Archive for September, 2016

Gum and More

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Unless you are a gum printer or thinking of taking up gum printing, Christina Z Anderson‘s Gum Printing – A Step-by-Step Manual, Highlighting Artists and Their Creative Practice, recently published – here in the UK by Routledge (ISBN 9781138101500) – might be a rather expensive purchase at £34.99 in paperback or a ridiculous £120 Hardback, but for many of us the more interesting section may be the first chapter ‘The History of Gum Printing‘ which you can ‘Look Inside‘ to read, all except some of the notes.  Perhaps the other part of the book of great interest would be the second section which looks at the work of around 50 contemporary artists.

Anderson’s own work in gum and other alternative processes can be seen in depth on her own web site (and probably most of the others among that 50 – and there is a list in the preview – have work on the web.) The short history chapter has some good illustrations too, and covers the early years of the process well, though there are perhaps some omissions from more recent years, and perhaps just a little American bias.

Although gum – or gum bichromate – was in its heyday in the pictorialism of the years before the ‘Great War’ with the work of Demachy and others, it never entirely died out in the UK and I suspect in other countries around the world. The photographer from whom I learnt of the process and who inspired me to try it was a man called Steinbock, an advertising photographer from Maidenhead who regularly contributed a small gum bichromate print each year for many years to the Royal Photographic Society annual exhibition.  His prints weren’t exciting, but the process he briefly described was intriguing, and he told us it was all very simple, and a few minutes of his talk was enough to send me and two colleagues, Randall Webb and Terry King away seperately to make prints.


My very first attempt, seen above, a roughly 10×7 inch print of an agave, wasn’t too bad, though many years later it has developed some nasty brown spots. Theoretically gum prints are archival, but in practice this isn’t always so, particularly if stored carelessly. Though I think in this case the problem is with the kallitype I later coated on top of the blue gum.

I made a few more, largely to see how to do it and to have an example or two, including several rather bad versions of a tri-colour print, for use in my teaching, but soon decided gum wasn’t for me.  Terry King, who sadly died last year, went on to work commercially in the medium and to teach a whole generation of printers in this and other alternative processes, running courses both at his own Hands-On Pictures workshops and at colleges and other venues around the UK and internationally. He was for several years the Chair of the RPS Historical Group, organising a number of conferences and in 1997 he founded APIS, the Alternative Processes International Symposium in which has since taken place in alternate years since in either the UK or US.

I suspect that elsewhere in the book there may also be a mention of the Alt-photo-process-list to which Anderson has for some years been an important contributor, as in its early days (it began in 1994) were both Terry King and the late Judy Seigel, who founded the The World Journal of Post-Factory Photography –  you can still download the first issue. Both were opinionated in a medium where there is no right way to do things, and sparks often flew between them – and I got caught rather in the cross-fire.

If you are thinking of printing using alternative processes, I’m sure this book would be a worthwhile investment, as Anderson has made herself a master of these techniques, and has always been ready to share her expertise generiously on the list (and many of those 50 names I also recognise as list contributors.) I’m sure this book will be the best manual available and will probably save you much trial and error and swearing. But you can do what I did, and just play around a little, really almost anything works, and, who knows, you might just find something worth doing that even this volume doesn’t cover.

There are of course different styles of gum print, and if you want to print like King you will find fairly full instructions on his site, though I think several of the suppliers he lists are no longer in business. Elsewhere on the web you will find others who have shared their methods. Most – but not all – those involved in alt-processes are happy to share.  King decided to make a small charge for the details of some of his ‘improved’ processes – though you can find some comments in Mike Ware’s Cyanomicon of how these had been anticipated in the early days and the ‘Rex’ processes seem similar to some I also experimented on with Terry for kallitype and platinum, using a common ferric oxalate sensitizer with a development bath. Though his chrysotypes were considerably better than my rather poor attempt.

There were several reasons I gave up printing using alternative processes. One was simply time –  and I was far more interested in taking photographs than in making prints. More important was that I decided that processes like gum bichromate did not give the kind of results that suited my work, though platinum and carbon printing were far more to my taste.

