Archive for September, 2015

Summer 2015?

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Today it really seems summer is over. The rain stopped and I went out in the sun, getting a little hot in my jacket to buy something to bring home for lunch, thinking it would be nice to sit out in the garden and eat it with a glass of wine, but by the time I got home, dark clouds filled the sky and there were a few drops of rain. And it was dark by 8 o’clock.

Looking back we hardly seemed to have had a summer at all, but there were a few good days, and one was early in June, when there was a protest in the morning at the Excel Centre in East London, where G4S had chose the UN International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression to hold their AGM. Actually like me they probably didn’t know there was such a day, but it was established back in August 1982. And though it’s an international day and relates to all children around the world, it was established because the UN General Assembly, meeting in a emergency special session on the question of Palestine, was “appalled by the great number of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese children victims of Israel’s acts of aggression“.

Unfortunately the UN General Assembly’s resolution 33 years ago appears to have done little to change the situation for Palestinian children, and the protest was aimed at G4S because of its involvement in running the Israeli prison system in which young Palestinians are held, sometimes in solitary confinement in underground cells, are threatened and sometimes tortured. There are regular protests outside the G4S HQ in Westminster which I’ve occasionally covered, but the AGM brings together a wider range of organisations comprising the StopG4S coalition to protest, not just about their work in Israel but also in this country, where they are best known for their failure to provide security at the London Olympics and the death of Jimmy Mubenga during his forcible deportation. They currently run five UK prisons as well as a young offender institution and secure training centres and “is the main provider of in-country escorting, overseas repatriation services, and the operator of four of the eight of the privately run immigration removal centres in the UK.”

Although there was plenty to photograph outside, with protesters from the various groups, much of the protest takes place inside the AGM, where protesters purchase shares to entitle them to attend. When they ask awkward questions or otherwise protest inside the meeting they are removed, sometimes rather forcefully, by security staff. After the bad publicity following the publication of a mobile phone video taken of this at last year’s AGM, mobile phones were not allowed to be taken inside at this year’s events – and I certainly had no chance of taking pictures there.

But it was a fine day, and the protests had started early, and by 11.50 I felt I’d taken enough (though looking back at G4S AGM Torture Protest I think I could have done better) and had the rest of the day to myself. I started by going over the high-level bridge across the Victoria Dock next to the Excel Centre, then walked around the dock to photograph the three sculptures there as a part of The Line – Sculpture Trail.

It was an experience that left me under-impressed. The docklands cranes, the high level bridge and the cable car all seemed rather more interesting than the sculptures, with the only work of the three there really having a strong presence being the tall figure of Vulcan, a 30ft-high bronze by the late Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi. This proved tricky to photograph, situated on a corner where I wanted to be suspended over the water for what seemed likely to be the best viewpoint. Perhaps it would be easier at a different time of day.

Martin Creed’s ‘Work 700’ perhaps looks better straightened out

I was working to produce very wide angle images, using the 16mm fisheye on the D800E, and transforming these to remove the curvature of vertical lines. The D800E has a big advantage for this in helping you to get the camera level, providing markers at the right and bottom centres of the viewfinder. Get both of them showing as little triangles and you have the camera straight and level. It would be slightly easier with the camera on a tripod, but you can – and I always do – work hand-held.

Barking Barrage

As usual I’d bought a Travelcard, so I could then travel on to anywhere in London, and decided to revisit the River Roding and Barking Creek. I’d tried a few years back to walk along the riverside path there and found it was closed. Unfortunately I found it still was and again had to walk in the other direction and went as far as the Barking Barrage, which I crossed and then returned along the other side of the river to the A13 to catch a bus.



Monday, September 14th, 2015

I don’t think I’ve written before about camera bags. Well, not for some time anyway. There may be somewhere in the 2,500 posts I’ve written (not quite all published) for this site a small rant, but certainly I’ve never done the whole thing, with those photographs beloved of some photographers with all their gear laid out neatly beside the receptacle of choice. And you will probably be pleased to hear that I don’t intend to do that now, though often things do change once I sit down at the keyboard and let my thoughts roam.

