Archive for June, 2016

Arles 2016

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

If like me you can’t get to Arles, you can at least see something of what will be happening there on Lensculture’s Editors’ Preview: Les Rencontres d’Arles 2016.

I’ve never been to Arles for ‘Les Rencontres‘ for various reasons. When it might have made most sense for me to attend I was always still busy as a full-time teacher and examiner in early July and it just wasn’t possible. It fits in fine for those in Higher Education, but the dates didn’t work for those of us in lower ed.

After I moved from teaching to being a full-time photographer and writer, it would have been possible, and I did make some half-hearted attempts to persuade one or two of my photographer friends that it would be a good idea to go there, as I didn’t like the idea of going on my own. But it seemed to coincide with a few years when Arles seemed have lost its way, and I couldn’t persuade them it was worth the time and expense. And perhaps I couldn’t really persuade myself either.

This year’s event, the 47th, does look more interesting than many. The opening week of Arles 2016 is July 4th-10th, and doubtless there will be much online about it. The exhibitions continue until 25th September, so if you happen to be in the South of France it may be ‘worth a detour.’

I’ve not been to the city since the early 1970s, shortly after the festival began, but I was there at Easter, generally a rather better time to visit the South of France. My thoughts at the time were rather more about Van Gogh than photography (and we spent considerably more time in Cezanne’s territory to the east around Aix en Provence and Mont Sainte Victoire, where we got lost in the clouds.)

Also taking place in Arles is Voies Off, a kind of festival fringe, which seen from the web has often seemed to have some exhibitions of more interest than the official festival.

There is an Arles page on Lensculture, which has links to their preview of last year’s festival and also to the 45th festival in 2014.

Photoshop News

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

I’ve just been staring at 97% for over 5 minutes, attempting to install the latest iteration of Photoshop CC (2015.5) and am beginning to wonder a) if it will ever complete, and b) why I bothered, at least until plenty of others had already done so and had time to point up the problems.

I wrote the above sentence a couple of days ago, and can happily report that shortly after I’d finished doing so, the installation did complete successfully, though not without leaving me with a few problems. It really shouldn’t be beyond the wit of Adobe to write an installer that copies over the plug-ins from one version to the next – or at least to give us a message reminding us that we need to do so – and opening the relevant folders.

But at least this time Photoshop came up looking more or less the same as before, whereas at least one recent update resulted in a quite different workspace and panicking before I found how to select ‘Photography’ at the top right.

As well as problems with plug-ins, I’ve also had to sign out of Creative Cloud using Photoshop and then sign back in again. I think also that some of my colour settings have been lost or altered and probably there are a few other problems I’ll come across. I don’t have a problem with Adobe making sure we are paying for their software, but I do wish they had a system that worked without these hiccoughs.

It does seem to have been worth doing this upgrade, as Photoshop does seem to be working a little more snappily, keeping up better with my stylus as I move around retouching the black and white scans I’ve been working on.

I’ve been working over the last few weeks on scanning some of my black and white negs from the 1970s and 80s in Hull. I’d done quite a few for the Blurb book ‘Still Occupied – A view of Hull’, published in 2011 which has 270 photographs – which you can see in the on-line preview, but I’m intending to put up a web site, and went thought the work again to see if there were images that I’d missed. Retouching the scans took rather a long time, but was made much faster now with the Spot Healing Brush tool than it was when I worked on the earlier pictures using Photoshop 7.

And last week my wife asked me for a picture for a card with a Dutch theme, “Something with windmills“. While I do have some pictures from our last visit to Holland in 1981 which would fit, they are are colour transparencies and probably hidden somewhere in the loft; finding, scanning and cleaning up the scans from them would have been something of a challenge, so I went instead for a black and white of a canal in Amsterdam. Looked at on the contact sheet it was fine, but when I opened up the scan sitting on my network-attached storage I found a problem.

