Archive for August, 2015

CLASS WAR: Rich Door, Poor Door

Monday, August 10th, 2015

CLASS WAR – Rich Door, Poor Door is a relatively cheap 48 page magazine style publication of my coverage of the protests by Class War at One Commercial St, a large block on the corner of Commercial St and Whitechapel High Street in Tower Hamlets on the eastern edge of the City of London.

The building ‘One Commercial St’ is a tall block which includes shops, a hotel, an entrance to Aldgate East Underground station, parking and expensive flats as well as other flats which are social housing. While the occupiers of the expensive flats enter through a large, well lit lobby with a manned concierge desk and comfortable seating through a door on the main road, social housing tenants have a separate entrance some way down a narrow alley.

When I first visited it, this alley was strewn with rubbish and dog mess, with a strong smell of stale urine, and was virtually unlit, the kind of alley that drunks stumble down to relieve themselves after the pubs have closed. The ‘poor door’ had a card entry system, but for some weeks it was broken and the door left unlocked. It led onto a long narrow corridor, empty except for some post boxes for the residents.

The building manager told us that the social housing was completely physically separated from the privately owned flats, though we soon realised this was a lie. There are links between to two areas both at ground floor level and on at least one of the upper floors which both sets of flats occupy. Inside the building, when I later was taken around by a resident, the corridors and lifts were very similar, with identical signage. We went in the ‘rich door’ and came out after the tour through the ‘poor door’, having during the tour seen two locked doors between the two sides as well as walking through at ground level between them.

Having separate doors for rich and poor living in the same building is something many find unacceptable, and the protests by Class War served to publicise this ‘social apartheid’ and to put the issue on the national agenda, one of a number of direct action campaigns that have brought housing issues increased public attention. Some of those other campaigns supported Class War, with visits by supporters of Focus E15 and New Era, and Class War also supported others including the Aylesbury Estate Occupiers, with supporters also joining other housing campaigns.

During the roughly nine months covered by this magazine, from July 30, 2014 to May 1, 2015, Class War were also running a campaign to stand candidates in the May General Election. Eventually there were Class War candidates in seven seats, three in the Greater London area. Their first policy pledge was for a 50% mansion tax. Although I covered several events connected with their election campaign, including the manifesto launch at the gates of Buckingham Palace, I’ve not included these in the magazine, which includes pictures from 29 of the 31 protests at One Commercial St.

Several of the candidates were prominent in the protests, and one of the more controversial actions by the police was the seizing of their ‘political leaders’ banner which had been produced for the 2010 General Election and displayed at many events over the years without problems. A case for displaying a similar set of posters also produced in 2010 was thrown out of court for restricting freedom of expression.  Class War responded with an updated version of the banner for 2015, which so far police have failed to seize.

Police made at least five arrests at the protests which are shown in the magazine. One case has still to come to court and another was dismissed when it did so, with the court clearly suggesting that the police were trying to restrict legitimate political protest. One other case still pending also seems to have been clearly politically motivated and will I hope be thrown out by the court if not dropped beforehand.

You can read the story of the campaign in the regular posts and pictures from it on My London Diary. In the magazine I’ve included the text from just the first of these which sets the scene along with a chronological selection of over 200 images from the protests. There are just a couple of very short comments and on the final page some biographical material.

Getting over 200 images into 48 US letter size pages involved many compromises. There are a couple of images which have a double page spread and about 45 that are roughly half page size (about 8 x 5.5 inches.) The rest are crammed in at up to 8 pictures a page with little or no white space. I wanted to keep the price down so that I could offer this publication for a fiver.

For the same reason, I chose Blurb’s cheapest paper, which they say gives magazine quality reproduction. This is not the quality of a quality magazine – they call it Economy magazine. The reproduction lacks punch, with no real black, but even the smaller images are detailed and readable.

I’ve made over half the book viewable on the preview at Blurb. If you make the preview full-screen (button at bottom right of preview) you will get a rather better view than the actual magazine – much better, brighter and more accurate colour. But I’d like people to buy the magazine, though I make only a very small margin on it, as it would be good to get copies out there and perhaps seen by more people than would look at it on screen. You can of course already look at the pictures on My London Diary (I think there may be one or two where I’ve chosen slightly different images for the magazine.)

