Archive for March, 2017

Fink notes

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Although many photographers have worked with square format cameras, notably those made by Hassleblad and Rollei, few have really taken to the format and worked with it. Many always cropped their images, and saw the square format simply as enabling them to shoot in the same way for either a portrait or landscape format, with none of the problems of needing to tune the camera on its side. And some cameras really did make this a little of a problem. For those photographers who work with a camera on a tripod or stand it can also present some difficulties. But with the square format you just took the pictures and cropped whichever way you wanted afterwards.

What I like about Larry Fink’s photographs – most of them on square format ands presented as square is how he really gets the frame to work, getting in close to his subjects and using those edges in a really dynamic way.

The front page of his web site contains the text:

Viscerality is my perceptual mode. Simply spoken,it means that I want to touch everything that I love. Hopefully my pictures are a testimony to the love of the senses.

I’ve long thought of photography as being a very tactile medium and I’m at my happiest photographing people and groups of people at the kind of range where I could reach out and touch them, though often I have to work from a rather longer range.

Fink’s best-known work remains Social Graces, a book published by Aperture in 1984 (with a later Powerhouse edition in 1999.)

Born in Brooklyn, like others of a similar generation he studied paintings in the museums of that city, as well as photography with Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research. And he got to know many of the artists and literary figures living in the city.

Visura has a great portfolio of his images of ‘The Beats‘, taken in the late 1950s and published as a book in 2014, and you can read more about him and the book in The New Yorker. Olivier Laurent wrote about him on Time LightBox in 2015, and there is an interesting interview with him by Julie Ma on The Cut.

What prompted me to write this post was Fink on Warhol: New York Photographs of the 1960s which appeared recently in L’oeil De La Photographie.

I’ve owned several square format cameras over the years, including an ancient Rolleiflex (it cost me £35) but never really got into the cameras or the format.

She was ready

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Benjamin Chesterton on his Duckrabbit blog posted last Sunday “She was ready and actually pushed the tweet button” about a series of pictures by Welsh photographer Dan Wood who “discovered photography through skateboarding” in 1995 and is a member of the Artist Collective: Document Britain which I have to admit I’ve never heard of before.

Duckrabbit writes about Wood’s ‘Shoot the damn dog‘, a project on his wife’s struggles with depression, post-natal depression and makes his point so well that I’ll leave you to read it. And when he asked Wood how she flet about him publishing the work, the reply he got from the photographer was that 3 years after he made the work, “She was ready and actually pushed the tweet button”.

On Lensculture you can read an interview with Wood about the project he began in 2013 ‘Suicide Machine‘ after the town where he lives, Bridgend, was named as having an unusually high suicide rate, along with a set of images of those who live there from his book of the same name. They were taken on his Hasselblad 500CM using colour film, and Wood still sees film as central to the way that he works: “it’s always been about film for me: shooting, developing, printing, scanning, the cameras, I love it all, especially the pace in which you work.”

You can see more of his work on his own web site, including both black and white and colour work, much based on Wales, but also elsewhere.

Street talk

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Thomas Stanworth asks Is Street Photography Killing Itself?, and gives an excellent summary of some of the reasons why so much of it is boring and pointless, along with many images culled from the web to support his case. It’s an article that will probably be reacted to with some forceful comments, particularly from those who either haven’t bothered to read it or who have failed to understand it.

Personally I’ve never been convinced ‘street photography‘ was ever alive. I’ve written a little before about it and my feeling that it is not a real or useful category, something which I think becomes entirely obvious if you read it’s ‘bible’, Westerbeck & Meyerowitz’s ‘Bystander. Fortunately almost none of those whose work is in its pages considered themselves as a ‘street photographer’; they were all taking photographs on or from the streets – as opposed to working in a studio – but they all went on to those streets with particular ideas and stories they were interested and involved in photographing.

The problem with most so-called ‘street photography’ I see now is simply that it is vacuous. Stanworth uses a lot of examples and explains the point well, and there are a couple of sentences in the middle giving a little advice to those who must be street photographers that I think really the crux:

“However, just engaging in the subject of photography helps. Learning a little more about yourself helps. Learning about the people and environment around you and your thoughts and reactions to it helps. The sad truth is that most of our effort in photography amounts to nothing.”