Like many of my old negatives, this one had suffered greatly from when my storage cabinet in the darkroom had become home to an infestation of minute bugs, who crawled their way across the negatives munching tracks through the gelatin, leaving behind their excreta, dead bodies and body parts. I’d actually seen some of them wandering across negatives in the enlarger, and their mates – or something very similar – would occasionally pop up in the viewfinder when I put a camera to my eye. The faint tracery of their trails was made very visible in the dark areas of the images, and the effect differed greatly from frame to frame, even on the same strip of film.

This one was so bad that I’d actually abandoned all hope of rescuing it using Photoshop 7, where the most effective retouching method was the clone tool. But although the scan is by no means perfect I was able to rescue it to a usable level with around half an hour of work, mainly with the Spot Healing Brush  in content-aware mode.

One thing I’d really like Adobe to improve in Photoshop is the Dust & Scratches filter, which seems rather better at removing detail and sharpness than dust spots or scratches. Fifteen or so years ago I installed the Polaroid plugin filter that did the same job, but rather more effectively. Unfortunately that 8-bit filter no longer seems to work in recent versions of Photoshop. I don’t need most of the other new features, but I’d certainly welcome a better version of this.


Thought Provoking

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

Lying on my floor at the moment is a thick tome with along its 44mm wide black spine has the single word ‘PROVOKE‘ in large white sans-serif caps, 30mm high. It weighs in at a tad over 2 kg (4lb 63/4 oz for those who like my wife still think in the old way) and a fair proportion of that must be the ink on its many black pages.

This is not a work for lovers of the fine zone system print, with most of its images being pretty stark black and white – and mainly black, but it is perhaps one of the more important photographic publications of recent months if not years. I wrote briefly about it and the show in Switzerland it accompanies a few weeks ago, and sat down to order it online as cheaply as possible from anyone except Amazon, and it arrived a few days later. Its actually available rather more cheaply from the US, but its weight makes carriage expensive and I bought it from a UK dealer.

Its on the floor mainly because I’ve run out of space on the many bookshelves in my home, and run out of space on the walls for more bookshelves. I have a kind of rule now, though I don’t always keep to it, that I only buy books with images by photographers I know, and this work just about squeezes into that category as I briefly met and got to know Eiko Hosoe back in 2005 in Poland – and took a number of pictures of him.

But its also there on the floor close to my computer to remind myself that I intended to write a review of it. I’ve picked it up – good exercise – and slowly leafed through some of its 680 pages several times in the last couple of weeks, but somehow that review has never materialised. But Jörg M. Colberg (who doubtless got a review copy rather earlier than my order arrived) has written a very fine one on  Conscientious Photography Magazine that makes my intended labour superfluous – and I commend it to you.

Provoke, a short-lived magazine, reproduced as one section of the book was part of a wider movement, a movement that started, as the first part of the book exemplifies (its full title Provoke – Between Protest and Performance is also a description of the volume’s layout) in the photography of post-war protest in Japan. Part of the reason for the high-contrast, grain and blur comes from the difficulties of covering these events, often at night or in poor light with a great amount of movement, requiring photographers working with 400 ASA or slower black and films to use lenses wide open and to push process them to extremes; but it was also an aesthetic that sat well with the Japanese tradition of calligraphy, and mirrored the extreme emotions of the moment. And Japanese art has a strongly graphic tradition which these images continue – as does the design of their publications.

The images were also a part of the protests, published often in the kind of crudely published leaflets and magazines that still often accompany protests, where cost is paramount and image quality goes by the board. Cheap litho or photocopying works best with images with few intermediate tones.

Colberg brings out the important discussion of the difference between a language and a style which this book makes clear, picking a particularly significant quote from an essay by Nakahira Takuma:

“William Klein’s work differs from that of [Henri] Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank in one key aspect: Klein thinks of photography as a method of searching and recognizing, as a plan for adventure in an endless world. Cartier-Bresson and Frank think of it as a means of direct expression of a specific view on the world or on life, such as the viewpoint are lonely and miserable.”