But then I found I could make better prints using an inkjet printer, as first using John Cone’s remarkable Piezography inks, and later, because I wanted to print colour as well as monochrome, with Epson’s own K3 Ultrachrome. And, if I wanted, I could print on papers very similar to those I had been using for alternative processes.

Die-in for Calais

Monday, September 12th, 2016

I don’t like to travel. Perhaps when I was younger it might have been a little different, but now I always like to get back home at night, preferably in time for dinner and a glass or two of red wine, but certainly in time for bed, though when I’ve been out taking pictures I often find myself still working on them into the early hours of the morning.

When in 1983 the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone fought the  Tory government to bring in zonal fares and the travelcard, it made it possible for me to work in a sensible way all over London. Even when victories like this led to the Thatcher government plunging London into chaos (from which it still hasn’t quite recovered) by abolishing any London-wide government, these transport initiatives remained – while London’s seat of government was sold off as a luxury hotel.

I sometimes tell people that I turned down a job simply on the basis that I couldn’t get to Letchworth on a travelcard; it isn’t quite true – I really turned it down because I wasn’t offered enough to make the extra time and cost worthwhile.

I do occasionally work outside the capital, but only when things interest me enough and when I feel I’m up to it. Even in London I often get tired after a few hours of work and come home missing an event later in the day – when twenty years ago I would have kept going all night. Now I need to get home, take pills, rub on the cream, eat regularly on a suitable diet and keep up the injections.

This is all a very lengthy preamble to cover up me feeling a little guilty about not having been to Calais to photograph the people camped there in the ‘Jungle’. I’ve signed the petitions, made the odd donation, but never actually gone there, though I’ve had the opportunities and invitations. But of course there has been no shortage of photographers who have done so, and sometimes I wonder if it has been too much of a media circus, with some of those living there feeling they are in a fish tank.

I was very pleased to be able to support a protest by some of those who have been going to Calais and taking positive action to support those stranded there – who include several hundred unaccompanied children who actually have the right to come to the UK as they have family members here.  Our government is refusing them entry – and nine months later and after Parliament has said they should be let in is still dragging its feet. A few have now been allowed to come here, but many more remain in the Calais mud.

Government policies under Theresa May at the Home Office and now Prime Minister are quite clearly racist, and driven by pandering to the racism of our right-wing press.

Police stopped the protesters from entering the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras International, and tried to move them away from the entrance, although the police were far more of a barrier to passengers trying to enter than the protesters who made no attempt to prevent them entering.

After a number of short speeches the protesters marched down to the Euston Rd, and then rather surprised the police by rushing down into the Underground, where police again stopped them from entering the main shopping area under St Pancras.

The protesters then staged a ‘die-in’, led by a group with a colourful banner, ACTUP London, a group I’d not met before who describe themselves as “a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the HIV pandemic, along with the broader inequalities and injustices that perpetuate it”. Others sat down around them, while speeches and chanting continued. After around 10-15 minutes everyone got up and the protest ended.

Photographically the protest presented few problems, although at times it was difficult with other photographers rather getting in the way – and you can see a few cameras on the edges of some of my frames.  Light levels in the Underground area were reasonably high and unlike most night scenes the lighting was fairly even. I was working at ISO 3200 and ISO 4000 and getting exposures around 1/80 or 1/100 at f5 (with exposure compensation at -0.3 or -0.7 Ev) and the results seemed remarkably good, with relatively low noise and decent colour.

Artificial lighting is often rather a problem with some light sources giving eerie effects, and often scenes have various different colour lighting, often producing rather unnatual effects, but here it seemed very consistent, with a colour temperature around 3700K and needing just a small magenta tint, typically +9 in Lightroom.

You can read more about the protest and see the rest of the pictures at St Pancras Die-In for Calais refugees.

Nathan Lyons (1930-2016)

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Almost the first proper book of photographs I bought when the medium seriously began to catch hold of me was by Nathan Lyons. I’m not sure whether it or Charles Harbutt‘s ‘Travelog‘, both published by The MIT Press came first on my bookshelves. Neither was the kind of book you would find in British bookshops, but Coo Press in London’s Doughty St, home of Colin Osman’s Creative Camera also had a book shop and a mail order service. These first two volumes I almost certainly bought by mail, but in the following years I spent several happy afternoons browsing in the bookshop – where photographers were always made welcome, even those like me who had little to spend.

