John Pfahl (1939-2020)

May 25th, 2020

I was interested to read the appreciation of the work of John Pfahl by photographer, photo critic and historian Bruno Chalifour published by A D Coleman as a guest post on his Photocritic International web site, not just for the information it gives about Pfahl who died in April, a victim of Covid-19, and his work but also for its insight into some of the political aspects of photography and photographic history.

Although I’ve been aware of the work of John Pfahl more or less since I first started my serious interest in photography in the 1970s when I think I first came across his work in the pages of one of the US magazines, probably Popular Photography, he wasn’t a photographer who particularly inspired me, perhaps because I found his work a little academic. So although I have books with his pictures in, particularly Sally Euclaire’s ‘ The New Color Photography’ (1981). I didn’t buy a copy of his Altered Landscapes also published that same year by The Friends of Photography, and have failed to acquire any of his later publications.

Chalifour talks about the “Rochester camp of photography“, to which Pfahl belonged, being in opposition to the MoMa school around its curator from 1962-91 John Szarkowski: “Szarkowski — still echoed nowadays by non-rigorous if not lazy art critics, curators, photo historians and researchers — did not consider that there was any serious color fine-art photography before the William Eggleston show he mounted there in 1976.” But Pfahl studied on the “first graduate-level program in color photography in America” gaining his MA at Syracuse University in 1968.

Of course there was serious colour photography even before that, including by a number of European photographers (who certainly didn’t count either in New York or Rochester.) But it was still true for most of us at the time that real photography was black and white, and while there were books largely for amateurs on colour photography, my own real training in the medium came from Johannes Itten‘s The Art of Color, published in 1961 based on his teaching at the Bauhaus, a copy of which I found in the 70s in my local library (many years before the cuts.)

Chalifour also mentions another Rochester linked problem, in that “Most of Pfahl’s work until the 1990s was printed on Ektacolor paper” and is thus showing signs of fading. The George Eastman Museum apparently has two sets of his major series, one for display, research and exhibition, and the other kept in the dark in cold storage. Kodak’s colour materials were notoriously fugitive, and having read the research many of us switched to Fuji in the 1980s. Some of his work was printed by the expensive but much more stable dye-transfer process. Pfahl was also an early adopter of digital printing, using the Iris/Giclée process for projects in the 1990s.


As I go through my own old slides, produced from around 1970 to 1985, I’m painfully aware of the limitations of older colour processes, with many images faded beyond repair and others requiring time-consuming restoration and much digital tidying to remove ingrained spots and mould. Fortunately images taken on Kodachrome have survived well, but Kodak’s card mounts are a problem, producing stray fibres and dust around the edges as well as masking too much of the image. I should put them in proper mounts before re-photographing them but it takes too long. Fortunately much of the pictures towards the end of this period before I switched to colour negative were made on Fuji films.


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More exercise-2

May 24th, 2020

Thursday I did another photographic ride, quite a lot on various footpaths and exploring small park and woodlands, more than covering my ten miles but at a more leisurely pace. The temperature was well up in the twenties and there was little or no wind and it got very hot in the sun. The pictures here come from this ride.

It was too hot on Thursday night for me to sleep well and I woke on Friday not feeling at my best, with a slight stomach upset and feeling just a little chesty. It was a pleasant temperature – 19 degrees – but rather windy as I set out at 10am for my exercise ride. Wind is a pain for cyclists though it helps to have it behind you but it always seems to be more of the time against, and adds to the effort. I’d decided on a route through some back streets and I got lost, ending up in a dead end behind some houses.

I stopped and got the map out, and found I had cycled too far up a hill and would have to go back around 600 metres. Next I had problems with my gears, finding a very steep short rise and being unable to change down to my lower set on the smaller chain wheel, and coming to a halt. Eventually I managed to move the chain, but made several unsuccessful attempts to start of the steep rise before having the sense to ride across to get started. I struggled up, and at the top simply collapsed. My heart was racing, I was panting heavily for breath and felt slightly sick and rather shaky, and I had to keep sitting on the pavement for around five minutes before I felt well enough to get up.

I thought about giving up and turning for home, but decided since the hill ahead wasn’t as steep and I’d now got my gears more or less sorted to try to carry on. I crossed the main road and struggled on up the hill until I was more or less at the top and then stopped. I was still feeling pretty rotten and decided there was no point in carrying on. I turned around and made for home by a slightly more direct route. For the first half mile I didn’t even have to pedal. But I didn’t quite make my ten miles, just a little over seven before I reached home for a rest on our sofa.

Perhaps I will have to rethink my exercise schedule, though it may be enough just to make myself take it a little easier on the hills and give up and walk rather than forcing myself to ride. It would be easy to avoid hills altogether by staying in south-west Middlesex, one of the flattest areas of the country. All the hills here are man-made, railway and motorway bridges and a little over-generous infill of some gravel sites and none present a great challenge to even elderly cyclists.


