Archive for April, 2017

Stand against racist surge

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017


Antonia Bright and Movement for Justice on the march

After the narrow referendum vote in favour of leaving Europe, the People’s Assembly and Stand Up To Racism organised an emergency demonstration against the xenophobia the ‘NO’ vote appeared to reflect and encourage, and calling for an end to austerity and for the defeat of the Tory government. Thousands marched to support people from abroad who live in this country including refugees and asylum seekers.

It wasn’t a huge protest, organised only shortly before and in a rather busy month when the university term was over and many people were either already away on holiday or getting into holiday mood, but even so the roughly ten thousand who made it dwarfed the rival counter-protest by the EDL. I left the main march to photograph a brief ‘flash-mob’ by cleaners and supporters at the CBRE main London offices close to the march route, and then hurried down to Marble Arch to try an find the EDL.

There were so few it would have been hard to find them without the police escort which was keeping it safe from anti-fascist – and easily outnumbered the EDL marchers, a rather dejected looking group of well under a hundred. There was no sign of them at Marble Arch where they were due to gather, but I saw the police a couple of hundred yards away down Park Lane and hurried after them to find they were leading the EDL a short distance down Park Lane to hold their rally inside Hyde Park.


EDL in Hyde Park

In the park the EDL rejected the pen the police had provided, telling the police they were not animals, and instead held a rally just in front of it, the speakers standing on the barriers and the small crowd surrounded by several ranks of police. My picture above shows of a man who was arguing with the police who were protecting the protest, mainly from the press and was I think complaining about us being allowed to take photographs. A woman walked past on the opposite side to where I was standing and shouted ‘Black Lives Matter’ and was handled roughly by EDL stewards while police turned their backs, but most of the anti-fascists had already left to join the larger march, and after a few minutes when there seemed to be little of interest happening I left too, catching the tube to arrive in Parliament Square for most of the rally.


Relaxing in the sun before the rally in Parliament Square

I caught the tube to catch up with the main march and photograph the rally in Parliament Square, where the atmosphere was very different, with people relaxing in the sun. The event seemed very much a pro-Jeremy Corbyn event, with posters, banners and hats supporting him.


Zita Holbourne of BARAC and PCS holds her drawing ‘We Stand with Jeremy Corbyn because he stands with us’

The event came at the end of a week in which both Angela Eagle and Owen Smith had announced they would challenge Corbyn for the Labour leadership (though Eagle withdrew a few days afterwards) but there was no doubt who those at this even supported – and so to did over 60% of those who were allowed to vote when the election took place.

The challengers only hope had been that Corbyn would not be allowed to take part, and 4 days before the march the NEC had decided they had to follow the very clear rules that the incumbent leader would be on the ballot without needing to gain the nominations of MPs and MEPs required to challenge him. Even the NEC’s desperate attempt to ban some 130,000 recently joined members (against party rules, but an appeal court ruled they could change the rules) seemed unlikely to affect the result.

Another member of the press as we were standing together photographing the speakers asked me how long I thought Corbyn could hang on. “Until 2020” was my reply, “and longer if he wins the election“. Now the election is coming rather earlier than expected, and his future will depend on the vote. Perhaps he will be Prime Minister until 2022, but if Labour fail disastrously he may be forced out earlier and the party could be faced with crisis; it’s hard to see how it can continue with MPs and a party apparatus that is so out of line with the views of the vast majority of its members.

End Austerity, No to Racism, Tories Out!
Peoples Assembly/Stand Up to Racism rally
EDL march and rally

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Hull Photos: 13/4/17-19/4/17

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Pictures added to my Hull photos web site from 13th-19th April 2017

13th April 2017

Although Alexandra Dock was still in use, the West Wharf on the Humber bank was derelict, its railway lines disconnected and much of the decking gone. Further west the whole area around Victoria Dock was a desolate wasteland and it was hard to know where I was, the map I had providing few clues.

Victoria Dock had been opened in 1850, and two large timber ponds were added over the next 15 years. These were filled in and became timber yards with rail sidings by the 1950s. The dock closed in 1970, but development of the site with housing only began in 1987.