‘Street photography’ in general is, as he said, seen as ‘cool’. It is generally cool in that it is unengaged, using a small ragbag of tricks to produce images as deep as the average street puddle.

In his final sentences Stanworth again makes his views clear:

“And here we are back to the supreme importance of relationships, expression and connection. Without these things, both just become repetitive, predictable acts that lose their lustre.”

For a quite different piece of writing by Stanworth, I’ve also been reading his review of the Fuji X100F on his Photofundamentalist blog. It’s very much a photographer’s review rather than the technical tour-de-forces that sites such as offer, and one that complements their work well.  It makes me think I really ought to buy one, though having also read his view on the Ricoh GR I think I might find that more useful – if I can live without an optical viewfinder, though there is a rather expensive external accessory that will fit in the hot shoe.

His photography is also worth a look.

Frank thoughts

Monday, March 20th, 2017

There are two books that should be on every photographer’s bookshelf, and I think you can hardly call yourself a photographer unless you have a well-thumbed copy of both. Neither is a perfect work, but both are exemplary. One of them is Robert Frank‘s ‘The Americans‘, published first by Robert Delpire in Paris in 1958, and available in numerous editions since. That original edition would no set you back around £2,500, but you can buy more recent editions secondhand from around £25, less if you strike lucky. Most have been based on the first US Edition from 1959 published by Grove Press with it’s introduction by Jack Kerouac, but I would probably now recommend the Steidl 50th anniversary issue, which you can read more about on the 5×4 blog – and some of the comments there are also worth reading.

Kerouac was an important figure in my later teenage years, though only through his ‘On the Road‘ and other books, which together with Miles Davis dominated those times. I still remember the expression of distaste with which my Grammar School headmaster handed over the ‘Evergreen Original’ of Doctor Sax, with its inscription ‘Academic Year 1961/62 Awarded to P. G. Marshall for distinction in academic work‘. What a shame that then I didn’t then know about that other Grove Press volume by Frank, a copy of which now fetches around $4,500.

What brought these thoughts to mind was an article ‘The Man Who Saw America‘ by Nicholas Dawidoff published in the New York Times magazine on July 2, 2015 which for some reason was posted twice on my Facebook news feed this morning. He writes a little about the pictures, but mainly about the photographer and his life. I’ve no idea why the article has resurfaced now, but if you are coming new to ‘The Americans’ it isn’t a bad read. I think it should have said rather more about Frank’s first editor, Robert Delpire and his contribution to the work, and having to refer to Frank’s film of the Rolling Stones on tour as “[expletive] Blues,” seems odd. You can read about the film (which I find rather painful to watch for more than a few minutes – it’s available in parts on YouTube but part missing because of a copyright claim) and its significance in the the New Yorker.

The second book? Surely I don’t need to tell you.

Hull Photos: 9/3/17-15/3/17

Friday, March 17th, 2017

My weekly digest of pictures added to Hull Photos

9th March 2017

Taken from a position which is now occupied by Princes Quay, the new housing at the left is on the other side of the dock in Princes Dock St. The squat warehouse block is on the Castle St corner and is now a chain Italian restaurant where I had to eat with my family recently. The low dockside sheds of Humber Dock have all gone, but the taller warehouses remain. One fine listed block had already been demolished when I made this picture.

Somewhat oddly, the collapsed end of a shed at left has the old name for Hull, ‘WYKE’ on it, too small to read on-line, and it was this together with the cross made by a beam and a shadow to the left that made me stop at this point and admire the shapes strung along the horizon, including the two boys fishing and ending at the dockside bollards at right. Near the centre the vertical pole supporting telephone wires that surely now led to nowhere. Unusually I took four frames, obviously working with the situation until I was satisfied with this one and wandered further onto the dockside but took no further pictures here.

28q41: Princes Dock, Waterhouse Lane, 1981 – City Centre

10th March 2017

Most of this picture is a reflection in the shop window of a commercial stationers, with a notice reflecting the gloomy nature of business – I think the business had either closed or was about to close down.