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

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.


Reporters Associés

May 23rd, 2020

The Eye of Photography has just published a series of articles by Louis Le Roux (in English translation) about the Paris photo agency Reporters Associés, founded in 1953. Le Roux joined them as a lab worker a few months later and eventually became the head of the agency, one of first generation which pioneered the “French photojournalism” of the second part of the 20th century, serving the rise of magazines such as Paris Match, Stern, Jours de France…

In part one of the five part series he brings to life some of the problems of working at the time, starting with a primitive darkroom around the same size as my own boxroom darkroom at home, and with the same lack of facilities, without running water or sink, though in a much grander house on Avenue Frochot.  

The second part looks in detail at Lova de Vaysse, real name was Vladimir-Lev Rychkoff-Taroussky (1921- 1983), the boss of the agency.

Part 3, The Fifties of the Rolleiflex, looks at the change from the press cameras using glass plates to film-based photography and some of the reportages carried out by the agency as well as giving some details about materials and storage of negatives and prints.

The fourth part of the series looks at the Agency’s peak in the 1960s when it covered all major events and a rapid change to 35mm took place, at first with Leicas and then Pentax, Canon and Nikon SLRs. While the square format of the Rollei meant that virtually all images were cropped in the darkroom, Le Roux comments “There will be less and less need to crop photos. The framing will be done directly by the photographers thanks to the change of lens. Besides, photographers don’t really like having their shots cropped.” And finally the agency got a proper modern darkroom and had to begin to cope with the move to colour.

In the final part Le Roux talks about some of the photographers who worked with the agency in the 1960s, and about the loss of their contract with Stern. Many of the best photographers were leaving to join newer agencies such as Gamma, and Le Roux, seeing the agency had no future he resigned. Two months later it was bankrupt.

It’s a well illustrated insider’s story into a period of great change in photojournalism, and well worth reading.


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


More Exercise

May 22nd, 2020

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up, but I decided on Saturday that I needed to take more exercise. Partly because I’ve put on a pound or two in weight, partly because of the example of a friend who reported he was going for a cycle ride every weekday and partly because I now have not just one re-usable facemask but two, one an expensive cycling mask and the other a rather nattier model, sent me by one of my daughter-in-laws made by a shop local to her, fabric with a camera motif, and I felt I should make use of these.

So on Sunday I went with Linda for a uneventful several mile stroll around our largest local open space, exploring some of its most remote corners (and inadvertently surprising a young couple embracing in the undergrowth who leapt up guiltily smoothing down clothing as we walked past.) As you can see above it was really crowded, with two family groups visible in the scene.

Someone’s dog not observing social distancing

And on Monday I went out on the Brompton for a longish but fairly leisurely ride, in part exploring the lower reaches of one of our many local rivers, the Ash, continuing a small local photographic project I’ve applied myself to occasionally through the lockdown. It’s taken me to small corners and green spaces I’d previously not been aware of. The pictures below are from this ride.

The Ash flows into this Thames backwater close to here

Tuesday was time for some more serious cycling on a bigger bike with no stops for taking pictures, and I made a start on the first of a series of several roughly ten-mile circuits starting from home. There are a number of constraints, some geographic, others self-imposed to these rides. As far as possible I’m trying to avoid both busy roads and poor off-road surfaces -which both slow you down and tire you out – though some of our roads are now hardly better with rough surfaces and needing a constant watch to avoid the many potholes.

This area has the Thames running through it, with few bridges and a towpath that in parts gets too crowded for cycling. Motorways – the M25 and M4 are also barriers, and there are large reservoirs and former gravel workings which have caused road closures and diversions.

Tuesday’s ride took me around gravel pits to Wraysbury and around the Wraysbury Reservoir, returning to Staines on a bridle path alongside the M25 which slowed me a little. There was a short section at Poyle full of lorries where I had to wait a couple of minutes to cross the road to the unmarked track to take me over the M25 and to the short stretch of road leading to the bridleway, but otherwise little traffic.

Wednesday’s ride was trickier in terms of navigation as some of the roads were less familiar. I stopped to check my map after struggling up the slope to cross the motorway and found I should have turned left a couple of hundred yards earlier to go south towards Thorpe, where again I had to stop and get out the map to check I was still on route. And coming in to Chertsey I decided to try a different approach and ended up cycling rather further than necessary before I eventually found my way into the town centre. From there across the bridge and back to Staines I was on familiar territory. Next time I’ll know my way and keep to the route and it will be at least half a mile shorter.

I cycled extensively around this area back in the 1950s but things were rather different then, with no motorways and rather less traffic. During the early weeks of the lockdown it felt a little like the old days, but now local traffic seems to be getting more or less back to usual.


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

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.