I’m not sure why they are called camera bags, because when I’m working the one thing they don’t contain is cameras, which are hanging around my neck. And the most vital things that my bag contains are not cameras, but sandwiches, a water bottle and a book to read. And yes, a couple of spare lenses, the odd map, and a few other things that I like to take but probably don’t use.

There’s a plastic fork, in case I get extra hungry and buy something that needs a fork to eat. It’s occasionally useful when the sandwiches I take fall to pieces; home made bread may be delicious but it doesn’t have the tensile strength of the rubbery shop-bought ersatz. And of course an umbrella. Then there’s the flash unit, spare batteries for camera and flash, lens cleaning stuff I almost never use, the lens pen I do, an old voice recorder that might still work, and a battery operated cable release that I last used at the spring solstice. A wad of business cards and a few spare memory cards just in case. A pocket on the back has a rain sleeve I can never find when it rains and when I do find it can’t be bothered to use. An old pocket-sized A-Z that’s falling to pieces and never covers the area I’m in as I usually only need it in outer London which it doesn’t cover or looking for a street built since I bought it in 1991, but then I reach for the London cycle map (they came free) but always find I’ve got the wrong sheet of the 14 that covers the whole of Greater London (and a bit in pale grey outside.)

It was Jeremy Corbyn that got me thinking yet again about camera bags. I was crouched on the floor at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park at the front of a group of photographers covering the Victory Party planned by supporters there, listening to the results. When his almost 60% vote and election as party leader was announced, the supporters went wild, but so did some of the photographers, and I was trampled underfoot as large men with large video cameras raced forward over me, kicking over my camera bag as they did so, scattering flash, water bottle, sandwiches and more on the ground. It wasn’t a big deal to have to pick the stuff up, but I missed some of the moments I’d been waiting in place to record.

I’ve used a Lowe Pro Stealth Reporter bag for many years, despite the silly name and my current bag is the second with the same name, but distinctly inferior to its predecessor. They have a zip along the top of the cover, so you can reach in and grab stuff while keeping it reasonable secure. It worked fine on the original model, but is pretty hopeless in its replacement, so most of the time I find myself working with the cover unfastened though still covering the top of the bag, so I can just push it aside to get stuff in a hurry. But then if it’s kicked over stuff falls out.

I think like most photographers I have a whole collection of bags, though others are better than me at throwing out old stuff. I still have my old Olympus film outfit with two OM4 bodies and various lenses in a rather nice but highly worn Fogg canvas and leather bag that I loved, waiting should I ever decide to give up digital, but too small to take the Nikon gear. And there’s another rather anonymous smaller bag still with the Leica/Konica/Minolta CLE kit waiting too.

There are several small bags that came free in various ways. Not a lot of use, but sometimes when I go out to walk rather than take pictures I’ll through a water bottle, map and a couple of Fuji-X bodies and lenses in one. Not to mention the five spare batteries.

When I’m working more seriously with the Fujis I usually use a black messenger bag that can take an A4 document. They don’t look like camera bags because they are not, but they can carry all the other stuff I need. I bought a new one recently, and it just isn’t as good as the old one which is wearing out after many years. Probably someone went to great lengths to redesign it; it does have a special padded notebook compartment, but the old version had a compartment that would take my notebook padded by whatever you placed in compartments on either side which seemed an adequate solution that wasted no space.

There isn’t such a thing as an ideal case, and all photographers have their own views and preferences. Some rave over the Billingham bag which I only own because a friend gave it to me; though undoubtedly well-made it seems to me truly the most awkward and badly designed camera bag I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. And costs a ridiculous amount.

The alternative to shoulder bags for many photographers is a back pack. I have one of those too, though I’ve never used it for photography it is quite handy for a fairly spartan weekend away. I bought it in weak moment, tried it out and decided it wasn’t for me

Back packs worn by other photographers are often a menace, swiping you inadvertently and getting in your camera view. A photographer stands next to you to take a picture, then takes a step away and turns to the side to chimp the image, turning his (or her) bag right in front of your lens.

They get in the way as you try to move through crowds. They make photographers into snails with their houses on their backs and are generally inconvenient to use. If you need a backpack you are carrying too much gear.

