Archive for February, 2016

Housing protest – Focus E15

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

It’s cold and wet in London today, and I’m suffering a little from a chest infection which means I can’t walk around carrying my camera bag – but otherwise I would be photographing a housing protest. Instead I’m writing about one I did cover on a much nicer day last September.

D700 16-35mm at 20mm, 1/400s, f/10, ISO 640,

Housing is an issue that has become vital in the UK and in London in particular, where overseas investment in property has caused house prices to rocket. Of course houses have long been too expensive here for most people to own, at least in the posher areas of the city, but now that has become true even in what were the most run-down and cheapest areas.

Back in Victorian times, the wealthier parts of the society realised that the poor had to have homes, and set up various companies and charities to provide accommodation for the ‘working poor’, some on a commercial basis and others charitable, but all genuinely philanthropic in design. Later, the London County Council and local borough councils built large estates of council housing, again at rents which the poor could afford, and a huge expansion of London between the wars provided affordable housing to rent or buy for the growing middle classes.

Slum clearance continued after the second war, with councils still managing to build large areas of council housing, and with the establishment of a ring of new towns outside London, one of which I began work in as a teacher in 1970, living in what was then for me a grand new flat at a reasonable rent from the development authority.

D700, 16-35 at 29mm 1/320s, f/9, ISO 640

Since then, things have gone downhill. Successive governments have prevented the building of council housing in different ways, but the real blow to social housing was the ‘right to buy’ introduced by the Thatcher government.  In itself the encouragement of people to own the property they lived in was perhaps not a mistake, and was certainly popular with many who took the generous discounts, but as a housing policy without an accompanying commitment to replace the loss of social housing it has been disastrous.

It was too both a symptom and a cause of a growing polarisation in society, an ‘I’m alright Jack’ policy which reflected an end to empathy for the poor and feelings of community. Politicians – whether Tory of New Labour – were in it for what they could make and now longer to serve.

In recent years things have become even worse, with local authorities increasingly finding it impossible to meet even their statutory responsibilities for housing. One of the places where this came to a head was in Newham, where the council decided to stop funding for a hostel for young women with children, threatening eviction and offering them rehousing in distant areas of the country, away from jobs, families and other support. Unlike others, the residents of the Focus E15 hostel in Stratford decided to fight.

Their campaign is one I’ve followed and been impressed by, not just for what they have achieved for themselves, but more for the effect it has had on other groups also fighting for housing justice, bringing together a large number of them from around the capital and helping to raise a much greater awareness of the problems faced by so many. Their ‘Housing for All’ campaign is out on the street in Stratford every Saturday.

Saturday 19th September was the second anniversary of their campaign. They had marked their first birthday by an occupation of a block of four flats on the nearby Carpenters Estate, which Newham council have been emptying of tenants and leaseholders over the last ten years. One of the flats – all well-built and in good condition – still had the 2004 calendar left on the wall when the previous residents left.

D810, 28-200 DX at 50mm(75mm) 1/500s, f/11, ISO 800,

Like many council estates, the Carpenters was well-designed and well-built – London councils employed many of the country’s leading architects and planners. It had probably been kept up better than most though like most post-war estates was in need of a little refurbishment to meet changing standards. It was popular with tenants – and still is with those who have managed to remain.

But it occupies a relatively large area of land that is now worth a fortune. Council planners generally worked to relatively low densities, whereas new private developments (often now by housing associations) can cram in several times the number of ‘units’ for sale or rent at high prices. And while most such developments start off with a promise to provide a small proportion of ‘affordable’ properties, they often manage to cut that dramatically before completion.

‘Affordable’ properties are of course not affordable for the great many Londoners who are on the minimum wage or even the London Living Wage. Few are even affordable to, for example, the teachers that London needs, paid at several times that.

The latest housing bill takes this idea to heart and all council and former council sites are likely to be listed as ‘brownfield’ sites ripe for development. It can only be seen as a deliberate attack on all remaining social housing for the benefit of wealthy property developers.