Both the book Provoke and Colberg’s review raise interesting issues, and issues of relevance to photographers now. As Colberg says, the Provoke photographers wanted photography to play an important role in society, and photographers today can learn from them by wanting to do more, by “doing something, by brushing against the grain, by making pictures that, at least to you, mean something” rather than “whining or whimpering, or by fighting over the tiny crumbs someone with a lot of money and/or power might throw at you“.


Refugee Week 2016

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Yesterday was World Refugee Day, and the guys at LensCulture put together an excellent collection of 13 related projects in Recognizing World Refugee Day 2016 showing different ways in which photographers have reacted to the situation.

Proud to Protect Refugees – celebrating the 60th anniversary of the UN Convention
on Refugees and the start of Refugee Week in 2011.

Although I’ve photographed numerous events related to refugees over the years (the earliest on My London Diary are two events in 2005, though I think there were earlier events I took on film), I stayed at home yesterday, although there was at least one event in London I could have gone to photograph. I hope to cover another later in the week, which is World Refugee Week, though that’s something that has been rather lost in all the publicity about our referendum.

Or rather the Conservative Party’s referendum – and it does seem a terrible insult to democracy that we should be having to face the possible consequences of leaving Europe over what is essentially a Conservative spat. I’m not a great admirer of the EU, but being in it is better than being out and run by people like Boris, Gove and Farage. I just hope not too many turkeys vote for Christmas on their false promises.

Refugees are Welcome Here march, September 2015

There seems to me to be something strange that those politicians who are most in favour of the freedom of movement of goods and services are those that have the greatest opposition to the free movement of people. And surely there is something obscene in having strict controls on immigration – but letting people who are rich enough come in without restriction. And letting people with no intention of coming here own properties simply as investments, keeping them empty as “buy to leave” properties while we have a desperate shortage of homes.

At the moment it seems impossible to avoid politics here, and every picture I take is a political statement or question. But perhaps that’s life. At least I find it more interesting than photographing cats and food. And I hope you do too.


Capa and ICP

Monday, June 20th, 2016

It’s hard to understand the refusal of parts of the photography establishment, particularly the ICP (founded by Robert Capa‘s younger brother Cornell) and Magnum, to accept the detailed and thoroughly researched findings of A D Coleman and his team, including both photographic and military experts, into the story behind Capa’s D-Day pictures.

Perhaps the only explanation is that there is more still to hide, and Coleman’s latest post at Photocritic International, Alternate History: Robert Capa and ICP (1), promises to make clearer the role of the ICP not just in promulgating and valorising the myths about his D-Day pictures, but also to comment on the “comparable dishonesty tainting other Capa scholarship to date subsidized and/or sponsored by ICP“.

Of course Capa’s D-Day pictures remain. They were taken on the landing craft and beach in Normandy, if only from the edge of a relatively safe landing area, from which Capa took an early chance to leave after only exposing a handful of frames. There is a great paradox in that had Capa been more in control, his images would have lacked the rawness and immediacy that they have. Imagine them sharp and detailed, without the camera shake and they would be rather ordinary pictures of a military landing, probably those particular frames not standing out from others that might have been made as the photographer followed the advance up the beach.

As it is, the roughness of these images correlates in an extraordinary and entirely fortuitous fashion to Capa’s own emotional state, itself an entirely human reaction to the situation he found himself in. Capa wasn’t a soldier, and although he had photographed war before, this was on a larger scale, with greater noise and confusion, his panic is certainly understandable – even rational, though not what was expected of a war photographer working for Life.

That those few images that he managed to take on that morning came out so well was clearly a matter of luck, though that they came out at all reflected his experience as a photographer – even with shattered nerves he made camera settings that were at least somewhere close. But many great photographs need a little luck to raise them above the mundane.

Remarkably, Capa was able to force himself to get back to France and taking pictures very soon after this experience; I suspect that within minutes of leaving the beach he realised that he had failed and needed to pull himself together and get back as soon as possible. He can have had no idea at the time that his few exposures by their very faults would be turned into powerfully expressive images.