What I’m probably working up to is buying yet another bag. It probably won’t be any better but who knows. If anyone has any advice or suggestions feel free to comment.

Celebrating Corbyn

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn, MP, End The Torture, Bring The Troops Home Now 22 May 2004

As I sat in the garden this afternoon, taking a rest after a week of hard work – 16 stories in the last six days – and still quietly celebrating Jeremy Corbyn‘s victory in the Labour leadership election with another glass of white wine, I wondered when I had first photographed Jeremy.

Certainly it was long ago, almost certainly in the BD era (before digital, which for me really means before 2002.) In more recent times it sometimes got to be embarrassingly often bumping in to him so regularly, along with another Labour MP Jphn McDonnell, destined now for a leading role in the Shadow Cabinet. Both men I admire for their integrity, even if their views on the moderate side. The idea of Corbyn being on the extreme left put forward by Cameron and other Tories (including some in the Labour party) is laughable, though I hope his election is a sign that we genuinely have a widespread reaction against the lurch to the right by Thatcher and Blair.

But enough party politics. Searching for my pictures of Corbyn presented some problems, but mainly that before digital I have only a limited capacity to search my images digitally. I actually got seriously into computing with an Amstrad PC 1512 in 1986, though I’d by then been using computers at work for six or seven years, mainly to catalogue my work. And I do have a database that lets me find images by locations and key words that I started then and covers my black and white work until sometime in 2000. But somehow it never seemed worth taking the time to fully enter people and events I covered into this, though some get on it. Most were filed separately to my main projects which were largely related to the urban fabric of London and thus not entered on the database.

Although I went digital to the extent of buying a Nikon D100 at the end of 2002, I could only afford one Nikon lens, a 24-85mm (equivalent to 36-127mm). The library I was then submitting images to could not at that time handle digital files, working with only black and white prints and colour transparencies, so most of my serious work was still on film. My earliest pictures of Jeremy will certainly be somewhere in those black and white negatives and probably in the 1990s.

By 2004 when the two images above were made I was still working with the D100, but had managed to afford a longer lens, though I can’t now remember which it was. The top image was taken at 140mm (210mm eq) and the lower one at 195mm (292mm eq), both in Trafalgar Square. I suspect it was a fairly cheap Sigma zoom, perhaps a 55-210mm, possibly the one that disappeared out of my camera bag in January of the following year when I was photographing the Red Army Choir. Not I hasten to add by one of the choir members, but in the very densely packed crowd of onlookers. I wasn’t too sad to lose it, though it was a very light lens to carry, but it did give me a good excuse to buy the newly introduced Nikon 18-200mm.

Michael Foot, Hiroshima Day Aug 6th 2004

I’d photographed Jeremy again as he compered the annual Hiroshima Day Ceremony that August, but its a rather ordinary picture and I seem to have been having problems with developing raw images at the time. Perhaps more interestingly, also present is someone with whom Jeremy is sometimes compared, Michael Foot, and I have several pictures of him. Foot was crucified by the press for wearing a donkey jacket to the Remembrance Day protest (of course it wasn’t really a donkey jacket) and Jeremy will doubtless get similar treatment this November, both for his attire and the white poppy he is expected to wear (though he might follow the advice of some others I know who wear their white poppy together with a red one.)

International Workers Memorial Day London, April 28, 2006

I’ve always felt that Jeremy and I share the same tailor, though not literally, but we certainly have a similar attitude to dress and hair. His hair is rather more lively than mine but we have quite similar beards and I have occasionally been mistaken for him, though I don’t think we look much alike.

Kings Cross – never again! London, 26 Nov 2005

By November 2005 I was working with a Nikon D70, bought on the cheap as a grey import. Although an ‘amateur’ camera it was far superior to the D100, and by then I was getting rather better at raw conversion, partly because of improved software.

Time for another glass. Though for Jeremy it will be another cup of tea.


The New East

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Somewhere I picked up a link to an article in the Calvert Journal from July this year, In focus: 29 women photographers picturing the new east written by Anastasiia Fedorova who states:

With cameras in hand, women are leading the way in defining the visual identity of the new east. Reclaiming their gaze from a conservative, male-dominated society, they are exploring gender roles and sexuality, myths and archetypes, the body, landscape and the urban environment. Here’s our pick of the female photographers at the head of the pack in picturing the new east.