Alexandra Dock was built on land reclaimed from the Humber in 1881-5 and extended in 1899. West Wharf pier was added in 1911 and was 1,350 ft long, and had a minimum depth of water of 18ft. The dock was closed in 1982, but there were still a few ships in it when I took these pictures in August of that year, and some sand and gravel was still handled there in the 1990s. It looked as if the West Wharf jetty in the Humber had closed rather earlier.

The West Wharf was replaced by a riverside container terminal around 2010, which then became part of Green Port Hull, a development for Siemens to handle wind turbines.

The river side of the West Wharf was the original location of Hull’s famous ‘Dead Bod’ graffiti made in the 1960s by Captain Len (Pongo) Rood. This was removed into storage when the container terminal was being built and was exhibited in the bar of the new Humber St gallery as a part of the 2017 City of Culture.


32n44: Disused Jetty, Alexandra Dock West Wharf, 1982 – Docks

14th April 2017

Another view of the entrance lock to Alexandra Dock, with the Hull tug Trawlerman moored in it, taken from the public footpath which crossed the lock gate here. In an arm of the dock to its right is the ship MAPÈß EPMOAOBA – the Maria Yermolova, a Russian cruise liner built for the Murmansk Shipping Company in 1974 at the Kraljevica shipyard named after Marshall Tito who worked there before the war. It was the first of eight similar ships built there under an order made by Leonid Brezhnev after a brotherly plea from Tito to save the shipyard. They were luxury ships for 206 cruise passengers with air conditioning in all cabins.

Behind the cruise liner is another vessel, but I can’t make out any details of it.


32n53: Entrance lock, Alexandra Dock, 1982 – Docks

15th April 2017

I took only three pictures in what was quite a long walk back from Stoneferry Bridge to my parents-in-law’s home on Loveridge Ave, around 2.4 rather dreary miles, though it seemed longer. Probably I was tired as I’d walked some busy and dusty roads on an August afternoon. I think nothing in those 3 pictures from 1982 remains. Only the second I took appears in my book and is the image I’m adding to the site today.

Stoneferry Bridge, a swing bridge across the River Hull built in 1905 to replace a ferry was replaced by two bascule bridges – one for each carriageway – in 1989-90. It’s an image that I might post later, but haven’t yet scanned.

The Kingston factory with its lodge and prominent sign appears to have disappeared without trace, and I’m no longer sure exactly where it was. The weeds growing in the yard suggest it was no longer in use but it is perhaps surprising that this small building does not seem to have been retained as a feature in front of a modern development as it was something of a local landmark.

The final exposure was a too tightly framed view of Cedar Villas, a wood-boarded frontage that was already looking rather derelict. I think I took this as a note to come back later to make a better picture, but by the time I did it had gone.


32o26: Kingston factory and sign, Clough Rd, 1982 – Beverley Rd

16th April 2017

The ISIS Oil Mills in Morley St, built for Wray, Sanderson & Co but more recently a part of Croda, were designed by Hull architects Gelder & Kitchen and built in 1912 and are a remarkable ensemble, though I think only the silo was Grade II listed in 1994. It was acquired in 1985 from Croda by Cargill plc and is apparently still crushing rapeseed – up to 750 tonnes a day to produce around 320 tonnes of rape seed oil and 420 tonnes of rape meal used in animal feed etc.

The large chimney beyond is ‘Reckitt’s Chimney’, the tallest in Hull, built to discharge sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere at a height of 463 ft. Scandalously this acid rain producing discharge continued until the start of the current century, when finally a desulphurisation plant was added – and a few years later the works closed. Reckits’s sold the plant, which produced large quantities of synthetic ultramarine, used in various products including Reckitts Blue laundry whitener in 1994 to Yule Catto and it later became part of Holliday Pigments, and then Hunstman. They are still the largest producer of synthetic ultramarine in the world but it now comes from their more modern French plant.

