Archive for October, 2017

Channelsea River

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

The Channelsea is still visible below this end of the footbridge

It was I think in 1981 or 2 that I first came across the Channelsea River and walked along the path alongside it from Stratford High St to Three Mills. I was really a few years too late, because the section s outh of Stratford High St to Abbey Lane had been culverted around 20 years earlier, and further north there were only isolated sections above ground.

Channelsea Path

By then the river was a ghost of its former self. Back in the 19th century it had been one of three major streams of the River Lea, running parallel to the main river down through Temple Mills (the tidal limit of the Lea) where the Channelsea diverged from the Waterworks River which had left the main stream around a mile north on Hackney Marsh. There were several channels or ditches joining the streams probably some with sluices.

Channelsea River from footbridge, Stratford

Close to where the railway from Hackney Wick crossed the river the Channelsea turned east, roughly following the old line of the railway to Stratford Station – where you can still see it as a ditch from the west end of the footbridge just south of the station.

Channelsea River from Northern Outfall Sewer

Below Abbey Lane the Channelsea is wide and almost entirely tidal, with Channelsea island in the middle – and the channel to the west of the island is Abbey Creek. During heavy rainfall the sewers receive more water than they can cope with and overflow into the river here and used to flow upriver on the tide.

Abbey Mills sewage pumping station from Northern Outfall Sewer

The whole of the Bow Back Rivers was radically altered in the 1930s, following the 1930 River Lee Act. This enabled the Lee Conservancy Board and West Ham Borough Council to widen the Three Mills River and Waterworks River to 100ft to take flood water away, and to construct the Prescott Channel to take flood water from them into the Channelsea at Three Mills. The City Mill River was also made wider and deeper and provided with concrete banks as a 50ft wide navigable stream. It’s unclear whether there was any real intention for this to be widely used, or if its construction was mainly to provide employment for the many local unemployed.

Where the Channelsea goes under Stratford High St

The most recent and entirely dubious scheme was the construction of a new lock on the Prescott Channel, at a huge cost and under the pretence it would be used to bring in material and take out rubble from the Olympic site. Completed in 2009 it was used for a few photo-calls but the huge bulk of site material was moved in and out by lorry. It can be seen as a huge public subsidy to the developers whose blocks are growing on the upstream banks, protecting their properties and their future residents noses from the sometimes odiferous flood tides.

During the lock construction the riverside paths along the Channelsea were closed. The Long Wall path from the Northern Outfall Sewer (rebranded the Greenway in the 1990s but retaining its slightly sweet and disturbing sewage odour) to the lock reopened only around six years after completion, but that on to Three Mills from the Prescott Channel remains closed.

You can see more pictures from my walk at West Ham to Stratford – Channelsea River.

My London Diary 2006

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

I’m not sure whether to be annoyed or amused or what to find that my book 2006: My London Diary, published on Blurb in 2012 is now available for ‘free’ download from a Russian web site in various formats and has so far apparently been downloaded 21,407 times. Which I think is over 21,000 more than I’ve actually sold copies to.

What I do know is that my profit from those downloads comes to exactly zero. This isn’t the first time that I’ve found one of my books available in this way and I think a diligent search would reveal more sites making offers of this kind, but its an area of the web that often makes my security software pop up warnings and suggest I get out of there without delay. And I certainly wouldn’t dream of downloading anything from the particular site, which also demands some kind of membership fee to use its download services.

2006: My London Diary costs £6.49 for a legal ‘Instant PDF’ download from Blurb, who take about three-quarters of that for themselves but I still get a reasonable payment. Of course even if the 21,407 is an accurate figure I haven’t actually lost the £35,000 or so that this number of legitimate sales would have provided, as only a very much smaller number if any would have considered a purchase rather than a free download and my real financial loss is most likely in two rather than three figures.

Back in 2006 when I took these pictures, DSLRs were a little more primitive than now, and so was the software for processing RAW files. But the Nikon D200 I was then using – bought immediately it became available in December 2005 – was perhaps the first really decent digital camera I owned, a real step up from the D100, particularly so far as the viewfinder was concerned – and with around twice the file size. Though its 10.2Mp sensor is small by recent standards it was really enough for almost all purposes. A couple of years later I updated to the D300, also a significant advance.