Notations in Passing – Visualized by Nathan Lyons‘, in the words on hte back of the book: “Snapshots – a series of images – cool – haunting – a modern iconography – a compendium of images by one of the most significant teachers of visual arts – a careful exploration in perception – a series with its own continuity and time relationships – commonplace justapositions – sequences – notations in passing – 96 photographs by Nathan Lyons...” was certainly an eye-opener for me and I think for many ohters.

It’s a book that I can see traces of in much of my own rather different photographic work over the next few years, opening up new possibilities and seeing new subjects. Ideas of framing that still inform my work, moving away from the stultification of the rule of thirds and other nostrums. Using images within images, reflections text and more.

Lyons was one of the great teachers of our medium, but one I only knew in print, and he appears to be relatively little known here in the UK. You can see some of his work on the Bruce Silverstein Gallery site, and read many tributes to him across the web:

Selected Obituaries

In Memoriam: Nathan Lyons, 1930–2016 Eastman Museum;

Tribute to Nathan Lyons, 1930-2016 in’Eye of Photography’ by Bruno Chalifour;

Nathan Lyons, Influential Photographer and Advocate of the Art, Dies at 86 New York TImes;

Nathan Lyons, Photographer, Educator and Visual Studies Workshop Founder PDN.

Meeting Shaker

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

Progress at shutting down the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay has been painfully slow, and President Obama’s pledge to close the camp, which has brought shame on the USA has seemed increasingly empty, though not entirely due to him.  There can be few thinking Americans who don’t feel setting up the prison was a terrible mistake, and one that has harmed their country’s standing in the world, as well as increasing the risk of terrorism it was meant to combat.

The whole sad record shamed the US in the eyes of most of the world; the tortures approved by the Bush administration both inside Guantanamo and at Bagram and elsewhere – and the still continuing mistreatment there, the illegal renditions to there which also compromised many other Western countries. Many if not most of those taken there had little or no connection with terrorism, but were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or had enemies who took advantage of US naivety.

But the whole idea was a contradiction, an attempt to impose law by breaking all the laws which govern international conflicts, and one which made far more enemies. It perhaps wasn’t surprising in that it came from a country whose agencies supported and trained many of those now causing it most grief in the Middle East.

I’ve been photographing London protests against Guantanamo for at least ten years, and they still continue, and will do until the last prisoner is released. In recent years a major focus of many of these was to call for the release of the last Londoner held there, Shaker Aamer, a charity worker who lived with his family in south London and was kidnapped in Afghanistan and sold to the US authorities there.

Recently released, Shaker Aamer attended the vigil outside the US embassy along with six other UK former detainees, and it was a great pleasure for me to be able to meet him, speak with him, shake his hand and be hugged by him.

Ahaker had spent almost 14 years inside the prison – after torture by the US in Afghanistan. In Guantanamo he had been subject to further torture and beatings as well as prolonged periods of solitary confinement. There was never any credible evidence against him, and he was cleared for release under the Bush administration, then again when Obama was in power.

He wasn’t release not for anything he had done in Afghanistan, but for what he had seen and heard when he and other prisoners were being tortured. As someone fluent in English as well as Arabic he served as a translator and gave support to many other detainees. He was a witness who could give evidence that would damn both the US and UK security agents who took part in torture – and they kept him inside as long as they could.

Photographically there were the usual problems of working in the darkness in front of the US Embassy;  I think it has its own special kind of darkness, with just a few areas of brighter light in front of its aggresively ugly facade, surrounded by a tall fence behind which armed police walk up and down.

I used flash with some images taken with the D810 and the 28-200mm in DX mode – and at the longer focal lengths there was no alternative, but it rather spoils the atmosphere of a candlelit vigil, though there are a few images where I managed to get a good balance.