On the east side of Paragon Square you can see two banks and then the War Memorial, and to the north is Binn’s department store, still trading but now called House of Fraser. Next down Ferensway was a large C&A, now Poundland. The Midland Bank was taken over by HSBC in 1992, though they only changed the name in 1999. This branch had closed by 2008 and the lease was up for sale and Barclays soon moved out leaving the whole frontage to Bronx, a men’s clothing store selling fashion brands with branches in Hull and Huddersfield.

I appear in a ghostly and largely headless fashion just to the right of that notice.

28q53: Stationers, Paragon St, Hull, 1981 – City Centre

11th March 2017

The Midland cafe, a few shops up from Osborne St on the east side of Midland Road, was closed when I took this picture, with a small notice at the bottom right of the right-hand window ‘All Enquires to 227608‘ (sic). It opened later as the Midland Juice Bar, but I think was demolished not long after for the building of Owbridge Court.

An article by Ann Godden on the Hullwebs History of Hull site informs me that this development by the William Sutton Trust in 1990 was on the site of the Cough Mixture Factory, which Walter Thomas Owbridge had bought in 1894 to build a larger factory to make Owbridge’s Lung Tonic. He had invented this in 1874 and it had become a favourite with fishermen working in arctic waters. While he demolished most of the site for his factory, the shops on Midland St were left intact. Owbridge’s was sold to a Dutch pharmaceutical company in 1959, and production in Hull stopped in 1971, with the factory closing the following year.

28q61: Midland Cafe, Midland St, 1981 – City Centre

12 March 2017

Another image of a reflection in a shop window, from the west side of Midland St which shows the opposite side, with J Hawkins Newsagent and the ornate building occupied by Joynsons on the corner with Anlaby Rd. Above one of their windows at the right of the image is the text ‘Scales & Slicers’ in a ‘modern’ and hard to read face.

A carelessly flung down drop-handlebar bicycle on the pavement outside the newsagents reminds me that Hull, flat and reasonably compact, was still then a city where the rush hours were dominated by crowds of cyclists rather than cars.

28q62: Shop window reflection, Midland St, 1981 – City Centre

13 March 2017

Myton Bridge, apparently officially opened in 1980 but only completed the following year provided a new viewpoint on the river. Its site was around 50 yards to the north of where there had earlier been a ferry and from 1865 a footbridge across the river which closed in 1934, South Bridge. A toll bridge, it was also known as the Ha’penny Bridge, and was a great shortcut for many who worked at Victoria Dock immediately to the east of the river.

This part of the river was the Old Harbour, where the port grew up before the docks and was still in use, with sand and gravel on the wharf at the right and barges moored two or three deep along the Old Town wharves.

Until the road leading to this bridge was upgraded in preparation for the bridge as Castle St, the section from Princes Dock Side was named Mytongate, and the area to the west of the Humber Dock was supposedly the site of the ancient hamlet of Myton; Myton St still runs from Osborne St to Castle St.

Engineers will find the design of Myton Bridge interesting, and it is described as a “cable-stayed bridge with fan system“. A swing bridge, the main span is 55 metres long and 32 metres wide, and it’s height was apparently restricted because of the need to be unobtrusive in its location next to the old town. It hardly achieves this, and the tall pylon with the control centre high above the roadway certainly doesn’t help.

The height of the bridge itself is enough to give a good views, and when I took this picture there was virtually traffic-free and I could easily walk from side to side. Now you can still walk across, but two new footbridges nearby are more pleasant as this bridge, the main route to Hull’s working docks, unceasingly carries very heavy traffic.

28r12: River Hull upstream view from Myton Bridge, 1981 – River Hull

14 March 2017

The Fish Street Day Schools were built in a Venetian Gothic style in 1871, next to the former Grammar School, the doorway at the left being for an external stairway to that school. Built by the Church of England, the Fish Street Schools soon became a board school.

The Fish St Schools were Grade II listed in 1994. The adjacent former Grammar School, built in 1583 as the Hull Merchant Adventurers’ Hall was the Grammar School from 1766 to 1878, and later the Choir School for Holy Trinity opposite, and was Grade II listed in 1952.

Both properties were renovated in the late 1980s and became the Hands-on History Museum, now only open to the public on a couple of Saturday afternoons each month.

