Archive for August, 2016

Bill to Kill Social Housing

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

You don’t expect a huge turnout for a protest on a Tuesday lunchtime in January, and the few hundred who came to show their anger at the proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill being debated in Parliament was actually more than I expected. Like too much legislation at the moment it’s a measure that has received very little of the attention it deserves, either inside parliament or in the press.

The Labour Party is of course totally absorbed with its own infighting, few if any Conservatives have any idea of the pressures faced by those who don’t own several properties, have high incomes and savings and extensive family support – and even fewer seem to care. It was a bill about housing in England, so the SNP were not greatly involved, and the effective opposition in the House of Commons was thus the Green Party – all of one MP. To be fair the House of Lords did rather better, though in the end were forced to concede to government pressure.

The mainstream media weren’t interested as it didn’t greatly involve personalities or celebrities, and it was hard to use the issue to show Jeremy Corbyn in a bad light. So despite it being accurately described as “one of the most dangerous and far-reaching pieces of legislation passed in this country in a long time” and representations to parliament by 150 housing sector organisations which were ignored, as well as opposition from a wide range of other groups concerned with housing and poverty issue, the bill continued on its way to becoming law almost unnoticed. You can read a more detailed and less biased view of it on ‘Inside Housing‘ (free registration needed.)

Even London Labour councils busily selling off council estates and getting into bed with private developers were up in arms about the Bill, and joined in protests such as this one. Or at least came to them though perhaps tried to rather stand aside from the actual protest. So when things got a little lively they tried to disassociate themselves from people who make noisy speeches and loud chants, let alone let off smoke flares. Perhaps surprisingly, so did at least some of the Socialist Workers Party members present, though perhaps they were more against the fact that they were not being allowed to take charge of the protest.

When Class War along with ASH (Architects for Social Housing) and activists from the Aylesbury Estate decided to lead off on a march around Westminster, the Labour Party and others decided to stay put, a small group having a quiet protest where nobody would notice them.

It perhaps wasn’t a great march around the area, but certainly many more people will have noticed it going on, including many more MPs as it went along the street past the House of Commons and then Portcullis House, as well as those on Whitehall as they protested outside Downing St before leaving to go back past Parliament to the small group left in Old Palace Yard, who were packing up as they arrived back.

More at: Kill the Housing Bill protest


USA – The Dark Side

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Mental Floss is not a magazine I’ve come across before, but The Photographer Who Captured America’s Dark Side by Lucas Reilly which originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue is a well-written introduction to the work of Robert Frank and his travels across the nation to take the pictures that became ‘The Americans’.

It doesn’t say a great deal about his actual work but does a good job in situating it, which is perhaps something that those who have only come across his work in more recent times needs saying. I’ve written so many times that ‘The Americans‘ is a book every photographer should have a well-thumbed copy of on her/his bookshelf that I feel sure that if you are reading this you already do, but if not, it is readily available in many editions – and although a copy of the first edition might cost you £10,000 you can buy more recent ones secondhand for a more sensible price – less than £20 if you look around. The various editions all differ slightly, but not enough to make a real difference; I think the best is perhaps still the Aperture version from the late 1970s, but that is now a little dear.

There is enough about Frank to keep you busy for a week or two on American Suburb X, but Mental Floss turns out to be something of a disappointment. In the middle of the Frank piece is a box reading ‘For more stories like this visit‘ but if you do you find yournself on a page of pretty average clickbait, fluff with little or no photographic interest linking to other web sites and blogs. Diligent wading through half a dozen pages of trash only yielded a single piece that enticed me at all, on a unique mansion for sale in Mile End, London.

Clicking on this was a little disappointing, as I’d already read a far better article At Malplaquet House on the same house some years back on Spitalfields Life, though the MF piece did link to its own inspiration, the more recent Mysterious 265-Year-Old Mansion in London Is Rediscovered and Being Sold for Millions by Kristine Mitchell published on June 18, 2016 on My Modern Met. I you have around £2,950,000 to spare it might be worth viewing.

Meadows & Mitchell

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Daniel Meadows was fortunate to come to photography in the short period when the UK Arts Council actually supported photographers rather than galleries and curators in 1975 work from his ‘The Free Photographic Omnibus’ was among that by 8 UK photographers features in their ‘British Image 1’. The series was meant to be published twice a year, and most if not all of the photographers featured had received grants under a scheme started by the Arts Council in 1973, including Meadows. The series didn’t last long, nor did the grants.

