threat to Democracy

When I once was one of the volunteers who helped to run a small non-profit magazine covering the visual arts I found a great difference between the attitude of photographers and people making paintings and drawings in regard to the reproduction of their work in reviews. While artists were keen to have their work in print, photographers were sometimes difficult or impossible to persuade – and often requested payment although we were investing heavily in them out of our pockets by reviewing the work.

In a way it’s understandable. In publishing a painting or drawing we were only actually publishing a photograph of a painting or drawing, while in publishing a photograph, you are in effect publishing the real thing. A photograph of a photograph is a photograph.

The outcry against the proposed law included a petition signed by 540,000 people around the world. I’m pleased that the MEPs have rejected it, but sorry that they have so far failed to stop something far more important, passing a resolution on the secretly negotiated EU-US trade deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The fight on TTIP is far from over yet, and the vote was passed despite a petition signed by over 2.3m European citizens, who realise, as War on Want Executive Director John Hilary stated, that: “TTIP offers a nightmare vision of a world sold into corporate slavery.” Rather more important an issue than a copyright principle that would probably have had little effect on 99.99% of the photographs we take of cities. Unless you are happy at being a slave who can take photographs.


May 2015 complete at last

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

May 2015 was an eventful month for me, both personally and in terms of the various events I covered. It was also a month of great political disappointment, that left me feeling very depressed about the future of the country. I was born as the welfare state came into being and grew up with it, and consider it one of the great British achievements of the 20th century. But since 1979 and the Thatcher government we have seen it being attacked; New Labour continued to wind it down, and the coalition took over the process. But now we have a government dedicated to greed and I fear for our future. Britain is becoming the kind of country I don’t want to live in. Though its now perhaps more that I don’t want my children and grandchildren to live in. I’m sad and I’m angry.

Here’s the listing:

May 2015

Mass rally Supports National Gallery strikers
Biafrans demand independence

UK Uncut Art Protest
Walking the Coal Line
Filipino Nurses tell Daily Mail apologise
People’s Assembly ‘End Austerity Now’
Ahwazi Arabs protest Iran’s war
NCAFC March against ‘undemocracy’
NCAFC rally in Trafalgar Square
Disco Boy plays Trafalgar Square
Police arrest man in Trafalgar Square
‘I am Edna’ – protect whistle-blowers
Class War protest Queen’s speech
Cody Dock Opening for ‘The Line’
White pride protest for David Lane
March Against Monsanto
Waiters Day – fair contracts and union rights
Photo London
Walk the City

Cleaners invade Barbican Centre
Silent protest over Sewol ferry disaster
Caged vigil for Shaker Aamer
Victory Rally For Jasmin Stone

Sweets Way & West Hendon at Barnet Council
Grant FGM campaigner Maimuna Jawo asylum
Lyme Disease – Urgent action needed
End Child Abuse, support Whistleblowers
Northern Interlude
We Stand with Baltimore – Black Lives Matter

Occupy Gandhi – stop fossil fuel criminals
Occupy Festival of Democracy
Baltimore to Brixton – Black Lives Matter!
Truth for Zane at Stand Up For Spelthorne
‘Reclaim the Beats’ at ‘Poor Doors’

Anti-Capitalists block Tower Bridge
May Day Rally supports National Gallery
May Day march against austerity and racism


August Sander (1876-1964)

Monday, July 6th, 2015

I find it hard to believe that I have never published at any length about August Sander, but all I can find are  few brief notes such as one that was a part of the ‘Directory of Notable Photographers’ I was once responsible for, and a number of brief references to him in articles about other photographers.

I know that I have written in greater detail about his life and his work in general, as well as in more detail on a few of his images, and he was certainly one of the photographers whose pictures I talked about when I was teaching. If I do find what I’ve written on him, I’ll publish it in a later post.

I started hunting for my own piece after reading Rena Silverman‘s
Finding the Right Types in August Sander’s Germany in today’s Lens Blog, an article prompted by the recent acquisition by the New York Museum of Modern Art of 619 prints from his project People of the Twentieth Century which he started around 1909 and had to abandon with the rise of the Nazi party, who confiscated and burnt his preliminary publication with 60 images, Antlitz der Zeit, in 1929. A few copies survived and are now fairly expensive.

In looting that followed the end the war, some of his work was destroyed in a fire, but Sander himself survived until 1964. He didn’t entirely give up photographing people in the 1930s, but certainly concentrated more on landscape. I haven’t looked through all of the huge Sander collection at the Getty Museum – apparently 1186 images, and almost all viewable on line – but there are some fine portraits from the 1930s, including some that the Nazis would not have approved of. But most seem to be studio portraits rather than the images of people he travelled his region around Cologne to locate for his typology.

