Archive for September, 2019

A D Coleman on Frank

Monday, September 30th, 2019

Although A D Coleman wrote his “Robert Frank, a Retrospective: The Reluctant Reference Point” for his column in the New York Observer of December 4th 1995, it remains worth reading, and is included in his post Robert Frank (1924-2019): A Farewell on Photocritic International.

Among other things it includes a more sensitive and positive discussion of Frank’s later photographic work than I’ve given. I think I found it too annoying to give it proper consideration.

As well as Coleman’s thoughts, in the comments there is a link to an online version of the 1977 book ‘Photography Within the Humanities‘ where Frank’s April 1975 interview at Wellesley College was first published. The book is an interesting record of a series of talks when ten people connected with photography were each invited to the college on a different day to speak. Among the ten as well as Frank were John Morris, Paul Schuster Taylor the partner of Dorothea Lange, John Szarkowski, Gene Smith, Susan Sontag and Irving Penn.

Danny Lyon on Frank the man

Sunday, September 29th, 2019

” For all artists, there is a difference between the person and their work. “

Thus states Danny Lyon in the article ‘When Fathers Die: Remembering Robert Frank‘ on The New York Review of Books site. His piece is a very personal story of the man he lived with and worked with and who he says “brought integrity to an art riddled with compromise.”

I don’t think it makes me see any more – or less – in Frank’s pictures but I found it a fascinating read, a reminder of the very different times and lifestyle in which that work was produced.

More Canal Pans

Friday, September 27th, 2019

Photographing protests and other events generally keeps me pretty busy and for some years I’ve had little time for anything else, along of course putting some of my earlier work online and writing this blog and keeping My London Diary almost up-to-date. But one project that I’ve managed to do a little work now and then on is making panoramic images of London’s canals – and I hope to use a few of these in a show next year.

My first panoramic project, back in 1992 when I bought my first panoramic camera was on the DLR extension then being built from Poplar to Beckton. Prints from this were shown at the Museum of London back then, and a few are now in their collection – and one is in the current show, Secret Rivers at the Museum of London Docklands.

I’d chosen to work in panorama (using a Japanese Widelux camera) because I thought that the essentially linear nature of the railway was particularly suited to the panoramic format, and it seems to me that the same applies to photographing the canals. I’m now working of course with digital, and the pictures I’m making don’t natively come in a panoramic format as the camera sensor is either 3:2 (with the Nikons) or 4:3 in the pictures I’ve made with the Olympus EM5 MkII.

The character of the cylindrical perspective that I’m currently working with (others are possible) means that the image curvature required to give the wide angle of view (around 145°) increases towards the top and bottom of the image, and using a 4:3 or similar format makes it more noticeable than a more normal panoramic format such as 2.5:1. So I often crop the images to a more panoramic aspect, often 1.9:1 which can give a more natural look.

Cropping the image also has another advantage. In making these images it is important to keep the camera level – aided by indicators in the viewfinder at bottom and left of the image. Doing so means that the horizon will always be a horizontal line splitting the image into two equal halves, and this can make a set of images a little monotonous. When cropping the images, it is possible to move this above or below the centre line. In days largely long past, landscape photographers used cameras with a rising or falling front to acheive the same goal, and for much of my black and white work on film I used a 35mm shift lens which could do the same.

These pictures were taken between the end of a protest in Hackney and my visit to an Open Studio event at the Chisenhale Studios in Bethnal Green to which I walked. I began the walk along the canal in one of my favourite spots where Mare St becomes Cambridge Heath Road and goes over the canal and then walked east along the Regent’s Canal towpath to the junction with the Hertford Union Canal. I had time to go a little beyond the studios before turning around and returning to leave the canal and make my way to the studios. By the time I got there the rain was beginning to come down fairly steadily and I’d walked around a mile and a half.

More pictures at Bethnal Green Canal Walk


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


East End Artists

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

I’m not a huge fan of portrait photography as it is generally practised and for example exhibited in the annual prize event at the National Portrait Gallery. Occasionally a decent picture creeps in, but most I find rather ordinary, occasionally worse.

Of course there are many photographic portraits I do admire. Bill Brandt took some truly splendid ones, mainly on magazine commission, and there are some good photographers now whose work appears regularly in newspapers and magazines.

Most of the pictures I take now have people in them, sometimes concentrating on an individual or small group, but usually because of what they are doing rather than to make some kind of statement about them as a person. Certainly I don’t think of myself as a portrait photographer though I think I have taken some pretty decent pictures of people.