I’ve also decided not to make this publicly available as a PDF or e-book, unlike almost all of my other books. The cost of the ‘hard copy’ – actually a rather floppy soft-cover – is more or less the same.

The magazine CLASS WAR – Rich Door, Poor Door is for sale through Blurb, where it costs £6.00 plus carriage (I haven’t checked but probably an arm and a leg.)  As with my other publications, UK readers can save by ordering direct from me – contact me here to check it is still in stock and arrange payment by cheque, bank transfer or PayPal. I can currently supply copies at £6 including UK postage. I think all my other books are also in stock here.

And for people I meet it’s a fiver if I’ve got a copy on me. The price of a pint in some London pubs these days.


Hiroshima: 70 Years

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

On the 360 Cities World Panorama site you can see an incredible 360 degree panorama of the city of Hiroshima, taken around 260m from the hypocenter less than two months after the city and much of its population was destroyed by the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, seventy years ago. The series of pictures was taken by former army engineer Shigeo Hayashi, a Japanese photographer who had worked since 1943 for the magazine ‘FRONT’ and was one of two photographers (and an assistant) chosen by the Japan Film Corporation  to document the aftermath of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the Special Committee for the Investigation of A-bomb Damage organized by the Scientific Research Council of Japan (under the Ministry of Education).

In his comments on the image Hayashi states:

On October 1, 1945, I stood at the hypocenter of the Hiroshima atomic bombing and made a slow revolution. In that instant I had a difficulty grasping that this city had been felled by a single explosion. Nothing in my experience had prepared me to conceive of that magnitude of destructive force.

There is also a second panorama by Hayashi taken a little further from the hypocentre.

Other panoramic images on the site include photographs of Hiroshima again in October 1945 by Harbert F. Austin Jr, and the following month by H. J. Peterson.

You can see more of Hayashi’s images – now in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in their Shigeo Hayashi Photo Exhibition online.

I’ve written on various occasions about the photographs of Hiroshima following the dropping of the bomb and also about the annual commemoration in London which I’ll attend today. There are several posts on this site, including Hiroshima 65 Years On
and Hiroshima Day, which included the picture at the top of this post, of the remarkable peace campaigner the late Hetty Bower, 105 when the picture was taken in 2011.

Camera Woes

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Possibly the final image from my Nikon D800E – 25/07/2015 13:44:49

It was Saturday afternoon and I was in Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament photographing a woman speaking on a small platform in front of a small crowd. I’d taken a fairly wide view with the 16-35mm on the Nikon D700 and then raised the D800E and took a tigher image framing her speaking in front of the Houses of Parliament using the 18-105mm. Then I zoomed in and took a second frame, or tried to, wanting a tighter head shot, but it didn’t sound right. There was no clunk of the mirror. I tried again and it still wasn’t working. All I could get was a small bright area at the top of the frame.

I took off the lens and looked inside the camera. The lever at the side for the lens moved normally when I pressed the release, but the mirror didn’t budge at all, and looked slightly askew. Something was seriously wrong.

For the rest of the day I worked with a single camera, the D700, changing lenses rather more frequently than usual – and missing a few chances while doing so. Working with two cameras does really make a huge difference.

Back home I checked the camera again, and then began to think about what to do.  Was this a sign it was time to switch to mirrorless? Unfortunately my recent experiences in using the Fuji X-T1 haven’t been entirely positive. Though the results are fine, it had let me down at critical points, simply refusing to turn on for a few vital seconds. And though the electronic viewfinder is good, even better than an optical viewfinder in dim light, in bright conditions it can’t compete. It lets you see the framing of the images, but not to really study the scene in the kind of detail provided with an optical viewfinder. The ability to zoom in on the focus area is great, but not much use when you need to work fast.

So I ruled out that possibility, except perhaps as a short-term measure while the D800E was in for repair. It seemed likely that it would require a major overhaul, and as well as the mirror there were a few other parts that needed replacement, but I could put up for a while with working with the D700 with the 18-105mm, 16mm fisheye and 70-300mm while using the Fuji with its impressive 10-24mm (15-36mm equiv.)

