Archive for February, 2017

Walking Backwards

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

One of the skills that every photographer who covers protests has to master is walking backwards, or rather more importantly, taking photographs while walking backwards.

Back when I learnt photography – and when I taught it – there was a considerable emphasis on avoiding camera shake when taking pictures.

We learnt and taught to stand  still, feet a foot or eighteen inches apart to make a solid platform (of course if you could lean against a post or wall, kneel or lie prone it was even better.) The camera should be held firmly in both hands, the left cradled under the lens, the right holding the body firmly with the first finger resting gently on the shutter release. Elbows should press in against the side of your chest, and it was vital to hold your breath and squeeze rather than jab at the button.

Of course, even this was only second-best, and ideally photographs should be made with the camera on a truly solid and weighty tripod. Of course in part this was a hangover from the days of large cameras and slow emulsions. Back in the 1890s when people started to make pictures without a tripod, exposures were often well under the 1/30th which makes hand-holding relatively easy with standard lenses.

I still sometimes see photographers trying to work this way – and some even at protests, but I’ve come to hate tripods (except for those few very special projects for which they are essential) and many, if not the majority of my pictures are taken while I’m walking, and often when I’m walking backwards, though sometimes I walk in the same direction as the people I”m photographing and twist around to work at an angle over my shoulder. It works for me better over the left than the right shoulder.

Walking backwards when taking pictures does need a little practice, but if you match your speed precisely and keep in step with those you are photographing you can get surprisingly sharp results at shutter speeds slow enough to give an attractive blurring to the background.

Though more normally I play safe by using ISOs that were unthinkable in the past. With both the D810 and D750 I’m now using there seems to be very little advantage in working below around ISO800, and results at much higher ISOs are still usable. In general I set the D750 with the wide-angle lens to ISO640, and the D810 with the 28-200mm at ISO800 and ISO auto allowing it to rise to ISO6400.

Nearly all the wide-angle pictures are sharp, and those with the longer lens usually suffer from focus problems rather than those caused by camera or subject movement.

One slightly limiting human design specification is the lack of eyes in the back of the head, and when walking backwards it is essential to take the occaisonal glimpse behing to check for curbs, lamposts and other obstacles. Falling over backwards is something of an occupational hazard, and could be dangerous, though the worst I’ve suffered has been the odd bruise.

But the march I covered on the 8th May was a break from all this, as the marchers were marching backwards from Trafalgar Square down Whitehall, though in easy stages with several  stops for speeches on the way.   And they really weren’t very good at it, proceeding very slowly and cautiously.

This march in reverse gear was to highlight the governments back-tracking over clean energy, with insulation grants being dropped and clean energy programmes being crippled while they back technololgies such as fracking and burning biomass which contribute to climate change as well as proposing massively polluting and unnecessary road and runway projects.

The event had started with some speeches including one from a woman whose house had been flooded. It brought back memories for me of watching the water come up to my own house a year or so earlier – though fortunately in our case it had stopped an inch or so short.

One of the others who spoke was Kye Gbangbola, whose son Zane had died in those same floods in February 2014 and had been left part paralysed. Despite a lengthy inquest since then it still seems not entirely proven that this was the effect of carbon monoxide rather than deadly hydrogen cyanide released by flooding from landfill.

Later there were speeches from others as the march halted first at the Old War Office, where speakers included Dame Vivienne Westwood, and opposite Downing St, where Sheila Menon of Plane Stupid talked about the lack of any real need or public good of airport expansion and the catastrophic effect it would have on climate change, as well as the increased deaths through air pollution, and called for the huge subsidies that aviation enjoys to be removed.

Finally outside the Dept of Health there were speechs and street theatre, which again looked at the huge subsidies the governemnt gives to the oil industry while at the same time it is cutting green initiatives. The protest had been intended to end in Parliament Square, but time had run out, probably because non-photographers are so slow at walking backwards.

More pictures at Going Backwards on Climate Change

UVW at Barbican

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Saturday Evening, May 7th, I went to one of London’s best-known arts venues, the Barbican Centre, in the City of London and owned by the City, not to listen to a concert or view and exhibition, but for yet another protest in a long-running fight to get the prestige venue to treat its cleaners with proper respect and dignity and give them decent pay and conditions.

