Archive for October, 2016

Kurds on the march

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

I wasn’t well for around ten days in February, though my illness wasn’t entirely incapacitating. I’ve never suffered from vertigo before and it was a little scary. Suddenly finding the world spinning around you can be rather disconcerting, and at times it did literally throw me off my feet, collapsing against a wall or onto a bed.  It came, lasted a few seconds and then things came to rest again, leaving me feeling a little vague and disorientated for a few minutes or hours, and wondering when the next attack would happen.

I’ve often suffer mild disorientations, this was something very different. Different also to the acrophobia which increasingly makes it difficult to climb onto walls or fences to take photographs from any elevated position.

Of course there were some things that could be gauranteed to bring on an incident. I’ve long been very careful getting out of bed – the only time I’d ever had any such problems in the past – and began to roll out very much more cautiously, and I had to stop reaching down to pick up anything from the floor, instead bending my nees to crouch to reach them. But otherwise, although the attacks were not frequent, they could come on at any time without warning. One of the most severe and worrying was when I was lying in a warm bath.

I had to cancel a number of events that were in my diary, but the day the vertigo had started when I got out of bed and staggered around the room before falling back on the bed where the room slowly stopped spinning I wasn’t feeling bad by lunchtime and decided to make the  journey to Edmonton where Kurds were marching against Turkish State attacks.

I arrived on the corner where they were meeting up a few minutes early to find only a handful of people there, and decided to go for  short walk, and perhaps take a few pictures of the area. I didn’t recognise any of the people and weren’t sure if they had come for the march or were just hanging around.  As it happened I didn’t find anything I wanted to photograph, and by the time I returned a few more were beginning to arrive, and I went across to join them.

I’ve often photographed protests by Kurds in London, and although there are few that I know by name, there are some I recognise and rather more who know me. This makes it rather easier to go up to a group of people and start taking pictures, though I still often find it rather difficult, paritcularly when everyone is speaking a language I don’t understand.

But people are generally friendly, and seem to appreciate me taking an interest in their causes, and a few commented on having seen my pictures from previous events on-line and thanked me. It helps when otherwise I might be wondering what I’m doing standing on a windy cold corner late on a Sunday afternoon.

I felt a little dizzy and went to hold some railings and shut my eyes and soon felt better. Thew marchers were getting more organised, lining up with banners and it was now quite crowded, and soon the march was on its way.

I was feeling OK, and a little way down the road felt well enough to climb up onto a small wall and, with one arm on a convenient tree to keep my balance and stop myself getting the shakes, managed to take a few pictures from a higher viewpoint.

It was by now close to sunset (though we hadn’t seen a great deal of the sun) and I was now working at ISO3200, and the light was dropping fast. I stayed with the march for a another quarter a mile or so, and then gave up just past White Hart Lane, knowing that this was a convenient place from which to travel home.

The marchers were going on further, another 2km to Tottenham Green where there would have been a rally with speeches, though probably mainly in Kurdish which I would not have understood. And probably it would have been in a rather dark area, maing photography difficult. But I was cold and tired.

I like photographing the Kurds, whose protests are generally colourful, with flags and banners, and who have a healthy disrespect for authority. It’s hard too not to sympathize with their struggle for autonomy both against the Turkish state and in Rojava in northern Syria, where they have set up revolutionary state on the principle “democratic confederalism”, a form of participatory democracy based upon local autonomy. Although the Kurds have provided one of the most effective forces fighting against Daesh (‘Islamic State’) its existence seems sadly now under threat from both Turkey and the Russian-backed Assad regime.

It was over a week before I felt up to going out with a camera again, and then only for a short walk over the local moor, and almost two weeks before I was finally completely fit and well.

Kurds protest Turkish State attacks


Juries and Prizes

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

Regular readers of this column will know that I don’t have a great deal of time for Photography Awards, competitions and juried shows. In particular those which are seem to be more about making money for the organisation that is running them – and there are quite a few of those around who regularly e-mail me about their contests.

I won’t name names, if only for legal reasons, but it is generally pretty obvious if you check the organisations web pages and look for the results of any previous contests which ones are entirely spurious. But I feel that even some otherwise reputable organisations sometimes look upon running a competition as a method of raising funds more than anything else.