I bought the D800E as soon as it became available here in 2012, so it was now three years old, and the shutter according to the press release “has been tested to withstand approximately 200,000 cycles.” Three years later, mine was now a little over that, and I began to wonder if it would be worth repairing. What would the cost of repair be and how would that compare with the second-hand value of the camera?

I did a quick search on the web. One dealer was offering a D800 in almost new condition with a shutter count of only 12,000 for £1150.  All those I could see on sale, even on Ebay claimed to be in at least excellent condition and hardly used, even at a little under a thousand.

I’d been intending to replace my D700 later this year. It has a shutter count of around 400,000 and a few minor issues and is clearly living on borrowed time. Some other photographers laugh at its cosmetic condition – loose rubber bits, embedded yellow paint and scratches, but it still delivers. It can’t last for ever and I’ve been expecting to have to give it a decent burial at any time for quite a while. Cameras aren’t made to last like they were, and photographers probably don’t want them too, as we are still in a time where technology is improving, if more slowly than in the previous decade.

I can’t remember (or be bothered to look back in my accounts) the exact cost of the D800E, but I think it was around £2,400.  In those three years I’ve spent nothing on repairs on it and the cost for using it works out at just slightly over 1p per exposure, which doesn’t seem a huge amount to pay. I’ll get an estimate for repair sometime, but won’t be too upset if it turns out to be uneconomic.

Things have very much changed since the old days. The Leica M2 that I bought second-hand in 1977 – when it was around 20 years old – is still in silky-smooth working order, though a couple of repairs over the years have doubled the price I paid. It’s second-hand value now is about the total that I’ve paid, not as people often say a good investment, but still excellent value. Cameras then were equipment, but now they are largely consumables, replacing not just the camera but most of the costs that used to be born by film.  And the film I used to use in that Leica (or rather a slightly improved version of it) now costs around 11p per exposure.

I’ve solved my immediate problems by buying a new Nikon D810. It cost a little more than those second-hand D800 bodies, but there are a few minor improvements that made me feel the extra was worthwhile. If I do get the D800E repaired I’ll have a camera in reserve for when the D700 gives out, and if not it may still be possible to use it with the mirror locked up for copy work in live view mode. But for the moment it’s a large, expensive and useless paperweight on my desk (useless because the desk is always so covered with junk there is no room for papers.)

I only got it last Wednesday and so far I’ve only taken it out on three days, but I’m getting to like it. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is in the noise from a redesigned mirror mechanism and damping. Possibly the sound isn’t much quieter, but it is at a lower pitch, less crisp and far less intrusive. I showed it to a couple of photographers this Saturday, holding the camera up a foot or so in front of me and pressing the shutter, somewhere in the middle of Parliament Square. With the noise of traffic going around the square it was hard to hear it.

Things Left Unsaid

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

I’ve never been a great fan of either Donovan Wylie or Paul Seawright, but the video of their conversation at the opening of Seawright’s show in Paris last November with the working title of ‘Making News’ but shown as ‘Things Left Unsaid‘ at the Centre Culturel Irlandais,  held my attention, although I soon got rather fed up with looking at the two photographers and took to looking instead at the eight images and installation view which you can find on Paul Seawright’s web site.

On the web site it explains the project:

‘Exploring the theatre of war through the internal landscape of the US television news studio. Developing Virilio’s writing on electronic warfare and weapons of mass communication, Seawright focuses on the illusory nature of these spaces, where information is selectively transformed into news. Characteristically Seawright continues his exploration of contested spaces and illuminates an invisible aspect of contemporary conflict.’

(You can read an interview with Paul Virilio on Vice, and more on Wikipedia.)

The book contains – according to the talk – 26 images, and you can see a slide show of 7 images on APB where the 56 page book is on sale.

Seawright at one point says he doesn’t like taking photographs, the ‘moment’ for him is when he sees the exhibition for the first time on the gallery wall, and he comments that the book is secondary, lacking the drama of the exhibition.