It wasn’t the first protest by cleaners that I’ve photographed there, and over the years the cleaners have made some progress, achieving, more or less, the London Living Wage through previous protests. But one of the problems with outsourcing of cleaning contracts (and other outsourcing) is that at the end of the contract period, new contracting companies come and put in lower bids – and the only way they can achieve these is by screwing the workers harder. Since the hourly rate is now more or less protected, that means increasing workloads, getting the cleaners to clean more and more, so they can cut hours and make staff redundant. And when Servest took over the contract that is exactly what they tried to do.

The Barbican managers try to claim they have no responsibility for the pay and working conditions of people Servest get to work to keep their centre running, a ridiculous and totally untenable position. And while Servest aren’t quite employing slave labour and whipping them to work harder it should be a condition of any contract that the Barbican make that workers are treated fairly and reasonably – and the Barbican should insist that this is so.

There are workers at the Barbican who are little different from slaves. Certainly under the previous contractor there had been workers on ‘Workfare’, under which those who had been unemployed for over three months were given the choice of working unpaid for companies or organisations or being “sanctioned” – losing their benefits. There are no whips involved, just the threat of destitution.

I’d got the message from the cleaners’ union , the United Voices of the World (UVW) that the cleaners, who had kept their protest secret except for trusted supporters from the Bakers Union, Class War, SOAS Unison, Unite Hotel workers branch and IWGB Couriers branch, would be meeting a short distance away and then walking together into the Barbican, hoping to rush past security.

When we met up it was still pretty light on the street, but I changed the D700 to ISO 2000 to be ready for going inside, and changed from my normal 16-35 f4 zoom to the one stop faster 20mm f2.8. As the group neared the entrance they broke into a run, and we all made it inside, except for a small group including the workers at the Barbican who stayed to protest outside the main entrance – going in could have resulted in disciplinary action – and Servest were already singling out union members for redundancies.

Inside the lighting was even lower than I remembered and I took the ISO up another stop to ISO 4000 on the D700, while relying on auto-ISO on the D810, where I had the 28.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 in place, as usual working in DX mode. The 18-105mm would have been more useful, though it is no faster, as there is rather a large gap between the 20mm and the 42mm equivalent of the 28-200, but I only thought about that after I’d left home. Generally the auto-ISO chose ISO in the range ISO 4000-10,000, and the results, though noisy were usable after some fairly aggressive noise reduction in Lightroom.

After around 15 minutes of noisy protest, stating the cleaner’s case to people waiting to go into events and in the foyer areas, the police arrived, and after a little argument the protesters agreed to go out by the way they had come in, keeping up their noisy protest as they slowly made their way out through the busy areas to where the others were protesting in front of the main entrance. The protest had made quite a stir and despite their disclaimer I think it certain that the Barbican would be putting pressure on Servest to try to avoid further happenings like this.

Cleaners invade Barbican Centre


Hull Photos: 26/1/17-1/2/17

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Images posted daily on the Hull Photos web site. Comments are welcome here or on Facebook.

26 January 2017

The Alexandra Hotel in Hessle Rd on the corner of Ropery St remains a splendid example of a Victorian pub, built at some time between 1870 and 1890 and was Grade II listed in 1994. My picture shows the side in Ropery Rd, but the Hessle Road side is in the same style. Both the oval fanlight above the corner door and the circular one at right have a six-pointed ‘Star of David’ glazing, and it is perhaps not coincidental that there was a large Jewish population in the area around the time it was built.

The pub now looks much the same as when I took this picture, though it was damaged and closed for repairs for six months after the floods in December 2013. Unlike many pubs built as ‘hotels’ it still offers bed and breakfast, and at prices that I’m told are worth it just for the English breakfast, though the rooms are rather basic and the noise from the drinkers and traffic might make sleep difficult.

28h53: Alexandra Hotel, Hessle Rd / Ropery St, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

27 January 2017

There were several fish smokehouses around Ropery St in 1981, and the two shown in this pictures are still I think present if looking somewhat different. At the left of centre is one I think at the rear of 54 Alfred St and that to the right of centre at the rear of 140-142 English St. This seems now to be built into a recent shed which is part of Happy Hutch Co., and the empty space in the front of the buildings is now occuped by the premises of parts distributor Andrew Page Ltd.

It is hard to see the first smokehouse from Ropery St now because of more recent buildings. The area has changed with the builidng of CLive Sullivan Way and the expansion of Smith & Nephew, but I also photographed a third smokehouse, possibly one of the two still present between Tadman St and Daltry St. One of the pictures shows a sign for ‘Kingston Fish Foods’ who are no longer in the area, and nothing else seems to resemble the buildings in these pictures.