Some contests are at least very close to fraudulent. It might be flattering to your ego to become the ‘XYZ Master Photographer of the Year’ but can be totally meaningless if the XYZ contest is one that nobody ever hears about and has absolutely no credibility in the photographic world. And if XYZ only publishes enough copies of their awards book to send out to the winners and holds a exhibition for a day in a hotel to which nobody is invited it won’t make a great dent in the $30 they got from each of the 5,000 photographers who sent in a picture.

Various organisations have often looked on competitions as a cheap way of getting images to use on their web sites and even in advertising. It’s always vital to read the rules, especially any small print about what rights you are giving away by entering.

The most common problem is ‘rights grabs’; if the rules allow more than the organisation running the contest to use the winning images in publicity in connection with the competition and exhibitions of work from it, then a warning bell should ring loudly. If, as in the first I found in a web search it says something like “All entries may be used for future marketing campaigns and activity by XXX and its partners” you can be clear there is something very wrong.

But most of the well-known awards and contests – even when they charge an entry fee – are actually at least in part about putting money into photography by actually giving it to the photographers, which is in principle a good thing, though sometimes they seem to give it to the wrong photographers.

I have occasionally in the past entered for some contests, and put work in for juried shows, and have had a little success, though nothing I’d ever feel worth putting on a CV.

I’ve even put work into one or two which required me to pay for entry, either because the amounts involved seemed reasonable or because they were offering something in return – like a catalogue or DVD even to those unlucky to be chosen. And I chose that word ‘unlucky’ deliberately, because often the judging process, or certainly the short-listing, for some is carried out in a way that precludes any real consideration of the work.

Lewis Bush in his Disphotic blog on visual culture a few days ago published a post
The Transparent Jury and the Opaque Prize, looking in particular at the Aperture Paris Photobook awards shortlist. The immediate object of his attention was the fact that one of the judges, David Campany, himself had a book in the five listed. After he wrote the piece Aperture did point out that Campany withdrew from the panel during the consideration of his work, but, as Bush writes:

A pre-existing jury from which one member briefly exempts themselves briefly might feel a lingering sense of loyalty to one of their own, or just as possible depending on the individual dynamics, a sense of antagonism. How can a jury knowingly judge something closely connected to one of their own and treat it in the same way as the work of a normal contributor?

Like Bush, I have no argument with Campany or with the work that was short-listed, though I think Aperture put him in an invidious and insupportable position.

Photoshelter published an interesting blog post that looked at a few contests and weighed up the pros and cons of entry, giving them a rating from A to D. For a slightly less favourable view you can read The Biggest Scam In Photography (and the comments to it) and Why You Should Avoid Paid-For Photography Competitions.


Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

I felt rather privileged three weeks ago to be able to be present at a protest outside the US Embassy ‘London Stands with Standing Rock’ and to both photograph and take part in the ceremony there, and listen to those present as well as to one of the activists from Standing Rock on a video link on Elliot Staircase’s mobile. In time, when the pictures are on My London Diary I’ll perhaps write more about this, but for the moment you can see some of them in a Facebook album (even if you don’t use Facebook.)

The protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline being routed under the Missouri River close to the land of the Standing Rock Sioux continues to grow, although still not getting the publicity it deserves in our news media.

A few days ago, the New York Times Lens blog published a story Opposing a Pipeline Near Sacred Sioux Sites, with a slide show of 19 images by 24-year-old freelance photographer from Minneapolis Annabelle Marcovici, who went to the protest site first in June, and has been back a number of times since, spending most of her time not taking pictures – as the Lens article quotes her:

“I talk to people. I help sort supplies. I’m another person in the community that’s formed at these camps, not just a passing observer.”

Along with the article on Lens by Evelyn Nieves there is also a slide show of 19 images by Marcovici which provide an intimate view of the protest camp.

But even better than the Lens article, which sets the scene well and gives some insight into the issues, is to read and see the images in the posts on Marcovici’s blog.


Magnum Exposed?