Head and shoulders above other RAW processing software at the time was Pixmantec’s Rawshooter image processing software which I used for developing these images. Adobe couldn’t match it, so in June 2006 they bought it out and slowly used its technology to bring Lightroom up to scratch. For the book I reworked all of the pictures in the latest Lightroom at the time, Lightroom 3.5, but still ended up using many of the Rawshooter files.

There are a few images in the book I’d do a little differently today, and I would probably also make a slightly different choice of images. But it was tough. My initial selection from the roughly 6000 images I’d published on the web was around 3000, and I had to cut that down to around 70 for the book, to keep within the 80 page format I wanted to publish.

It’s still a good cross-section of my work from that year, and I was happy to have a copy of it in one of our major collections – and they also have a CD with most or all of the 6000 from that year.

The book is still available on Blurb, though the print version (softcover only) is a little expensive at over £33, and Blurb’s delivery fee adds a ridiculous amount. I alway recommend the PDF version, but should you want a hardcopy then buy directly from me and save considerably – I still have a few copies at £25 + £2p/p – details are here.

One small satisfaction from that Russian site, apart from knowing that 21407 people have bothered to look at my work, is that the book gets a rating on the site of 8.5/10 – which doesn’t seem bad.

The Salgado Effect

Monday, October 16th, 2017

Like me you have probably seen the set of pictures by Kevin Frayer published by The Guardian Documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis – in pictures.

They are a powerful set of pictures and I have a great deal of admiration for the photographer having gone to document the situation and managing to photograph scenes such as this. But I also found myself feeling a little uneasy at certain aspects.

I think I remember years ago Don McCullin discussing the dangers of aestheticising scenes of violence and death, I think in relation to working in Biafra. Obviously we need to produce powerful images using the tools at our command, but there comes a point where making pictures out of scenes conflicts with showing the brutal realities.

I’m also a little disturbed by the use of black and white rather than colour in these and many other sets of images, the huge majority of which are actually made in colour. Perhaps Frayer worked in black and white either on film or on that Leica M Monochrom but the images have a look that owes much to software. With many photographers conversion to black and white is simply an affectation that makes them think their work is more documentary, or perhaps reflect their admiration for the work of photographers such as Salgado (whose work sprang to my mind looking at some of these pictures), Frayer (or his post-production team) certainly take full advantage of its possibilities, much too full for my taste.

Photographers have long taken advantage of the possibilities offered in the production of their images, whether in darkroom or with Silver Efex. Where would Gene Smith’s Spanish Wake be without the hours (and the ferricyanide and whisky) in the darkroom? But as Horacio Fernández comments on this image, the selection of pictures for Time’s 1951 Spanish Village essay (one of the landmarks of photojournalism) were made “paying more attention to beauty and emotional meanings than to information and political commentary.”

Of course, as Smith said, “The honesty lies in my—the photographer’s—ability to understand…I will retouch.” And we all do to some extent. Some of my pictures have a little help from Lightroom’s ‘Clarity‘ brushed delicately on faces or elsewhere (though mainly I work rather less aggressively with a little added exposure and contrast – it’s something that has enabled me to largely move away from using fill-flash.) But in these images it has been applied with a shovel not to enhance what was there but to create a deliberate and to my eyes un-photographic effect. Some of these images are well onto the way to becoming film posters for the crisis rather than exposing it to the world.

In How not to photograph the Rohingya genocide in the making… Suchitra Vijayan examines these pictures and also features a lengthy YouTube video of a talk with writer Maaza Mengiste, Unheard of things – the vocabularies of violence. I’ve not listened to all 88 minutes, but it is worth starting as I did at 38:10.

And here’s another set of photographs – also in black and white – of the crisis. Less dramatic, less aestheticized, less post-produced but I think that Greg Constantine work is somehow more real and tells the story better. And there are other pictures both black and white and colour that do so too.

International Women’s Day 2017

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

The Socialist Party of American organised the first Women’s Day to take place on March 8th, although theirs was a ‘National Women’s Day‘. The idea of an International Women’s Day was adopted by the 1910 International Conference of Socialist Women and in 1911 it was celebrated on March 8th in United States, Switzerland, Denmark, and Austria but in Germany and elsewhere of March 19th. It was not until 1914 it was adopted worldwide. In London on March 8th 1914 the Suffragettes marched from Bow to Trafalgar Square.

Universal female suffrage was the main demand of those first marches, but they also had a whole range of other demands, including labour laws to guarantee women’s rights, free social childcare and education, equal treatment for single mothers, international solidarity and the overthrow of capitalism.