28r36: Fish Street Day Schools, South Church Side, 1981 – Old Town

15 March 2017

An open market had been held in front of Holy Trinity, Hull’s Parish Church, since medieval times and was still there three days a week. Now the open market has gone it has been renamed Trinity Square and enlarged by the removal of the wall that enclosed a churchyard area in front of the church, as well as the trees inside it. Both this square and the adjacent covered market are getting something of a makeover for 2017, though this was still in progress last month with the square still full of orange barriers around the new mirror fountains and other areas of paving.

In the background are the Old Grammar School, Fish St Day Schools and on King St, the London and Manchester Warehouse (Grade II listed in 1973) and other late 18th century listed buildings on King St. The Venetian window is above the archway into Prince St, a a rather rundown 1770s Georgian terrace more recently transformed (as the Hull Daily Mail said) into “a picture postcard curved row of terraced homes“.

28r45: Open Market, Market Square (now Trinity Square), 1981 – Old Town

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.

Cleaners deserve a living wage

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

I rather like the effect of the diverging verticals in this image, though its something I try to use sparingly. But it seems in this image to lead the eye down to the subject in the centre of this ultra-wide image, Cleaners from the United Voices of the World union protesting for a living wage and for fairness in the way they are treated by their managers on the 10th day of their strike.

As a documentary photographer and a journalist I hold dearly to the principles of recording events accurately; our work has to retain its integrity to be of any worth. That does sometimes require keeping a certain distance, needing to be careful not to interfere in the events I’m photographing. But although that means I won’t hold the banner or blow the horn, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a point of view, and any set of photographs is to a certain degree subjective.

I wouldn’t be here photographing this protest if I didn’t think that all workers have a right to proper treatment and a living wage, and that it was important. Our major media outlets don’t think strikes and protests like this are news and are unlikely to publish my pictures, but I disagree.

It is a dispute that involves issues which are vital about how we live together, issues of fairness and equality, and ones that are brought sharply into focus here, at the centre of one of the world’s great financial centres, the City of London, by the naked greed of some of the wealthiest people and companies in the world.

And the response of the employers to the cleaners claims for a decent wage and proper treatment? To take them to court and try and get an injunction against them striking, probably spending as much or more on that as it would have cost to come to a sensible settlement.

The court made things worse, although turning down the injunction against striking, by imposing conditions on picketing (a practice already well covered by law) but also by imposing legal costs on the cleaners’ union which were actually greater than the total assets of the union, a grass roots organisation totally funded by the subscriptions its low paid members.  It was a striking demonstration of how our legal system, despite its ideals, is a system for the rich and institutionally biased against the poor.

At the end of the protest outside the offices at 100 Wood St (at a distance carefully measured to meet the terms of the injunction) the cleaners and supporters marched off to protest outside the office of the building management company CBRE, the largest commercial real estate company in the world, who manage the building for the richest man in Europe, Amancio Ortega (and the companies whose offices it houses include Schroders and J P Morgan) though the dirty work of managing the cleaners badly and paying them poorly is outsourced to a small cleaning company.

It got rather crowded around the entrances to the CBRE offices, which is where the full-frame 16mm fisheye came in useful (corrected as usual with Fisheye-Hemi.) When I’m using it for landscape or architecture I usually take great care to keep the lens upright, where I work with it using the built in markers of the D810, when small triangles at centre right and centre bottom of the frame show you have the camera straight and level, but there isn’t the time or need to be so precise when photographing protests, and the D700 used for these pictures lacks this feature.

UVW Wood St Strike Day 10


Ripper Facade

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Class War, London Fourth Wave Feminists and many more including local residents and Tower Hamlets council were all appalled when the shop that had been given planning permission to open as a museum celebrating the women of London (and for which a number of people had given services without charge in aid of a good cause) turned instead to be a tacky tourist attraction romanticizing London’s most celebrated killer of women, Montague Druitt, whose body was fished out of the Thames on December 31, 1888, better known as ‘Jack the Ripper’.

Since there could be no trial, although police at the time were apparently convinced enough to abandon their inquiries, an industry has grown up around various theories as to the murderer’s true identity with almost every prominent Victorian male being put under the spotlight.

One American crime novelist who believes artist Walter Sickert was the man responsible even went to the extremes of spending £2 million buying 32 of his paintings – and attracted the opprobrium of the art world by destroying one of them – in her unsuccessful efforts to find any evidence that would impress even the most gullible juror. But efforts such as hers have certainly stoked interest in the case.