A large volume of Sander’s Menschen des 20. Jahr hunderts was published in Germany in 1980, and I have a copy of the French version published the following year, with 431 portraits from 1892-1952. In the USA it was called ‘Citizens of the 20th Century‘. It’s a very heavy book, really too heavy for its binding, and a larger publication with over 600 plates in 2002 split the work into 7 volumes.

In the article Bodo von Dewitz is quoted as saying “He was the first who worked with what we now call ‘concept’ in photography,” and I think I have several problems with that. Firstly because many earlier photographers from Fox Talbot on could be argued to have worked with ‘concept’, but mainly because what distinguishes Sander’s work is not the concept or even the scale of his work (perhaps rather small compared to say Atget) but its quality.

Although conceived as a part of a great scheme, it is the very individual quality of Sander’s response to his subjects that still holds us, whereas with most contemporary ‘concept’ works the concept overwhelms the motif, producing sets of images of stunning mediocrity. It’s largely their predictability and recognisability that makes them, along with their normal impressive scale into such ideal commercial fine art for the corporate atrium.

There are smaller and more readily appreciated sets of work by Sander elsewhere on the web, including a small and varied set at MoMA, a rather better selection of 32 from ‘People of the Twentieth Century’ at Amber Online, and 24 images at the Edwynn Houk Gallery. There are various other sites devoted to Sander, including some I found it hard to see more than one or two images on.

Charles Harbutt (1935-2015)

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Charles Harbutt (who I always thought of as Charlie), died on June 29th 2015, aged 79. Although he was twice president of Magnum (leaving it in 1981 to form Archive Pictures along with others including Abigail Heyman, Mary Ellen Mark and Joan Liftin), he is perhaps not that well known as a photographer, but will be remembered warmly by all those of us who attended one of his many workshops.

It was one of his workshops back in 1976 at Paul Hill‘s Photographers’ Place in Bradbourne, Derbyshire that led a few years later in 1985 to a friend of mine, Peter Goldfield,  leaving his business as a pharmacist and purveyor of high quality photographic products – particularly fibre-based Agfa papers – under the name of Goldfinger in Muswell Hill to set up his own photographic workshop at Duckspool in Somerset, and it was there in 1996 that I spent some days at a workshop with Harbutt. (Goldfinger of course morphed into Silverprint under the guidance of Peter’s partner in crime, Martin Reed.)

I’d perhaps been around too long in photography for the workshop to totally change my life as it did Goldfield’s, but it was certainly a very enjoyable and stimulating experience, and Harbutt was one of two outstanding photographic teachers I’ve had the privilege of working with.

I’d first met Harbutt around 20 years earlier, not in person but through the pages of his 1973 book ‘Travelog‘, one of the first real photography books that I bought, though the Creative Camera bookshop in Doughty St. It was a book that pushed documentary beyond its traditional limits (Harbutt had studied at college with both Roy Stryker and Russell Lee as visiting lecturers) with images that were very personal and often left far more questions than answers.

I’ve written a little about him in a few posts here, on the occasions of his work being featured on-line in Visura magazine and in L’Oeil de la Photographie.  He also merits a mention in my post written on the death of Peter Goldfield in 2009.

Travelog I think remains his most important work, a book that is one of the classics of photography, and compared to it his two later volumes are perhaps a little disappointing, with the best work in the 2012 ‘Departures and Arrivals‘ being mainly from the earlier volumes. Travelog is unfortunately now a rather expensive second-hand purchase.

There are obituaries of Harbutt in The New York Times (which includes material from the afterword of Travelog), in Photo District News, some details in Mike Pasini’s Photo Corners article and more elsewhere. As well as the pictures on his own web site you can also see a few at the Peter Fetterman gallery and in the Visura feature mentioned above. An older web site of his web site is on the Internet Archive WaybackMachine.

Wednesday Evening

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

April 15th was one of those evenings where a lot was going on in London. Events do often seem to cluster and there are often several days with nothing I feel worth going to photograph and then everything happens at once. Usually its on a Saturday, understandably because most people who go to protests do actually work during the week, or have lectures to give or attend Mondays to Fridays. But this week it was Wednesday. I don’t think there was anything special about this Wednesday, though it was three weeks and a day before the general election.