A protest in Parliament Square March 8th – also Budget Day – by Global Women’s Strike in solidarity with the International Women’s Strike (IWS) taking place in 46 countries was firmly in this tradition, and there were contributions from groups supporting women, including the victims of domestic violence, the disabled and the victims of family courts. Later they went on to hold a vigil on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields in solidarity with the farmers of the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand, many of whom are women.

A short distance down the road, Women Against State Pension Inequality – WASPI – held a rally against the changes in the state pension scheme which are unfair to women born in the 1950s. Although the effects of the The 1995 Pension Action Act which set out the plan to equalise the pension age for men and women were well publicised, little warning was given when the 2011 Pension Act accelerated the process for this and for raising the pension age, and there was too little time even for those women approaching pension age who realised what was happening to make alternative plans.

Later in the day opposite Downing St Fourth Wave London Feminist Activists staged a protest against the unjust, ideologically-driven cuts to public services that are disproportionately felt by women, and also against the way that International Women’s Day despite its socialist roots has been appropriated with the media giving extensive coverage to corporate events concentrating on getting more women in boardrooms and other highly paid jobs.

I ended my day with London Polish Feminists and Global Women’s Strike (again) at St Pancras for an International Women’s Day flash mob at St Pancras International in solidarity with women in 46 countries taking part in the International Women’s Strike. It was a colorful event, and the colours were black and red – clothing, umbrellas, masks and flowers – choreographed by the Polish feminists. After a rehearsal in the station foyer the group went down into the concourse and gave a performance there.

They had apparently requested permission for the event, but when it was refused decided that they would go ahead in any case. Police came to talk with them but didn’t stop it.

More from all of these events – and a rather curious Russian gesture which perhaps reflected a more misogynistic attitude to women:

From Russia With Love
International Women’s Strike
Vigil for Thai Farmers
Death By A Thousand Cuts
WASPI at Parliament


Save Our NHS

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

It’s never easy to estimate the size of large marches, though sometimes I try. With small marches you can simply stand on the side and count as people walk past, but this gets tedious with more than a few hundred. Even on fairly small marches it soon becomes impossible to actually count every person, as sometimes people are in crowded groups, hard to actually be sure you see everyone, and I have to estimate groups of ten as they move past, but probably my count is withing a few percent of the total.

With large marches a different approach is needed. I try and pick a typical section of the march and take a count for a minute. And then use the time it takes the march to go past a particular place somewhere in the middle of the route. Some marches have large gaps, and an allowance has to be estimated for that. Using methods like this I’d hope to be somewhere in the right area, and unlikely to be more than perhaps 25% out. So if around 500 people go past in a minute, and the whole march in around an hour, then there were roughly 30,000 taking part – as was the case for this march.

Once it used to be good enough to average out the estimates from the organisers and from the BBC, or perhaps just double the police estimate, but the police seem to have stopped giving out their numbers and the BBC and march organisers have both become completely unreliable – and the BBC hardly notice most marches.

The Save Our NHS march was certainly a large one, certainly one of the largest if not the largest so far this year, but the organisers’ claim of 250,000 was unbelievable. Making exaggerated claims is I think counter-productive and undermines the credibility of the event and the claims, which is unfortunate.

This was a very large march, and one that reflects a huge degree of public support – though unfortunately many are not aware of what is happening to the NHS. Of course there are reports about the state of the NHS in the media, but they seldom do more than report its failings and seldom examine the reason behind them. The privatisation of services has been taking place for years now, with private healthcare companies taking over the simpler aspects of the NHS that are easy to profit from – and whose low costs used to offset the more complex and expensive treatments, but relatively little of this has been made clear in the media.

The increasing use of agency staff too, and the financial implications of that has failed to get the attention it deserves, despite the terrible financial drain it represents (as does huge amounts spent on largely unnecessary fees for consultancy.) It’s only very recently that public debate has begun to recognise the terribly corrosive effect of PFI contracts – started under John Major but largely negotiated under New Labour – has had, something which those in the NHS and activists have been aware of and calling for government action over at least since the financial crash completely changed the environment under which they were agreed.

There had been a rally at the start of the march which I’d photographed some of the more interesting speakers, including Green Party Health spokesperson Larry Sanders (Bernie’s brother) above, and there was to be another at the end in Parliament Square, but I didn’t make it there. Doubtless there would have been speeches from political and trade union leaders – Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey and someone from showbiz, but I’d had enough when I reached Trafalgar Square. Plenty of others would be photographing the speakers and I was tired and didn’t feel up to facing the scrum.