I’ve mentioned the Spitalfields Life blog here before, and some time ago its author published EAST END VERNACULAR, Artists Who Painted London’s East End Streets in the 20th Century with work by many artists, many of whose work I knew as I’d worked in some of the same streets, and including a few I’ve met over the years. It is described as presenting “a magnificent selection of pictures – many never published before – revealing the evolution of painting in the East End and tracing the changing character of the streets through the twentieth century.”

Now an article on the same blog, Artists of East London Vernacular has some fine portraits of some of those featured by photographer Stuart Freedman who I’ve also mentioned here on several occasions. I think they are fine examples of photographic portraits, taken with great thought and care, a dozen quite different images. You can see more of his portraits on his web site, and I think some of these are among his best.

Insects

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

I think most of us have a horror of insects, or at least of some insects. Creepy-crawlies give us the creeps, and many react like little Miss Muffett to spiders (which are insects in English if not in Biology.) I have a particular dislike for wasps, though I feel that this is entirely rational after sitting down in the dark too close to a nest on a trip to http://www.buildingsoflondon.co.uk/pm/borders/ Hawick in 2004 left me with multiple stings and a day or two of total delerium.

But of course insects are essential to life on the planet, part of the complex web of ecosystems that in particular allows us to grow food. We rely on them, particularly bees, to pollinate so many crops. And bees have in recent years been subject to huge declines in population, with the increasing use of pesticides and herbicides being a major cause.

Herbicides – of which the best-known and most widely used is Monsanto’s Roundup, containing glyphosate – are used to stop the growth of plants. It can be used on some growing crops as it is more readily absorbed through the broader leaves of weeds than most crops, and varieties have been developed that are resistant to it, but it is also sprayed on field and road edges to kill weeds there.

Many insects, including bees, are heavily reliant on these weeds and their flowers as a source of nectar to feed on, and herbicide use means the land can only sustain smaller numbers. Recent research has show a more direct effect on bees, with glyphosate at widely used levels in fields and on verges killing beneficial bacteria in bee guts, rendering them more susceptible to disease and infection.

Some studies have also found direct effects on human health and Monsanto who introduced glyphosate as a herbicide (though many other companies now market it) have been accused both of trying to prevent publications of these and of sponsoring research which falsely reports an absence of such effects. Some US courts have come out in favour of huge settlements to workers over claims that using it have caused cancers, but the danger to the general public from exposure seems very low.

Hackney Council uses glyphosate to control roadside weeds and many Hackney residents also use this and other insect-harming chemicals in their gardens. The protest by Extinction Rebellion parents and children outside the council offices called on the council to completely end its use, and a man from the department concerned came to say they had reduced their use and were hoping to find ways it could be eliminated.

I don’t live in Hackney, but of course we need to stop or at least greatly reduce the use of glyphosate across the world. Years ago we used to have council workers coming regularly even to back streets like the one we live in armed with a spade to remove the weeds growing at the kerb. They were replaced by a machine with brushes that kept some of them down, but couldn’t clean most gutters as there were cars parked along the street. So the weeds grow. Occasionally a resident will go out with a spade and clear the short section in front of their house, but usually they grow until a long dry spell kills them, they die down and reappear after more rain.

More at XR tell Hackney stop killing insects.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


Lenses and cameras

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

Sitting outside a London pub on Saturday, possibly the last real Summer day of the year (I started to write this on the Autumn Equinox), I was enjoying an expensive pint of bitter and talking with a friend, when a group came to the next table including a photographer carrying a Nikon with the kind of lens that gives you a hernia just looking at it. I don’t know which focal length it was, probably a long wide aperture zoom, perhaps the 180 – 400 mm f4, which is around 14 inches long, weights over 7lb 11 oz and costs a mere £10,999, though I think it may have been something even larger. As the woman sitting next to us observed “My, you’ve got a big one!’

I held up my Olympus with the diminutive 18-150mm to show her, saying it did the same job. And at only 285g and a little over 3 inches long it does. It’s just a little bit shorter at the long end (300 equiv) but a lot wider at the short end. All for around a twentieth of the cost. Size does matter, and so far as I’m concerned this is a situation where being small is greatly desireable.

The Nikon may have a slight edge in sharpness (and the Nikon body helps with more pixels) but essentially they do the same job. Though the Nikon will also greatly improve your muscular strength through additional exercise. The Olympus, also an f4 lens at the widest focal length, benefits from 5 stops of stabilisation on the OM body, while the Nikon VR claims 4 stops from VR in the lens.

There are some situations where the larger lens would have a slight advantage. Nikon’s autofocus is a little better, particularly at following rapid action, thought the Olympus isn’t at all bad. That extra stop at the long end could come in useful at times too. I’ve never used the 180-400, which is a relatively recent design for digital cameras, but my tests a month or so ago showed the Olympus performing better than an older and smaller and lighter Nikon lens only around twice its weight and size.

