Archive for January, 2017

Yet more May Day!

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

And then I changed my mind” was the sentence I left off my previous piece on May Day 2016 (and have now added). It was May Day, and though I was tired and hungry I knew that things were going to get interesting.

The party, F**k Parade 4, sound system at eleven and coloured smoke flaring, set off down Leman St, led by the Class War banner with a man wearing a pigs head and with me hurrying backwards in front.

After going under the railway bridge they turned left into Cable St and massed outside the Jack the Ripper premises, perhaps London’s sleaziest tourist attraction, where I’d previously photographed Class War and feminist groups at several protests and vigils. A line of police guarding its front looked quite worried as Class War brought their banner to stand in front of them, but soon the air was too full of red smoke to see much, and I was finding breathing unpleasant.

You need to be a little distance away from the smoke both to breathe well and to get good images. When you are actually in it things get difficult to see and the camera metering becomes unreliable. Fortunately the marchers soon moved off, and it became clear they were heading for Tower Bridge.

And I wasn’t disappointed as having blocked the bridge there were then more flares and also fire-breathing.

It’s technically pretty impossible to get good pictures when a huge cloud of fire explodes into the air, the extreme brightness of the flame compared with the ambient light is beyond the capabilities of film or sensor. And it certainly is more than the automatic exposure can do to get the best balance. Parts of the flame are white, burnt out where the light intensity has overexposed the sensor, with no detail that can be recovered in post-processing.

I think I should have taken the pictures here using manual exposure, but I actually made them using ‘P’ setting, as things were just happening too fast to think much about the technical stuff.  The camera – D700 – has underexposed by around a stop so far as the general scene is concerned, plus the 0.3 stops under I normally have set. Working around dusk at ISO 3200 this gave an exposure of 1/500th f11, enough to more or less stop action and give plenty of depth of field. Ideally I think I should have underexposed perhaps another stop or two, perhaps using the same aperture and speed but working at a lower ISO. This would have given me a little more highlight detail and made post-processing easier – considerable work was needed on these pictures.

I don’t think the metering really reacted much to the fire, as the exposure remained pretty much the same across a series of frames with different amounts of flame. In the second image you can see (at least on a larger image) the rain of drops of unburnt paraffin which was falling on me.

After the marchers left the bridge I followed them on to Tooley St before deciding the time had come when I could no longer ignore the messages of my body, and I left to go home. I was sorry to do so, as I guessed from previous conversations that they would be heading towards the long tunnel that takes Bermondsey St under the railway lines from London Bridge, where both the sound and the visual effect would be great.

F**k Parade 4: Ripper & Tower Bridge


Fuji blues – and greens

Monday, January 30th, 2017

I’ve been using Fuji-X cameras for some years when I want something a little lighter and more compact than the Nikon DSLRs. They are usually the cameras I turn to when I’m not photographing events and don’t need the file size of the D810. The cameras I take on holiday.

But though I like some things about them, and have got some decent results, I also have some reservations. They are just too complicated and the controls and menu system lacks the simple and logical pattern of the Nikons. And there are too many ways in which they are just not so responsive and so reliable.

I can leave a Nikon switched on all day, safe knowing that the battery won’t run down and the camera will respond at the slightest touch of the shutter release. With all the Fujis, even if you switch off the rear screen and digital viewfinder, and don’t make any exposures, the battery still runs down. It’s kind of the worst of both worlds in that it Fuji cameras have an auto switch off that you can set, which does switch the battery off after the set time, but fails to stop the battery running down. When you want to take the next picture, even if the battery is still in juice, you have to wait a second or two while the camera starts up – and while you miss the pictures.

With the first Fuji I bought, the fixed lens X100,  things sometimes got even worse and the camera refused to switch on, either until you took the battery out and back again or pressed the shutter for ages, turned around three times widdershins and said the magic word. At least later models more or less fixed that, but still too often meant that when you pressed the release nothing at all happened.

Then there is the colour. Most digital cameras I think have problems with intense reds, losing the highlights, but Fuji has its problems with greens as well – unless you like your grass super-emerald rather than au naturel. And my XT1 has another problem – which needs extra work on the raw files – in that some Fuji lenses give results that are far too magenta, typically needed a correction of perhaps -35M in Lightroom. It doesn’t seem to be something that every XT1 suffers from, though I have found fellow sufferers, and possibly it could be solved by sending the camera back to Fuji for repair, but it only came to my notice after the guarantee period (when the camera went back to Fuji twice for other issues) was up when I bought another lens.

