More Olympics

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Youth Fight for Jobs Austerity Games on Hackney Marshes

Two final events for me in July had an Olympic theme. The first was the ‘Austerity Games‘ on Hackney Marshes, and its name harks back to 1948, when London was host to the games for the second time shortly after the Second World War, when everything all around the world was in short supply. I don’t remember 1948, but certainly I remember something of Britain only a very little later, when sweets, like most other things, were on ration and we had pig bins in the street outside to make sure that any waste food wasn’t entirely wasted. Not that there was much in the way of waste, because where I lived there wasn’t that much to put on the plates, but the pigs got our potato peelings and suchlike. We probably did better than most, as our garden and allotment supplied large crops of fruit and veg, the bees did us proud for honey and my Aunt Grace kept chickens in the back yard, next to Dad’s work shed.

But the Olympics in 1948 was on a shoe-string, using existing facilities and with truly amateur athletes from around the world roughing it to compete – and some near to starving when they were here. The total budget for the games would have paid for a second or two of this year’s opening ceremony, and unlike 2012, I think the games actually managed to make a profit.

But in 2012, although austerity isn’t a word you can apply to our corporate Olympics, but it is what we are having so suffer through cuts in public services, and for young people, difficulty in finding appropriate work – or for many, any work at all.

Youth Fight For Jobs, who last year carried out a march from Jarrow to London to publicize the desperate situation of so many young school and college leavers who want jobs but can’t find them, this year organised an ‘Austerity Olympics’, held a few hundred yards to the north of the main Olympic site on Hackney Marshes.   Hackney, one of the ‘Olympic boroughs, refused them permission to have an event in this public open space, but the organisers went ahead anyway, with police apparently telling the council that unless they saw some particular offence being committed they had no powers to stop it. The best the Hackney could think to do was to close the toilet block in the park for the afternoon.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Teams warm up for the Austerity Games on Hackney Marshes

My main problem was not the lack of toilets but the hot sun blazing down. It was one of the few days this year when London has felt uncomfortably hot, in some ways a nice change, but harsh sun high in the sky and an empty blue sky isn’t generally good news for photographers. Clouds add a little variation to the top bit of many pictures, but importantly they also reflect light into those deep shadows. Blue sky and sun means harsh black shadows. Digital is actually more flexible that film every was – with transparency there was virtually no shadow detail, while on colour neg it might be there but printing it was often a problem. The D700 and D800E do a pretty good job on shadow detail, and Lightroom makes it so much easier to bring out. Both digital cameras and software seem to improve at this year on year, and it now makes sense to think in terms of ‘digital fill’ in post-processing. Though I still find things a lot easier if you use fill flash.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Medal winners on the podium

But using flash makes people much more aware of you photographing them, banging home the fact each time the flash fires. In fast-moving, crowded situations it’s seldom a problem (except where you might come under attack) but at small events like this it can completely change the dynamic. Almost all of the time I worked without it and cursed myself later when I had to work on the images. You can see the results in Austerity Games on Hackney Marshes.

Saturday’s  ‘Whose Games? Whose City?’ march was organised by the Counter Olympics Network, CON, whose name is perhaps slightly misleading. CON isn’t against sport, or the Olympic athletes, but against what the games have become, not just a sporting event but a huge commercial festival, involving corporate sponsors which include “companies which seriously damage the environment and which wreck or take lives” such as  “Coca Cola, Rio Tinto, BP, Dow Chemical, others such as “”G4S, Cisco, and Atos” which “deny people their human rights in a variety of situations” and  Macdonalds which helps to fuel the obesity epidemic.”

They were also protesting at the huge disruption to life in East London, the draconian powers taken to enforce branding, the positioning of missiles on residential buildings and the massive tax breaks given to sponsors. They sayLondon2012 provides benefits at taxpayers’ expense while receiving little in return.”

Initially the Olympic powers and Transport for London worked together to try and ban the march, but eventually it was allowed. Then Tower Hamlets council (another Olympic borough) attempted to impose unacceptable demands on the march, trying to ban political t-shirts and speeches. In the event the march went ahead as the organisers planned, as you can see in March for a People’s Olympics.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
Perhaps the silliest placard on the march

Photographically there were few problems, but there was at least one rather curious placard carried by one woman, with the message ‘Fight Big Brother Drop Ur F**king Camera’, who didn’t see to want to be photographed.  But ‘Big Brother’ isn’t the photographers with cameras on the march, but the many CCTV cameras in London, some of which we passed, from which doubtless police were tracking out moves. Much of the time too we had a police helicopter overhead  recording us, though I didn’t notice the blimp that had hovered over the Austerity Games – and these also attracted a couple of police helicopters  – like the one flying overhead when I took these images.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

There’s a police helicopter too in this image I took later, and I deliberately too it with it against the white cloud just above the tower with the soldiers looking out at the protest, though their missiles are probably pointing in the other direction. But the problem is it ust looks like a bit of dirt on the sensor in this wide-angle image – and those soldiers are tricky to see as well.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

The row of soldiers showed up better when I switched to a longer lens, but but by that time the helicopter was well out of shot – just the two on the banner remaining.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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

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