Mostly I was working with the D700, and as well as using the 16-35mm (at 20mm in the image above), there were also some images for which the 16mm fisheye was invaluable, as in the picture at the top of this post of Shaker Aamer lighting a candle. For that, at ISO3200 and wide open at f2.8, the shutter speed was 1/30s and the file was a few stops underexposed! I was holding the camera out low in front of me as I crouched in front of Shaker.

It would perhaps have been good to have the camera in ‘Live View’, but I think the image would have been too dark to be a great deal of use. And I don’t find it easy to get the camera to take pictures when I want it too when using this mode – it really is rather clunky. So I took a number of frames and hoped. Of course it would be hard to miss the main subject when using the extreme wide view of the fisheye, and I hoped to be able to crop the image (after straightening the verticals with the Fisheye-Hemi plugin).

There is another frame along with many more images from the event at Guantanamo 14 Years on and in some respects it is a better picture, helped by a stop more exposure. But most of the time, Shaker was looking down at the candle he was lighting, and you can’t see his face so well.


Saving Perpignan?

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

An interesting post on the future of Perpignan:

We Have to Save Perpignan and Soldier Leroy which I’ll perhaps comment on when I have more time and the system is working properly. At the moment I’m having some problems making posts.


My London Diary for July 2016

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Only a month late, July 2016 is now completed on My London Diary, and I’m beginning to think about starting August. I’m feeling just a little challenged at the moment about days and dates, realising just after I’d sealed the envelope yesterday that I had just signed several prints and documents and dated them 1/9/2016 that it was actually only the 31st August.

I decided it didn’t really matter, though it perhaps might give the recipient an impression of a far more speedy postal service than we now actually enjoy. Long gone are the days when you could put a postcard in the post at lunchtime to say you were going to be late back for tea that same afternoon.

I started the month with Jeremy Corbyn in Islington, with a picture that attracted some interest on sartorial grounds, with some newspapers suggesting he had been splashing out on a designer jacket, though personally I thought it more likely to have come from an Islington charity shop. The event was against the post-Brexit vote race hate spike, and several other events in the month also reflected the referendum vote, and both this and the continuing attacks on the Labour leader made me and many others reflect on the nature of democracy in a country where the media is largely controlled by a handful of billionaires.

The end of the month was for me dominated by more personal concerns – the funeral of and old friend and my elder son’s 4oth birthday and wedding. I considered whether to include these in my public diary, and have done so because they are of interest to a rather wider circle than those family and friends with whom they have already been shared, but with only a small number of pictures and an invitation to those who want more to contact me personally.

The first picture below shows cleaners and supporters backing the strike by workers at 100 Wood St in the City of London on the 50th day of their strike. I was pleased around ten days later to hear that another protest planned had been called off because the action had been succesful. Obviously the determination of the workers and their union, the United Voices of the World was the major factor in this, but the very public actions like this one, shaming the companies concerned, are important. Protests and the media coverage they can get do work – if not every time.

July 2016

Cambridge, Raihanah & Sam
Solidarity with Rampal protesters

Reinstate the Wood St Two
Sam at 40
Townly’s Funeral

Stop Trident emergency protest
Peoples Assembly/Stand Up to Racism rally
EDL march and rally
Cleaners Flash Mob at CBRE London HQ
End Austerity, No to Racism, Tories Out!
Falun Dafa march against Chinese repression

Defend our NHS
Solidarity for Wood St cleaners
Trident Mad Hatters Tea Party
Disabled PIP Fightback blocks Westminster
NHS Bill protest at Parliament
PIP Fightback at Vauxhall
Harmondsworth Moor

Focus E15 Occupy Police Station

Brixton stands with Black victims
Green Park Brexit Picnic
Europe, Free Movement and Migrants
East End Sisters Uncut-Domestic Violence
Housing Protest at ‘Progress’ conference
Garden Bridge ‘Progress’ protest
End the Israeli siege of Gaza
Stand Up for PrEP!
Blair lied, Millions Died – Chilcot
NUT Strike Day March
Supporters Stand Up for Israel

Al Quds Day March
Arms dealers out of LT Museum
Jo Cox banner of love
16-17 Year olds demand the vote
Rally For Europe against Brexit
March For Europe against Brexit
Love Islington – NO to Hate Crime

London Images