Then there are the mickey-mouse modes. I’d like to ignore them, but the combined ISO and mode knobs on the XT-1 are tricky to use, and changing ISO all to often puts you into what Fuji laughably call the Advanced Filter mode. The two dials are supposed to move independently – and sometimes they do, but other times both turn together. The resulting images are not nice. Jpegs rather than RAW and with impossible to correct contrast or colour or both. You can’t convert from ‘Dynamic Color’ or any of the others back to sensible colour, though you can just about get a half decent black and white.

It’s a shame because all of the Fuji cameras I’ve bought – X-Pro1, X-E1 as well as those already mentioned  have been almost there. Delightful in many ways, which is perhaps why I’ve several time bought another, but…. I’m even hoping that Fuji have at last got it right in the X-T20, and mug that I am, I’ll probably buy it.

And then there are those X-Trans sensors. It seemed a good idea to get away from the Bayer pattern, but I’ve never been convinced that they really improve things, though Lightroom at least seems now to have learnt how to get usable results after a really shaky start. But if  you still feel they are definitely an improvement (and Fuji cameras seem to have a unique facility to produce fanboys) you should read an article by Jonathan Moore Liles, which I first saw in PetaPixel, but is a little better read on medium com, where the pictures are larger.

Its an article which I think more or less destroys the claims of superiority of the X-trans sensor, which can perhaps at worst be seen as a marketing gimmick and at best simply a different balance between colour and luminance, and one which has some unfortunate side effects. In practical terms these are seldom if ever particularly important, and are often mitigated or eliminated by suitable corrective processing which I tend to apply fairly routinely in Lightroom. There is a tendency in portraits – whether on Nikon or Fuji – for faces to look a little flat that a little brushing with a positive value of ‘Clarity’ can improve, and the whites of the eyes (sclera to use the technical term preferred by Liles) usually benefit from a little more brightness and contrast which I think reduces the colour bleed into them.

Then there is the question of the Raw processing software preferred by Liles:

The RAW file was processed using Darktable’s Markesteijn demosaicking algorithm (3-pass mode) with a single iteration 9×9 chroma median filter followed by application of a bilateral filter on the chroma channel and light sharpening. The color profile is my own, generated from shots of a Wolf Faust IT8 chart and should accurately represent the colors in front of the camera.

Most of us just rely on Lightroom, though Fuji purists stick with the free Silkypix converter that Fuji provides, insisting on its superiority. Like me, unless you are a Linux user you have probably never heard of darktable, but Googling takes me to the site which tells me “darktable is an open source photography workflow application and raw developer. “  There is a MacOS version but not one for Windows, though I wouldn’t be rushing to try it out if there was, and there is a page about its X-Trans support which gives you some idea about that Markesteijn thingy, but includes the statement  “Though darktable now can read and process X-Trans files, there are plenty of opportunities to improve camera support. In particular, as mentioned in “What’s involved with adding support for new cameras“, each camera model could benefit from its own basecurve, white balance presets, lens correction, and noise profile.”

Although I have nothing against open-source software – and there are several programs I use or have used (including before Lightroom got better another RAW converter) – I think the use of it here is a serious weakness in the argument. First it entirely locates the article in the high geek rather than photographic sphere, and secondly it raises doubts about whether this particular software is as effective as that recommended by the manufacturer (and privy to their unreleased data), or to the commercial software such as Lightroom (and Adobe have enjoyed some cooperation from Fuji) and Phase One.

Of course, the debates about X-Trans and Bayer are marginal. Both can produce decent images and the differences between the two will seldom be apparent or important. Photography really isn’t about the minutiae of technical differences, but about what your images speak.

More May Day

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

May Day partying outside the ‘Rich Door’ at One Commercial St – F**k Parade 4

I left while the talking was still going on in Trafalgar Square and the audience was getting thinner and thinner to make my way to the East End. The first event there was a May Day Rally & Gonosangeet organised by the Bangladeshi Workers Council together with Red London, trade unionists, labour movement, political and community activists. I had to leave early while the speeches were still taking place, but I understand there was to be music later.