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

Much of what we know, or think we know, about Magnum and its photographers comes from the often fictional and sometimes contradictory accounts of its photographers, notably Robert Capa, one of the great story-tellers through his photography, in writing and apparently in person. Much of the rest is from ‘Magnum: 50 Years at the Front Line of History’ by Russell Miller, published in 1997, to which I’ve often turned, sometimes in vain, when writing. As A D Coleman calls it in the introduction to Guest Post 23: Robert Dannin on Magnum Photos (1), it is an ‘ “unauthorized” but highly sanitized account.’ But of course to get any detailed history of Magnum written was a major acheivement perhaps akin to walking through a minefield.

Coleman promises us that  “The Dannin Papers”, a series of articles by Dannin which begins with six instalments on his experiences at Magnum, will pull no punches and I’m sure will make interesting reading for those of us with an interest in photographic history. Dannin was head-hunted to be editorial director of Magnum in 1985 and resigned in late 1989, though continuing  freelance work with them for the following decade.

Dannin first made a guest post on Photocritic International in June this year with an article on the controversy over Steve McCurry’s use of Photoshop. Coleman commented at the time:

‘Dannin’s commentary raises more questions than it answers — about Magnum Photos and its members, about National Geographic, and about the picture-agency business and its relationship to periodicals, book publishers, and other licensees. So I invited him to fill in the blanks and expand further on these issues (basically taking him up on his “don’t ever get me started” dare). Dannin agreed, on condition that he first had to fulfill an outstanding editorial obligation. So we will begin that open-ended series in the fall.’

And this is the first of that series. So far it is more setting the scene than dishing the dirt, but it certainly whets my appetite for more.

August 2016 finished

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

It’s been something of a long haul to complete the My London Diary entries for August 2016 and put them on line. Partly because it includes the pictures, not from London, from my holiday in Shropshire – quite a lot of pictures, though they only merit one entry on the list below, Craven Arms. Which is misleading because most of them are not pictures of Craven Arms, but we were staying in a holiday let with friends a short walk outside this rather small town.

I’ve never been a fan of A. E. Housman and his ‘A Shropshire Lad‘ , which for me has always epitomised the worst in late Victorian and Edwardian taste, and I find ‘rose-lipt maidens‘ and ‘lightfoot lads‘ hard to swallow, too much of the Milton I hated when dragged through Lycidas and L’Allegro at school. And hard to forget also  the echo of him in Enoch Powell.

It was difficult to forget that this was Housman country, not least because some members of our group read out chunks of his work as we were sitting down to dinner each night. And it did at times seem that we were staying in a very different country to the one in which I normally live, one that in various ways was still locked in a mythical past.

There are two large groups of pictures, one from a remarkable survivor of that past, now part of English Heritage, the fortified manor house of Stokesay Castle. Pictures from inside the site are included simply for personal interest, and to encourage you to visit and are not available for any commercial use. Those from the outside are not the best available as the scaffolding around part of the site don’t improve its appearance.

The largest group is from a day spent walking around Ludlow, a town which Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described as “by any standard, one of the best loved, best preserved and most aesthetically pleasing towns in Britain”, though he described its Market Hall as ‘Ludlow’s bad luck’ with ‘nothing that could be said in favour of its fiery brick or useless Elizabethan detail’. Since it was demolished in 1986 I can’t really comment, though I couldn’t help feeling when looking at old photographs that it looked rather better than the market stalls that have replaced it.

Ludlow certainly has its interests and some charm, and aspects of it show us that medieval town planners did a better job than their modern counterparts, but at times I couldn’t stop myself thinking it was more pickled than preserved.  Though there are some fine examples, I did feel that quite a few buildings would have looked better not stripped back to their timber framing. And I came away thinking that it was a better place to visit than to live in.

An old pub with new Shropshire beer

Away from Ludlow we spent most time walking on the rolling hills (and lost in the woods) as well as visiting quite a few old churches, of which Shropshire has far more than its share, some of them impressive in their age and simplicity.

But my mind has often been on other things in the past month, and as usual I’ve been kept quite busy taking pictures – though it may be some time before these emerge in My London Diary.  You can see some of them more quickly – usually on the day they are taken or the morning after – on Facebook, and they are also available for commercial use on Alamy or Images Live too.