The day’s events began with a rally in Stratford Park, with an open mike for speakers for groups from all over London to talk. At Focus E15: Rally before March there are some pictures and a list of over 40 groups supporting the march – and I’m sure I will have missed some.

The Focus E15: ‘March Against Evictions’ set off and walked around the centre of Stratford, along the large one-way system around the large shopping centre, past the bus station, rail station and entrance to Westfield. One of the groups opposed to the increasing gentrification of London is of course Class War, and as the march got to a large branch of estate agents Foxtons, they peeled off and rushed inside with their banner, and I followed them.

D700, 16-35mm at 16mm, 1/250s, f/8, ISO 2,500

Class War Occupy Stratford Foxtons: Police soon blocked entry to the shop, keeping most of the marchers on the street outside. Those inside were well-behaved, careful to cause no damage, and after around ten minutes left voluntarily to continue the march.

D700, 16-35mm at 16mm, 1/250s, f/8, ISO 2,500

The march stopped briefly outside Newham’s Housing Office, Bridge House on Stratford High St to put up banners and talk to marchers. The Housing for All campaign have supported a number of people at interviews here, often managing to get the authority to find housing in or close to the borough after they have been told they would have to go to Hastings, Birmingham or elsewhere.

From there it was a short walk to the Carpenters Estate and the Focus E15: Anniversary of Carpenters Occupation party in front of the block that they occupied for a couple of weeks a year ago. Those four flats now have new tenants, but only 28 of around 400 empty properties have been relet, and Newham is still trying to clear the estate.

D700, 16-35mm at 19mm, 1/400s, f/10, ISO 640

It was a good afternoon for a party and there were speeches and music and a release of grey balloons representing the many homeless and evicted people across London.

But I didn’t stay long, as I’d been on my feet too long and my legs were beginning to ache and I left as soon as the balloons had been released.

D700, 16-35mm at 16mm, 1/320s, f/9, ISO 640



Friday, February 12th, 2016

Thanks to L’Oeil de la Photographie for a story FullBleed, the channel exploring photographic stories which is a new YouTube channel showcasing films about photographers and their projects.

The one of the four short films featured in the story that caught my attention was of Glaswegian photographer Dougie Wallace photographed at work on his ‘Harrodsburg’ project (which I wrote about last October) and talking about it. It’s better not to rely on the subtitles which I think had a little problem with his accent on things like ‘grey imports’, ‘bit of flash’ and ‘go to import it’. Photographers just don’t ‘teleport’ even from outside Harrods.

Also on the page are videos of Paddy Summerfield and his project ‘Mother & Father‘ on dementia and Bob Mazzer talking about the pictures he would take into a bunker at the end of the world, the latest of a series called ‘Apocalypse Pictures‘ which earlier featured the choices of Summerfield and James Fry, as well as the first in a series ‘The Show’ which reports on a variety of photographic exhibitions.

The full set of FullBleed videos is on their You Tube channel, and they also have a Facebook page, the top item of which today is about the forthcoming Photo London but which also has some interesting links to items of photographic interest. Photo London for me is on the wrong side of a line about making money from photography rather than making money for photographers.

My own union branch began a series of videos, ‘Working Lives‘ a couple of years ago with an interview with Anne-Marie Sanderson, chief photographer at North London and Herts News, followed up last year with one on Freelance photographer John Sturrock who worked on social and political issues for the renowned Report agency in the mid-1970s and now photographs major regeneration and construction projects. I was filmed for the series last year, but it seems unlikely for various reasons that this video will ever be completed.

My First Colour Negs

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Scott St Chapel, a Weslyan Methodist chapel built in 1804 and probably the first in the area. It became home to printers Mason & Jackson around 1910 until they ceased trading in 1997. Attempts to list it failed, and it was demolished in 2001.

