Archive for July, 2017

John Morris 1916-2017

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Many words have been written and said about the photo-editor John G Morris who died last Friday, 28th July 2017, and he has obviously played a large role in photography over so many years. Probably the most widely read of the obituaries is by Andy Grunberg in the New York Times, and although excellent in many respects it is a shame it was not more carefully brought up to date after being retrieved from the ‘morgue’ where it had been lying for some years in waiting for Morris’s death.

His was a long career as a photo-editor, working for some of the greatest names in photographic publishing – Life,  Ladies’ Home Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic and Magnum Photos.

His was a career in which he undoubtedly recognised the power of a number of images which subsequently became iconic. Although we now can be sure that the legend that he wove around Capa’s actions on D-Day was almost entirely false, he saw the power of one of the 11 frames that Capa exposed which many editors would probably have rejected out of hand for being unsharp – and it was an image that was only more widely recognised for its expressive potential quite a few years later. Had Morris told the truth about it and given the facts that the investigation by A D Coleman and his team have made clear, the image might have been published and long forgotten.

Again, while working for the New York Times, it was Morris who recognised the power of two of the iconic images from Vietnam, and fought to get Eddie Adam‘s picture of a summary execution of a suspected Vietcong by a Saigon police chief on the front page, and fought the paper’s ‘no-nudity’ policy to get  Huynh Cong (Nick) Ut‘s image of a naked young Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm bombing raid published – again on the front page.

It was Morris too who invited W Eugene Smith to join Magnum following his break-up with Life, and apparently suggested him (after Elliot Erwitt had turned it down) for an assignment to photograph Pittsburg – which almost ruined Magnum financially after Smith turned what had been meant as a three week assignment into a year working on what he believed to be his ‘magnum opus’, though it only really got an adequate publication as ‘Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project‘ in 2001, 23 years after Smith’s death.

A D Coleman in Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (36): John G. Morris Dies (Update) has written about some of the obituaries for Morris, including the New York Times one, pointing out some of their many errors. Its also worth reading the comments on his piece, particularly one by Robert Dannin, who calls the story that Morris made up “nothing more than an unprofessional excuse to conceal his apparent embarrassment at Capa’s work on the Normandy beachhead.”

It’s perhaps a little harsh. I can imagine Morris’s immediate shock on looking at the processed film and seeing only 11 images. And then looking a little more closely and seeing that those eleven were all blurred. A little fabrication to protect his friend’s reputation would be understandable. But to invent such an elaborate story and to keep up the deception for as long as Morris and Capa did was clearly unacceptable – and something of a stain on the reputation of both.

Morris was obviously a man who cared about photography and cared for photographers – and you can read a tribute to him by one of those he helped and was a friend to, Peter Turnley, on The Online Photographer. We can remember him for that and should also put the record straight over Capa’s D-Day pictures.

A Day at the Cleaners

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

Small grass roots unions such as the CAIWU, UVW and IWGB representing mainly migrant workers have spear-headed the drive to get the London Living Wage for low paid workers, particularly cleaners in London. Many are Spanish speaking and have found asylum here following various upheavals in Central and South America and others have Spanish passports. With some exceptions, the larger unions have found it hard to engage with these workers, partly because of language difficulties.

Alberto Durango of the CAIWU speaks inside Lloyds against racist sacking by Principle Cleaning Services

Many of those who have come to work in this country have come from more skilled work in their own countries and their qualifications mean little or nothing here or they do not have the language skills needed for similar jobs here. Generally they are more articulate and more politically aware than equivalent British-born workers, and often surprised at what British workers put up with from managers and trade union officials. Perpared to work hard, they demand to be treated with dignity and respect – as some of their placards say ‘We are NOT the dirt We clean’.

When I can, I photograph their protests, though these seldom make the UK newspapers and probably get more coverage around the world than in the UK. The pictures do get shared on social media and the presence of the press at them does increase their impact. Protests are a way of embarrassing the companies to take action, with their noise and visual impact making an impression of those who work in the same building or close by, and also through social media and publication on a wider audience and companies are generally sensitive to any possible damage to their image.