They did have a rather nice banner, and among the speeches was an interesting historical one by East End activist and historian David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group, and I think there was to be music later.

But a rather more active event was due to start, with F**k Parade 4, the fourth in a series of anti-capitalist street parties organised by anarchists in East London returning to its origin at One Commercial St, the venue for over 30 protests by Class War against social apartheid in housing, and where last year’s May Day event was the first of this series of roving music and dancing protests.

I met up with a few of them sitting outside a nearby pub, wiaing for the cycle-hauled sound system to arrive, and then walked down with them to ‘Poor Doors’, where the party was already starting to become lively.

Everyone was in party mood, and even the large number of police who were standing around seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Soon the party-goers decided to move off, and with a few smoke flares and lost of red flags the went south.

But I’d been on my feet and taking pictures for too long, and decided it was time to go home. There were plenty of other photographers on hand to take pictures. But then I changed my mind….


May Day

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Media present in force this year as Jeremy Corbyn was speaking at Clerkenwell Green

One of quite a few things that I’ve long held against the Labour Party (despite voting for them in many elections) is their failure when in power to make May Day a public holiday. Instead we have an ‘Early May bank holiday’, which in 2017 will happen to be on May 1st. In 2016 it was on a Sunday, so at least most workers could celebrate it, though the great majority probably followed their usual Sunday routines, more likely to involve collapsing on a sofa with the Sunday papers than going on a political march.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady speaking

The May Day tradition as International Workers’ Day, according to Wikipedia dates from a Second International resolution of 1891 and was strengthened in 1904 by a resolution calling for energetic demonstrations for the eight hour day, class demands and universal peace, with workers stopping work wherever it was possible without injury to them. Unfortunately when I was still in full-time paid employment, work continued except on those days when May Day fell at a weekend. According to the organisers of the London march, it has been celebrated in London since the 1880s.

Daymer Turkish and Kurdish Community Assocation

May Day in London, though supported by the trade unions, has been largely kept alive by organisations of immigrant workers, particularly from London’s Turkish and Kurdish communities along more recently with the more sporadic activities of various anti-capitalist groups.

If I could be bothered I would try to correct the Wikipedia article which states “May Day activities (from 1978) are on the first Monday of the month.” In general nothing much happens then – and the May Day events in London that it mentions took place on 1 May 2000 – which happened to be a Monday so was also a bank holiday, and I was there when the windows were smashed at McDonald’s, leaving as I saw the riot police rushing in. Now I would stay to take more pictures, but then for various reasons I was less willing to take risks and left as I saw the glass being broken and riot police rushing in.

The march from Clerkenwell Green, organised by the London May Day Organising Committee, is officially supported by a wide range of organisations – listed in 2010 as :

GLATUC, S&ERTUC, UNITE London & Eastern Region, CWU London Region, PCS London & South East Region, ASLEF, RMT, MU London, FBU London & Southern Regions, GMB London & Southern Regions, UNISON Greater London Region, Globalise Resistance, Pensioners organisations and organisations representing Turkish, Kurdish, Chilean, Colombian, Peruvian, West Indian, Sri Lankan, Cypriot, Tamil, Iraqi, Iranian, Irish and Nigerian migrant workers & communities, plus many other trade union & community organisations.

More people climb on to the plinth with their banners. They think the steward is unhinged and unfraternal and tell him so in several languages

The arrival of the march in Trafalgar Square led to a fight between stewards, photographers and the more militant marchers to try and keep the plinth around Nelson’s column clear. I wasn’t happy about being told I couldn’t photograph from there and by the total lack of fraternal solidarity shown by the stewards to their fellow trade unionists trying to do their job.

The march is followed by a rally in Trafalgar Square, which those various trade union organisations seem determined to keep as dull as possible. Most of the community groups soon drift away, and are followed by most trade unionists who are feeling thirsty after the march.

Fortunately the start of the event was enlivened a little by members of various communities taking little notice of the stewards, and in particular by the arrival of Ahwazi protesters who set off a number of smoke flares, as had some of the Turkish protesters when they entered the square.