The barges in the picture reflect the importance of the River Hull for transport to the industries along the river in the past. There is now very little river traffic, but some very busy roads. The name of the nearest barge is something of a mystery, appearing to contain the letters ‘OTMOT’ which I can’t make into anything I recognise, but moored in front of the silo is ‘Ringplover’.


32o35: River Hull, barges and ISIS Oil Mills, 1982 – River Hull

17th April 2017

Bulk tankers parked in yard off the Stoneferry Rd on part of the Croda site. Presumably these were used for the bulk delivery of rape seed oil to food manufacturers.


32o45: 13 April 2017 Croda Premier Oils, Stoneferry Rd/Maxwell St, 1982 – River Hull

18th April 2017

The riverside path led from Alexandra Dock to King George V Dock alongside the Humber with much of the route running alongside a wooden fence which screened off the docks. On the Humber side were several wharves including one where ferries to the continent berthed.

Over the fence were a number of tanks or various sizes, including a large one with the name ‘UNITED MOLASSES’. There web site says that their storage capacity for industrial and food products – molasses, vegetable oils and related products – here is now around 32.5 cubic metres, with tanks from 40 to 2,600 cubic metres.

The company was founded in 1911 and first registered as United Molasses in 1926. It built its first bulk tank in Hull at Victoria Dock in 1911, which received its first bulk shipment of 1,800 tonnes of molasses from the sailing barque Sunlight in 1912. The company was acquired by Tate & Lyle in 1964 and they sold it in 2010 and it is now the UM Group.


32p16: Bulk storage tank, King George V Dock, 1982 – Docks

19th April 2017

A shed next to the footpath across Alexandra Dock entrance carries a notice from the British Transport Docks Board warning persons using the public right of way in Alexandra Dock that trespassers on the dock estate will be prosecuted. The notice, probably long gone, is no longer needed as the footpath in the dock was closed in 2012 for the convenience of Siemens and their wind turbine building facility here.

The shed was close to the entrance lock on the east side, and the brick tower at right can be seen in some pictures next to the berthed Maria Yermolova. The lower building in front of it looks as if it might have been of the hydraulic power system that was widely used in Hull’s Docks.

All buildings in the area appear now to have been demolished.


32p21: Alexandra Dock, 1982 – Docks


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.
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Defend Our NHS

Monday, April 24th, 2017

I hope our current General Election in the UK is going to be decided on policies rather than personalities, but I very much doubt it. So far we’ve seen Tory politicians and the media hanging on every statement by Corbyn and trying to twist it against him personally rather than argue about policies, and in terms of photographs, a Conservative Party ‘Information Officer’ (according to her LinkedIn profile) promoting a clearly Photoshopped image of a voter on the doorstep giving a ‘V-sign’ to Corbyn. The original image shows her raising her fist in salute, and the over-large male hand which replaced hers with its aggressive gesture apparently is that of George Bush!

One of the issues clearly at stake in the election is the future of our National Health Service. Under the coalition and Tory governments privatisation of this, begun under New Labour, has continued apace and another Tory administration would take it to a position that might be irreversible and on the path to a very different service, probably insurance-based and modeled on the hugely expensive US health system, advocated some years back by Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt among others.

Our NHS is clearly sick at the moment. Crippled by debts from New Labour’s disastrous Private Finance Initiative, always a bad deal but made much worse by the financial crisis which meant the government lost its gamble on rising inflation, and having to deal with an aging population alongside a population increase partly due to its success in raising life expectancy, and with higher expectations from new and often expensive treatments, it needs support and not the bleeding of resources to private providers and their shareholders.

Getting back to photography, the image above shows that my Nikon 16-35mm f4 is also ailing somewhat, giving excessive flare in difficult lighting conditions such as the low sun at this early evening protest. Fortunately Lightroom recently added a de-haze option with the adjustment brush that enabled me to reduce its worst effect.  I deliberately didn’t try to remove it entirely from the woman’s hair and the buildings behind.

Fortunately the light wasn’t a problem in most pictures, but it did perhaps mean I didn’t work so much in the sunlit areas.  Complex modern lenses like the 16-35mm have a lot of glass surfaces, and although the lens is quite well sealed these can attract condensation in wet conditions, and I suspect some mould growth may be at the root of the overall flare.