Carrying long and heavy lenses has become something of a status symbol for many photographers, and I suspect that the white bodies of the Canon examples may have influenced some to change over to that marque. They make Canon photographers stand out while the equally excellent but black Nikon optics are less noticeable.

A rather silly article I read the other day (I won’t waste your time with a link) was about using an old film camera to work as a photojournalist. Of course some have never given up using them, particularly a few dedicated Leica users, sticking with essentially 1950s technology.

My Leica M2, built around 1956 is still a nice camera to use and later models of the film cameras really added nothing of substance to the design that wasn’t provided by the nicely engineered third-party accessory wind-on lever and Leica’s own MR4 exposure meter. It was left to others to bring the concept up-to-date, Minolta with the CLE, a more petite version with decent metering, and Konica who produced both the Hexar a fixed 35mm f2 lens camera with autofocus, and the Hexar RF, with excellent metering and auto film wind. Leica only really got back into the act after a few rather disastrous digital introductions, including the M8 for which I can never forgive them.

But back to the article, which suggested that modern photojournalists like to work from a distance because they are frightened of their expensive and fragile modern cameras getting damaged. Firstly I don’t think it is true, and most photographers insure their gear and forget any risk to it. Many of us like working close and with wide-angles that in the days of film would have been considered extreme.

The people who keep moving back are those who have spent fortunes on large heavy long lenses (and chiropractors) and need to justify the expense to themselves. The article was illustrated by some not particularly distinguished protest images, taken from a rather longer distance than I like to work (though you often can’t get as close as I would like) using a standard lens.

Of course the real reasons why most of us no longer use film have to do with cost and deadlines. I’ve been getting e-mails and phone calls from an agency that I file most of my pictures to calling on me to get work in faster as they say I am missing the deadlines, though I usually get pictures in only a few hours after taking them. That isn’t now fast enough – and those who get the pictures in that are usually used by the papers can be seen squatting in corners with a laptop while events are still taking place, often missing much of the events they are covering. A weak image filed within minutes is more likely now to be used than a good picture which arrives an hour or two later – it’s become being first rather than being best which makes the sale.

And standards in some respect have changed. With modern cameras and digital imaging it’s generally easy to get pictures which are sharp and correctly exposed of almost anything, and work which fails on these is likely to be rejected unless it is either showing some very dramatic event – or is being offered for free use. At least one of those accompanying the article might well have died in ‘Quality Control’.

I’ve been using the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II for some months now, and continue to be impressed with it and the few lenses I own. As with all cameras I have some reservations (and wish Olympus had a simpler naming convention.) It’s become my favourite camera to use, one I’ll pick up when going for a walk rather than just when going out to work and the only thing that has stopped me buying a second body is the impending launch of the Mark III. One of the expected improvements this will bring is a slight increase to 20Mp from 16Mp which would be welcome, but unless there are other substantial gains I might still buy another Mark II (and will doubtless be able to get it cheaper.)

Mothers’ Day March

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

Apparently according to Mothers Rise Up, 95 countries celebrate Mothers’ Day on 12 May, (although in the UK we traditionally celebrate our mothers on Mothering Sunday in March, on the 4th Sunday in Lent, a rather more low key event.)

Or rather people celebrate Mother’s Day, as Anna Jarvis trademarked the event in 1912 saying it should “be a singular possessive, for each family to honor its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.”

Jarvis had begun campaigning for a day to honour mothers after the death of her own mother in 1905. Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis (1832 1905) had been a community activist and had established Mother’s Day Work Clubs in several West Virginia towns to assist and educate people to improve sanitation and reduce infant mortality and disease. During the US Civil War she had controversially insisted these clubs provide food, clothing and nursing to soldiers in need on both sides.

Mother’s Day in the USA rapidly developed, much against Anna Jarvis’s wishes into a commercial jamboree; she organised boycotts against sending mass-produced cards and gifts, urging people instead to mark the day and honour their mothers by writing them letters expressing their love and gratitude.

According to Wikipedia, Jarvis protested against the commercialisation of the event at a “candy makers’ convention” in Philadelphia in 1923, and at a meeting of the American War Mothers in 1925. The War Mothers were selling white carnations for Mother’s Day to raise funds, and this so enraged Jarvis that she protested and “was pulled away screaming and arrested for disturbing the peace.”