The demands the cleaners make are always reasonable. Everyone should be paid a wage that is enough to live on – the London Living Wage as a minimum. No-one should be bullied or harassed at work, or given impossible workloads. People should get decent conditions of service – sick pay, holidays, pensions… What they are fighting against is largely outsourcing of cleaning work, where reputable companies that would never cut salaries and conditions of their own workers to the bone employ cleaning contractors, generally on fairly short-term contracts which go to the lowest bidder – who trim their bids at the expense of the workers. They cut staffing levels, overworking the cleaners and lowering the standard of cleaning, they cut pay and conditions as far as they are able.

That can mean the legal minimums of pay and conditions, but protests by unions like the CAIWU can manage to persuade those setting the contract to include the insistence that all workers should be paid at least the London Living Wage, and they could also insist on a decent standard of conditions.

But outsourcing of cleaning and other services is just a part of a wider problem that seems particularly rife in the UK. Unnecessary levels of management where company A pays company B to provide a service which they then sub-contract to company C – with sometimes as many as five companies involved, each taking its profit for shareholders between the company that the work is done for and the guy who actually does it.

A security officer starts pushing the protesters, then has clearly been watching too much football…

and suddenly makes a rather unconvincing dive to the floor, pretending he has been hit

The Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU) is a small union with no paid staff and run on the contributions from members and some donations but it is an active one. I hadn’t realised when I travelled up to meet them at Liverpool St Station that they were intending to protest at three offices across the lunch time and early afternoon.

We started by walking to Lloyds, and the cleaners briefly occupied the foyer there before being forced to leave and protesting outside. The union accuse Principle Cleaning Services there of racial discrimination over the sacking two African workers, and of sacking a third African because of his trade union activities.

There was a curious incident when one of the security officers who had been pushing some of the cleaners suddenly dived to the floor, claiming he had been hit – see above. I was standing close to him and would have seen and certainly heard if a blow had been struck. But occasions like this make me realise how much better as evidence it would have been if I had been taking video rather than still photography. Usually there is at least one other photographer present with a video camera, but not on this occasion.

Cleaners leave 155 Moorgate to continue the protest on the pavement outside

The cleaners then walked to Moorgate, to rush in to the lobby of Mace’s headquarters building in Moorgate in a noisy against cleaning contractor Dall Cleaning Service; they accuse the manager there of nepotism and say two cleaners have been improperly dismissed and reductions made in both conditions of service and the actual working conditions.

Again after a short protest inside they walked out to continue the protest in the busy street outside.

The receptionist at the offices housing Claranet’s London HQ pushes CAIWU organiser Alberto Durango

Finally, I caught a bus with them to Holborn, and the offices of Internet service provider Claranet, who with their cleaning contractor NJC have ignored the union’s attempts to negotiate for the London Living Wage where the protest followed the same pattern.

Cleaners at Claranet for Living Wage
Cleaners at Mace protest Dall nepotism
Cleaners in Lloyds against racist sacking


June 2017

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

I’m still working around a month behind on getting My London Diary (MLD) up to date, and despite my efforts don’t seem to be getting any close to finishing publishing the work on time. I do try to post Facebook albums more or less straight away, usually including just the same images I send to one of my agencies and the main caption.

Posts on MLD take longer because I like to include more images. Some of the images I like best are ones that I don’t think an agency would like, and there are often more pictures I think worth posting on-line. Sometimes there are whole stories that I don’t think worth sending to agencies, and I also include some pictures of walks and events that are not news at all in the diary.

Captions on pictures for the agencies are generally fairly concise and factual and on MLD I often want to tell more of the story – and give a more personal and often more political point of view. Captions on MLD have a different function – and assume that people looking at the pictures will be reading the whole story rather than just finding an image in a search.

All of these things takes time – as does putting everything together as web pages.

June 2017

LSE Cleaners Victory Party
Withdraw US troops from Korea
Time for PR – Save Our Democracy
Women protest DUP/Tory talks
Football Lads Alliance at London Bridge
Anti-fascists oppose the EDL

EDL march against terror
London University Security officers
SOAS J4W & IWGB Security Workers

‘Day of Rage’ march for Grenfell
Al Quds march

Zionists protest Al Quds Day March
Brian Haw remembered
Ted Knight speaks for Central Hill

Class War protest Grenfell Murders
No Tory DUP Coalition of Chaos

Justice for Grenfell Downing St protest
Justice for Grenfell Ministry protest
London Co-operative Housing Group report
Stop demolishing council estates
May has to go march!
May has to go rally!
Irish Abortion Rights
Protests follow Hung Parliament Vote

Street Theatre against LSE Inequality

DPAC Trash The Tories in Maidenhead
LSE Cleaners strike Day 7
Liar, Liar protest at BBC
LSE Cleaners strike for equality

London Images


Another Night

Friday, July 28th, 2017

The following evening I was out again taking pictures of a protest, this time in Westminster at Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament. It’s a gloomy place at night, and even worse it was raining.