28h56: Yard and fish smokehouses, Ropery St, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

28 January 2017

There were several buildings in Linnaeus St, not far south of Anlaby Rd which were associated with the Hull Western Synagogue which opened there in 1902 and closed in 1994 some years after I took this picture. There are some impressive gates which according to the 2008 Grade II listing (and the text on them in English and Hebrew) were dedicated to the memory of the late Edward Gosschalk and presented to the Hull Western Synagogue By his widow and sons June 1926. Gosschalks are still a leading Hull solicitors in Queens Gardens.

I didn’t photograph the main gates, but a simpler part of the iron railings around one of the buildings, which was then boarded up, and where the shadows seemed to add an air of mystery, and I very carefully and reasonably precisely lined up the ironwork with the edges of the door surround, taking several frames to ensure I got it right, working with the 35mm shift lens.

I think this was a part of the Jewish School on the site which has now been extensively restored. The synagogue (also listed) is at the back of the site on Convent Lane, but I didn’t photograph it.

Linnaeus St was originally called Botanic Lane and at its south end were Hull’s first Botanic Gardens. It was renamed after the famous Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the inventor of the binominal naming system for organisms still in use, in 1823, and kept the name after the Botanic Gardens were moved to a site off Spring Bank West around 1880. The buildings from the synagogue complex are I think the only pre-war buildings remaining in the street.

28h53: Star of David railings, Linnaeus St, 1981 – North & West Hull – Hessle Rd

29 January 2017

The area around Abbey St has changed since I took these pictures and I cannot always identify the exact locations. A B Rooms, Lock and Safe Engineers (see previous picture in this section) had premises in Field St, but later moved to new buildings in Abbey St close by. Their building in Field St has been considerably altered since I took that picture.

I can find no information about ‘Reynard Building…’ in Hull. If Carl Sharp reads this he many well know more! I think it was probably in Abbey St (as I recorded on the contact sheet a month or two after taking it.)

This is perhaps another picture that is more about the formal qualities, and in particular three rectangles, and the contrast between a black aperture and the white painted area on the wall. There is a kind of reprise at the left of the image with three vertical rectangles of doorways. I don’t think I would have made an exposure without the tree or the name ‘Carl Sharp’ written so confidently. But it’s a view of a derelict corner of a city whose changes I was recording and made at a time when I was striving to put form to work in the pursuit of content.

Working with the shift lens (or a view camera with movements) as I did on most of the Hull pictures is a rather different exercise to taking pictures with normal positionally fixed lenses. It enables the photographer to establish a point of view and then to precisely place the edges of the frame, moving the whole frame left, right, up or down a considerable amount. I’ve chosen to keep the verticals upright, chosen to stand on a particular line that places the distant pale door next to the larger gate on the corner, and to stand at a distance so that the frame cuts the doorway at left and also fills the right of the frame with a wall which actually on close inspection curves away at the extreme edge.

What I couldn’t control is the actual aspect ratio of the frame, and like all of the pictures from Hull this is presented without cropping. But I am tempted to remove that last brick or two at the right. The Olympus had a good viewfinder which showed almost all of the image, and a tiny bit also gets removed in the scanning and squaring for printing, but we may be seeing just a tad more than appeared in the viewfinder when I was making the image.

28i13: Abbey St area, 1981 – East Hull

30 January 2017

A game of cricket in the street – again according to my contact sheet, Abbey St – in front of a rather forbidding factory building which I’m pretty sure is no longer there. The G5 is perhaps for Gate 5, suggesting this was a fairly large undertaking. The ball, a tennis ball, is just visible to the left of the batter, a girl who has taken a pretty hefty swing which failed to make contact. Perhaps having an audience put her off her stroke.

I think this was a family game, with an older man at the left who could be a brother or father. I stood and watched for a few seconds, taking 2 pictures – this was the second. The 35mm shift was a manual lens, not ideally suited to action, but I had learnt to squeeze the button on the lens to stop down the aperture and press the shutter release as a single action – and still find myself sometimes doing so while taking pictures – just as I sometimes still try to push the lens body to one side or another to adjust the framing, but realise what I’m doing when it doesn’t move.

The 35mm shift was a kind of gift from Hull, something I’d long coveted but not been able to afford. One day I got off the train in Paragon Station and walked across Ferensway to look in the window of the photography dealer a few yards up the road, Hilton Photography (they moved to Paragon St years ago) and there was the lens in the window. It wasn’t cheap, but it was in pristine condition and considerably less than the new price. These were rare items, I’d not seen one secondhand before and nor I imagine had the dealers, and I suspect they didn’t really know what it was or what it was worth. I really couldn’t afford it, but I bought it on the spot.