As I’ve mentioned here several times before, 1985 was the year I finally was able to give up transparency film and move in my colour work to using colour negative. Since then I only used slide film on a very few occasions, mainly for copy work to make slides for teaching before we got digital projectors and film scanners. Perhaps a job or two where a client insisted on it – but I didn’t often work for clients, as until the film scanner came around I was still working full-time in education. But most of the work in those days that went into libraries and agencies was black and white prints, and most publications were black and white too. Things have changed completely in the past 20 years or so.

I did have a little colour work with one agency, but sales were poor. I don’t think I even recovered the cost of making the medium-format transparencies they demanded, which were actually photographs of 15×10″ exhibition quality prints, the originals of which were taken on 35mm colour negative film.

The River Hull

My switch to colour neg wasn’t really just a technical matter, but also reflected a change in direction of my photography, analogous to one that I had already taken around 8 years earlier in my black and white. There the emphasis had altered from being interested in picture-making and form – shape, line, light, composition to one on using these elements to say something about the real world, from form to content. With colour, transparency film had not been a problem when my pictures were largely about light and colour – and indeed its exaggerations had contributed to the images, but became a source of frustration when my concern became the subject.

I had decided that my photography was no longer about photography, about creating images, but about making images that said something – I had become a documentary photographer. I wasn’t throwing shape, line, colour, light, composition out of the window, but recognising them as simply means rather than the end.

The River Hull

I took only a couple of colour neg films in 1985, during the October half-term when I was continuing the project I had started a few years earlier on the city of Hull and shown there in 1983. A few of the pictures were of places I’d earlier photographed on slide. Later I would develop separate projects to work on in colour and black and white, though usually ones that I could easily work on together.

A smoking shed in the Old Town – with details visible in the shadow area

I didn’t take any great pictures on those first two rolls, but the differences were enough to know I was on the right track. Working in low winter sun I could now see detail in shadows and was less likely to lose highlight detail. Another advantage was the ability to easily see to the edge of the frame without having to demount a slide. The OM viewfinders showed about 95% of the frame – very close to the edge, and slide mounts usually had a 22x34mm aperture, showing only around 87% of the image – and more was often lost by the printers.

S Low, laundry. Spring Bank – negative

S Low, laundry. Spring Bank – transparency

This was one of my favourite shop fronts on Spring Bank, partly because of the name – and I think it was a Chinese Laundry. It is still basically there on Street View but no longer a business, with no name and no Laundry sign and the street numbering has changed. Gone to is the very Hull touch ‘No Bicycles please’ and the Sentry Alarm with its Hull phone number. I’m not sure which is the truer colour (and I’ve only done a fairly rough balance on these images), but they have similar sharpness, and as a bonus the negative version has a fishmonger handling fish seen through the shop window at the right. I hvent gone too find the slide and checked, but I suspect it would show I had carefully framed the bottom of the shop at the bottom edge of the image, and it has been cut off by the slide mount in which this images was scanned.

I had a lot to learn, not least how to make my own colour prints. It took me a while, and eventually I had to buy a roller processor for my darkroom. Things became so much easier when we could print digitally.

Refugees Welcome

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

September 12 was an important day in British politics, possibly a turning point we will look back on, the start of a new era on honesty and straightforwardness, though we still have a while to wait to see if a decent and principled man can survive as leader of his won party for long enough for the electorate to be allowed to pass their judgement. It certainly won’t be easy, with not only the Tories and most Labour MPs keen to preserve the status quo, along with the entire mass media baying against him. But even though our newspapers have recently been judged as the most right-wing in Europe, if he begins to look as if he may win, some will change their tone. Its always more profitable to be on the winning side, even if it rather sticks in your throat to be so.

My main concern on September 12 was not however with the Labour Party leadership – in which I didn’t have a vote, never having got over being thrown out of the party as a member of a Labour student organisation that was ‘proscribed’ back in the 1960’s, although I did briefly photograph one of the victory parties – and wrote about it here earlier.