At times the rain was light, even almost stopping. Then it would poor down. I felt sorry for the protesters, from Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle, including many in wheelchairs, though I think most had decent waterproof clothing and a number also umbrellas.

Of course I had an umbrella too, but it is seldom practical to use one when taking pictures – unless you have an assistant to hold it – and also I needed to work most of the time in a very restricted area between a ring of wheelchairs and the speakers, much of the time in a kneeling position so as not to impede the view of those sitting in the chairs. Occasionally sitting on the damp paving stones. Working with a micro-fibre cloth held on the lens filter, taking it away to take a picture, then wiping and covering up the lens again.

Most of these were taken with the LED light source, with a couple at the start of the event when there was still some weak light from the sky without any added light. Another photographer was videoing the event, and sometimes his LED video light lit up part or all of the scene for me – though other times it shone directly towards me and made taking pictures more or less impossible. I did take a couple of pictures with flash, but in rain it gets to be pretty useless, lighting up the rain drops and giving odd spots across the picture. With exposures around 1/15s to 1/60s spots of rain don’t show up except sometimes as streaks – which look very much like rain. But with the slow shutter speeds and probably a certain amount of shivering from me quite a few of the exposures were blurred even when there were no raindrops on the lens, and quite a few frames were unusable.

I also discovered one of the problems of the Neewer CN-216 LED light. It doesn’t have a battery cover – or at least mine doesn’t, and at one point after it got a slight knock, all 6 batteries fell out and rolled across the wet paving stones. Fortunately I and some of the other people around managed to pick them up, but now I put a length of masking tape across them and the back of the unit after replacing the batteries.

As the evening went on the rain worsened. There was quite a long list of speakers, including the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, for whom the heavens opened pretty drastically. Fortunately he had brought fellow Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey with him to hold an umbrella. They and other MPs came out from the debate on government plants for a cut in Employment and Support Allowance, despite a UN report condemning the ‘grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights’ which had resulted from the UK government welfare reforms..

It was really an evening that called for an underwater camera, or at least an underwater housing. I do carry a cheap plastic bag affair in my camera bag, but find it such a pain that I hardly ever use it. Fortunately I managed to keep the cameras under my coat much of the time, though having the front of it open to do this meant I did get rather wet. I was cold too, and very pleased when I could pack up and go home.

I wasn’t particularly happy with my work at this event – and so many of the images were ruined – but under the circumstances I felt I’d done a decent job to get any results at all. You can see more at End Discriminatory Welfare Reforms.

Night Work

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

I don’t often photograph the Tower of London, but it would, I thought, a nice background for a picture, something that says ‘London’, and I went to the protest being held outside the Tower against the European Custody and Detention Summit being held there hoping to use it in my pictures.

Unfortunately the protest was taking place in the early evening and this was November. There were groups at two locations, one on Tower Hill, where there was a view of the Tower behind the protesters, and a second down below Tower Bridge, where there wasn’t really a much of a view of the bridge and the Tower was completely out of sight.

I’d taken two light sources with me, the Nikon SB800 flash, and a cheap LED light, the Neewer CN-216, which has an 18×12 array of small LEDs  – 216 in all, hence the model number. It takes 6 AA cells, which adds considerably to its weight and will just about fit in a large jacket pocket. The flash, with only 5AAs is a little smaller and lighter.

Knowing it would be dark, I’d also packed the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 and the two pictures above were both taken using this on a Nikon D810. I had the camera on shutter priority and both images were taken at 24mm, using the camera in full-frame mode at 1/50s and f2.8  – but there the simiilarities end. One used the flash at ISO 1,800 and the other the LED light at ISO 6400. Though it seems bright, those LEDs don’t really put out that much light.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which was which. The differences are easier to spot on the 7,360 x 4,912 pixel images, but after processing – including noise reduction – in Lightroom was less than I expected, and looking through the whole set at full screen size my guesses as to which used flash and which were LED where often wrong.