28i15: Abbey St area, 1981 – East Hull

31 January

The curved cafe window on the corner of Dansom Lane and Holderness Rd has been replaced, but there is still a cafe there, and the buildings across the Holderness Rd look much the same although now selling scooters and bikes. Witham ends across the road to my right on the other side of Dansom Lane South as I took this picture with the Holderness Hotel at 55 Witham, so my caption ‘Witham’ in the book ‘Still Occupied’ is just a few yards out.

28i24: Cafe, corner of Dansom Lane and Holderness Rd, 1981 – East Hull

1st February 2017

Much of Hull’s industry grew up alongside the River Hull, and one of my favourite streets in the city was Wincolmlee, at the back of warehouses and wharfs along the west bank of the river. Among the early industries along the Hull were shipbuilding, and the first steam packet in England is said to have been built on the River Hull, in a Wincolmlee yard, in 1796, under the direction of Furness, from Beverley, and Ashton, a Hull physician, some years before Fulton’s better-known invention.

But the main businesses in Wilcomlmlee and the Sculcoates area around it were oil mils, milling a wide variety of seeds and nuts brought in by boat, producing oils including linseed oil, used in cloth, linoleum and paint, palm and other oils for soap, rape, flax, barzil and other oils, as well as large quantities of the oil cake which remained being used to produce cattle feed. Paint factories based on the oil production included those for Sissons and Blundells, both of which became well-known. White lead factories supplied the paint industry, engineering firms produced the presses needed to crush the oil.

Other factories processed the sugar that came into the port, the whale oil, produced glues and soap. There were large cotton and flax mills, corn mills and more. Much of this industry had ceased by the time I was photographing, but some remained, along with many of the buildings that had housed it.

Cooper St is a short street off from Green Lane, which used to end at the bank of the Cottingham Drain, now just a narrow strip of wasteland, less than a hundred yards form the junction of Green Lane with Wincolmlee. Victoria House, built around 1840 but with late 20th century alterations was Grade II listed as at 2 Green Lane in 1994 and until recently was the site of a printing business, CTP Plates, liquidated in October 2016.

28i31: Victoria House, Cooper St, 1981 – River Hull

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Comments and corrections to captions are welcome here or on Facebook.


Jan 2017

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

A combination of minor ailments, bad weather and other commitments meant that I was able to complete uploading January’s stories and pictures to My London Diary earlier today, 1 February, something of a record. I’d hoped to get it finished yesterday, but had to work on other things. Until the last few days, January had been a relatively quiet month, and I’ve not been able to cover the recent anti-Trump protests for various reasons. My work hasn’t been helped by a hike in rail fares to get to London, some of my journeys now costing around 30% more than they did in 2016.

I’ve written before that I’ve been trying to cut down the work I’m doing on My London Diary and spend more time on other things, one of which is Hull, currently enjoying its year in the spotlight as 2017 UK Culture. As well as publishing work from the 1910s and 80s over the year on my new Hull Photos web site, I’m also hoping to carry out a new project in Hull, as well as visiting for talks and possibly workshops etc. Meanwhile I’m also working on a new website on my old work in London, hoping to launch something on the first 10 years later in the year.

The biggest event of the month for me was the protest by the UVW and friends at Harrods. People often tell me that it isn’t worth protesting, but this tells a very different story, with the protest hitting the national news before it even happened and Harrods being shamed into giving the staff the money their customers assumed the staff would get. It’s only one of many protests I’ve photographed that have had a successful conclusion, and many others have succeeded in getting attention to issues that otherwise would never have been covered by the national media or discussed in homes, workplaces and parliament, putting issues on our national agenda. Protests don’t always work, but they often do – and not protesting never has any chance of effecting change.

Jan 2017

End Japanese dolphin slaughter

Save our NHS from STP Cuts
Ban HP from BETT show

King’s College cleaners strike
Nelson Walk
Justice for international students
March against closing community centres
Oh! Mother march against knife crime

Peckham march against deportations
F**k Trump

Crowds protest Trump’s Inauguration

Brixton march against mass deportations
End Deportation Charter Flights to Nigeria
15 Years of Guantanamo – No Joke!
Alarm Bells for the Housing Crisis

Harrods stop stealing waiters’ tips
Save the Sunderbans Global Protest

London Images