Many more pictures and some text at:

May Day at Clerkenwell Green
May Day March
May Day Rally
Ahwazi Protest at May Day Rally


Grove Hardy

Friday, January 27th, 2017

I’ve just come across an article about what used to be one of the leading professional darkrooms in London, and one where one of my friends, the late Townly Cooke, once worked as a printer. One of the more interesting exhibition visits I made was to a Magnum show, I think on the South Bank, some years ago with Townly, where he talked about some of the images which he had worked with, although I think the prints in the show were not up to his and Grove-Hardy’s standards.

Grove Hardy ~ Requiem for a Lab is on the unattributed Darkside blog – I’m unsure whether the author wishes to remain anonymous or has simply forgotten to add his name, so I won’t name him either. After Bert Hardy, who had set up the lab with printer Gerry Grove in the 50’s, died in 1995, his wife Sheila continued to run it, renaming it ‘The Bert Hardy Darkroom’, and it finally closed in 2007 after the retirement of the last remaining printer – there simply was not enough work to keep it running.

The darkroom perhaps doesn’t live up to what many might expect of a professional darkroom, and certainly not like some of those that have appeared in books which have looked at photographers and their darkrooms, though it is in most respects a little more well equipped than my own black hole. But its enlargers are a little more primitive than mine, and unable to make sensible use of Multigrade papers, so all its prints were to the end made on graded papers. The writer comments that by “the 2000’s Grove Hardy were probably the only lab in London still using graded paper, and Ilford were making it primarily for them and a handful of other labs worldwide.”

The darkroom was just off the Blackfriars Rd in Southwark, a short walk from where Bert Hardy grew up, and close to another site many photographers knew well some years ago, the Valentine Place premises where Martin Reed set up photographic suppliers Silverprint. Reed sold the company a few years ago, and Silverprint has now moved out of London, but still supplies hard to find photographic materials (like film and silver-based papers) and equipment at new address in Poole, Dorset or by mail order.

Hull Photos: 19/1/17-25/1/17

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

19 January 2017

Although Hull’s fishing industry had been reduced greatly with the cod wars, in the 1990s Hull remained an important fish marketing centre with two thirds of UK imports of fresh Icelandic fish being handled by the daily fish auction at Albert Dock. In the mid-1990s the Hull Fish Merchants Protection Association stated that “over half the capacity of the UK (fish) processing industry is sited on the banks of the Humber Estuary. Over 80% of all imported supplies of fish comes into the Humber ports.” In 2011 the Hull Daily Mail reported the end of fish auctions in Hull as main Icelandic supplier Atlantic Fresh Ltd switched to Grimsby.

28h24: McGrath Bros, Fish Curers, St Mark’s Sq, St James Street, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

20 January 2017

This was taken between two frames, one showing a view south on Alfred St around a hundred yards south of its junction with English St and the next a development site on the north-east corner of the Alfred St / English St crossroads. The sun was coming from the southwest, so this building was facing roughly south. But I m not sure of the exact location.

It is quite a distinctive building with its four storey tower, and doubtless some people in Hull will recognise it, but this is the first time I have shown this picture. The parked cars and lorry at right suggest the site was still in use. I’m not sure why I took the image slightly tilted, but it must have been intentional, perhaps intended to add to the feeling of dereliction and I haven’t corrected it.

28h32: Derelict building, Alfred St or English St, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

21 January 2017

A site on the the north-east corner of the Alfred St / English St crossroads, cleared for the building of Alexandra House, offices for Hull Building firm Robinson & Sawdon (now occupied by The Water Hydraulics Co.)

The buildings behind are around At Mark’s Square and include the distinctive chimneys of McGrath Bros’ fish smoke house, and further distant, council flats on Porter St, across Hessle Rd.

28h32: Building site, Alfred St / English St, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

22 January 2017

Local fresh fish merchant Wood’s Fish Supply was one of many companies buying fish from the Hull Fish Market. The wall is still there, though with a small window in its impressive mass and the site is occupied by UK Auto Service. The wall is almost ten feet taller than the building behind it and is a couple of feet thick – though perhaps hollow.

A comment on Facebook suggests it may have been built this thick to support large steel beams spanning a large hall behind – but the only rational explanation for its excessive height seems to be that the building was expected to have another floor. The premises were also home to a second wholesale fish company, Moody & D’Arcy Ltd, whose name is on the board at the right of picture. This company, formed in 1948, was dissolved in 2002.

