A Busy Day (Part 2)

The minimum wage in the UK has just gone up – from today it is £5.93 an hour for adult (over 21) workers, an extra 13p. Of course it isn’t enough to live on in London, where there is a strong campaign for a London Living Wage, (LLW) established  by the Greater London Authority, which was raised earlier in the year to £7.85 per hour.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Groups including ‘London Citizens‘  have led a powerful campaign (I photographed their launch in 1976 and a number of their actions since, for example here and here as well as their big marches and demonstration) , particularly in the City of London, to get employers to both pay the LLW and improve working conditions. It’s in the City that we get some of the most blatant examples of inequality – with the same offices being worked in during the day by bankers getting million pound bonuses and cleaned at night by people being paid less than enough to live on.

Trade unions have played a part in these campaigns, though it often seems to be much more driven by local branches and activists than real support from the centre – except in the case of the RML. And on Saturday the Tube Union branch of the RML called for a demonstration outside the London headquarters of Initial Rentokil who they allege is making use of irregularities in the immigration status of many of London’s lowest paid workers to bully and intimidate its workforce.  Workers who complain about unsafe working conditions and try to organise their workmates to stand up for their rights have been reported to the immigration authorities who have then carried out ‘dawn raids’ on workplaces.

The companies who employ these workers break the law by turning a blind eye at sometimes doubtful paperwork (or lack of it) and London would soon grind to a halt without the essential work carried out by its estimated 400,000 improperly undocumented workers, many of whom have lived and worked here for many years (the Conservative Mayor of London has actually given his support to  considering an immigration amnesty for the majority of them.) Because of their status, many of these workers do not want to bring attention to themselves by demonstrating in public, so this protest was by a group of trade unionists and workers rights activists.

Freelances of course are not covered by any minimum or living wage, and many of us work long hours with very little financial return. There were three NUJ members covering the protest. My story and pictures appeared on Demotix, and are unlikely to result in any income. You can see them rather better on My London Diary.

Earlier in the day, while stuck in traffic on the top floor of a double decker I’d had a slightly mystifying photographic moment while taking this picture.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

One third in from the left edge is a woman in a yellow coat, and looking from my seat all of her head was clearly visible, while when I looked through the camera she was partly obscured by the frame between the bus windows. I moved back as far as I could in my seat and she was still obscured, and for just a few moments I couldn’t understand why.

Then I looked at the lens I was using, the Nikon 16-35mm f4 on a D700 body. Despite the short focal length I was using (it was taken at 19mm) the lens actually sticks out so its front element is around 8 inches in front of my eye. Without going into any optical theory I think that means that it is actually viewing the scene from around that distance less 19mm – still over 7 inches – in front of my eye. So or the camera to see exactly from my viewpoint I need to move back that 7 inches. Which in this case would have meant being in the seat behind. So I didn’t quite get the picture I wanted.

From Old St it was a short ride on the 243 to Haggerston, where there are considerable changes taking place with the regeneration of the Haggerston West and Kingsland estates. Its a process that (seen as an outsider) seems to have learnt something at least from the great mistakes of earlier years and the kind of fight that I was personally involved with in Manchester in the 1960s with the Moss Side Housing Action Group, one of the pioneers in this country both of the use of direct action over redevelopment and the involvement of the local population through ‘planning for real’ participatory events.

What is probably London’s largest photographic show, along the length of a large block of 1930s council flats (and I think around the side too) facing the canal expresses the importance of people in planning, with its huge portraits of former residents covering the windows of empty flats. The portraits are photographically straightforward head shots – some, apart from size would fit the requirements for a passport – and I think some have possibly faded rather (or were badly printed to start with – certainly some images on the web are better .) But ‘I Am Here’, initiated by residents of Samuel House and  produced by Fugitive Images,  an artist collaboration founded in 2009 by Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Lasse Johansson and Tristan Fennell (information about the regeneration and the project is on the web site) is on an impressive scale. I spent a few minutes working out the best way to show the whole frontage in a single image, and ended up with taking pictures at around 12 pace intervals with the 16-35mm, which I later cropped and combined into a single image in Photoshop.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

One of the problems in photographing the artwork (as often) was reflections, with the sun making some of the heads invisible when viewed obliquely. Shooting straight on helped to solve that issue, but not eliminate it entirely. It wasn’t possible for me to get further away and still see  the whole of the flats, although students at the new Bridge Academy on the opposite bank of the canal would get a good view.

The Nikon 16-35mm attracted some attention while I was photographic this. A man came up and asked me if he could take a photograph of it, and got out his phone, but the battery was dead. Could I stick around for five minutes he asked, while he ran home to get his camera. I was amused and also wanted to take a few more pictures and said ‘Fine’.  So he came running back and took a few pictures, wanting an image of an impressive looking lens to use in a video project he was working on. I’ve had people ask me if they might take my picture many times, but I think this must be the first time anyone has asked to photograph my lens.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

As a former teacher, I’ve been appalled by successive government’s education policies which have almost totally ignored all proper educational research and had a profoundly divisive effect on our education system. Academies like these were one of several great follies of the last Labour administration, a continuation of disastrous Conservative policies – and the LibCon alliance will doubtless find a way to further weaken state education.

I have some happier memories of Laburnum St, where the Academy is, and in particular the two Laburnum St parties I photographed in 2006 and 2007, and it was a little sad to walk down it today in its current rather dilapidated state. But at the end of the street the minaret of the Suleymaniye Mosque on Kingsland Road lifted my spirits a little as I walked to the bus stop.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

But later as I sat on the 243 we passed the former Foundry pub, and I felt sadder again at the loss of a vital resource where I’ve attended several interesting shows over the years.  I read the advert across its frontage and completed a literal translation ‘I don’t know what’ with ‘we are coming to’ and the guy on the phone at left seemed rather to be scratching his head.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

There are more of the pictures from Haggerston (and elsewhere) on My London Diary.

2 Responses to “A Busy Day (Part 2)”

  1. ChrisL says:

    “I think this must be the first time anyone has asked to photograph my lens.”

    You need to move to Tokyo, but take a film camera with you.


  2. I read a question on CIX this morning:

    “Terry O’Neill

    I heard him on the radio on Tuesday saying “film will come back”. Is he

    And it was very simple to answer.


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