So it was very appropriate that Mothers Rise Up had chosen Mother’s Day to protest and “stand in solidarity with the #youthclimatestrikes” emphasising the urgent action needed to avoid disastrous climate breakdown, with scientists telling us we have only a few years to act. Perhaps as long as 11 years to take really decisive measures, although it may already be to late to prevent global human extinction. Already as they pointed out, people in parts of the Global South “are already suffering and dying as a result of climate chaos.”

Their call out for the protest began:

We will come together and rise as a maternal force to be reckoned with. With pushchairs and song, we will march from Hyde Park Corner to Parliament Square and demand that our government take immediate, drastic action for a just transition to a sustainable way of life.

I hope my pictures capture something of this “maternal force”, though the giant pushchairs did present something of a problem photographically. For once I walked with the protest the whole distance to Parliament Square (stopping off briefly to photograph another protest at Downing St) and stayed for a part of the rally.

One of the speakers there was the leading international climate lawyer and diplomat Farhana Yamin; I had arrived too late a few weeks earlier to photograph her arrest when protesting with Extinction Rebellion at Shell’s London HQ in April.

More pictures from the march: XR International Mothers’ Day March

March for Choice

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019

I missed the rally at the end of the demonstration in solidarity with Palestine in order to photograph the feminist rally in Parliament square for reproductive rights and the decriminalisation of abortion.

I felt by the time I left the Palestinian march I had enough pictures, particularly because I had managed to get what I thought was a decent picture of Ahed Tamimi who was to speak at the rally. Most of the other speakers were probably people I had photographed previously at other events.

I sometimes criticise news photographers who come to an event, take a few pictures (often setting up rather static group pictures) and then leave. I aim to tell the story of the event, and usually hang on for long enough to do so, while they want to get a single picture and send it (or more often a selection of single pictures) to the agency or newsroom before anyone else. In terms of making a living I’m sure they are right; what gets published is generally not the best picture but the one that arrives first.

And protests are rather like buses; you can wait for ages when nothing happens and then several come along at once. I think the most I’ve covered in a single day is seven, though there have been times when I’ve had double figures for the same date in the diary I make of protests I know about.

Of course they can even be in quite different places, though I very seldom leave London it can still involve a lot of travelling, and often I have to select not just on time but also on location, though my priority is always on the issues which the event is about. Though my definition of newsworthiness is often at odds with that of the mainstream media editors.

Abortion isn’t something to be encouraged or taken lightly, and I don’t believe that many women do, but the right of women to make choices about their bodies is a basic and important one. While at some point the rights of the unborn child also need to be considered, that time is most certainly not at conception but perhaps when that child becomes capable of an independent existence.

The 1967 Abortion Act was a great advance in clarifying law in this country, though unfortunately not in Northern Ireland and remains in force with the normal limit on abortion having been reduced from 28 weeks to 24 in 1990. It was a great advance as before 1967 the major cause of maternal deaths – around 60 -70 per year was unsafe abortions. And many children who might otherwise have been aborted because their mothers took thalidomide were born with severe or even fatal disabilities.

Apparently now 1 in 3 women in this country will at some time have a legal termination. Abortion outside the provisions of the Act (or in Northern Ireland under almost all circumstances) is still a crime – and can carry a sentence for both women and those who carry it out of life imprisonment.

The ‘March for Choice’ was not really a march, but a rally followed by a short walk to a static protest in opposition to the anti-abortion March for Life UK, a largely Catholic event based on extreme right protests in the USA. March for Choice say it is made up of extreme anti-women, anti-choice, evangelical groups which regularly harass women outside abortion clinics, and has links to homophobic, fascist and far-right organisations. As well as abortion, it opposes contraception, sex education and IVF treatment.

More pictures from both groups:

March for Choice defends women’s rights
Anti-Abortion ‘March for Life UK’


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


Solidarity with Palestine

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

As someone born as World War II was finishing it isn’t surprising that I grew up with with a great deal of sympathy and support for the young state of Israel, which had won its freedom from the British mandate by a number of terrorist attacks, most notably the King David Hotel Bombing, a massacre which killed 91 people and left around 50 badly wounded.

I was too young to know anything about it at the time of the attack, but in later years the Zionist underground organization the Irgun  was the first which I heard some call terrorists and others freedom fighters. Around 15 years later when I started a real interest in politics and free cigarettes at the local young socialist meetings in the Co-op Hallit was certainly the latter view that prevailed, not least because many of those in the Labour movement were Jewish.

Then we believed the lies that were told about Israel occupying a largely empty land and making the deserts bloom. Since then we have become aware of the properties and land stolen from the Palestinians, many of whom were forced out as refugees, and of the shrinking map of Palestine and the attacks on Gaza. The Zionist Israeli government has become increasing right-wing, violating the human rights of the Palestinians and international law over the years, setting up an apartheid system in Israel, making it impossible now not to support the Palestinian cause.