Its an interesting selection, with much worth looking at. Quite a few of the photographers are now working mainly in the old west so some names may well be familiar to you.

I wondered about the Calvert Journal, which I’d not come across before and find it is published by the Calvert 22 Foundation, “a non-profit UK registered charity created in 2009 by Russian-born, London-based economist Nonna Materkova” which describes itself as providing: “A guide to the contemporary culture of the new east: the post-Soviet world, the Balkans and the former socialist states of central and eastern Europe” and as well as publishing the on-line Calvert journal established the Calvert 22 Gallery, (currently closed for refurbishment) dedicated to the contemporary art of Russia and Eastern Europe, in two floors of a converted warehouse on Calvert Avenue in Shoreditch, East London.

Arnold Circus, Bethnal Green (C) Peter Marshall, 1986

Calvert Avenue is a street I’ve often walked down, leading to Arnold Circus, at the centre of the Boundary Estate which has a good claim to be the oldest council housing in the world, built starting in 1890 by the Metropolitan Board of Works and completed by the then new London County Council. (That body’s successor, the Greater London Council, was the victim of one of Thatcher’s most malicious and senseless acts, from which London still suffers, with a ridiculous, divided and unsuitable system of government for a major city.)

It was a slum clearance scheme, replacing part of London’s most notorious slum, the ‘Old Nichol’. You can read a little more about it in my post Bethnal Green Blues, and much more about the area as a whole and its people in Cathy Ross’s ‘The Romance of Bethnal Green’ which that post is partly about.

The gallery and other recent developments in Calvert Avenue are a part of the gentrification of the area. One blogger described it in this way: “Just a few years ago it was semi derelict save for the launderette and newsagent, but now the street is a buzzy destination for the style-savvy supporters of the independent retailer revolution.” That semi-derelict street was of course the home to many who now find themselves priced out of the area as it gets taken over by oddly-bearded ‘hipsters’.

One of the events I missed photographing in July was a street party in neighbouring Camden; its event page on Facebook included the following:

The heart of Camden is being ripped out, pubs are being converted to luxury flats no one can afford, venues are under threat, the market is flogged off to be a casino (and yet more unaffordable flats) Rents are rising….fast.

Soon this community will be an unrecognisable, bland, yuppie infested wasteland with no room for normal (and not so normal) people.

Back in 2010 at Paris Photo I went to the launch of the book ‘Lab East’, featuring 30 young photographers from Central and Eastern Europe, writing about it on this site.

I don’t think any of the women from this book are included in the Calvert Journal feature. Partly this reflects the great number of interesting photographers emerging from Central and Eastern Europe, but also I think that ‘Lab East’ seems to be more at a grass roots level, while the more recent feature is more about those who have already made it in the west.

Eight a Day

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

I don’t normally do Royal occasions. I think the only sensible approach in British history regarding the monarchy happened back in 1649, with the execution for high treason of Charles I, though I don’t approve of beheadings. Just a shame that the Commonwealth went wrong and the monarchy was restored.  I also don’t like royal occasions because of the gawping and fawning crowds, and also the security that surrounds them. And opportunities for photography, except for a privileged few, are often rather limited.  So May 27th this year was the first time I’ve ever been in London for the State Opening of Parliament.

I hadn’t gone to photograph the Queen, but some of the friends I’d made covering the protests against ‘poor doors’. Class War had decided to protest at the event.

It wasn’t the best planned of protests, and they had perhaps not  realised the enormous level of policing that would be applied to ensure that the right to protest was denied to anyone in the area on the day.  Quite why the Queen should be granted this level of immunity from protest isn’t clear.

Nikon D700, 16-35mm

But one group of protesters I was with was stopped around 50 yards from the royal route, and then were escorted away and followed closely by police for the next couple of hours. A couple of others were more successful, managing to display the Class War political leaders banner for perhaps half a minute on the actual route – though a quarter of an hour before she came down it. Police jumped on them rapidly, forced them to take down their banner and made sure the moved away.