Zita Holbourne of BARAC with one of her artworks showing a boat full of refugees

Also taking place was one of the larger protests that London has seen for a while, the Refugees Welcome Here national march. The plight of refugees, mainly fleeing from war-torn Syria and other areas of conflict and making their way across the Mediterranean, facing hardship and death had captured the attention of the British people.

It was of course the pictures and videos and stories on TV in particular, but also on the press that had made us aware and awakened our concern. The stories were dramatic and shocking enough to gain extensive coverage, enough to overcome the continual drip-feed of anti-refugee propaganda which usually fills our media. The continued and systematic use of the words ‘migrants‘ and ‘immigrants‘ rather than ‘refugees’ or ‘asylum seeker’s, the ridiculous, sloppy and inaccurate use of the term ‘illegal immigrant‘ (or even the shorter ‘illegals‘) and the hysteria whipped up over migration statistics and stories which should be about the failure of our government to provide support for local authorities where these people settle rather than blaming them.

Then we have a whole raft of racist legislation – the setting up of prison camps like Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth – and raids on shops, offices, restuarants, stations and streets by ‘border police‘.

Although tragedies reported by the media brought a positive response from the British people, our government was largely unmoved. As I wrote “More than 50,000 people of all ages from across the UK marched through London to show their support for refugees facing death and hardship and their disgust at the lack of compassion and inadequate response of the British government.”

Maimuna Jawo a refugee from Gambia and from Women for Refugee Women wearing an ‘I’m a Refugee’ t-shirt left Gambia to avoid having to take over when her mother, the local FGM ‘cutter’, died.

Before the march there was a rally and I photographed all of the speakers – including the Liberal Democrat leader, London’s MEPs for the Green Party and Labour, and representatives from various groups concerned with refugees. Two of the speakers, Zrinka Bralo of Citizens UK a
and Maimuna Jawo of Women for Refugee Women had come to this country as refugees.

I photographed the front of the march, and walked with it for a few hundred yards before stopping an photographing others as the march streamed past, filling the wide carriageway of Piccadilly. It took an hour to pass me by and then I rushed to the tube to get to Westminster, one stop away, where the march was heading. I arrived just before the front of the march, which must have been around a mile long.

I took a few pictures as the front of the march went in front of the Houses of Parliament, and a friendly steward let me in to the area in front of the banner, but I had to work very close to it as otherwise there were too many people in the way. I’d have liked to have the banner clear to read, but it wasn’t possible.

Another rally was starting, along with some celebrity speakers, but I decided I was too tired to cover it and sat down for a few minutes to eat a late lunch on a wall on the other side of Parliament Square as the square filled up. By the time I left it was pretty full, with people still coming in – and many others like me deciding it was time to go home.

Rally Says Refugees Welcome Here
Refugees are welcome here march
Refugees Welcome march reaches Parliament


East from Gravesend

Friday, February 5th, 2016

The third new book I’ve produced this year is the final volume of the series along the lower Thames in the 1980s, East from Gravesend.  As well as my own walks out from Gravesend to Cliffe, it also has pictures from a couple of earlier visits with a small group of photographers further into the Hoo Peninsula and on to the Medway and the Swale.

All of these pictures are taken on the south side of the Estuary in Kent, and it was a few years later that I ventured much to the east of Barking along the Essex coast, with the exception of another outing with the same group to Canvey Island. So for the moment there are three volumes of my Lower Thameside series, but perhaps as I work through my many folders of contact sheets and negatives there will be more than cover the north bank.

As with most of my recent publications, this is published as a PDF and the digital version has ISBN 978-1-909363-18-2 . Blurb will also print you out a copy if you are feeling rich. The PDF gives you an instant download for £4.99 while the print copy is a ridiculous £29.95 plus post. I have a few copies available for my UK friends, and will hand one over for £25 or post it to any UK address for £27.00* – faster and cheaper than ordering via Blurb and their courier delivery.