28h35: Wood’s Fish Supply, 54 Alfred St, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

23 January 2017

The Top Deck Snack Bar, now renamed the Top Deck Cafe is still there at 140 or 142 English St, on the north side between ALfred St and Ropery St, looking overall very similar now to 1981, with the addition of metal blinds over the door and ground floor window, the replacement of the door and its 1930s style glazed windows and different signage. It looks rather more open and welcoming now, whereas before it had the air of a place where only regulars would venture. The side wall now has its brickwork exposed and has lost the sign for ‘Suggit’ – (H V Suggit, Poultry Packers and Frozen Foods) – and also lower down the rather crudely painted logo for HVS only part visible in this frame.) But without the snack bar sign, a house with a chimney, I would almost certainly not have stopped to take the picture.

Suggit’s site is now a car repair business, the Engine and Gearbox Centre.

28h44: Top Deck Snack Bar, English St, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

24 January 2017

This is the image that we chose for the poster of my 1983 show at the Ferens Art Gallery, ‘Still Occupied – A view of Hull‘ though I’m not entirely sure why. Certainly it was a more ‘arty’ image than many in the show, playing a little with formal qualities, rhythm, punctuation and texture, and I wanted an image that was clearly ‘vernacular’ and not pictureque, classical rather than romantic.

The scene is still readily identifiable on Street View. The window at left is in the Top Deck Snack Bar featured in yesterday’s image and there is still a wooden pole (though probably a replacement) in the same place on the pavement. Most of the next section of wall has gone, replaced by a wider blue painted metal gate, and those two window recesses I carefully placed on either side of the post have been filled in, their positions still marked by a groove or crack around them. The roof has been renewed and its front replaced; Google, not always reliable in such things, tells me this is the Tom Thumb Industrial Estate. The next section of buildings has also had its frontage rebuilt, but the final group of three window recesses remains.

Street View doesn’t let me manoeuvre myself into quite the position I stood in the road to produce this image, and certainly doesn’t let me reproduce the glancing lighting that produced the textures and shadows from 1981, and the tension and atmosphere I felt then have disappeared completely.

28h46: English St, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

25 January 2017

Hessle Rd Public Wash House was opened in 1885, though rebuilt and added to at later dates. It was part of a public baths complex between Madeley St and Daltry Street, where Clive Sullivan Way now turns off from Hessle Rd. As well as swimming baths and slipper baths there were laundry facilities and I photographed the notice on the outside of the Public Wash House, by then closed and boarded up.

28h52: Hessle Rd Public Wash House, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

You can see the new pictures added each day at Hull Photos, and I post them with the short comments above on Facebook.
Comments and corrections to captions are welcome here or on Facebook.

Frank Herzog & Early Colour

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

I don’t often mention Amateur Photographer here, though it’s a magazine that I used to read many years ago as a schoolboy – well before I started taking pictures – probably mainly attracted by pictures of scantily-clad women which occasionally appeared in its pages, or even those carefully posed nudes with strategically placed accessories or gauzy fabrics that amateur photographers were wont to produce in the 1950s and 60s (and they still dominated many club contests when I was on the edge of that world in the 1970s.)

Later, before the web, it became the magazine to go to in the UK when you were searching for cheap materials or equipment, or wanting to sell cameras, with pages of secondhand listings and adverts from Marston & Heard and others, as well as the first camera discounters. There seemed to be several times the pages of adverts as editorials, and much of the editorial was hardly worth reading. Compared to the US magazines such as Modern Photography and Popular Photography, their reviews were decidedly amateur. AP’s idea of a lens test was to open a window, take a few snaps of a ship at anchor on the opposite bank of the Thames and blow up the results.

There were the occasional articles that were worth reading. Once in a while there would be an interesting historical article or series by one or other of the few British photo-historians, or perhaps an extended review of a new book or exhibition which enabled the magazine to print some pictures without having to pay reproduction fees.

I even wrote a few articles for the mag, illustrated by my own photographs, including one with some of the Hull pictures I’m currently putting on my Hull Photos site, as well as several, intended to be amusing, on the outings and exhibitions of a small and atypical group of club photographers that got me more or less thrown out of the camera club, whose august members became aghast and I was summoned to appear before the committee. Some people had no sense of humour.