The man hoping to make money out of the prurient interest in this series of horrific crimes against innocent women by promoting speculation as a tourist attraction is Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, and although he has been present during some previous protests, this time he only appeared on the mask worn by one of the women, leaving two female staff to run the shop.

Rip Down the Ripper Facade! came after Tower Hamlets Council refused planning permission for its facade and shutter, and since it was still unchanged, Class War’s fearless Womens Death Brigade came along with the tools to take it down – or at least an inflatable hammer.  Their other armaments were stickers, which were soon liberally covering the windows.

The feminists came armed with posters and wearing cat masks, and some hooded characters in black arrive with a smoking red flare, which rather got in the eyes of police and this photographer.

I like to work as close as possible to those I’m photographing, usually working around the wider end of a 16-35mm zoom.  But when smoke fills the air, it also obstructs the light as well as your lungs, and you really need to move back.

The worst damage that the facade actually suffered at this protest was when an egg or two was thrown at its sign – and again I got just a little splattered as it splashed off.  Mostly the protest remained good natured, though with a lot of noisy theatre.  Stickers generally peel off without damage, and egg can be washed off.

Despite that, two people were arrested and charged with criminal damage, though I have no idea what this damage was. The charges against one of them have been dropped, but the second prosecution is continuing.  The ‘museum’ appealed the planning decision – and lost. They are to be allowed to keep a small hanging sign, but have already had to take down the illegal signage and have until 31 May to remove the unauthorised shop front and roller shutter.

Rip Down the Ripper Facade!


Hull Photos: 2/3/17-8/3/17

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Weekly digest of pictures added to Hull Photos and my comments from Facebook on them.

2nd March 2017

These houses have quite a distinctive doorway, which is found in several streets around this area, and that and the fenestration eventually allowed me to match this up with Perth St, though it took quite a lot of searching. Unfortunately the street sign on the house side at right is just too small to be legible on the negative, but once you know it is Lanark Street can just be seen – and the name is still in the same place now.

I can’t find any trace of Val Halla Entertainment Services, although a number of organisations around the world have use the name Valhalla, the Norse hall of the gods ruled over by Odin. The Vikings were of course frequent visitors to Yorkshire from the 8th century, with boats coming up the Humber and along the Ouse to York, and Yorkshire was a Danish Kingdom from around 866 to 954 Ad, when the English retook it. Some still sail their boats into Hull Marina, or arrive on North Sea Ferries, though with less rape and pillage than in earlier days.

This street view has changed little, though it is now usually full of parked vehicles on both sides.

28o34: Val Halla trailer, Perth St, 1981 – Springbank area

3rd March 2017

J Hawkins Newsagent was just off the Anlaby Rd in Midland St, opposite Paragon Station. It was in a block which was and still is the premises of Joynson’s who sell catering and related equipment. The newsagent’s is closed and no longer a shop, though you can still see the decorations and others on the side of the building at 45 Anlaby Rd.

There was a curious grid above the entrance, which appeared to restrict entrance to those customers of short stature or prepared to stoop a little for their newspaper, packet of fags, ice cream or sweets. I wasn’t sure if the section at the rear could at any point decide to fall and and impale the eager customer or perhaps those escaping surreptitiously with an unpaid for Mars Bar. In fact I think the back was fixed while the front section could be lowered when the shop was locked.

The Joynson’s building is locally listed and described (in part) as a “pleasing 3-storey mid-Victorian shop building that curves satisfyingly round the corner into Midland Street. Red brick with stone dressings. Attractive example of French Renaissance style architecture featuring a decorative string course, 7 festooned patera (bass-relief decorative circular ornaments) and heavy moulded window architrave.

28p43: J Hawkins, Newsagent, Midland Rd, 1981 – City Centre

4th March 2017

Dark Birds Eye tobacco got its name from its appearance, being made from dark tobacco ‘whole leaf’ rather than strips, with the stem giving a ‘bird’s eye’ effect when it was cut. It is a strong tobacco and was a favourite with fishermen as its fine cut made it easier to light and keep burning in bad weather on board ship, doubtless why it was strongly featured in this Anlaby Rd shop window.