John Morris, when he saw those images, along with the more ordinary pre-invasion pictures also sent by Capa, appears to have realised their special quality, but also clearly would have seen that Capa would have been expected to turn in a far fuller story, and that the true story behind them would not reflect well on either Capa or the judgement of whoever had sent him to take them. And having invented the story which made his career it was certainly hard to admit it was false.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on Robert Capa still state “While under constant fire, Capa took 106 pictures, all but eleven were destroyed in a photo lab accident back in London.” The same fiction is also found in the entry The Magnificent Eleven. About time that these entries were corrected by someone – or have perhaps the photography establishment so far managed to veto this? On another page there is a discussion of the ‘Falling Soldier‘ image which does at least mention the various theories, including a claim that the picture was actually taken by Gerda Taro rather than Capa.

Pioneers of Photography

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

Historians may quibble at some of the detail of the three animations of early pioneers of photography produced by animator Drew Christie, for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which you can view on PDN Pulse but they have considerable charm, and I think provide a good introduction for those coming to Henry Fox Talbot, Eadweard Muybridge and Carleton Watkins for the first time.

I had some reservations about details when watching the first two short videos. The Talbot for example also mentions Daguerre but fails to mention Anne Atkins, who got in before Talbot with the first photographically illustrated book – and of course also fails to mention the many others who contributed to the development of photography on paper, and perhaps more surprisingly the Calotype process with its development of a latent image. It wasn’t just a further improvement on his earlier work, but a considerable leap. I had some quibbles too about the other local lad, Muybridge, but of less significance.

But I actually learnt a little about the life and various setbacks of Carleton Watkins, though not about his photographs which I was already familiar with. I have to admit to beinf rather more of a Timothy O’Sullivan fan – and the Library of Congress has over a thousand of his images on-line, many with seriously large files you can download.

Hackney Dreams

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

This was Broadway Market in 1979, and in Sharon’s Party Wear shop window was a small dress on a stand, standing on a curved plinth sandwiched between some highly patterned wall paper and the wire grid protecting the glass.

Above it on the wallpaper was a notice ‘Bridesmaid and Confirmation made to order‘. The dress seemed too small to be made even for a child to wear and was perhaps there as an example of the standard of workmanship, but the whole scene had for me a remarkable pathos, hard to explain.

Just along from there was ‘DREAMWEAR, The Lingerie Shops of London‘, but I could only dream, as the metal shutters across its front were firmly padlocked, never to open again, and next door even the corrugated iron was looking rather past its best. These pictures were among those in my book and web site London Dérives.

Of course there was a need for redevelopment, though it was rather greed than need that drove it, and even more than 25 years later the battle over the gentrification of the area was still raging, with the community fighting evictions – and losing to a dodgy council and corrupt developers. There is a film made for Channel 4 in 2007 by Emily James on her web site about the battle which makes interesting viewing. There certainly have been gains for the area but at the totally unnecessary loss of forcing out a number of small local businesses and a change in the nature of the area.

One of the few – if not the only property left that still retains some of the feeling of the old Broadway Market – is F Cooke’s, and that’s where I was heading on Thursday evening, not for a pie with mash and liquor but for a book launch.
Hoxton Mini Press describes itself as “an independent publisher based in East London making collectable photography books“, and I’ve so far collected two of them, the irrepressible ‘Shoreditch Wild Life’ by Dougie Wallace, now in its second edition, and the charming ‘I’ve Lived in East London for 86 ½ Years’ by Martin Usborne – now in its third edition, starring Joseph Markovitch, who “has left London only once to go to the seaside with his mother. He loves Nicolas Cage, has five sugars in his tea, would have married a six foot two Hispanic woman but in the end had bad chest catarrh and never had a girlfriend.”

Broadway Market is next to the Regent’s Canal, and I photographed here many times over the years, though finding those pictures now is something of a problem. In my latest book on Blurb, Canal Walks (as always I recommend the PDF version on ground of both cost and quality), a double page spread shows two images made on the route I walked from the bus to Broadway Market, including an image under the railway bridge from 1983.