I’d already taken a great many pictures – some great placards and posters and many interesting people. You can see quite a few of them at Save our NHS March.


Hull Photos: 8/9/17 – 14/9/17

Friday, October 13th, 2017

I’m still managing to post a picture every day on Hull Photos, and there are plenty more still to come, though I’ll need to scan another batch soon, but I keep forgetting to post these weekly digests here on >Re:PHOTO. Of course you can see the new pictures added each day at Hull Photos, and I also post them each morning with the short comments below on Facebook.

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

8th September 2017

Wincolmlee and Oxford St meet at the north end of Oxford St at a fairly acute angle, and this filling station occupied the tight triangle between them, now taken up by McCoy Engineering, who occupy both the large shed and the smaller brick building in the background behind the pumps.

This was naturally a Rix petrol station, just a stone’s throw from their site further north on Wincolmlee, the petrol equivalent of a brewery tap. I loved the way it fitted into the site and the upcurved sweep of the canopy at the left, as well as the simple and symmetrical design of that in the centre.

Behind is a large factory building on Wincolmlee, still there, though for sale when I took this picture. For some years later it sold pine furniture and more recently was Mattress Master and Mould-it. The building in the background at centre right, which looks as if it might have once been a chapel has been demolished, though I think a low section of its walls, around three or four feet high, remains as a site boundary.

84-4e-23: The Oxford Filling Station, Wincolmlee/Oxford St – River Hull

9th September 2017

Underneath each of the numbers 1-6 neatly painted on this factory wall is a small wooden notice with the message ‘Reserved‘. But occupying these parking bays when I took this picture was a large heap of some unknown substance and I wondered briefly if underneath this lay buried the cars containing those privileged people who had their reserved parking spaces here. But on reflection I think the piles of whatever were only three or four feet high, insufficient to cover the revenge of some wronged worker – unless he came with a bulldozer to flatten the vehicles or it was just the managers’ bodies below them.

I no longer remember the exact location where I took this, though the frame previous was taken in Cooper St, and the next frame at the start of Cannon St, and so I think this was probably in Green Lane, in front of some long-demolished factory.

84-4e-32: Parking bays, Green Lane/Wincolmlee Area, 1984 – River Hull

10th September 2017

Somewhere in my wandering between Cannon St and Oxford St and Wincolmlee, most likely in Lincoln St, I came upon this house with painted sunflowers, the works and perhaps the work of Richard Bacon Inflatables. I think the house has now gone, and Richard Bacon Inflatables has sunk without trace, though doubtless some people in Hull – and perhaps even Richard Bacon – will remember it 33 years later.

Apart from the flower and the house door, out of keeping with the building there were other aspects which attracted me to this house, which somehow appeared like a slice cut out of a terrace, tall and thin, and marked out for further slicing by the verticals of the shadow, telephone post and drainpipe.

At the time ‘inflatables’ meant nothing to me. Did Richard Bacon make balloons, perhaps blimps, air-beds or life-size plastic doll sex toys – or even large and rather blobby plastic sunflowers?

RIBs or Rigid Inflatable Boats are still made in the area, and Humber RIBs, based further south at 99 Wincolmlee, claims to be the UK’s leading RIB manufacturer with the most extensive range and over 12,000 craft built to date and. And at 246 Wincolmlee is a large sign with letters on the wall now reading (unless more have since been lost) ‘in l t ble b at sales’, which took me a little while to decipher.

84-4e-35: Richard Bacon Inflatables, Wincolmlee Area, 1984 – River Hull

11th September 2017

This view looking south down Wincolmlee has changed remarkably little, although there have been some significant changes in the area. The bridge which frames the image has been repainted with the name of new company, Maizecor, incorporated in 1991 and still in business despite various periods of financial difficulties (during one of which in 2007 its then managing director died after falling 200ft from the top of its silo having apparently previously slit his wrists – the inquest returned an open verdict) and the rather fine streetlamps have disappeared, along with the road signs.

Gone too is the board for Bridgeside Garage, and a large metal shed for Northern Accessfloors has appeared on the corner of Scott St. But the other buildings are still present with few visible alterations, with the view down Wincolmlee to the many chimneys of the Charterhouse.