Both are relatively small light sources and so suffer similar problems with light falling off at roughly the square of distance, and I worked a little more ‘head on’ to groups than usual when I could to avoid too much having to dodge and burn in Lightroom.  One advantage of the LED was that I was able to hold it at arms length from the camera – much trickier with flash – and see the results of angling it away from closer subjects. The higher ISO I used with the LED meant that ambient lighting contributed more to the LED lit images and probably I would have been better using ISO 6400 with the flash as well. But I was worried about image quality, though it turns out I need not have been.

Increasing the ISO to 3200 for the wider group, taken with flash and using a Nikon 20mm f2.8  at 1/30s, f/2.8 on a Nikon D750 gave a good balance.

Down below Tower Bridge there was a little more light and I used the flash very little, relying on the LEDs for most pictures, though in some areas there was enough light from the street lights to make them the main light source.  The view of Tower Bridge in some of the pictures isn’t instantly recognisable.

I did have a few problems with fiddle fingers, and working in  S – shutter priority – mode does mean you get underexposure when you push the control dial in the direction of higher shutter speeds. With flash too the exposure drops – though with Auto FP High Speed Sync you no longer get just a fraction of the frame exposed. Fortunately Lightroom can cope with considerable underexposure if – as I do – you shoot RAW images.  And ISO settings don’t really have a great deal of meaning.

In low light conditions you also get problems with slow shutter speeds and subject movement, as well as camera shake. None of the lenses I was using has image stabilisation but it would have been of little or no help. But you do need to make a lot of exposures and to have a little luck.

More pictures of this protest by the Reclaim Justice Network which includes prison activists, refugee solidarity groups and anti-arms trade campaigners against this trade fair for  major arms companies, security companies, prison builders, and others profiting from expanding and privatising the criminal justice system at Custody Summit at the Tower.


Hull Photos: 14/7/17-20/7/17

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

The previous digest although titled Hull Photos: 5/7/17-12/7/17 actually also included the post for 13/7/17 – just showing I’m not too good at counting! Back to 7 days this time – comments and corrections welcome as always.

14th July 2017

There are around 30 vessels in the Old Harbour on the River Hull, mainly in front of the wharves which are at the back of the High St. What is perhaps shocking is the complete loss of those varied frontages on the left, down as far as the large and ugly block next to Scale Lane Staith. That was one which I would have been happy to lose, but the others in their variety were an important part of the cityscape that has been lost, replaced by the dull Trinity Wharf. It isn’t bad – which might be interesting – but dull and second-rate, clearly an opportunity lost.

Further down things are a little better, though the new is perhaps not always up to the standard of the old, and then, crossing the river we now see a horrible gap, the missing tooth of Clarence Mill, which although solidly re-built after the war to something less than its previous glory was a city landmark and an iconic reminder of Hull’s past and Rank’s pioneering achievements. It could and should have been converted to new use rather than demolished, and its loss is something Hull City planners should never be forgiven for. Fortunately my view in this photograph doesn’t extend to the site of the Holiday Inn.

It is an interesting selection of vessels, including two former lightships, one the Middle Whitton and the other at left looking rather like the Upper Whitton, though it has no visible name on it. These were some of the last manned lightships to be replaced by unmanned floats with solar cells to provide power and had a two man crew who did I think two week shifts. The Whitton sands – between Brough and Whitton across the river were notorious. The Middle Whitton apparently became a houseboat named Audrey and was certainly for some years on the canal at Beverley.

36f14: The Old Harbour, River Hull from Myton Bridge, 1983 – River Hull

15th July 2017

My favourite Hull footpath led across the walkway on the side of this swing bridge over the dock entrance and then between the railings and up the steps from which I took this picture to go along the roofs of the dockside warehouses.

A stern notice on the bridge warns you against entering the bridge when the guard chains are across the bridge approaches – and that you will be prosecuted if you get through under or over the guard chain.

But by this time there were no guard chains across the public footpath, and the flashing lights warning of its opening were of little use if you had already walked past them, and a couple of years before I took this picture, my wife, walking slowly pushing a buggy with my younger son in it was crossing slowly, perhaps having stopped to admire the view, when the bridge began to swing.