I paused on my walk last Thursday evening to photograph from more or less the same spot, though with a rather wider lens, and although there are a few differences, I could still see much the same view, which includes several other places where I’ve made photographs.

Then came a spectacle that seemed somehow to me to sum up the very different Hackney of today to that when I first photographed here. F Cooke was rather different too, transformed for the night into a book shop, and with a large crowd on the street outside drinking from bottles of a craft ale, Five Points Pale, brewed in a railway arch under Hackney Downs station.

When the beer ran out I made my way home through a street familiar to fans of Throbbing Gristle, to catch a bus to Bethnal Green.

The Five Points Pale had gone down very easily, and perhaps had something to do with the rather odd hallucination I found myself photographing in Bethnal Green before taking the tube on my way home.

Punk London 1977

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

I’ve known Derek Ridgers a long time, I think all the way back to 1977 when he was making the pictures in his book Punk London 1977. He’d started taking pictures in the mosh pit at Hammersmith Odeon with a camera borrowed from work, where one of the advertising accounts he worked on was for Minolta cameras. He’d found he needed to use flash, and bent a wire coat-hanger to work as a flash bracket, and when I met him he’d just had a small portfolio of the pictures published in one of the photo mags I bought.

Like me a year or two earlier, he had wandered along to his local camera club in the largely mistaken notion that it would be a good place to find out more about photography. Like me I think he fairly soon found out his mistake, but also found that there were a small number of people in the club passionate about the medium, some of whom were actually pretty clued up about it and willing to share their experience.

These outcasts clustered together in a group that met monthly in the club room on a different night to the normal club meetings under the name ‘Group Six’. Six was about the maximum attendance, but the name came not from this but simply that it was the sixth small group set up within the club, which also had things like a portrait group. I don’t think there was actually a group called ‘boring club contest winning pictures’ but there certainly should have been and I think it existed under some different name.

Group Six were the ‘enfants terribles’ of the club, and at times were were pretty terrible, as when we performed a slide show for the club to the sound track of the Portsmouth Sinfonia, who in 1974 performed to a sold-out Albert Hall under the proud boast that they were the World’s Worst Orchestra. But just as the Portsmouth Sinfonia included musicians such as Brian Eno and Michael Nyman, so Group Six included photographers as talented and varied as Terry King and Derek Ridgers.

A break with the club was probably inevitable. We were too successful and the club committee decided to steal some of our success, taking over an exhibition proposal we had negotiated with a gallery after an earlier show had been a major success. The active photographers in Group Six became the nucleus of an independent group called Framework, which organised a series of workshop meetings and exhibitions over the next few years in West London, in most of which Derek took part, as did several other well-known names in British photography.

Group Six and Framework both worked – when they did work – because we brought our work to meetings and discussed it openly and honestly. Sometime with brutal frankness. Quite a few photographers couldn’t take it and only came once – though perhaps it still gave a useful counterpoint to their delusions of greatness, and I don’t think any walked out of the meetings and stepped under a train. But it was a tough school, and people had to learn to take criticism. Of course it wasn’t always right, and I remember one of my pictures that was ripped to pieces (only figuratively) at one evening session being praised by those same people a couple of years later on an exhibition wall.

It was a great learning experience I think for all of us, and the fact that we were so different in our interests and experience was very much a part of it. We explored and criticised photographs from all aspects. Some of us also went out occasionally taking pictures together, but I don’t think Derek ever did. His work was very focussed, and after we left the meetings while most of us were on our way home he would be travelling up to London to photograph in the kind of clubs the rest of us never went to – with the results you can see in Punk London 1977 and his other books. I thought back then and still think that his best work from that era was of skinheads.

You can read more about the show at which I took these pictures at Paul Smith celebrates 40 years of punk in The Guardian, and a nice article about taking some of them in Cuepoint. And in too many other places to mention that Google can show you.