But more basic changes are hidden from view – most notably that Scott St Bridge to the left has now been closed to road traffic for around 25 years. The much-used urinal that stood close by it is also long gone, and the riverbank behind Grosvenor Mill at the centre of the picture, then still lined with wharves and buildings, is now empty with just a few bare areas used as car parks.

84-4e-51: Pauls Agriculture Limited and Wincolmlee, 1984 – River Hull

12th September 2017

Hull had a number of vandalised cemeteries – and under the Youth Opportunities Programme in the 1970s the young unemployed were put to use to further vandalise some of them, given a nominal wage for doing what they had previously done for free. This one on Sculcoates Lane had not been subjected to the official mistreatment as it was still owned by the Church of England.

There were two cemeteries on Sculcoates Lane, both overflows from another a little further east at the corner of Air St and Bankside which was the original St Mary’s Churchyard. Sculcoates in the 19th century was a densely populated area and the churchyard became crowded. The cemetery on the south side of Sculcoates Lane, where this picture was taken, was opened by the Church of England in 1818 to cope with the growing demand, and had a mortuary chapel (destroyed by wartime bombing) so became known as the Sculcoates Sacristy Cemetery.

Demand for burial space remained high – Sculcoates was a heavily industrialised area and pollution levels will have kept life expectancy in the area low – and a third parish cemetery was opened on the north side of the lane in the 1890s – Sculcoates Lane North Cemetery (also known as St Helena Gardens Cemetery.) There were relatively few burials in the Sacristy Cemetery after 1920, and these were mainly of people being added to existing graves. The last burial there appears to have been of 82 year old William Marshall (no relative) in 1955, added to the grave of his beloved wife Martha who had died 39 years earlier.

Since 2007 the cemetery has been run by and tidied up by the local community who have also photographed many of the graves for ‘’ but is still pleasantly overgrown and apparently popular with ghost-hunters, a group of whom led by local historian and Ripperologist Mike Covell heard loud moanings coming from one corner of the site and walked in on a porn film being shot there, much to the consternation of the actors in flagrante delicto. His story was widely reported in the popular press.

And no, there is no real Hull connection with Jack the Ripper, though given that thousands have been put forward as being the murderer it is hardly surprising that at least two, James Maybrick and Frederick Bailey Deeming, had a Hull connection.

84-4f-35: Sculcoates Sacristy Cemetery, Sculcoates Lane, 1984 – Beverley

13th September 2017

Another picture featuring the cobbles of Glass House Row, taken shortly after the previous landscape format image posted earlier which was on the last (39th) frame of a cassette of Agfapan 100. I stopped more or less where this picture was taken (probably moving into the shade by the wall) to reload my camera with my more usual Ilford FP4 (or Tri-X) and then took several similar portrait format images before more or less repeating the previous exposure and then waling down Glass House Row for some more pictures.

Glass House Row comes to a dead end at an industrial site and I think I had to retreat to Cleveland St to make my way up to Foster Street and the path to walk back over Wilmington Swing Bridge. A great deal of demolition was in progress in the area then and more since; the sidings for the cement works have gone and there is a different road layout with a large roundabout.

84-4f-62: Glass House Row, off Cleveland St, 1984 – River Hull

14th September 2017

Field St, off Holderness Rd, running down to Abbey St, was laid out a few years before the parish of Drypool-cum-Southcoates became a part of Hull in 1837 and was first known as Marfleet Lane. Later it became Prospect Place and in the 1960s it was renamed after a prominent Hull seed merchant, grocer and tea merchant William Field.

Field’s daughter Esther Ellen in 1873 married one of Hull’s greatest men, Thomas Ferens, a fellow Methodist Sunday School teacher though they separated during the First World War. Ferens continued to teach Sunday School throughout his life. A great philanthropist he worked his way to become general manager and then joint chairman of Reckitt & Sons, and donated much of his earnings to various causes, including the Hull Art gallery that bears his name and the University he brought into being with a donation of a quarter of a million pounds in 1925, which accounts for its motto ‘Lampada Ferens’. Ferensway was opened the year after his death in 1930. He on several occasions refused a knighthood, but was called by The Times ‘The Prince of Hull‘.

Abbey Street was only created in the 1890s, and was not named after a religious establishment but after Alderman Thomas Abbey who was a member of the local board with responsibility for laying out streets and had the reputation of being the rudest man in Hull. A B Rooms, Locksmiths and Safe Specialists, now trade in rather larger and more modern premises on Abbey Rd.