I’ve not looked at a print copy of the magazine (you can also subscribe to a digital version) since my local library stopped having magazines in some earlier round of cuts, but I do occasionally glance at its news feed online, and sometimes find something of interest. And a couple of days ago my attention was caught by a review of a book, Modern Color by Fred Herzog, written by Oliver Atwell, illustrated by several of Herzog’s pictures. The book was published last year by Hatje Cantz in Berlin.

I wrote about Herzog back in 2013, having seen some of his work in a lazy show at Somerset House, in which his work had stood out, along with some pictures by other photographers whose work I knew well, and I’ve seen more since. You can view many of his images online at the Equinox Gallery which brought his work to a wider audience with two shows in 2007. Before then he had previously had one-person shows also in Vancouver in 1994 and 1972 and had work in a few group exhibitions.

Herzog, who worked as a medical photographer at the University of Columbia and also as a Fine Arts Instructor, apparently took to working with colour because he didn’t have the time to make black and white prints, though his work suggests that he had a strong feeling for colour. It wasn’t unusual for photographers to work in colour at the time he started back around 1960 – and I took my first colour film – before I was a photographer – a year or two later. It’s the quality and intention of his work that were different, at a time when colour photography was largely the province of commercial photographers and amateurs like myself photographing their holidays or their girlfriends sitting in cherry blossom as I did.

Herzog chose to use Kodachrome, an excellent choice in terms of longevity, and a film with an attractive and distinctive pallette, if not the most accurate colour. It was also a film with high contrast, rather restricting the subject matter and lighting if you wanted to avoid large areas of empty shadow. Over many years of working he produced an extensive archive and you can look through 162 of the 100,000 or so at Equinox. They were taken from around 1958 to 2009, but it is work from the first 10 or 15 years that I find more appealing.

When I began working as a photographer in colour, Kodachrome was a rather expensive option, and I generally used less expensive alternatives, either process paid, or films which I could buy in bulk and process myself in E4 (later E6) chemicals. To cut costs I kept away from expensive Kodak chemicals too, making use of alternative and cheaper brews. Usually these produced good results, but keeping the solutions at the correct temperature and accurate timing was difficult.

Although producing transparencies was in some respects an easy option, it created a problem if prints were needed for exhibition. There were reversal papers available – and I used an Agfa version for the colour prints in my show German Indications – they were fiddly and it was hard to get good prints. More expensive were colour prints made from inter-negatives, which could be good, especially when paying for professionally made 4×5″ negatives from 35mm, and For those on very large budgets it was possible to get excellent dye transfer prints, but a single print would have cost around half my monthly salary.

Things changed a little with the introduction of Cibachrome-A by Ilford in 1975, making it possible to produce prints from slides in amateur darkrooms. The prints were brighter and bolder than those produced on conventional colour papers, and more long-lasting, but it was difficult to tame the contrast. Good for many commercial uses, Cibachromes were death to more sensitive images.

The chemicals used for the Cibachome dye bleach process were also pretty nostril-searing and disposal required some care. They were never very suitable for those of us with small and not too well-ventilated darkrooms, probably shortening the lives of many of us.

I abandoned colour transparency and moved to colour negative film for my own work in 1985, either processing the film myself or using cheap amateur film processing services, which also provided enprints as proofs. The change for me made sense because of new and better colour negative films and paper from Fuji becoming available. Until I moved over to digital almost of my colour work was made on Fuji materials, though I did try out some of the newer Kodak films that emerged after Fuji had disturbed their complacency.

But the advent of high quality negative scanners and archival inkjet printing have opened up new possibilities for all of use, and particularly those who worked with transparencies, giving a degree of control over contrast and colour that was simply impossible in the past. And it meant a new lease of life for Herzog’s Kodachromes.

Anthony Hernandez

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

It was now over 35 years ago that I first became aware of the work of Anthony Hernandez. I’d become interested in the work of the ‘New Topographics’ which in some respects seemed similar to my own urban landscape work at the time, and booked to go on a workshop with Lewis Balz, whose work in his New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California had greatly impressed me. So much that I wasted much time in making similar pictures rather than following my own ideas.

I didn’t entirely see eye to eye with Balz at that workshop at Paul Hill’s ‘The Photographer’s Place‘ in Derbyshire. I wasn’t impressed by him as a workshop leader, having experienced some of the best with Ray Moore and rather felt Baltz was too much plugging his own work and worth rather than in any way looking at the work we students had brought and trying to give us new ideas and motivation. As a teacher myself I didn’t much go for his teacher knows best attitude and a certain unresponsiveness.