Aug 2016

Thames Path – Bermondsey
Human Rights for Refugees
End inhumane dog & cat meat trade
Falun Dafa protest Chinese Oppression
UberEats couriers strike for Living Wage
Close Australian Refugee Detention Camps
10 Years of Resistance to Phulbari
Unethical London Hotels Slammed
Craven Arms
Class War Stickers Croydon
South Hill Park

Tottenham remembers Mark Duggan

Hiroshima Day 71st Anniversary
Black Lives Matter London
Foil Vedanta at mining giant’s AGM

Vigil for murdered care home victims
Guantanamo solidarity with Chelsea Manning
Richmond Walk

London Images


Doctors and I mask up

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

There are some times where I perhaps err over the necessary boundary between being a protester and being a journalist covering a protest. You need to keep a certain distance so that you retain a certain objectivity, though of course your photographs are always subjective, from a particular personal point of view.

Perhaps by choosing to wear a surgical mask like the protesters while I was taking most of these pictures did overstep that line; certainly at many events I decline the badges and stickers that I’m offered which would show my support for the cause.

But of course I do support the junior doctors, and I support the NHS and am against its ongoing privatisation, of which the attempt by Jeremy Hunt to impose a new contract on them is part. I was born just before the NHS, grew up with its free orange and cod-liver oil, with regular visits to the clinic in pram and push-chair for health checkups, contributed to it through my National Insurance since I started work and, in the past thirteen years it has kept me going through treatment free at the point of need. Like most people in Britain I value it highly, even if we sometimes have our complaints.

But when you are surrounded by people in surgical masks, many with slogans written on them it would perhaps simply be polite to wear one yourself. Like putting on a rumal when covering Vaisakhi, or removing one’s shoes when entering a temple.

Of course I needed to take a picture showing Whitehall jam-packed with people wearing masks, but it was hard to do so and also make a satisfying composition.  Obviously a high viewpoint was needed for the overall picture, and I took a number of frames holding the camera up above my head. It would be a lot easier with cameras such as the Fuji X-T1 where you can fold out the rear screen and see what you are actually taking, than with the Nikon D700 that I used.

You can use ‘Live View’ to put an image on the rear screen, but it becomes invisible when the camera is at full reach above your head – all you can do is try hard to keep the camera level and pointing slightly down to avoid an excessive amount of sky.

I think I didn’t do too badly, centering the image around the woman in a fluoresecent yellow tabard, though I would have preferred not to have cut the inch or two from her hands at the bottom of the frame

And of course I took quite a few more moving in closer – some of which you can see at Junior Doctors Rally & March; I like the one above with its row of heads and the intense gaze of the woman in the foreground whose mask bears the message ‘#NHS YOURS’.

The light was fairly dim, and even at EI 1600, the exposure was only 1/250 f6.3. With the 28-200mm in DX mode on the D810, the equivalent focal length was 188mm – so I needed the 1/250s – and focussing on the woman’s eye closer to the middle of the picture her other eye is just about sharp, but her hair at right is slightly soft.

Though I try to avoid the cult of celebrity, I had to photograph Vivienne Westwood and Vanessa Redgrave who came to speak in support of the junior doctors. The photographs of them speaking were of course those most likely to be used by newspapers. Though the same papers seldom report what they say. The two are also in the background in my top picture of some of the real stars at the event, the National Health Singers.


Vibrant Images

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

I often find something of interest on the New York Times Lens blog, but the articles often leave me wanting more, with just a few images. But there are 19 pictures in the slide show which accompanies A Vibrant Life Amid the Ruins of Rio, and they help tell an interesting story about a community photographer Peter Bauza went to live with so he could photograph ‘them with dignity and show the reality of their daily lives. Not only the “pain, misery and needs but also joy and happiness and dreams”’.

And Lens does also link to the photographers own web site, where you can see more of ‘Copacabana Palace’ and several other projects, and read his own text about the project, which I found considerably more illumating than the Lens piece.

This project won Bauza the Visa d’or Feature award in perpignan last month, and it reminds us that there are rather more interesting things about Brazil than a few highly subsidised people playing games – and often rather silly ones at that – for the sake of national pride. Not that I’m against sport – I’m happy for anyone who enjoys it to play as I once did for the joy of it.