The building which this sign was on is I think that described in the Holderness Road (West) conservation area document as “Late Victorian building now altered beyond all recognition”. Formerly a commercial school, possibly a parish school, the parish relief office, parish dispensary and a “whitesmiths” (a worker in tin or other metals, including tin plate and galvanised iron) it certainly now requires a considerable leap of the imagination to recognise any of its past – and indeed from its frontage to recognise it as the building I photographed back in the 1980s.

84-4k-01: A B Rooms Locksmiths, Field St, 1984 – East 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.

MOMA Clearout

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

If you have rather more than £50 to spare and feel like indulging yourself, then the news (from PetaPixel) that MOMA is having a clear-out sale of prints it no longer needs may come as good news.

Over 400 prints are up for sale, mainly on-line through Christies – and you can browse the lots on-line, though the news has come a little late as by the time you read this the auctions for the October sales will probably be over. The site lists the schedule for the sales:

October 2017
MoMA: Pictorialism into Modernism
MoMA: Henri Cartier-Bresson

December 2017
MoMA: Women in Photography

January 2018
MoMA: Garry Winogrand
MoMA: Bill Brandt

April 2018
MoMA: Walker Evans
MoMA: Tracing Photography’s History

The 400 pictures includes some of the better-known images by many of the photographers included, and the prices are likely to be high. But its a good opportunity to view a great set of images on-line.

And if, like me, you can’t afford to bid for ‘HENRI CARTIER–BRESSON (1908–2004) Behind the Gare St. Lazare, Paris, 1932’ for which, as I write the current bid is USD 35,000 (£27,741) then you can console yourself with the thought that its actually much better to own a whole book of his pictures, such as ‘The Decisive Moment‘, republished in 2014/5, which you can still buy on the web for a little over £100 including postage. Or if that is beyond your budget, you can buy the perfectly adequate though not quite as desirable Photo Poche or Aperture volumes of his work secondhand for little more than a fiver.

£50 Lottery

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

Although it’s for a good cause, I probably won’t be buying one of the 1,250 tickets available matching the number of postcard-sized photographs showing from 12th- 25th October at Theprintspace in Shoreditch. Though it would mean getting a unique print will be an edition of one with a signed certificate of authenticity I’m not sure what I would do with it, and although there are some excellent pictures in those I’ve so far seen, there are also a number I certainly wouldn’t like – and this is a lottery.

But I also don’t like the idea of limited editions of any size in photography. I’m happy to get photographs from other charities I donate to, but they come in mass-printed magazines and handouts that, after reading and appreciating I happily recycle. But I’d find it hard to put a limited edition print in the rubbish, and feel if I intended to sell it on eBay that maybe it isn’t charity but a money-making exercise.

Of course The Hepatitis C Trust is a worthy cause, and their aim to eliminate Hepatitis C from the UK by the year 2030 deserves support. And if this exhibition encourages more people to donate £50 its a good thing, but somehow it just doesn’t feel my thing. I kind of hope it is yours, which is why I’m writing about it.

I read about Photography on a Postcard today on It’s Nice That, an organisation that “believes passionately that creative inspiration is for everyone” and publishes on the web and in print and organises events including a monthly Nicer Tuesdays in Bethnal Green, London.

I’d also read about it earlier on the British Journal of Photography, which has a longer article with more pictures, but which rather put me off the idea of buying a ticket.

I can’t find anything about it on Theprintspace web site, though I’m sure it will appear their shortly. I’ve several times used them to make prints and always been satisfied with them and the prices are pretty keen, though not the cheapest. You can actually buy three of my Bow Creek prints from the Cody Dock show through them, though rather more expensively than the postcards – but they are larger prints.

You can see all the photographers and around half of the cards (some photographers donated several images) at the Photography on a Postcard site, where you can also buy your £50 lottery ticket. The computerised draw is on on Monday 30 October.

Perhaps I might…I think I’ve almost persuaded myself. But don’t delay as I’m sure the tickets will sell out soon – probably by later today after I publish this!

Walker Evans at SFMOMA

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Another feature on the BJP site that caught my eye recently was Walker Evans’ love of the vernacular at SFMOMA’s enormous retrospective by Diane Smyth. The SFMOMA show, Walker Evans, opened on September 30 and continues to February 4, 2018, and was organized by the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Smyth’s feature is well-illustrated and contains extensive quotes from a phone interview with curator Clément Chéroux, and is rather more informative the the SFMOMA site, which does however have some excellent links if you scroll down the page.

