Garden Halls

The University of London’s Bloomsbury Garden Halls of Residence – Hughes Parry, Canterbury and Commonwealth Halls – occupy quite a large block on one side of Cartwright Gardens, in a conservation area a little south and west of St Pancras Station. They are fairly banal 20th century buildings that currently provide accommodation for around a thousand students and UoL have decided to renovate them to provide accommodation for another 200 or so.

Much of the work will be financed by a private company, the University Partnerships Programme, which will then run the new hall of residence and presumably charge increased fees to get their money back. But the work will take around two years (part may be complete after one year) during which the halls will be closed.

Around a hundred staff keep the halls running – cleaners, porters, catering and security staff – and they are to be made redundant by the contract companies that employ them, Cofely and Aramark. Most of the workers belong to the International Workers Union,the IWGB but the employing companies refuse to recognise or negotiate with the union. A curious defect of the law relating to trade unions allows employers to recognise unions that have few if any employees, while ignoring those the workers belong to. And that recognised union has failed to do anything for the workers concerned.

Working in the space where the protest started has a few photographic problems. Firstly that during daylight, the area is quite a lot darker than the views¬† of the outside, but there is nothing that can be done sensibly about this – you just have to let them burn out. But I also get considerable flare with people who are standing in front of these very bright areas, which needs a little treatment in Lightroom. I use an ‘adjustment brush’ with settings Contrast 22, Highlights -22, Clarity 32 and vary the values of Exposure to match the situation, and it usually helps.

In the top image on this post I carefully places the University’s Senate House board at the left of the frame and the ‘Respect and Dignity for Garden Halls Staff’ at the right of the image. For the lower image I used the 16mm full-frame fisheye. It is sharp and gives plenty of depth of field at f4 and is a good lens to work in the fairly confined space. To get a reasonable shutter speed – these are pretty active protests – I had to set ISO 2500 which allowed me to use 1/100th second. The closest figure, holding the large placard is just slightly soft as I focussed (a slight mistake) on the central figure, but fortunately she and the placard she is holding are sharp enough. Sometimes a little use of the adjustment brush with a positive value of Clarity, typically +20,¬† can help in cases like this, though I didn’t use it on this image. I feel, though I’m not quite sure, that the slight foreground unsharpness helps to give the picture a little more depth.

Image as taken – Nikon 16mm semi-fisheye

The Fisheye-Hemi plugin straightens out the verticals – in the original above, the doorway was noticeably curved, and the figure at right rather distorted.

Later the protesters walked around the outside of the building and then went into Stewart House, another university building which is actually connected to the Senate House. Once inside they didn’t really now what to do or where to go, and it was hard to take good pictures in the often fairly narrow corridors. And when I did so, too often I was on the wrong site of a flag – with the text visible but back to front.

Fortunately, as you can see in Garden Halls Closure Senate House Protest I did manage to get on the right side for some more pictures, but it is very easy to miss things like this in the heat of the moment – and only see them when you load the images onto computer for editing.


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 taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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