The protest on 11th May came at the start of the week remembering the Nakba and called for an end to Israeli oppression and the siege of Gaza and for a just peace that recognises Palestinian rights including the right of return. It urged everyone to boycott and divest from Israel and donate to medical aid for Palestine. Many of those on the march carried keys, some those of properties they had been forced to leave back in 1948, others simply as a reminder of the dispossession.

Among those marching was Palestinian teenage activist Ahed Tamimi, arrested after slapping an Israeli soldier in December 2017 after soldiers had entered her home and severely injured her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed. It wasn’t easy to photograph her on the march as stewards kept photographers outside the area in front of where she was marching holding the banner at the head of the march.

I wasn’t able to get close to her, but had to photograph with a long lens from a distance. With the 14-150mm lens on the Olympus E-M5 Mk II I managed to get a decent image with her filling much of the frame. The lens is equivalent to a 28-300mm, and for this picture I was using it at its extreme and at f5.6 and 1/250th at ISO 1250.

I think the result is rather better than I would have expected using a Nikon, thanks to the stabilisation of the OM body. And I would probably only have been carrying a lens with a maximum focal length of 200mm, so would have had to crop to get a similar image, thus losing some of the advantage of the larger sensor. I think the autofocus is almost as good as the Nikon, close enough to show no real difference in speed, and face detection is sometimes a help. And as a final point, despite weighing half as much, the Olympus lens is I think a better performer.

As well as the Olympus, my second camera was a Fuji X-T1, with a 10-24mm lens (15-36 equiv) that is also a fine performer. It doesn’t have quite the advantage in size and weight over Nikon that the Olympus has, and the camera somehow feels a little less responsive. I bought it when I was hoping that a Fuji system could replace my Nikons, but now I’m more likely to move to Olympus, keeping a Nikon only for the larger file size when used with bellows and a macro lens for digitising negatives and slides.

As with most events showing solidarity with Palestine it was joined by several Jewish groups, including the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta  and also opposed by a small group of Zionists. You can see pictures of both on My London Diary, along with coverage of the rally close to the BBC before the march. I left and went home before the rally at the end.

More pictures at National Demonstration for Palestine.

Guardian Lies on Venezuela

Friday, September 20th, 2019

Back to looking back at my own work from a few months ago, and a protest outside the offices of The Guardian, a canal-side block on York Way to the north of Kings Cross, part of King’s Place. It’s a place I’ve visited a few time as in the ground floor entrance they have regular exhibitions of photographs, but on this occasion they were not letting people in to see them, with security staff at the door.

The protest was organised by the Revolutionary Communist Group, a name that might put some people off, but who I think are one of the friendliest and most sensible groups in left politics, and while I may not always agree with their views, they have been very active in campaigning on some of the our pressing social issues – including housing, universal credit and other benefits and disability, working together with other groups without trying to take things over. Often they are the people who bring a PA system to protests and make it available as an ‘open mike’ for others as well as them to speak.

They have a newspaper too, ‘Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism’ and it runs readable and well-researched articles on many subjects, and it includes much coverage of events in South America, informed by people who have lived and worked and have good contacts there.

Of course they view the situation from a particular political perspective, supporting the left-wing popular movements in the continent, and in the case of Venezuela, the government under President Nicolas Maduro. Of course not everything is rosy in the country which has suffered greatly from US sanctions, low oil prices and other economic pressures, but they are very aware of these pressures and the problems they have led to.

The stringences in Venezuela have particularly affected the middle-classes, while the Bolivarian revolution begun under Hugo Chavez meant great gains for the peasants and indigenous peoples, even though there has been deterioration in recent years.

The Guardians coverage of events in Venezuela have been almost entirely from the point of view of the middle classes who their correspendent clearly is at home with, and have largely ignored the popular support still enjoyed by Maduro. While the support of most of our press owned by billionaires as well as the establishment BBC for the US-backed efforts to mount a coup in the country against the democratically elected leadership is hardly surprising, many on the left are surprise that The Guardian should so one-sidedly support it.

The protesters held up posters listing some of the successes of the Venezuelan government under Chavez and Maduro with the Bolivarian revolution building socialism and transforming the lives of the poor which have led to the crippling US sanctions and the US-backed coup and called on The Guardian to stop publising lies and to report the facts and both sides of the argument in Venezuela rather than simply parrot the views of the US-backed opposition.

Towards the end of the protest a small deputation attempted to deliver a letter to The Guardian but were not allowed to enter the building. Instead the security man at the door accepted their letter and promised that it would be delivered.

More pictures at Guardian lies about Venezuela.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.