His portraits from this project, taking pictures of people as he toured the country in a double-decker bus which served as living space, free studio and mobile gallery provided an idiosyncratic cross-section of the country, largely from people who would otherwise only have appeared in family albums rather than those who might attract media attention.

This month’s Life Force online magazine has a good feature on this work, Living Like This, with text and pictures by Meadows.

More work from the UK in the 1970s appears in the book ‘Strangely Familiar‘ by Peter Mitchell, published in 2013. I think the edition was a fairly small one and the book is now hard to find, particularly since his work was shown at Arles this year.

You can also read about Mitchell and his work in various online newspaper articles, including The Independent and a recent article in The Guardian.

Although many of us took pictures in colour in the 1970s, Mitchell was one of the earliest to work consistently in colour as a documentary photographer and his show A New Refutation of the Viking 4 Space Mission at the Impressions Gallery in York in 1979 was, as Martin Parr notes “was the first colour show, at a British photographic gallery, by a British photographer.

Personally I was rather put off by the extraordinary presentation, with the work mounted on space charts and the conceit that these represented the view of an alien from Mars who had just landed in Leeds, where Mitchell’s day job was driving around the city making deliveries – with a step-ladder in the back of the van from which he made the pictures. It was for me a barrier to seeing the true documentary value of his images, as too was the sometimes rather odd colour rendition of his prints at that time.

But it was a show that I think inspired Martin Parr to make his move from black and white to colour, or at least persuaded him that the time was ripe and that serious photographic work in colour – which he was familiar with from Eggleston and Shore in the USA – could now be acceptable at the rather stuffier UK galleries.

Early Colour

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Although I’ve never really been a great fan of pictorialism, the attempt by photographers around the end of the nineteenth century to establish photography as an artistic medium by showing that they could produce effects using photography that in some respects mirrored the work of artists using other media, there are many pictorialist images that I find highly satisfying.

We may not want to follow their example, with the use of processes such as bromoil, gum bichromate and the like, though I did at one time produce images in most of them, not because I really wanted to use them for my own work, but that I felt making images using them was the only way to truly understand the work of this period. And there was some processes that did have something to offer, notably platinum printing and carbon printing.

If you’ve seen the architectural images of Frederick Evans you will understand what attracted me about that process – and I felt very honoured that one of my platinum prints was exhibited next to one of his in a show to celebrate 150 years of photography in 1989. And some of the most beautiful prints I know in any medium are carbon prints, and if I had a larger studio in which to make my own carbon tissues and prints I might well have made portfolios in that medium.

Fortunately I was saved from this time-consuming labour by the coming of the inkjet and Peizography, a system of printing using carbon-based inks which enabled me to get images with very similar qualities on matt papers to platinum prints. And while nothing else can quite attain the luminosity of the best carbon prints, prints on fine silver materials such as the long discontinued Agfa Record Rapid and Portriga ran it close enough to satisfy – and similar qualities can now be achieved with inkjet prints.

What got me thinking about this was a feature in Dangerous Minds,
The astonishingly beautiful three color photography of Bernard Eilers. Eilers (1878-1951) was a consummate technician and a Duthc pictorialist whose most famous image was probably an atmospheric view of Trafalgar Square in the rain.

You can see a fine collection of his work from the Stadsarchief Amsterdam on line, including the images produced using his tri-color foto-chroma eilers process featured on Dangerous Minds.

Probably a better way to get an appreciation of them is to watch a video using his images of Venice, taken in the 1930s. Where I think the article in DM is misleading is to suggest that he was in some way a pioneer of colour photography, someone whose work might have led to his process being as well known as those of Agfa and Kodak.

Three colour separation processes essentially the same as he used were invented ten years before he was born, although they only became really practical with the invention of panchromatic films in 1903. It was only two years later that Schinzel introduced the first integral tripacks, combining the three layers of emulsion which were the precursors of later colour processes.

Eilers does not even rate a mention in the classic and encyclopedic History of Color Photography by J S Friedman (first published in 1944, but with a revised and updated edition in 1968.) But he does appear, and rightly so, in In Atmospheric Light : Pictorialism in Dutch Photography 1890 – 1925.