WhileI feel with him and Wylie that the camera is a purely functional thing I find myself more in sympathy with Wylie’s comments about taking pictures and the experience of doing this. It may be and often is exhausting, but fore me it is also at times exhilarating. But perhaps it does account for an absence of feeling that I often feel in looking at Seawright’s pictures; something I don’t see even with the New Topographics who he relates his work to.

Near the end of the the discussion Seawright comments “We make work because we believe in the work and the idea behind the work” which seems very much, despite the differences in our ideas and approaches to photography, something with which I can wholeheartedly agree.

Looking at the various other projects on Seawright’s web site, there are others that I find rather more interesting that ‘Things Left Unsaid‘, a title which he suggests on the video could apply to all of his work.  One of the more interesting is ‘Invisible Cities‘ and the site has links to two reviews, one of which is in Socialist Worker. Although not entirely complimentary, and commenting that it fails to show the African dynamism, implying that “the legacy of colonialism in Africa is too dominant and exhausting to ever be changed”, this concludes:

Neverthless, Invisible Cities is a terrific selection of photographic art. It skillfully uses seemingly prosaic scenes of urban life to present an startlingly new image of Africa – one that is not dominated by violence and famine, but rather by human beings engaged in a day-to-day existence that is not a ­million miles away from our own.”

Donovan Wylie’s work can be seen on his Magnum page.

Thanks to Peggy Sue Amison, Artistic Direct for East Wing in Dubai for a Facebook post sharing the link to the video.

Gandhi and Civil Disobedience

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

I’ve always felt that London wasted Parliament Square. A world heritage site because of the buildings that surround it – notably the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Middlesex Guildhall (now the Supreme Court), the actual square is a large traffic island, with a large area poorly maintained grass and some rather crass temporary flagpoles brought out for state occasions. It has an odd assortment of statues, some rather good, others outstandingly poor.

Over recent years their have been some improvements for public access, which no longer demands a death-defying dash between traffic, with light-controlled crossings at two of its four corners, though the seats which tempted the unwary tourists have now disappeared, presumably because of Westminster Council’s vendetta against homeless rough sleepers.

Perhaps the reason for its curious state is below the surface, where I suspect it houses some secret underground bunker, linked by the mysterious underground passages we know exist between various above-ground government buildings in the area. But it certainly always feels like a missed opportunity to me. If nothing else most if not all of its area should be closed to normal traffic.

But something which I think any seat of government should have in its view is a suitable forum for public dissent, where protesters can make their views felt. Ever since the late Brian Haw took up residence on the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament back in 2001, Parliament, the GLA, Westminster Council and the police have been doing their worst to stop such things happening or to severely limit them. Perhaps there is a case for some limits, but not for trying to set them so that protest becomes severely inhibited.

Occupy Democracy have carried out a series of protests intended to keep the square as a place for democratic discussion and protest, and I’ve photographed a few of these, though missing the main battles with police and GLA security guards (laughably called ‘Heritage Wardens’) over squares of blue tarpaulin the protesters were sitting (and sometimes sleeping) on, which led to the square being renamed by activists as ‘Tarpaulin Square’.

Recently a court has ruled that it is not a crime to have such tarpaulins in the square, dismissing the case against four people arrested, and leading to a second prosecution being dropped. As often, the police, egged on in this case by over-keen private security, have over-interpreted the law to make it mean what they wanted it to mean.

The court decision was hardly surprising. When Occupy Democracy came to the square last October it was clear to me reading the enforcement notices that the police were exceeding the law, and I told them so, to get the response that they would leave it to the courts to decide. It seemed to be a blatant disregard of the law by those who are paid to enforce it.

Occupy Gandhi – stop fossil fuel criminals on May 4, defied both the ban on tarpaulins and on tents in Parliament Square, though I imagine the protesters will argue in court that the tent was only symbolic and that they had no intention of using it to sleep in.

On this occasion police and GLA Security ignored the blue tarpaulins (except for asking one draped on the statue of Gandhi to be removed), and it was only after a tent had been erected in a deliberate act of civil disobedience that police first warned the protesters and later surrounded it and arrested those inside. You can read more about what happened in My London Diary.