I don’t know why Docs Not Cops chose this particular day to set up a border post outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel against the plans by the Tories to make doctors and medical services check up on the immigration status of patients.  It came at fairly short notice after some details of the plans were announced to charge some migrants for GP and emergency treatment from the 6th April under the  Immigration Act 2014.

It was a relatively small event and was aimed at informing those entering and leaving the hospital, both patients and medical staff, and a number did stop to find out more about the plans. You can see some more pictures at Checkpoint Care – Docs Not Cops. Most medical staff certainly seem to resent the idea that they – like landlords – should be doing the job of border control, rather than treating those who need treatment.

Earlier in the day I’d decided against covering a couple of protests. One, over the sacking of an RMT cleaner for her trade union activities was a little early for me to get there, and would have meant me paying the excessive fares for rush hour travel.  It’s something I’ll only do for very special events, or when (as rarely happens) I’m commissioned to cover an event and can get my travel expenses paid.  I’d like to cover such things, but with the current low fees for the few pictures that are used it just is not feasible.

There was a second event a little later that I could also have gone to photograph.  The day had been designated a global day of action in solidarity with the fast food workers’ strike movement in the US, and Fast Food Rights was organising protests at McDonald’s in cities and towns across Britain, with Unite organising a protest at Marble Arch. Had there been nothing else on later in the day I would probably have gone to photograph this (and perhaps the RMT protest as well, as the two events might just make the extra cost worthwhile.)

But I decided against doing so on this day, as I would then have had nothing to do for around four or five hours in the middle of the day. I could have filled in time – perhaps going to an exhibition or two, perhaps sitting in a pub… Back in my younger days I would have gone and done some ‘personal’ work, but now that would tire me out too much. Working what amounts to a ‘split shift’ like this is now a problem for me, as I live just a little too far out of London to sensibly go home and travel back later.

Baker’s Union leader Ian Hodson at McDonalds demands union rights and an end to zero hours contracts

But fortunately  there was another Fast Food Rights protest in the early evening at McDonald’s on Whitehall that would fit in nicely between ‘Docs not Cops’ and a later event. So I decided to cover this rather than the morning protest.

It wasn’t an easy event to cover, because the pavement outside is narrow, and police were continually asking photographers and protesters to move on and keep the pavement clear. They should really have closed the inside lane of Whitehall to traffic with a few cones to make it possible for the protest and the normal heavy pedestrian traffic to keep moving – and make it safer for us all, as well as easier for photographers. But the Met Police almost always seem to make keeping traffic moving their number one priority, only closing or part closing roads when it becomes impossible to keep them open. See more at Fast Food Rights at McDonald’s.

This protest turned out to be a case of two birds with one stone, with striking workers from the National Gallery and in particular their victimised union rep Candy Udwin coming to speak.

On the way from Whitechapel to Whitehall I’d taken the tube (well at least the Underground – it was the District Line which pedants will insist is not a tube) to Embankment and walked up Northumberland Avenue past the Nigerian embassy, coming across a group of Nigerians, mainly women, protesting on the anniversary of the kidnapping of the over 200 Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram. Bring Back Our Girls was their message to the new Nigerian government.

I wasn’t surprised to come across another protest I hadn’t known about. Probably more often than not on days I walk around the centre of London I’ll come across a protest by chance – and if it seems interesting will photograph it. There are a few, particularly by fundamentalist Christians, some anti-abortionist as well as by individuals who seem rather unbalanced that I’ll just take a look and walk by.

The main event I had actually come up to London to photograph was No More Deaths on our Streets, a protest by people and groups worried by the growing number of homeless people living on the streets of the UK, the removal of welfare support and increasing official persecution. When I was young it was rare to see anyone in London sleeping rough, and I first saw street begging on a visit to Paris in my twenties. It became a growing problem here later, and has increased markedly in the last couple of years.

While many individuals and charities give help to people on the streets, the official response seems to be getting harsher and harsher. By laws to make feeding the homeless an offence, police being sent in to take sleeping bags, cardboard and possessions away from rough sleepers. Measures to move them out of various areas (for example at the time of the Olympics in 2012.)

Homelessness has become more of a problem recently mainly because of the increasing lack of affordable housing in London, and because of the cuts made as government cuts the funding to local councils. London is fast becoming a city for the rich, where those at the bottom are not welcome to live, however necessary they remain to keep the city working.

A static protest opposite Downing St became (as planned) a march around Westminster. After it had gone in a large an seemingly aimless circle, I left it and went home, too tired to continue.