It wasn’t at that time a heavily used path, something of a secret known to relatively few who hadn’t worked in the docks, and probably the bridge operators had not thought to check there was nobody already on the bridge when they pressed the button for the lights and then for the bridge to swing.

I can’t recall ever meeting another person when I used the path back in the 1980s, but now it is a highlight of the Trans Pennine Trail, and when I visited it last on a fine day in February there were quite a few locals coming to stop and look at the view and to take photographs as well as several walkers setting out towards Southport, or at least on this section of the long-distance path.

I was rather sorry I wasn’t with her – perhaps it would have been a good photo opportunity – but I had walked a little further on with our elder son, and after a while was beginning to worry what had happened to her, though I think was still more interested in taking pictures.

Of course she wasn’t prosecuted – and I think got an apology for having been put in a not very dangerous situation. But Hull’s relatively new Scale Lane footbridge (built to take you to the Holiday Inn?) riding on the bridge is allowed – apparently when it was built the only such bridge in the world. The opening times – currently once every Saturday and twice on Sundays – are listed on the council web site, and it is one of Hull’s best-hidden tourist attractions. Theoretically it also opens for river traffic, though there is little of this now, and smaller craft can pass under the bridge without needing it to open. I think it has greater river clearance than either Drypool or North Bridges.

36f44: Swing Bridge, Albert Dock entrance lock, 1983 – Docks

16th July 2017

I have struggled to find where I took this picture without being able to definitely place it. The chimney in the background is that of Smith & Nephew, just a little west of Ropery St, south of Hessle Rd. There are still five existing smokehouses in the area, two in Daltry St, one in Ropery St, one in Alfred St and the last in English St, but none appear quite to fit the profile of this one, or to have a roof at the correct angle when viewing the chimney.

Nor can I find any building like the main one in the image, quite distinctive with that cut-away corner and external drainpipes. Above the lorry entrance is the name, its start and probably end missing ‘istocrat FOOD’. There was a company listed as ‘Aristocrat Foods Ltd’ but it was in Bransholme. The building at right has a sign too, though again only a part is visible, with the logo ‘nexem’ or ‘nekem’. Surprisingly there is (or was) a Nekem Ltd in Hull, but in a different area with a different logo. Neither does the incomplete name ‘J Stanley Hol’ yield me any clues – though I’m sure there will be someone from Hull able to recognise the location.

Other images taken before and after this are in the I think it likely that the smokehouse and the rest have been demolished and replaced by other buildings. The location that seems most likely is on Edgar St at the corner of Mechanics Lane.

36f61: Works and Smokehouse, possibly Edgar St, 1983 – Hessle Rd

17th July 2017

Obviously the name St Mark’s Square was a part of its attraction to me, but this was also an important site in the growth of Hull, the centre of Hull’s first out of town suburban development by Thomas English, a wealthy local shipbuilder in the first decade of the nineteenth century in an area then known as the Pottery Ground, south of the Hessle Rd. The square was then an open area surrounded by houses, but I could see no trace of that.

The cobbled area at the right and the high brick wall of an industrial building with above it the chimneys and cowls of a fish smokehouse are St Mark’s Square, and Clyens & Son Monumental Masons where two men are enjoying a break at 36 St James St. This is the best of three pictures I took with them in it.

The buildings and the cobbles are still there, though altered. The smokehouse has lost its chimneys and been capped with a roof, while the entrance in which the two men are sitting has been replaced by a wider shuttered opening. The name board has gone and a notice on the side of the building now has an arrow pointing to Wyke Electrical Controls. A faded notice for the yard behind reads J A Lorrimar & Co., Weighing Machine & Slicing Machine Specialists – Food Preparation Equipment, and the whole area was and is a maze of small industrial premises. The was still a board reading Clyens & Son Monumental Masons when Google Streetview first photographed the area in 2008, but the company is no longer at 36 St James Street, but at premises off the Hedon Rd in East Hull.

36f65: Clyens & Son Monumental Masons and St Mark’s Square, 1983 – Hessle Rd

18th July 2017

Still a familiar view, although Pauls has Changed to maizecor and that tall square brick chimney has disappeared.