After a while Class War decided to make their way to a nearby pub. They were followed by at least twice as many police who stood on the opposite side of the road watching and were still there an hour later when I left to go elsewhere. More about it at Class War protest Queen’s speech.

Nikon D800E, 18-105mm DX

Here, well away from the Queen, a protest was taking place, but very differently. The organisers of ‘I am Edna’ – protect whistle-blowers had applied to the police for permission and had accepted the limits they had set for the protest. I think these included not using amplification of any kind, staying in one place and not handing out leaflets. Most protesters would find these unacceptable.

I continued on my way to Trafalgar Square and sat down to read a book while I waited for the next protest. But soon I looked up and saw that some Class War people had come to the square and were standing close to me. There were now only two police officers watching them from about 20 yards away, even though they were only standing around in the square.

Nikon D800E, 18-105mm DX

Suddenly we noticed another small group of police had arrived and were surrounding a man, questioning and apparently arresting him, and people rushed across to find out what was happening.  Police pushed those asking questions away and refused to say anything about what was happening, and a larger crowd of those waiting in the square for a further protest soon gathered around.

More police came, and the man was marched away followed by a large group of protesters to one of the many police vans now around the area in Northumberland Avenue. A young man standing there was roughly pushed aside by an officer, and when he objected was arrested as well.

By this time, surrounded by an angry crowd, some of the police realised that they needed to explain their actions, and eventually we found that the man arrested first was not being taken for anything connected with the protest but for an earlier offence elsewhere. Had that been made clear earlier the situation shown in Police arrest man in Trafalgar Square, including the second arrest – could have been avoided.

Nikon D700, 16-35mm

Next we heard loud music, and ran across the square to find a mobile disco and people dancing. Disco Boy had come to play Trafalgar Square as an unsolicited warm-up act for the student protest expected shortly. I followed him and the dancers until he left the square, going on to play in Whitehall and outside Downing St.

Nikon D800E, 18-105mm DX

More noise told us that the student rally organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, NCAFC, was beginning, and all those who had been waiting around the square for this hurried towards the plinth of Trafalgar Square. Class War had come to support them and took their place on the plinth with them, getting huge cheers when they unrolled their new political leaders banner, along with several others.

The NCAFC perhaps felt a little upstaged by this, and by others who joined them on the plinth, the Hashem Shabani Ahwazi Arabs, and although there were several speeches by student leaders, it felt a little downbeat.

Nikon D750, 16-35mm

But the rally was only a prelude to the NCAFC March against ‘undemocracy’ which soon started off down Whitehall towards Parliament. Police formed a line across just before Downing St, but officers were too spread out and it would hardly have stopped a Sunday School outing, with students soon pushing past. The police made a more determined effort to stop the marchers lower down in Parliament St where barriers had made the road narrower, with some parked police vans. A few students were pushed to the ground by police and held, but many of the students simply did as I did and walked by on the other side of the barriers.

After a few minutes – and a little posing with batons and some arrests – police realised they had failed and withdrew, continuing to follow the protest as it went through Parliament Square and up Victoria St.

Nikon D800E, 18-105mm DX

I’d more or less loss interest and stopped to record yet another protest as the Ahwazi Arabs had left the march in Parliament Square to call for an end to the Iranian attacks on their heritage and identity in their homeland which was occupied and incorporated into Iran in 1925, mainly because of its rich oil fields.

I ran on to find the NCAFC marchers again, and caught up with some of them marching back towards Westminster along Petty France. They protested briefly outside the DWP in Tothill St but a line of police diverted them from the Conservative HQ around the corner and they came back through Parliament Square to go up Whitehall and protest outside Downing St.

Nikon D800E, 18-105mm DX

It was unfortunate – though not unexpected – that the People’s Assembly had decided to organise their own End Austerity Now rally at the same time as the NCAFC march.  But when that march stopped outside Downing St, the People’s Assembly rally was still going strong and I went across to take pictures there for a few minutes.