Auto-focus has also added to the complexity of modern lenses, with a need to move groups of elements rapidly and precisely inside the lens barrel. The 16-35mm is also an internal zooming lens, which helps by avoiding the pumping of damp air in and out which occurs with lenses that alter their length on zooming, but also adds to complexity. And adding vibration reduction increases that further.

So while reviewers write things like “like all Nikon professional lenses, the Nikon 16-35mm VR lens is built to last a lifetime” this may accurately reflect Nikon’s publicity, but unfortunately not my experience in real world conditions. After around four years of pretty intensive use it needed a very expensive repair, and a couple of years later seemed on its way to another – finally failing a few months after I took these pictures.

It has probably taken at least 400,000 images, so it hasn’t done badly. The cost per image works out at something below 0.4p, which doesn’t seem excessive. But lens lifetimes are considerably less than photographer’s lifetimes now unless you stick with simpler designs.

I still haven’t taken the lens in for a repair estimate, but I hold out little hope for its future and will be extremely if pleasantly surprised if it is not beyond economic repair. I needed a replacement quickly and ended up with a secondhand cheaper and lighter Nikon 18-35mm.  It seems fine, but I often find myself missing those 2mm at the wide end – the difference between 16 and 18mm is surprising.

There were a few other images where some overall flare was visible, but Lightroom generally solved the issue, and there was also some light cloud which helped at times.  But probably there were other pictures I just didn’t take because I could see the light would cause problems. Though at least with digital you can afford to take images that you probably wouldn’t chance on film.

Of course I wasn’t only working with the wide-angle, but also with a 28-200mm telephoto, in use on the D810 in DX mode – effectively 42-300mm, as in this image of Matt Wrack speaking from the top of the FBU fire engine which had led the march from St Bartholomew’s to the rally opposite St Paul’s Cathedral.

Junior doctor Aislinn Macklin-Doherty who led the march also spoke from there. It was hard to find a suitable viewpoint for photographing the speakers – and I would have liked to have included the dome of St Paul’s behind them to indicate the location, but couldn’t get the right angle or perspective. The fire engine needs the bar across in front of the speakers for safety but it doesn’t help in pictures, and my attempt at including one of the posters doesn’t work too well as in the photograph it reads ‘NHS Solidarit(y) NO’ which was not the message!

More pictures at Defend our NHS.
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More at Wood St

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Theresa May was just one of those protesting with the cleaners at Wood St on the 38th day of their strike at the CBRE City offices occupied by Schroders and J P Morgan, apparently by now the longest strike on record in the City. Or at least one of the protesters wearing a Theresa May mask. And support for the striking cleaners in the United Voices of the World union was growing, with groups from Unite the Resistance, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, the IWGB, Class War and others at the event. If not really Theresa May.

With campaigns that continue for such a long time, it’s difficult to keep coming up with different pictures and not get into a rut. Having some new people present helps, and also finding different viewpoints. And sometimes rather different things happen.

I try hard to find a different view, but not just something different for the sake of it, something that makes sense. A woman on a bicycle taking part in the protest provides a possibility, and I was fortunate that she chose to stop and briefly hold up a poster as the marchers behind her halted briefly on their way to the CBRE Offices.

One of the reasons I like to use different lenses is to add some variety to the images, but it’s also vital that they give you different ways to work. With the 16mm fisheye I am able to get very close to the protesters, giving a very different viewpoint. I was certainly in touching distance of the woman wearing the red IWGB flag.

Cleaner Victor Ramirez is a very powerful and emotional speaker – though my Spanish isn’t up to following much of what he says – but the speeches are normally translated by one of the other union members. I wanted to express something of his intensity and it seemed appropriate to use a big close up using a telephoto to do this – you can see 2 other pictures of him from the series on My London Diary.