I was for a while puzzled by the raised section of pavement here but much of Hull is subject to occasional flooding. The low brick wall at right of the picture is I think were the Cottingham Drain went under the road. This was culverted ten or more years before I took this picture, although at least until recently there was a little muddy area visible on that side of the road. The course of the drain through Hull can easily be seen, with a roadway, cycle path or footpath alongside most or all of its course – and the end of the footpath can be seen here running along the side of the building complex.

This area, where the Cottingham and Beverley & Barmston (‘Barmy’) drain enter the Hull is known as ‘High Flags’ and although this is often thought to refer to large paving stones on the nearby wharf where whale oil drums were handled, I wonder if it could simply have been a reference to this causeway needed along an often flooded section of road. High Flags Mill, a Grade II listed Oil Mill built around 1856 is a short distance to the north. Originally operated by Chambers and Fargus it was Hull’s last expelling mill when it closed in 1991.

36g11: Wincolmlee, looking south towards Pauls Agriculture Ltd, 1983 – River Hull

19th July 2017

Another Chambers and Fargus mill on the east side of the Hull immediately below Scott St Bridge. This picture is taken from close to the bridge looking roughly south down-river. It still looks much the same, and is still busy, though now for Finlays, tea and coffee importers.

On the right bank, only the closest building on Wincolmlee still stands, and, in the far distance, North Bridge and the former ship’s warehouse next to it. Further down, Clarence Mill and the sites along Wincolmlee stood completely empty with just a little rubble when I walked past earlier this year.

Gino of Rochester, berthed at the mill was a general cargo coaster, originally called Ambience and built in Hull at the Drypool Engineering and Drydock Co, a ship repair company founded in 1921 by the Rix family which was liquidated in 1975, when two of its drydocks were sold to the Yorkshire Drydock Co of Hull; she became Gino in 1982. Gross weight 391 tons she was eventually sold to Qatar (along with apparently most of the UK) but unfortunately sank after breaking tow in Qatar in 1997.

36g14: River Hull, view downstream from beside Scott St Bridge, 1983 – River Hull

20th July 2017

The Whalebone Inn has gone up in the world without losing it’s unique character since I took this picture, and is now described as Yorkshire’s hidden gem and was Hull and East Yorkshire CAMRA Pub of the Year in 2014 and 2015.

The ramshackle lean to at right disappeared years ago leaving a small open yard. The pub has its main frontage on Wincolmlee, which is around three times as wide but was also in fairly poor shape back in 1983. Then it rather seemed the sort of pub you would only enter with backup, but it is now far more welcoming.

This area, some distance north of the old city of Hull once used to be known as Wapping, probably meaning it was marshy, and streams and dykes have run through here to the River Hull since medieval times. The inn is said to date from 1791, but has had a few updates since, and the buildings look basically early nineteenth century, when it had a brewery opposite and another a few yards down Lincoln St, with three more only a little further distant and from 2003 to 2015 it had its own micro-brewery next door. The windows seem to date from a makeover in the Art Deco years of the 1920s and 30s. Paul Gibson has written a detailed account of what is know about this and other pubs in the area on his Hull and East Yorkshire History site.

A reviewer on Pubs galore describes the Whalebone Inn at length, including “The whole pub is an absolute mine of memorabilia, the highlight of which, for me, was the many wonderful black and white photos of old Hull pubs, many no doubt long since gone, most of which have a handwritten note detailing the pub’s name and location.” You could probably spend a few weeks inside looking at all of the objects and photographs while steadily working through the range of real ales.

36g24: Whalebone Inn, Lincoln St entrance, 1983 – River Hull

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.

Kurds oppose Turkish Dictator

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

I’ve long admired the Kurds and their continuing struggle for their identity and culture in Turkey and elsewhere against a long policy of ‘Turkification’ since the end of the First World War. I think I first photographed them in October 1999 on the streets of London shortly after the arrest and death sentence (later commuted to life imprisonment) of their nationalist leader, Abdullah Ocalan, the face on many flags, still held in prison on a Turkish island.

Since then I’ve photographed many protests they have taken part in as well as cultural festivals, including their New Year festivities and of course London’s May Day march.  As well as the protests they organise, they also take part in a wide range of other protests in London.

Although their struggles have gained some advances for Kurds in Turkey they are still very much under attack – military and otherwise – from the Turkish government under Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is increasingly pushing through laws and repressing opposition including the Kurds to make himself a dictator. Its a process that has accelerated since the Kurds gained greater representation in the Turkish parliament.

