London Arbaeen

Last Sunday afternoon, several thousand Shia Muslims were at Marble Arch, celebrating Arbaeen, at the end of 40 days of mourning over the massacre of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet and his followers at Kerbala around 1400 years ago. This was the 30th such march in central London, and I’ve photographed the event – as well as marches on Ashura day at the start of the period of mourning – several times in the past, and I think rather better than I did today.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

I arrived as the event was starting, with long sessions of recitation and community prayers, and then took an hour or so away from the event just as more was beginning to happen, rushing away to cover the UK Uncut demonstration half a mile away along Oxford St.

It isn’t possible to be in two places at once, and trying to cover both events on this occasion was almost certainly a mistake, as it meant I missed important aspects of both. But then I’m pleased that I did manage to photograph so much of both.

Coming away from UK Uncut one of the other photographers I know there came along with me – we’d both wrongly thought everything of interest was over. She hadn’t known about the procession and I told her briefly what it was about as we walked briskly towards it.

Like many Muslim events, men and women generally take part in separate groups and in different ways. Many of the men show their emotions more openly as well as being considerably more physical in their expressions, while the women are more restrained, but also more of them carry flags and banners.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

It is easier for women photographers to photograph the women at events such as this, getting in close while I was generally standing further back with a longer lens. Things have changed a bit over the years, but there is still a difference, although it is a few years since a steward came up to me and said “We do not photograph the women.”

© 2011, Peter Marshall

But of course I have, and some of them have thanked me for the pictures I’ve taken. Photographing the men presents no problems – for men or women photographers.

© 2011, Peter Marshall

When I looked at the pictures having imported them into Lightroom, for a few minutes I could not find some of the pictures I had taken. These were pictures looking down on groups of men beating their chests in mourning – I was standing on top of a low fence or wall and holding my camera out at arms length above them with the 10.5mm fisheye on the D300.

Then I remembered that the profile for the 10.5mm I have for Lightroom messes up the pictures by “correcting” the fisheye perspective to rectilinear. It’s something I keep meaning to find a way to edit but never get round to. I use the profile because it automatically more or less removes the rather noticeable colour fringing the lens gives, but this correction is just silly. The results are not usable – with extremely poor corner detail – and just look silly, as rectilinear perspective becomes hopeless at greater than around 90 degree angle of view.

If I wanted a rectilinear result I’d use the 16-35mm. I do often use some correction on the fisheye results, sometimes in Lightroom but more often in other software that tames its extremes, but never the full rectilinear effect, always ridiculous unless you crop drastically.

Fortunately Lightroom makes it easy to select images by the lens that was used, and once I realised it was a simple and quick matter to do so, correct the problem in one and synchronise it across to all the rest, and there were my pictures back again.

My fuller report on the event with many more pictures is on My London Diary at Shia Muslims 30th Arbaeen Procession .

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