Most of the rest of the window is taken up by snuff, also traditionally favoured by fishermen – and fishwives. Scandinavian fishermen in particular were often heavy users, usually By mouth rather than sniffing, and the habit had the advantage of not being affected by wind or rain.

28p52: Dark Birds Eye, tobacconist’s window, Anlaby Rd, 1981 – City Centre

5th March 2017

The building closed in 1989 and stood unused for some years, but was demolished before 2008 and it and Goldstein’s next door replaced by an extremely dull-looking building, converted into Goodwin Community College around 2010. When built in 1902, the Icehouse Citadel had seating for 2,500.

The edge of the doorway at left is of the New York Hotel, demolished in 2015-2016 after a fire. It had opened around 1880 as Alfred Percy’s York Commercial and Temperance Hotel and Restaurant (known locally as Percy’s Cafe) was rebuilt in 1920 and altered in 1954. Its name changed to the New York Hotel and Ballroom, and then Jack’s Nightclub and Bar, and it had long abandoned its founding temperance principles. Derelict for over ten years before the fire, it found a place on the Hull Daily Mail’s 2014 list of the ‘The ten ugliest buildings in Hull’ though given the plentiful strong opposition it is hard to see why this relatively innocuous building was chosen, except for its long dilapidated state, because the owners could not afford to demolish it.

28p54: The Salvation Army, Icehouse Corps, Anlaby Rd, 1981 – City Centre

6th March 2017

Sharp St is on the west side of Newland Avenue, and the war memorial to those from the street who serverd in the ‘Great War’, one of several similar in Hull, was in fairly good condition in 1981, though difficult to photograph because of the reflections. Originally on Beal’s Joinery, when I took this picture it was then fixed to the side of the more recent building for Goodfellows on the site, which was demolished around 2010 when the memorial was put into store by the council.

The memorial has been restored by Lincoln University and reinstated in March 2014 inside a new case on the side of Eden Floral Boutique on the corner of Sharp St and Newland Avenue.

The memorial was made by James William Robinson (1876-1924) a carver and cabinet maker at W H Beal Limited who lived at 112 Sharp Street and lists the names of all 139 men in the street who joined up, with the 10 who were killed listed in the centre under the heading ‘Fallen’.

There were over 37,000 such street memorials across the country, including many in Hull, but relatively few have survived – only five in Hull.

28p62: Sharp St roll of Honour, Sharp St, 1981 – Beverley Rd area

7th March 2017

Another picture of Queen Victoria standing above the public lavatories in Queen Victoria Square with the City Hall behind her, this time from the view enjoyed by gentlemen entering the public conveniences. All three are listed, City Hall as Grade II*, the statue and conveniences Grade II.

28q01: Public conveniences, Queen Victoria and City Hall, Queen Victoria Square, 1981 – City Centre

8th March 2017

The view from Monument Bridge across Princes Dock with the warehouses beside Railway Dock in the distance before the shopping centre (one of Hull’s major carbuncles) was built. The warehouses on Kingston St are still there but the shopping centre obscures them, as well as covering much of the dock, and the fence still stops you falling in the river, but instead of phone boxes you squeeze your way through narrow paths between barriers around the various road and paving works that seem to permanently block your way.

The four curved roofs of the phone box seemed to me to be communicating with the four triangles on top of the Kingston Road warehouses, which seem rather closer than they should be, thanks to the moderate telephoto lens used (unlike most of my pictures which are made with a wide-angle.)

Hull’s distinctive cream telephone boxes are well-known, and this was a fine opportunity to showcase them; as well as colour they also lack the crown of their otherwise identical Post Office K6 designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1935 for King George V’s Silver Jubilee, and the word ‘TELEPHONE’ is in a bolder font.

Hull was one of six municipalities which took advantage of the Telegraph Act 1899 to set up its own telephone service, and opened its first exchange in 1904. By 1913 the other five had all given up, but Hull kept on, and remained technically ahead of the rest of the country and with cheaper calls – people in Hull would speak for hours on the phone before the invention of mobiles. The council set up a separate company to run the phones in 1987, and Kingston Communications was floated on the Stock Exchange in 1999 with the council retaining a large stake in KCOM PLC, which was all sold by 2007.