Walker Evans and in particular his 1938 book ‘American Photographs‘ appealed to me greatly when I first came across it as a relatively new photographer, so much so that I followed his example in writing myself a script for my own colour work similar to one of his which I carried in my wallet for years (it may still be there), and I probably spent far too long telling my students about it when I taught a photography history module. In 1999 I tidied up my notes into a short essay for publication, and, with a few very minor changes here it is now:

Walker Evans, American Photographer

Like many newspapers, the Guardian (once the Manchester Guardian – arguably the best of the UK’s serious dailies) is currently busy reviewing the century. Earlier this month the weekly feature was devoted to photography, giving a reasonable if understandably brief and fragmentary overview of the first thirty or so years of the century before jumping erratically to TV, Warhol and computer manipulation. Somewhere along the line the author’s argument had missed some vital links, enabling her to disregard much of the photography of the second half of this century. One of the key pieces missing in her jigsaw was undoubtedly Walker Evans.

Evans seems generally to present a problem to writers on photography in the UK particularly and often elsewhere, largely because he is known almost exclusively for a small selection of his work for the FSA and the book co-produced with writer James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Of course the simple and powerful portraits of Alabama sharecroppers and their living spaces in this is certainly a compelling body of work, but it far from exhausts the contributions Evans made to photography. Restricting one’s vision in this way allows his work to be dismissed as a simple extension of the socially committed photography of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, similar in nature if distinguished in content to much of the photojournalism of the time.

To get a deeper understanding we need to examine where Evans came from. His background was a literary one, and he only drifted into photography after an unsuccessful attempt to become a writer. His friends included a number of leading figures on the American literary scene, including poet Hart Crane and critic Lincoln Kirstein. Evans was certainly aware of the work of other photographers of the time – including those artist-photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston, but he found little to interest him in it, although he did acknowledge the contribution of Stieglitz to the development of photography in America. What attracted him more than these artistic photographers were the often anonymous records of small-town America, postcards, portraits and old photographs that recorded scenes and events unselfconsciously – the ‘vernacular’ tradition in photography.

Evans combined this straightforward and often frontal approach to the medium with a sophisticated analysis of the content of images, their relationships with other pictures and their cultural context which derived from literary models. Essentially he was a photographer of ideas. In preparation for taking photographs he wrote lists or ideas and themes that interested him – sometimes in very general terms, but at other times going into specific details. He was also generally a careful recorder of scenes as he found them, scrupulous in not altering the details, photographing what he found to make a good photograph; unlike some other photographers he did not arrange or construct to heighten the effect.

Evans’s great work – one of the volumes that every photographer should own – was ‘American Photographs‘*. This book was carefully designed in every way from the typeface and its bible-cloth binding to the layout and particularly the sequencing of its images. First published – and panned by most critics in 1938 – it has been made available in various editions over the years since then.

The first plate of American Photographs shows the ‘Licence Photo Studio’ on a street corner in New York in 1934. Much of its curious two storeys are covered with boards and adverts promising ‘Photos in 5 minutes’, as well as its sidelines of auto licence applications, driving school, licence plates and Notary Public, and a hanging sign repeats the message. Two large painted hands direct us from either side of a dark open doorway direct to dimly visible stairs leading up; another set of steps runs diagonally from the bottom left on the front of the structure leading to a door on the upper floor almost immediately above the first. On either side of one of the hands is graffitied Mae West’s ‘Come up and see me some time’.

Obviously the picture is an invitation to go in further to the book and to look at its photographs, but it is more than that. With this picture Evans announces some of the major themes of the book; clearly it is dealing with the vernacular, it is about how things are represented in photographs, about the car and it is about choices and putting things on public record.

Turning the page we find a ‘Penny Picture Display’ from a photographer’s studio door in Savannah, the word ‘Studio’ superimposed on a grid of some 70 examples of the photographers work. This is the American people, or, more precisely, a representation of them through vernacular photography. The next picture shows actual people, two workers on the street in Pennsylvania, behind them an out of focus crowd. Standing together the gaze past each other in opposite directions. Plate 4 is another window, with flowers and a drawn portrait of a politician framed in one of its panes.