I didn’t endear myself to him either, not just because I asked difficult questions (something every teacher should welcome) but because I wasn’t afraid to express my opinions on his work. Although I appreciated the fine grain and resolution he got from the films he used, I felt there were problems with the tonality in using films that were not designed for pictorial use and expressed my misgivings. It was actually an experience that led me to years of frustration and occasional joy in trying to tame Kodak’s Technical Pan film, “a black-and-white panchromatic negative film with extended red sensitivity” on an Estar baseintended for Microfilm use which Kodak stopped producing in 2004, though some sites continued to offer it for a while. Eventually they gave up telling photographers it wasn’t intended for pictorial use and brought out their own developer, Technidol, which did a decent job in restraining its contrast without reducing the ASA speed to single figures.

Kodak had actually stopped producing the film several years previously as the materials needed were no longer available but had found a large stock in their deep freeze so they could continue to sell it for a while. They also revealed that the film had been designed and produced for military purposes, its extended red sensitivity presumably designed to be particularly revealing in some aerial reconnaissance work.

Balz and I had a particularly testy exchange when the proofs of his new book ‘Park City‘ arrived and he showed them to us, along with some of his original prints. It was perhaps unwise for me to point out that the book proofs actually handled the highlights rather better than his silver gelatine prints!

But the most interesting aspect of the workshop was the work by other photographers who I had not perviously been aware of, including Chauncey Hare who I wrote briefly about a few days ago and Antony Hernandez. I can’t remember exactly which images Balz showed, but the work was probably from his pictures of Los Angeles (may present a problem with some modern browsers as the site requires flash.) Certainly the images were black and white.

Hernandez recently had a show at SFMoma, apparently the first retrospective of his 45 year career. You can see more about it at American Suburb X, Los Angeles Plays Itself: Anthony Hernandez at SFMOMA.

Cyclists Die

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

As I’ve mentioned here before I’m a cyclist, though not a very active one at the moment, just jumping on a bike to go down our local shops or post a letter etc, and the very occasional longer ride. When I taught at a local college, I cycled to work and back every day, perhaps around five miles in all, except on half a dozen days in many years when thick snow halted traffic and I made it in on foot – to find none of the students had made it. Cycling was a little exercise that helped keep me healthy, but also the fastest, most reliable and certainly the cheapest way to get there.

In the suburbs where I live, the main danger for cyclists is fast-moving traffic, and drivers who fail to see cyclists. There are also those drivers who believe that cyclists have no place on the roads – and recently the UK’s Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has suggested cyclists are not road users, just a few weeks after he knocked one off his bike opening his car door.

Central London’s slower moving traffic can actually make cycling there safer, and the danger in London is mainly from lorries and other large vehicles with restricted views turning left over cyclists. But there is another hidden danger which kills many cyclists and pedestrians – air pollution from traffic fumes.

Research by scientists at Kings College for the Greater London Authority and Transport for London published in 2015 established that 9,5000 people per year die early in London due to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5s). Over 60% of these were attributed to NO2, and Oxford Street has the worst NO2 levels in the world, mainly because of diesel vehicles, particularly the large number of buses. But all internal combustion engines – diesel or petrol – produce NO2.

It isn’t just deaths. Many of those who die early have suffered for years from lung diseases, heart problems, cancers, asthma, emphysema and lung infections. And along with Birmingham and Leeds, NO2 levels in London have been well above EU safety limits for more than 5 years.

Cyclists are particularly effected by air quality because they are more active than the average street user and closer to vehicle exhausts. So Stop Killing Cyclists called a die-in outside the Department of Transport to demand the government take urgent actions to address the problem, with 8 demands which I list at Stop Air Pollution Killing Cyclists.

Sian Berry

The protest took place ahead of the London Mayoral elections, and all of the candidates were London asked to respond to this list of demands, and their answers were commented on at the event. Those from the two main candidates, Sadiq Khan, who became Mayor and Zac Goldsmith were disappointing. Despite his claims to be an environmentalist, Goldsmith showed an almost complete lack of concern, and Khan was little better. One candidate – Sian Berry for the Green Party – both accepted the full list and came to take part in the protest, though we all knew she sadly had little chance of winning the election.