Visually it wasn’t exciting, just people standing around, few of them with placards or posters, listening to speakers. Most of them were saying things we’d all heard many times before, and most of the audience could probably have gone up and made the same speeches. I amused myself a little in the image above lining up the circular symbol and placards like some gear train in a machine, imagining it was generating the speech that John Rees at right was producing.

When I made it back across the road the rest of the NCAFC marchers had arrived, and within a minute or so they started to leave, intending to go up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. I turned in the opposite direction; the light was fading fast and it had been a long day, covering eight stories, and I had much work still to do on them.

Brian Griffin: Himmelstrasse

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

I don’t think I’ll be able to make the book launch of Himmelstrasse by Brian Griffin at the Photographers’ Gallery tonight, though the book with its images of the railway tracks in Poland which took around three million people to the death camps seems a powerful and impressive personal response to the Holocaust. And any opportunity to meet Brian is always rewarding.

I’ve twice been to the area of Poland close to Auschwitz, and never felt able to make the visit there, always telling myself “perhaps next time.” It would have been difficult to fit in to a busy schedule, but I think this was just an excuse.

The images of the rails, all single track, running through areas of forest have a desolation, seem all to be made in winter, a few with snow on the ground. Some are a little overgrown, but most seem still to be in use, with occasional track-side signs and still shining rails. The 15 images on Brian’s own web site are half in black and white and half in colour (as well as the Nazi-style design book cover with its title in ‘black type’ and simple graphic design in red and white.)

Although most publicity for the book seems to have chosen the black and white images – and particularly one with two sofas and a chair neatly at the side of the line – I think the colour images are perhaps more straightforwardly emotional, with their sombre browns and dull winter greens, with sometimes sparse patches of snow. A couple also have the blue sky of ‘Himmel‘ in the cynical Nazi joke which gives the book its title.

The single track in most images is an appropriate metaphor for what was for almost all a one way journey, although the death trains must of course have returned empty on the same rails before their next journey. Much of Poland’s rail system that I saw ten years ago seemed to be single track like these with only very occasional trains making their way slowly along them.

I’ve not seen a copy of the actual book, which looks excellently produced by Browns Editions, though the colour in the nine double page spreads  reproduced on their web site seems rather garish compared with that on the photographer’s own site.  At £50 it’s perhaps too expensive to add to my already rather large collection, though I’m tempted to do so.

The book will have a second launch at the New York Art Book Fair 2015.

Brian Griffin
Published 2015
Designed by Browns
297mm x 232mm
120 pages
69 black and white images
33 colour images
Edition of 500 hand numbered.
ISBN 9780992819415

Magnum’s Future?

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

2015 Magnum Nominees : The Future of Photojournalism is the title of a post by Laurence Cornet yesterday on L’Oeil de la Photographie (The Eye of Photography) which looks at the six new Magnum nominees for 2015, Max Pinckers, Lorenzo MeloniNewsha Tavakolian, Richard Mosse, Carolyn Drake and Matt Black.

It reminds me that I failed to mention the announcement by Magnum when I first read it at the end of June on PDN News. and PetaPixel.

There was a time when becoming part of Magnum was every young photographer’s dream, and though perhaps that has now passed, it remains a significant achievement.

It has been some years since Magnum was really about photojournalism, although it still has many fine photojournalists on its books, past and present. And certainly some of the current crop have proved themselves fir to join that elite. There are links to earlier features about four of them on L’Oeil  and I mention the other two below.  Some have work already on the Magnum site, and there are more links in the PDN and Petapixel articles.

My browser doesn’t seem able or willing to run the javascript on  Lorenzo Meloni’s own web site, but you may be luckier. All I see is a single image, but there are plenty of his images elsewhere, such as the 20 images in A Dark Descent: The Streets of Yemen at Night on Time Lightbox from 2011.

Richard Mosse also has a web site where my browser appears to be unable to find more than a single image.  You can watch the film Richard Mosse: The Impossible Image and read more on his Wikipedia entry, which describes him as “an Irish conceptual documentary photographer.”  I’ve never been able to feel any interest in this work, perhaps because in the past I played with infra-red film and it failed to arouse much interest in me. Far from showing the ‘future of photojournalism‘ it seems to me a rather trivial and annoying dead end, but others obviously see something in it which I don’t.