28q15: Phone boxes, Princes Dock and Railway Dock warehouses, Monument Bridge, 1981 – City Centre

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.

Homes for Londoners

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

One of the duties in my teaching past, when I was a group tutor for 16-18 year olds was careers advice. Of course there were special careers advisers, but I would have to discuss careers with my students and get them to take a computer careers questionnaire before there careers interview. And so I several times took those same multiple choice quizzes myself, and the career recommendation that came out on top for me was always ‘architect’ though photographer generally came out after that. I don’t think ‘teacher’, which is what at the time I was, ever made the top five.

But when I was 17, careers advice was non-existent, at least at the grammar I attended, and the idea of being an architect was a non-starter in any case for those of us from penniless backgrounds. So I went off – thanks to government maintenance grants – to university to study chemistry (it could have been physics or maths, the other subjects that seemed acceptable at that boy’s school.)

As a student, particularly as postgraduate student (more grants) I became heavily involved in the campaigning over the large-scale redevelopment of areas close to the university and where I was living, and when I did finally learn enough about photography and start earning enough to take more than the annual holiday film, housing remained an issue in some ways behind much of my work – notably my first major project which ended up as the 1983 show ‘Still Occupied – A View of Hull‘ and now appearing day by day on the web.

Housing in London was the subject of contention at several events I photographed in the middle of last June. The first Advance to Mayfair, was outside the London Real Estate Forum taking place in Berkeley Square.  I wrote quite extensively about it on My London Diary, so won’t repeat myself here.

Two days later I was back in Mayfair, with housing protesters outside the Municipal Journal Awards for Local Authorities, which were honoring some of those London councils, Southwark and Newham,  who have been at the forefront of London’s shameful housing scandals over the past few years – and continuing. That we were in Mayfair, London’s wealthiest area, again says much about the priorities behind redevelopment, more about enriching the wealthy than housing the poor.

Two days later again, the Axe the Housing Act March gathered on the edge of Mayfair to march to Parliament against an act that even enrages those same Labour councils for its full-frontal attack on social housing. Friction was bound to make itself known between them and the housing activists on the march and it did.

Later that day I went to cover the UCL Rent Strike Victory, an event which had been planned to further press the student’s demands as an Open Day Manifestation but the Complaints Panel decided that the residents of Campbell House West would be compensated in full for the final term last year – up to £1,368 per student.  The students were instead celebrating their victory (although the rent strike has started again more recently as rents are still too high for students.) I left too soon, as they decided to go on a victory march which gave other photographs some rather dramatic pictures as they celebrated with coloured flares.

But I was by then on my way to Crystal Palace in South London and the Central Hill Open Gardens Estates. Central Hill estate is at the southern edge of Lambeth – cross the main road and you are in the London Borough of Croydon. It’s a fairly spectacular development designed by Rosemary Stjernstedt working under Lambeth Council’s director of architecture, Ted Hollamby and built between 1966 and 1974 and described by the Twentieth Century Society as “one of London’s most exceptional and progressive post-war housing estates” – they were dismayed when their application for its listing was turned down by Historic England last year.  You can see my photographs of the estate earlier in the year at Central Hill Estate which give a good impression of the architecture and its general condition.

Local residents were surprised (and some enraged) to find that one of those attending the open day was local Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood Helen Hayes who had backed the decision by Lambeth Labour councillors to demolish the estate. When Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing (ASH) confronted her about this she was unwilling or unable to answer his questions about this and stormed out, after making an emotional statement about the recent killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, a tactic which disgusted many of those listening.

ASH were showing alternative plans for a proper regeneration of the site at the open day, which have been dismissed without any real consideration by Lambeth, retaining the existing properties but increasing the site density by sensitive infill of some of the spaces. It would achieve the same housing results but at significantly lower cost and without displacement (and shamefully poor compensation) of existing tenants and leaseholders – but would not give the same profit to developers. The refusal to consider such schemes is a clear indication of the priorities of private profit which are driving schemes such as this by councils like Lambeth and neighbouring Southwark and their consultants including estate agents Savills.

