Dark Practices

Outsourcing of staff is a dark practice used by many organisations to retain their own shining images while screwing their workers, who get the kind of management, employment rights and wages you would expect from least scrupulous of companies whose only concern is making profits while reducing their bids for the contracts to the lowest possible levels.

So it was perhaps appropriate that this protest by the IWGB which represents cleaners, security officers, receptionists, porters, gardeners and others who work at the University of London keeping its central services running outside Vice Chancellor Sir Adrian Smith’s graduation dinner should be one of the darkest that I’ve ever tried to photograph.

The protesters were in their usual good spirits, making a great deal of noise and calling for the university to employ them directly, for an end to zero hours contracts and to implement promised pay rises.

In the days of film, the only possibility would have been to use flash (or pay a fortune to light this as a film set.) But digital has shifted the possibilities, and I decided to work with what little available light there was, and just occasionally to supplement this with my handheld LED light source. This event soon showed the limitations of this, a Neewer CN-216, at least when running from rechargeable AA batteries, when the power drops off considerably after only a few minutes of use, though it continues to give some light for several hours. Most pictures were made without its help. The light will also run from a number of Sony and Panasonic batteries and Neewer also make high-capacity ones to fit which might improve the performance.

Almost all the pictures were made with the camera set at ISO 12,800 and with an exposure bias of -0.3 or -0.7 stops, and were still mainly underexposed, at shutter speeds mainly around 1/30 – 1/50s. Neither of the two lenses I was using was a fast lens, the 18.0-35.0 mm f/3.5-4.5 and the 28.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, and I often had to stop down a little for depth of field. I don’t own any very fast lenses, but hadn’t expected these Stygian conditions or might have replaced the 28-200 in my bag with the heavier Sigma 24-70mm and added the petite Nikon 20mm f2.8 for luck. Neither is particularly fast but a stop or two does make a noticeable difference.

But apart from being heavier, and running out at only 70mm when I often want something longer, somehow I just don’t trust the Sigma. It wasn’t a cheap lens, but I think isn’t quite sharp enough wide open to be worth carrying the extra weight. I bought it for use on DX where it perhaps does better.

The IWGB met outside Barbican station and marched to protest outside the dinner through the tunnel under the Barbican. There the lighting was much brighter and I was able to work at a lower ISO even using shutter speeds around 1/100s.

More pictures: IWGB protest at Graduation Dinner


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

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