Donnachadh McCarthy, Co-founder Stop Killing Cyclists, taking part in the die-in

The publication of the report has so far led to a few minor changes or promises of future change. Two bus routes have become zero-emission, and others are to follow, and the High Court in November ruled that the government really had to take some effective measures over diesel vehicles – and revealed that the Treasury had previously prevented them doing so.  Mayor Sadiq Khan has stated the intention to bring in pollution charging this year and to bring forward establishing the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to 2019.

Environmental campaigner John Stewart, best known for his campaigning against Heathrow expansion

But at the same time, the government has announced its intention to back a new runway at Heathrow, which will seriously increase pollution in London, both from aircraft and from the extra traffic the runway will generate.  There is simply no way that pollution targets can be met if Heathrow is allowed to expand.

As usual, to capture overall images of the die-in the 16mm full-frame fisheye was useful, though the image at the tops of the post was made with the rectilinear 16-35mm lens.

Stop Air Pollution Killing Cyclists.


Laughlin’s Third World

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

One of the books I’ve had on my shelves for a very long time – since soon after it was published in 1973 – is is ‘Clarence John Laughlin: The Personal Eye‘, a catalogue for the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition and a double issue of Aperture, Volume 17, Numbers 3 & 4, also published ‘as a book for general distribution’.

I don’t think its distribution in the UK would have been very wide, but like many US photographic publications of the time it would have been available at the Creative Camera bookshop in Doughty St and doubtless advertised in the magazine.

For those without a copy on their bookshelves, you can get a good idea of Lauglin’s thinking from ‘First Principles of the Third World of Photography – THE WORLD BEYOND DOCUMENTATION AND PURISM ONE – TEXT AND IMAGES BY CLARENCE JOHN LAUGHLIN’ on Carnival of Dogs. His 12 point manifesto there begins “In Photography, as in all arts, the quality of the human imagination is the only thing that counts – technique, and technical proficiency, mean nothing in themselves” and ends “The limitations of photography are nothing more than the limitations of photographers themselves.”

Much of Laughlin’s work is now in the Historic New Orleans Collection, where you can view and zoom into many of his pictures, so many indeed that it is hard to know where to start. But it is worth paging through the many pages of thumbnails and picking some to look at.

Although in the end I learnt that my own creative interests were in purism and documentation, in my early years in photography work such as Laughlin’s made a strong impression on me, and I’m rather surprised that although I wrote about him and other photographers who might be considered to follow in his footsteps such as Arthur Tress in another place, this is the first time in several thousand posts I appear to have mentioned him here.

Laughlin’s work was brought to my mind by two posts Clarence John Laughlin: In Memoriam on Photocritic International by A D Coleman, who wrote about Laughlin in his 1977 critical survey The Grotesque in Photography.

The first piece takes its sub-title Prophet without Honor from the subtitle of the Laughlin biography, Clarence John Laughlin: Prophet without Honor by A. J. Meek, professor emeritus of art at Louisiana State University (University Press of Mississippi, 2007), and one of two stories in it recounts Coleman’s meeting with Laughlin around 1975 when the photographer showed his of work to collector Sam Wagstaff. He set out a strict set of conditions about what he expected anyone who bought his pictures must do – and after looking through the work, Wagstaff rejected the idea that a photographer should have any rights over their pictures after they had been sold.

Over the ages, artists have almost always had an uneasy relationship with those who have provided them with a living, but it is only in relatively recent times that photography has succumbed so entirely to patronage by individuals and corporations. Most of the early photographers were themselves wealthy and others have maintained some sort of independence based on various commercial practices and around the reproducibility of the medium.

The second piece, subtitled Lament for the Walking Wounded, is an article published by Coleman in his “Light Readings” column in the December 1977 issue of the magazine Camera 35, together with a postscript.

Published at the time without names, it recounted the speech by Hilton Kramer, then chief art critic for The New York Times, at a New York City national meeting of the Society for Photographic Education, in which Kramer held Laughlin up to ridicule not for his photography, but making tasteless jokes about his eccentric nature. Coleman himself felt ashamed after the event at having joined in the whole-heated laughter at a man he describes as on of “the walking wounded of photography” who have suffered from their dedication to the medium and “never got their due and are beginning to realize that they may never get it.”

Though relating events now around 40 years in the past, these are stories which are still relevant, perhaps even more relevant, today.