They were taken with the 28-200mm, used at full frame on the D810, at a focal length of 112 mm, with exposure at ISO 800 of 1/250 at f8. I’m not sure whether it would have been better to use a smaller aperture to try and get the placard legible, but you can read the message in many of the other images, and the out of focus background makes Victor stand out more strongly. I don’t often make great use of ‘differential focus’ and usually like to have everything sharp. I’m certainly not the kind of photographer who worries much about the ‘bokeh’ of lenses, but I think the out of focus areas look OK in this image.

I was pleased though that f8 gave me sufficient depth of field to render both Victor’s hand, face and ears sharply.  I’m sure I will have focused on his eyes.

Solidarity for Wood St cleaners

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Pie & Mash

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Though I can claim to be a Londoner, I’ve never been a fan of pie and mash shops, perhaps because I’ve never lived close to one. I do have a memory of being rather scared by live eels swimming in a tank in front of a shop somewhere when young, but I don’t think it’s that which puts me off them; more likely its the rather lurid green liquor (which these days may have had no contact with eels.)

Pie & mash were the cheap food of the nineteenth century for Londoners, but have since come under increasing competition, first from fish and chips (the first chippie opened in London in 1860) and later from burgers and kebabs, but some pie shops remain and have enjoyed something of a revival in the last few years, and some of the best known remain in business. When they began, eels where cheap – they were about the only fish that could live in the polluted Thames, but most came from the continent, and the pies were eel pies, but eels got scarce and became expensive. You can still get jellied eels and stewed eels, but the pies went over to minced beef, but the eel liquor with parsley to add colour and flavour remained.

I first came across Stuart Freedman‘s pictures of Pie & Mash shops in a feature on Spitalfields Life in 2014. It’s one of those subjects that many photographers have tackled, something of a London cliché, but his pictures stood out from the heap. And for the book he has gone much further with the project.

In 2015, Freedman brought out his ‘Palaces of Memory – Tales from the Indian Coffee House‘ a fine work celebrating these institutions, with the aid of crowd-funding, and I was pleased to be one of those who supported the venture, receiving a signed copy of the book in return.

He is now crowd-funding for a new book, ‘The Englishman and the Eel‘ which he describes as “a journey into the culture of that most London of institutions, the Eel, Pie and Mash shop.” He grew up in East London in the 1970’s, which, as he writes, was:

then a byword for poverty now a metaphor for gentrification. I fled Hackney to photograph the world but this book, two years in the making, is not only a tribute to these cultural icons but a re-examination of my own past.

Rather than read more from me, take a look at the Kickstarter page. As well as the video and text about the project you can also read there about the rewards available. For a signed copy of the book you need to pledge £30 or more (plus a shipping cost – £4 for the UK), but there are some generous rewards in terms of signed prints and tuition for some of the larger amounts. Your pledge will only be taken up if the project goal of £9,000 is reached by May 15, 2017.

I’m looking forward to receiving my copy – the estimated delivery date is December 2017 and it will be a nice Christmas present to myself.

Magnum Capa

Friday, April 21st, 2017

As regular readers will know, I’ve followed with interest the long series of investigative articles by A D Coleman and his team of co-workers ferreting out the truth about Robert Capa’s D-Day pictures. There are after all few more iconic photographic images than Capa’s grainy and blurred US soldier in the surf of Omaha beach, and the story surrounding it must thus be of great interest in photographic history.

So while to learn about the whole nest of stories that have been deliberately built up to hide the facts came as something as a shock (even though its central story of the darkroom mishap had never been believable) it was good that at last we were getting to the true story. And while it isn’t always one that reflects well on Capa, it doesn’t alter my assessment of him as a photographer.

The latest instalment, Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (32), does include a mention of my post here, A Capa Controversy, and describes it as “thoughtful, balanced, and closely attentive to the specifics.”

Mostly it looks at the recent re-publication on the Magnum site of D-Day and the Omaha Beach landings, a chapter from the 2004 book ‘Magnum Stories‘, edited by Chris Boot, which begins in a bad way with the sub-head declaration “The only photographer landing with the first wave on Omaha Beach, Robert Capa’s iconic photographs provide a unique documentation of the event“.