While Kurds outside Turkey, have made progress,  particularly in Iraq and now Syria where they have achieved de-facto independence, peace talks in Turkey initiated from prison by Ocalan broke down in 2015, since when the Turkish state has tightened its programme of repression and human rights abuses.

Erdogan used the rather pathetic military coup attempt of 15 July 2016, thought by many to be a ‘False flag’ event, as an excuse to carry out wholesale arrests of his political opponents, including MPs, academics and journalists.

There is a pragmatism about Kurdish protests, and a determination that is missing from many of those more organised events on London’s streets, and an unwillingness to be bound by petty restrictions and bylaws. I don’t think that they ever march along chanting ‘Whose Streets! Our Streets!’ but unlike some other groups that do, it is something they put into practice.  I met them in Parliament Square, from where the marched up Whitehall to Downing St, and then on to Trafalgar Square, where I left them. They told me they would perhaps go on to the BBC and from there to the Turkish Embassy in Belgrave Square.

And in Syria, in Rojava, a polyethnic community home to many Kurds among others and also known as Western Kurdistan, again thanks to Ocalan from jail in Turkey, they have put in place a remarkable constitution based on a “Charter of the Social Contract”  embodying the principles of democratic socialism, gender equality and sustainability. It is a model for democracy while perhaps not perfect in its application makes our own aging pseudo-democratic and class-dominated system look rather autocratic.

Kurds march through London

Cleaners should be partners

Monday, July 24th, 2017

1/20s, f/4, ISO 1,600, -0.3Ev 10mm, 15.4MP NIKON D810 10.0-20.0 mm f/4.0-5.6

“To flash or not to flash” was the question I was asking myself as the protest outside John Lewis’s flagship Oxford St store got going at around twenty past five on a November afternoon. I normally think of a major shopping street like this being brightly lit at night, but once you start taking pictures you find there are spots where little light reaches, and even with digital cameras that produce remarkable results at ISO 6400 things can be difficult.

1/50s, f/2.8, ISO 360, -0.7Ev  60mm, NIKON D750, 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8

It was indeed so dark where I was standing in a crowd that when I was setting up the flash on the D750 that at first I managed to get some of the settings rather strange – and found myself taking pictures using spot metering and ISO 360.  I’d not been using the camera long and it isn’t so easy to change settings as with the other Nikons I’ve used.

But protests involving the United Voices of the World and supporters including Class War tend to be fairly dynamic events, and the 1/15 second shutter speeds in some ares without flash made recording them difficult, so most of the pictures I made without flash had some unsightly blurs. Sometimes – as in the top picture a little blur works to make a part of the picture stand out, but often it is just a mess.

1/60s, f/11, ISO 1,100, -0.3E 20mm, NIKON D810 10.0-20.0 mm f/4.0-5.6

Although I work with two cameras I only use one flash unit – usually a Nikon SB800 that integrates well with the camera and using 5 AA cells gives reasonable recycling times (it will also work more slowly with only four.) But it is a little large and inconvenient on top of the camera, and using one on both cameras just makes things physically impossible for me. So I was using one unit, switching it from D750 to D810.

1/60s, f/11, ISO 4,500, -0.3Ev  14mm, NIKON D810 10.0-20.0 mm f/4.0-5.6

Because of various problems – like my Nikon 18-35mm having seized up with very nasty rattling noises, I’d chosen to work instead in DX mode with a Sigma 10-20mm that I’d had when I used DX cameras. And because I knew the light would be low, I’d also taken the Sigma 24-70 f2.8 rather than a slower Nikon telephoto zoom. The Sigma is heavier but the extra stop at f2.8 does make a difference. So for once all the pictures are taken on Sigma lenses – and I think they do as well.

1/15s, f/5, ISO 5,000, -1.7Ev 10mm, NIKON D750 10.0-20.0 mm f/4.0-5.6

And for almost the last picture, I went back to using the wide angle without flash because with people close to the camera and perhaps 20 ft away there was no way to get even light using flash.

More on the protest and of course many more pictures, mainly taken with flash, at Make John Lewis cleaners Partners.


Culture Threatened

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

I’m fortunate that my local library seems largely to have escaped the effects of the drastic cuts that have led to so many being closed, and our reductions in services have been slight. I go there most weeks, and seldom travel to take pictures without a library book in my camera bag. On a typical working day I spend an hour and a half or more on trains and tube, and usually I read to pass the time.