There are several great advantages to publishing as a PDF. Most important to me is image quality. Assuming you have a decent screen these pictures are more detailed and have better contrast and density range. Blurb do a decent job of printing, at least on the premium paper that I specify, and while it is better than some of the photographic books on my shelves (particularly some of the older ones) it certainly doesn’t compare with good duotone or quadtone printing.

Cost is an obvious advantage, and publishing digitally cuts my costs considerably. If you assign a print publication a UK ISBN, then you are obliged legally to deposit a copy with the British Library – UK National Library. I’d be happy to do that, but if they request it, you also have to send free copies to the Scottish and Welsh National Libraries, and also Oxford and Cambridge universities and Trinity College Dublin.

When I started producing books, these other libraries didn’t get round to asking for their copies, but they now appear to be more organised, and after I spent around £250 on their copies and carriage for a couple of books I decided to go digital.

Its perhaps surprising that our national library doesn’t appear interested in digital publications, although they do have these in their collection. But they have never responded when I’ve sent them copies of the PDFs and have not added them to their collection.

As usual there is a preview of the book available, including over half the pictures in the book. Click on the icon to make it full-screen and enjoy:

I’ve written two previous posts about my own walks from Gravesend to Cliffe while I was preparing the images for this book – quite a while ago,
North Kent 2 and To Cliffe which have more information about the work.

*Contact me from this page to be sent the further details needed to place an order, which can then be made either by post including a cheque or by email and bank transfer.


Arms Fair

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Looking back on a busy few days in September when activists protested against the DSEi arms fair held in East London.  When you see reports of wars, atrocities and killing around the world, there is a very good chance that at least some of the weapons involved will have been sold at this event, which is said to be the largest arms fair in the world which takes place here every two years.

In the week before the arms fair took place, activists held a number of protests and tried to stop lorries bringing exhibits to the arms fair. The first day of protests. DSEi Arms Fair protest Israeli Arms Sales, concentrated on the sale of arms to Israel, and the sale of arms by Israeli companies who trade on the fact that these arms have been ‘battle tested’ in the various attacks on Gaza.  In my picture police talk with protesters who have stopped a lorry carrying a military vehicle and climbed on to it. Eventually police persuaded the protesters to allow the lorry to continue.

The following day was a day led by faith protesters with a DSEi: Pax Christi Vigil which was followed by a Catholic Workers Funeral

procession and service, which ended with them occupying the road to stop traffic. They continued to block the road for quite a while until police finally forced them to the pavement, with officers picking up and carrying the mock coffin.

Later that day a small group of Christian campaigners, Put Down the Sword, made their way to the other entrance to the former dock site including the centre where the arms fair was being held and blocked all traffic for around an hour before police finally dragged them away.

I couldn’t attend every day of the protests at DSEi, as other things were also happening that week in London, but three days later returned for Refugees Welcome, Arms Dealers NOT, where protesters dressed as and alternative Border Force again moved onto the road and stopped traffic going into the arms fair, moving back to the road a number of times after police dragged them off.

Of course, these actions didn’t prevent the arms fair, and attracted very little attention in the mass media – arms sales are big business and big businesses fund much of our media through advertising for their less lethal products. But they did make clear the opposition many feel to the arms trade and the way it profits from the conflicts that it fuels around the globe.

While the arms fair was taking place there were further protests. As on previous occasions local people opposed to it organised a procession to lay a Wreath for Victims of the Arms Trade. There is high security around the actual event, and the bridge across the dock is closed and the group walks in procession around to a point on the opposite side of the Royal Victoria Dock to lay the wreath on the water.

Also on the same afternoon, a group of Kurds came on the same route to say Stop arms sales to Turkey and some dressed in fake blood-stained white shrouds staged a die-in on the dockside opposite the fair, in view of those attending and visiting the naval display in the dock.

The Kurds say that Turkey sponsors ISIS both by turning a blind eye to its military operations against the Kurds and active support in supplying arms and refining and smuggling large exports of oil from ISIS held oil-fields that bring millions in to fund them.