It’s hard to make a great deal of sense out of some of the introduction to a lengthy quotation from Capa’s own ‘Slightly Out of Focus‘ story of D-Day, although it does remind us that Capa’s book was written “with film rights in mind” and that on its rear cover Capa tells readers that he has allowed himself to go “slightly beyond and slightly this side” of the truth. His was a radically different approach to Gene Smith’s ‘Let Truth be the Prejudice’.

Of course it’s impossible to know exactly what happened on D-Day, though there are some other relevant eye-witness accounts, but I think that we can be sure that “my friend Larry, the Irish padre of the regiment, who could swear better than any amateur” and the “Irish priest and the Jewish doctor” are simply a part of the Hollywood treatment rather than Omaha beach, along with much of the rest – and that Capa took only ten or eleven of the 106 pictures he mentions.

My other complaint about the Magnum chapter is that by mixing pictures taken by Capa before leaving for France and with others from after he left Omaha beach along with half a dozen of the 10 images it attempts to mislead readers as to his actual work on D-Day, though careful attention to the captions would probably clarify things for the careful reader.

As Coleman says, Capa remains an important asset to Magnum, who offer “second- or third-generation derivatives” of two of his D-Day pictures at $3500 each which he describes as “nothing more than posh, high-priced posters.” Copyright normally extends only to 70 years after the artists death, so unless Magnum have some way to extend their monopoly, others could market such prints from 2024.

Of course it goes beyond this. Capa was the driving force behind the foundation of Magnum and something of a deity so far as the organisation is concerned. I’m not quite sure what “he created a narrative myth for Magnum too that has helped propel it over more than half a century” means, if anything, but I think it is more religious dogma than rational thought.

PIP Fightback

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

One group who are hoping the Theresa May will lose her election gamble must surely be disabled people, who were singled out by Tories, at first under the coalition government, for special treatment, ‘welfare reforms’ that were designed to cut costs and have resulted in the deaths of a considerable number. Ministers, particularly Iain Duncan Smith, mistakenly saw them as an easy target who because of their disability would be limited in their efforts to fight back.

It isn’t entirely fair to blame the Tories, who were partly just ratcheting up the screw that had already been set up by New Labour with their introduction of inappropriate tests designed largely to cut costs by denying benefits, administered in a tick-box fashion by inadequately trained operatives working for unscrupulous companies who were given financial incentives to fail claimants – and not penalised for the fact that around 70% – more than two out of three – of those who appealed had their appeals upheld.

So many of those who were found to be fit for work died shortly afterwards that the DWP decided it wouldn’t keep details. Others have died even more directly because of losing their benefits. One of the banners at this and other protests, held below by the sister of David Clapson, a diabetic ex-soldier who starved to death after losing his benefits, lists around a hundred people whose deaths were due to sanctions and benefit cuts, but these are only the tip of an iceberg, with many going unrecorded.

‘Cuts Kill’ say some of the placards – including one with a cleaver being held by a woman in a wheelchair.  I didn’t pose this picture, but took advantage when she lowered it during the protest at the Vauxhall PIP consultation Centre in Vauxhall, one of the centres where ATOS carry out sham Personal Independence Payments ‘assessments’ on behalf of the DWP.

Later I joined with a larger group of protesters in Westminster who were protesting against the Personal Independence Payments. The organisers of the protest, DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), MHRN (Mental Health Resistance Network) and WinVisible ((Women With Visible and Invisible Disabilities) say that the day of protest against PIP was organised because:

The evidence shows that even more genuine claimants are having their lives blighted in an exercise whereby their benefits are removed for months on end, in many cases leading to a serious deterioration in the health conditions and Mental Health issues, and in a growing number of cases, premature deaths.

Disabled people have led the fight against the Tory government – because for many of them it is quite simply a matter of life or death. Some have seen many of their friends already die because of these policies, and others being unable to continue the independent and productive lives that benefits had allowed them.

At this protest they held a rally on the pavement outside outside the Victoria St offices of Capita PLC, before briefly blocking the road, one of the main routes in Westminster and then marched to the offices of the DWP for a second rally and finally continuing to Parliament for a short stop on the roadway in front, and finishing by going to College Green, where the broadcast media gather to interview politicians.