Photographically the event once more proved the value of the 16mm fisheye, with several of the strongest images I made being take with it. It’s a lens that needs some care in use, usually at its best when absolutely upright, and the virtual level markers in the D800E viewfinder proved extremely useful.

The top image on this post is an example where no perspective correction was needed, and the curvature at the edges adds to the image, producing something of a tunnel effect. I liked the near-symmetry of the scene, and the framing through the fabric at the rear of the tent of Donnachadh McCarthy who was leading the protest (he quickly jumped inside the tent as the police arrived to make arrests.)

To make Donnachadh clearer I increased the local clarity and contrast in Lightroom, adjusting the exposure slightly too. The yellow of the flowers is a nice contrast to the blues of the clothing and tent, and the pink shirt also helps Donnachadh stand out. In some other frames I also managed to include the statue of Gandhi, but his head got cut off in this one (at top centre) and it would have been nice to have a little more of the flowers. Sometimes even a fisheye isn’t quite wide enough!

Theoretically I could have moved back a little, but practically that wasn’t possible. I’d quickly moved into position as I saw people going into the tent and worked with the 16-35mm on the D700, then moved away, coming back after the flowers had been put in the tent. After taking a frame with the 16-35mm I changed it for the 16mm fisheye and made a series of five exposures. The people inside the tent were having an animated conversation, and several of those five seemed interesting, but it was when Donnachadh briefly raised his hands that I had the picture I wanted.

The 16mm fisheye was also the ideal lens to take an overall view of the event, enabling me to work from a close viewpoint and get in both the statue of Gandhi and at the other edge, Big Ben. The horizontal angle of view is around 140 degrees, too wide for a rectilinear lens – which would render both Gandhi and the clock tower as extremely fat. Again I was using the 16mm on the D700, keeping the D800E for the DX format 18-105mm which gives a decent-size file at the 1.5x crop. The D700 lacks the viewfinder level indicators, which accounts for the curved horizon. Correction from fisheye to cylindrical perspective was essential to avoid a curved Big Ben, Gandhi and flag poles.

For the surrounding of the tent and the arrests it was fortunate that this took place next to the raised area with the Gandhi statue, giving me a good viewpoint, though the police did rather get in the way, as too did some of the protesters, many of whom were also taking pictures and sometimes holding up phones in front of me. Working with the D700 I did rather wish it had a hinged screen on the back like the Fuji X-T1, so much better when you do have to work with the camera held above your head. For some reason Nikon think this isn’t appropriate in their professional cameras, but I’d find it very useful. As well as the overall views with the 16-35mm, I was also able to take pictures over the shoulders or between the heads of police of the people inside the tent.

Later I went down to ground level and was able to work between the legs of the police surrounding the tent, leaving as Donnachadh was taken away by the police. He struggled as they led him away, then went limp, and was carried by the police to a van at the side of the square.

Another inexplicable failure by Nikon is with lens hoods, and in any close situation the lens hood on the 16-35mm will either be knocked completely off (I’ve lost half a dozen that way) or, perhaps even worse, get knocked askew.

This gives vignetting at top left and bottom right corners of the image at wider focal lengths, and is clearly visible in the viewfinder with the lens at 20mm or wider. Unfortunately when things get a little exciting and I’m working flat out I usually fail to notice it unless there is important subject matter in either of those two corners, and I end up with a lot of pictures with dark areas across them. Usually I crop the images to remove them, but often this means losing important subject matter.

The problem is I think a combination of the low profile of the filter mount on the lens with the flimsy flexibility of the Nikon HB-23 lens hood and could probably be more or less solved with a thicker moulding on the hood.

Usually I crop to the normal 1.5:1 format, but in this image I decided to simply cut off the left part of the frame, mainly occupied by more of the police hi-viz jacket. You can see the out of focus lens hood at top right, it’s visual impact removed slightly in Lightroom by desaturating it and the blue fringe it naturally has.

More pictures and an account of the event at:
Occupy Gandhi – stop fossil fuel criminals