Next is the amazing ‘French Opera Barber Shop’ in New Orleans, with crazy stripes on its frontage, post on the pavement in front of the door and lamp echoed in the striped jumper of the woman standing in its entrance. The anarchic stripes contrast with the ornate formal ironwork of the balcony at top of picture, and the woman in the doorway contrast with the idealised face in the advert in the neighbouring drug store. Here also, as in the first picture, we have some problems with space, the differing angles of the stripes on the almost flat frontage tending to make us misread it in perspective, and the square barber pole on the pavement moving visually into the same plane as the other similarly striped surface, creating a kind of tension that enlivens the picture.

The remaining 45 pictures in Part 1 of the book continue the story, and you will find them worth study. They do include many of his best-known images, including some of the Alabama sharecroppers, but they are here set in the context intended by their author. As Lincoln Kirstein wrote in his lengthy essay in the original publication ‘Looked at in sequence they are overwhelming in their exhaustiveness of detail, their poetry of contrast, and, for those who wish to see it, their moral implication. Walker Evans is giving us the contemporary civilisation of eastern America and its dependencies as Atget gave us Paris before the war and Brady gave us the War between the States.’

Of course there is more to Evans than this one book – he continued working for many years, extending the ideas here and also working in new areas, including the series of subway portraits taken in the 1940’s with a concealed 35mm camera and only published some 20 years later. There are also many fine pictures from his early work for which there was not space in the book or which would not have contributed to its sequence – you can view over 1200 from the FSA work alone on the Library of Congress site, some at high enough resolution to enable you to make better prints than his if you would like a Walker Evans on your wall. American Photographs, however, provides an unparalleled insight into the way that Evans saw his own work, and it represented a considerable enlargement of the complexity and possibilities available to the photographer, one that many later photographers – notably Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander – were to pick up and exploit.

*’American Photographs’ has been since published in various editions, and you can download a good preview PDF of the best of the republications, the 75th anniversary version, on the MoMA site. You can also watch the pages of the first edition being turned on Vimeo. While you can pay anything from £1500 up for the first edition, the 75th anniversary publication is still available for well under half the cost of the exhibition catalogue, and should be on every phtoographer’s book shelf.

British Journal revisited

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Back in the old days, the British Journal of Photography was the main trade weekly paper of UK photography professionals including photographers, keeping them up to date with the news in the industry, and also widening their view with reviews of photography books and shows and listings of exhibitions. It also published a year book which was mainly a good collection of recent work by British photographers along with a technical section at the end with developer recipes etc. I had a few pictures in what turned out to be the last issue, the BJP Annual 1988, though I don’t think I can be blamed for its demise.

With news increasingly breaking on the web the audience for a weekly trade paper diminished and so too presumably did sales. Perhaps too the problem was partly editorial, as throughout the time I was a subscriber as well as publishing much worth reading it also gave space (and paid by the word) to some of the most turgid prose ever written in some of its reviews, probably far too boring for even the editor to have read to the end before publishing.

BJP changed direction and relaunched as a monthly, moving more into covering the art world and since I already subscribed to several overseas magazines that seemed to be doing a rather better job of that I let my subscription lapse. Occasionally I’d look at its web site to see what it was doing, but there was seldom a great deal of interest for me.

But in the last week or so there have been several articles which have attracted my attention and which have been well-illustrated online. The first of these was about the show Illuminating India: Photography 1857-2017 which is showing at the Science Museum until 31st March 2018 and since entry is free I’ll certainly go in and look at if I have some spare time and am around South Kensington.

Back in 2003 I wrote a series of long articles on the early years of photography in India for the web, none of which are unfortunately still available (though parts live on, pirated on other web sites.) I began with ‘Photography in India: The Early Years‘, including the work of British photographers such as John Murray, then ‘India – The Late 1850s‘ looking at the work of Felice Beato and Robert and Harriet Tytler, going on to ‘Linnaeus Tripe‘, ‘Samuel Bourne: Search for the Sublime‘, then ‘Indian Photographs‘, a consideration of whether there was a specifically Indian way of photographing in the earlier years. Perhaps the best of the articles was on the ‘Prince of Indian Photographers’, court photographer to the Nizam of Hyderabad Lala Deen Dayal, and the last in that short series was on the Irish photographers ‘Burke & Baker‘.

Indian photography was certainly one of the many areas I would have returned to had I kept my job on the web, but probably the main reason I was sacked was for writing too much about such things, which were thought not to be of much interest to US readers and US advertisers – though it was exactly in line with what I was hired to do by a previous management and the articles attracted considerable interest.