This was roped off with police to keep the public at bay, but disabled protesters are made of sterner stuff and made their way onto the green, just a few yards from the TV crews, almost all of whom studiously ignored them, though I think their banners and chanting may have appeared in the background of some interviews.  But with the exception of a few foreign news crews, protests in the UK are generally not reported.

Disabled PIP Fightback blocks Westminster
PIP Fightback at Vauxhall
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Todd Webb

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Todd Web (1905-2000) was one of those photographers i’ve known about for a long time, and have admired pictures by, but never got to really find out more about him and his work. I was reminded about him a few days ago in a feature about his New York photographs on the Lens blog.

There are plenty of places you can read about his life story, and he certainly lived through interesting times and was certainly one of the better photographers inspired by the work of people like Edward Weston and those others who turned away from pictorialism to a sharp and detailed modernistic approach in the 1920s and 30s. He very much moved in the circles of those better known than he was, from being in the same Detroit camera club as Harry Callaghan when he first became seriously involved in photography in 1938, and completed a ten-day workshop with Ansel Adams in 1940 before serving as a US Navy photographer in World War II.

After war service he moved to New York at the start of 1946 to be a professional photographer, sharing an address with Callaghan. He became friends with the aging Alfred Stieglitz and his partner Georgia O’Keefe, who introduced him to other leading names in photography at the time, including Beaumont and Nancy Newhall. Webb got a part-time job at the Museum of the City of New York, documenting their collection one day a week, and Beaumont, then head of the photography department at MoMA, persuaded the MCNY to put on a show of Webb’s personal work in 1947.

Now, 70 years later, Webb has another show there, A City Seen from April 20 – September 4, 2017, as well as one at the Curator Gallery in NY’s Chelsea. The MCNY show is said to be the first major gallery show of his work since his 1947 show there.

Just as he was becoming well known as a photographer in New York, working for Fortune magazine where Walker Evans was Staff Photographer (Webb said he tried hard to make  his work not too much like that of Evans), and for Roy Stryker at Standard Oil, Webb left for Paris, where he got married to an American woman and lived for the next four years, producing some of his best photographs. Moving back to New York, he got Guggenheim fellowships in both 1955 and 1956 to photograph along the trails taken by the US pioneers traveling west. In the 1960s he moved to Santa Fe, and made a number of pictures of Georgia O’Keefe, published as Georgia O’Keeffe: The Artist’s Landscape.

In the 1970s he lived with his wife for some years in Provence, and for a briefer period in Bath, England, finally moving to Maine, where he lived and worked until his death in 2000. Webb was driven by his love of photography and apparently spent his time pursuing images rather than promoting his career, and his work – as you can see from the links below, deserves to be better known.

Todd Webb – ICP has a good selection of his work on-line.
Todd Webb Archive – work from New York, Paris and O’Keefe.
Gothamist has an informative interview with the curator of his NY show at the Curator Gallery April 20-May 20 2017.
Fortune Magazine  has a good feature about his two current shows in NY.

Something completely different?

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Most new cameras that are announced are pretty much the same as our old ones, though the marketing guys would like us all to get all excited about a few more mega-pixels or slightly faster autofocus and other minor improvements, many of which we will never use. And often we fall for it and spend our cash on the latest model, hoping it will in some way revolutionize our picture-making.

Of course all these improvements do add up over time. The Nikon D810 I now use is significantly better in so many ways than my first digital SLR, the D100 in 2002, with its small, dim, viewfinder and its 6Mp sensor. But by the time they brought out the D200 or D300, Nikon had more or less sorted out the major issues, though they tempted me with full frame in 2008 and I upgraded to the D700 the following year. Nikon had actually said for some years that we didn’t need to have full-frame for digital cameras, and essentially they were correct for pretty much all I do – the main advantage is a little more light into the viewfinder, though often I work in DX format as I like being able to view outside the frame – an advantage the Nikon marketing department keep quiet about.