Later, after her supporters had left, the more pleasant atmosphere of the afternoon – despite the treat hanging over the estate – returned, and I was sorry when I had to leave, though not before watching and photographing a Marxist puppet show by Andrew Cooper and comrades from the Revolutionary Communist Group lampooning the Lambeth councillors and Councillor Matthew Bennett, Cabinet Member for Housing in particular for their cooperation with estate agents Savills and developers over the planned development of the estate, a prime opportunity for private profit in South London with its extensive view over the city and good transport links.

Advance to Mayfair
Municipal Journal Awards
Axe the Housing Act March
UCL Rent Strike Victory
Central Hill Open Gardens Estates


Fuji X-Trans blues

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

I’ve been testing Fuji-X cameras for some years now, hoping that I would find a lighter alternative to my Nikons, but never quite feeling I could make the break.

It started with the X100. A lovely camera in many ways, but one that had me tearing out my hair when so many times I pressed the shutter release – and nothing happened. It was (and is) a camera with a habit of going into a deep sleep, and the fastest way to revive it is to switch off and start again. By which time the picture had often vanished. And then there was the battery life…

Had it been small enough to fit into a pocket I might have continued to use it, but it was too big to be a compact camera, and not really flexible enough for many uses. The X-Pro1 was bigger and heavier, but I quite liked it, at least with a limited range of fixed lenses. The optical viewfinder was fine, but the electronic one not great. And I still felt I was carrying a lot of camera and lenses for a fairly limited system. I still get it out and use it occasionally, but not often, and not for long.

The X-E2 was a little smaller and lighter – and let me use the zoom lenses with an almost OK electronic viewfinder. But autofocus was often too slow. But its a camera I still use occasionally when I want to carry two cameras.

The best of those I own is the XT1. A better viewfinder and faster focus – though it is a bit larger than the X-E2. But it has too many quirks. Last time I used it, although I’d set the camera to save RAW files, a number of them came out as jpegs, and with some lenses it adds around 35 magenta to the images, while other lenses give correct colour. And like the others, it eats up batteries.

By now I’ve a considerable investment in Fuji-X lenses, but largely use the Fuji system as a camera for when I’m not working. When things get serious, the Nikons come out again. The weight difference is still there, though the Nikon always seems to last a full day on  a single battery, whereas I carry a bag with 4 spares for the Fuji, and sometimes need them all.

I’m wondering now whether the XT20 will be the solution to most of the problems I have with Fuji, but perhaps it’s a false hope and I should cut my losses and sell off all the Fuji gear I have.

Fuj-X has a strong following on the web, often showing what seems to me missionary zeal. I’ve never felt that the Fuji Image quality was inherently better than that I get from Nikon, and if I do get equivalent quality, then its down to lenses. When quality and size matters the Nikon D750 and D810 are still ahead with their full-frame sensors.

Fuji makes great play of the advantages of their X-Trans sensors, but while this may have some advantages, it also has its problems. The study in PetaPixel, X-Trans vs Bayer Sensors: Fantastic Claims and How to Test Them debunks those claims and makes clear that the publicity about the X-Trans sensor is just that, publicity, and that the different filter pattern has no real advantages – and indeed slightly lets the cameras down. Though of course the the differences are small and insignificant for all normal purposes.

Fuji’s latest camera announcements are, as usual, tempting. Reviewers and Fuji evangelists are generally waxing lyrical over the X-T20 and also the X100F as well as the rather too large and considerably too expensive (for me) GFX. My son, still a loyal user of the original X100, is thinking about updating, but for the moment I’m keeping my hand in my pocket.

I still remember with some bitterness the Leica M8, given glowing write-ups by some of the world’s greatest photographers as well as reviews that made it seem a near perfect machine, the digital camera that all of us who had once been bitten by the Leica bug would die for. Enough to persuade me to invest the ridiculous amount that it cost, only to find it was virtually unusable, at least for colour – and needed a special filter on every lens. Of course, Leicas have improved since then, and with every new model people have said that they’ve got it right now. And the M10 does look tempting…

Back in the real world (a decent Leica outfit with a few new lenses would cost what I live on for a year) those new Fujis do look tempting, but I’ll wait and see how others get on with them before making a decision. Or perhaps get out that old Leica M2 and go back to using film. It’s still a fine machine, working smoothly despite being 60 years old last time I tried it out. Later models never quite matched the feel of using it, though they did add a few useful things. And photographers made and sold the only thing it really lacked, a rewind lever.