I took a look at the pictures on the wall and went to have a chat with Derek and then wandered around the room full of people in the basement of Paul Smith’s shop taking a few pictures (and drinking a few of the freely flowing drinks, though avoiding those full of vegetation) and feeling rather out of place. Mostly I had no idea who I was photographing – other than Derek. You can see more of them in an album on Facebook, and perhaps later on My London Diary, though I’m not sure they are really ‘my’ London.


Emergency in London

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

There wasn’t actually a fire at London’s City Hall, but there was certainly something of an emergency, with plans being debated that would cut 13 fire engines and 185 firefighters from the London  force. Cuts already made by Mayor Boris Johnson have already led to an increase in response times, and the new cuts will further endanger Londoners. If you have a fire now in London, it will take longer for the firefighters to arrive, and you chances of being rescued from a blazing building have dropped. So you need to be very careful.

Things can get worse, and if the current government remains in office they almost certainly will. It can’t be long until the fire service gets privatised and we will all be at the mercy of G4S or Virgin Fire. And perhaps rather than a universal service we will go back to the days of ‘fire marks’ on buildings, and if you haven’t paid your insurance the firefighters will simply watch your house burn down.

London no longer actually owns its City Hall; the oddly shaped mushroom which now houses the Mayor and London Assembly is only on a 25 year lease from its Kuwaiti owners, while London’s real City Hall, County Hall, diagonally across the river from the Houses of Parliament is a hotel and various tourist attractions, sold off after Mrs Thatcher decided London didn’t need an overall authority – one of her most disastrous and spiteful policies. Total madness.

Back to the protest, it had as its backdrop not just that curiously shaped glass monstrosity (it does have some interesting features internally) but one of London’s most iconic symbols, Tower Bridge. Getting to use them in the pictures was rather less straightforward. We were too close to City Hall, and it needed the 16mm fisheye to show it in any sensible fashion – as in the top image (converted as usual to make the verticals straight using FisheyeHemi.) Tower Bridge on the other hand needed a slightly longer lens to make it prominent – the image above was taken at 32mm using the 16-35mm on the D700.

And using the 28-200mm at 40mm in DX mode – 60mm Equiv – I was also able to bring the Tower of London into the scene. It was a little unfortunate that when I took this I hadn’t spotted that I still had the D810 set a -4EV from some night images the previous evening, and the result is somewhat gritty. Unless you zoom in on the camera back the noise isn’t apparent, and images often look rather dark. I noticed the mistake a few frames later and did try to retake some images with the correct exposure, but photons never flow through the same lens twice in the same way.

Using DFine (now free from Google) does significantly reduce the noise, but also results in a little loss of detail as you can see in these two small 100% crops

Before Dfine

After Dfine

Perhaps the best result would be to set Dfine manually to perform a little less noise reduction rather than simply leaving it on Automatic.  The full web size image above is without using Dfine. The image noise isn’t really objectionable, although the colour quality isn’t as good as if I’d given correct exposure.

You can see more images from Firefighters say cuts endanger London on My London Diary – and you can see if you can find any other pictures that were exposed at -4EV.

One person I’d not expected to be present was George Galloway, who was intending to stand as Respect Party candidate for mayor in 2016. He came seventh in the first round of voting, with 37,007 votes, 1.4% of the poll. At least he beat Britain First and the BNP.


May 2016

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

There are a couple of reasons why I’ve managed to complete my My London Diary postings for May so promptly. Firstly there always seems to be a little less going on around Bank Holidays, though I did cover the ‘celebrations’ at Harmondsworth over Heathrow’s ‘70 years of unrelenting aircraft noise for local communities‘ on the Bank Holiday itself. But I’ve also had some minor health issues with hay fever and a chest infection at the start and end of the month which meant I was too short of breath to go out and take pictures for a few days, but still well enough to sit at a computer and catch up with things. Fortunately I seem to be getting back to normal now, and am writing this before rushing out to catch a train and cover an event.