Incidentally, this is a feature that works better on the D810 (and 800) than on the D750. With the D750 you see the viewfinder frame, but it is easier to ignore, especially in the heat of the moment when what you see gets exciting, and I’ve several times framed and taken what I think would have been a great image, only to find later that I’d actually lost half of it and only taken the central part. With the D810 there is some esoteric combination of custom settings (don’t ask me – search in your manual) which allows you to grey out the non-image area of the viewfinder. You can still see the area outside the picture, but it’s very obvious it isn’t a part of the picture.

But there haven’t really been any great advances. I’d still be using the D700 if it hadn’t gone legs up after a little over 520,000 exposures (not bad as it was only rated for 150,000.) It does have a few other minor faults, but it’s still sitting on my desk waiting for me to bother to get an estimate for repair, though I’m convinced it will be beyond economic – along with my 16-35mm f4 lens.

Over the years I’ve read about several new cameras that claimed to be truly revolutionary, and the latest is the Light L16. When I first read about it around a year ago I was frankly a disbeliever, and certainly not convinced enough to risk the thousand dollars or so to back the campaign and get an early camera. The video on its web site explains the concept, with 16 lenses with focal length equivalents of 28 to 150mm, using 10 of them each time you take a picture and digitally combining their images. They promise this will give ‘DLSR quality’ equivalent to using 28 to 150mm lenses from a package the size of a rather fat smartphone.

The camera will produce 52Mp images and will enable you to choose focus and depth of field after taking the picture. I remain more than a little sceptical, but cameras should soon be going out to those who pre-ordered and are expected be on sale to the rest of us towards the end of the year. If it lives up to their expectations, they may be correct in their claim it will be the most significant advance in camera technology since the first Leica. Just a shame they don’t have a wide-angle version!

Another Maier?

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Although I think we can disregard the hype, the negatives bought by holidaying American Tom Sponheim at a Barcelona flea market in 2001 are of interest, like those I’m sure of many unknown photographers in countries around the world, and certainly it was a $3.50 well spent.

Sponheim scanned them and put them on a Facebook page, Las Fotos Perdidas de Barcelona, in 2010 and the few I’ve seen show the work of a competent photographer and some interesting subject matter, though like Maier’s certainly nothing that is going to change the history or trajectory of photography. Though if those examples I’ve seen on the Mashable page where I read this story are typical, possibly some would benefit from better scanning and retouching. Along with the pictures he posted this text:

In 2001 I bought a few envelopes containing negatives at a flea market in Barcelona, Spain. When I got back to the US, I scanned the negatives and discovered that the photos were taken by a very talented photographer. Can you help me identify the people in the photos and the name of the photographer?

Sponheim also advertised in the Barcelona area to try to find information about the photographer, but it was earlier this year that Begoña Fernández saw the page, was thrilled by the pictures and decided to investigate. It took a while for her to find the vital clue and recognise a particular elementary school as the location for some of the images, and then further research in archives of the Agrupació Fotográfica de Catalunya, where finally she found a 1961 magazine with an image she recognised from the Facebook page.. and image by Milagros Caturla that had won 4th prize in a photographic contest.

Back in the late 1970s I was a member of one of the UK’s leading photographic clubs (I usually say we later parted company on sartorial grounds, which is almost true – like many photographic stories) and Caturla’s images would certainly have done well in their monthly competitions. Which is perhaps somewhat faint praise on my part, since many pictures that did well were extremely tedious and clichéd, though their were occasional pictures which rose above this- as hers would have done.

Often more interesting than those club competitions were the occasional jumble sales, where I picked up the occasional bargain, particular among old photo books and odd pieces of equipment, including an old Rolleiflex, but also some junk, including a large stainless steel sink which I had every intention of converting into a print washer, but has actually just cluttered up my loft ever since.

But sadder than these were old exhibition prints from the collections of deceased members, some I think of similar quality to the work of Caturla (and probably representative of other work by the photographers concerned.) A few of these went for as much as a pound or two (and being pretty impecunious at the time, I was outbid on the few that interested me) but many went for pennies or remained unsold – and almost certainly ended up in landfill.  It’s the fate of most photography – including much that would be of interest to later generations and some that might lead to a little posthumous fame.