And sometimes when I’ve the occasional half-hour or hour between events I’m covering, I’ll slip into a museum or gallery – and often I’m around Trafalgar Square and it’s great to be able to go and look at what I call my pictures, those I own with the rest of the nation in our National Gallery. Free entry makes going in for just a few minutes viable, and I can sit or stand in front of some a Cezanne or a Van Gogh.  I’ve very occasionally been in homes where people have such things on their walls, but I’m much happier to have a gallery to look after mine – and show them off to thousands of others.

Candy Udwin, who led a long strike against privatisation at the National Gallery

And I’m pleased too that a little of my own work is actually in a couple of London institutions, stored archivally and so available to future generations – and I hope in time that more will join it.  But cuts to local government funding have led to hundreds of libraries being closed, and hundreds no longer having paid staff but being run by volunteers. Volunteers may be doing a great job – and probably some come from the over 8,000 trained library workers who have lost their jobs, but the future for them is uncertain.

Many museums too depend on local government funding – and again have suffered cuts and reductions in opening hours. Increasingly they are seen as businesses with the emphasis on making money rather than on educating and informing the public, and many trained staff are being replaced by low-paid and often untrained workers as the outsourcing of staffing continues.

It isn’t just in the UK that these things have been happening, and there was a sizeable group of French cultural workers from the CGT on the march .

As well as the trade union banners and placards from various unions there was also a wide range of hand-made posters, not well-represented in the few images here. You can see many more of them in Save Libraries, Museums & Galleries on My London Diary.

The march ended with speeches on the steps of Trafalgar Square with a number of authors, artists, campaigners and politicians speaking.


Mind Outed

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Charities often come in for criticism for various reasons, and our charity law is in some respects curious. Many question why schools founded hundreds of years ago for the education of poor scholars – clearly a worthwhile charitable aim – should still have charitable status when they now are exclusive high-fee institutions maintaining the English class system. And others, founded more recently often to meet desperate social needs often now seems to be rather commercial undertakings more interested in empire building than in their original aims, with directors paid ten or twenty times the average wage – though often still relying on a great deal of volunteer labour as well as charitable donations.

I probably should declare an interest, as my wife is a trustee of two small charities and a volunteer for another, all unpaid and all still serving some useful purpose.

Mind is a mental health charity, and most of those taking part in this protest were from the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and with first-hand experience of the charity as users, and some had disturbing stories about how they had been treated at local centres run by Mind.

Of course when people speak we are only hearing one side of the story and having had considerable personal experience of living with and knowing people with mental health issues, starting at a very young age, I sometimes had my doubts about how others might have seen the events they describe. Of course we all see the world from our own perspective, but sometimes this is more distorted than others.

Since the Tories came to power – at first in the 2010 coalition – welfare reforms and sanctions, along with cuts in local authority services because of their austerity programme, have led to the premature deaths of many with mental health problems. The MHRN and Mind for some time worked together taking the government to court over the unfair way that Work Capability Assessments discriminated against people with mental health conditions.

But now, Mind has dropped out of the fight, ending support for the court case and failing to mention the effects of government policies in its latest five-year strategy report. MHRN says it is now colluding with the government, and as evidence, its policy and campaigns manager Tom Pollard has been seconded to work as a senior policy adviser to the DWP, the arm of government responsible for the deaths.

What was unusual about this protest was that instead of locking the doors, hiding inside and calling the police as so often happens when protests take place, Mind’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, came out to speak and argue with the protesters.

There were some angry exchanges, with Farmer insisting that Mind was still working for people with mental health problems and not for the DWP, and that Pollard’s secondment had been a personal decision by him to find out more about the government’s thinking, not to assist them in discriminating against the mentally ill. I don’t think any of the protesters were convinced, but I did feel that perhaps there was really more common ground between them than the protest suggested.

But while Mind may be convinced that their change of approach is still fighting their corner, I suppose what matters is how effective it is, and nine months later government policy has only worsened. It is becoming increasingly difficult not to think that starvation and suicide are deliberate Tory policies for dealing with the the disabled and mentally ill rather than simply a side-effect. Time I think for Mind to rethink.

More pictures at Mind’s collusion with the DWP.