A People’s Vote

May 21st, 2020

Around a million people came to the start of a march from Hyde Park last October to call for a referendum on the Brexit deal negotiated by Boris Johnson. Although when we held the referendum in 2016 a small majority won the vote to leave Europe, by the time it had actually become clear what this would really mean many had changed their minds.

But we had a government driven by a small group of people determined we should leave whatever, and whose whole existence was predicated on getting Brexit done and prepared to lie and lie again to do so. Some at least of them stood to make millions or billions out of leaving, and others feared that European legislation might soon force them to pay the large amounts of tax they are avoiding.

Facing them was an opposition which was divided over Europe and with a large group of MPs and officers whose main aim wasn’t to provide meaningful opposition to the government but to undermine and replace their leader. Their activities had already lost enough seats in the 2017 election to deny Labour a chance of leading a government and they were hell-bent on making sure of a disastrous result in the next which was expected before long and took place in December.

The Lib-Dems had shot themselves in the foot in July’s leadership election and that left only the 35 SNP members and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas as an effective opposition.

So while this huge protest was an outpouring of feeling representing a large proportion of the public who feel that now we knew more about what Brexit we should be asked to make an informed choice on whether to leave Europe, it stood little or no chance of success.

Although it is now clear that staying in the EU is far better than any deal that Johnson can negotiate – and that the Tories will do their utmost to reach a ‘no deal’ exit – nothing short of the kind of huge-scale popular revolt that would bring the government down can stop it. The people I was photographing on the streets of London were certainly not the kind of popular mob that would need, and it is difficult in these times to see how that could be achieved – except perhaps by a government ban on Strictly, that Bake Off and the Archers.

More pictures at March for a People’s Vote.


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

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.


Back to 1986: Page 4

May 20th, 2020
Broadway Bakeries, Brougham Rd, Benjamin Close, Broadway Market, Hackney 86-6m-35_2400
Borough Market

Returning to my London pictures for 1986, and to page 4 of my Flickr album 1986 London Photographs.

The Oval, Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets 86-6m-65_2400
The Oval, Bethnal Green

1986 was the year I began to photograph London in depth, and the album reflects this, with 1370 black and white photographs, a fraction of the number I took that year. The hundred on page 4 are from the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets and include pictures from Dalston, Shoreditch, Hackney, Bethnal Green, Wapping, Shadwell, Limehouse, Whitechapel and other parts east of the city. There is just the odd image from elsewhere in London.

War Memorial, Cyprus St, Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets86-6o-31_2400
Cyprus St, Bethnal Green

Unlike in some earlier years the routes for my walks around the area were carefully planned, with research from a number of published sources, though information was much less readily available than now before the days of the world wide web. Of course I didn’t always stick to my planned routes, but I did carry a notebook to write down where I actually went and even sometimes some details of what I was photographing.

Hessell St, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets
Hessel St, Whitechapel

One of my major resources was of course maps, both new and old, not just for the streets but also for the other information included on them. Some marked industrial areas in brown, most showed churches and public buildings and some gave names of various features. The invaluable series of reprints of old 1:2500 OS maps was begun by Alan Godfrey in 1983, but few were available in 1986. I now have a very large collection.

Kingsland Basin, Regent's Canal, Hackney 86-7c-26_2400
Kingsland Basin

My aim was to not to walk along every street (as the woman who produced the London A-Z was sometimes said to have done) but at least to look down nearly all of them, and to photograph all buildings of interest as well as other things I found on my journeys. Later when I had bought a scanner I produced enlarged versions of the A-Z pages, printing them on a black and white laser printer and used highlighter pen after I came home to mark where I had walked. These both showed me any areas I had missed and helped me, together with the notebooks, to mark on the contact sheets where the pictures were taken.

Nuttal St, Hackney 86-7c-36_2400
Nuttal St, Hackney

I mostly travelled by train or underground so often several walks started from a particular station, and perhaps along the same streets close to them. There were also some areas that particularly interested me, either for simple visual reasons or because they were obviously changing, to which I returned.

I’ve posted some of the pictures on this page previously on >Re:PHOTO and I’ve tried to find others to put on this post. You can see all of the pictures – 100 on page 4 – on Flickr – where you can view them larger than on here – by clicking on the link or the image below.

Russia Lane, Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets 86-6l-66_2400

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

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.


Group Outings

May 19th, 2020

Most of my photographs from the late 1970s and early 1980s were made in England, though quite a few outside London. After I moved to Staines in 1974 I joined a photographic club a few miles away and met up with a group of its more rebellious younger members.

We organised monthly group trips, when usually four or five of us would travel to various locations to spend a Sunday taking photographs. Each month one of the group would come up with a suggestion, and those who were interested would meet up early to travel, usually in people’s cars. We would bring the pictures we took back to monthly group meeting to pull each other’s work to pieces in sometimes rather bluntly critical terms.

Numbers varied, according to the popularity of the destination. Partly because I didn’t own a car (I sold the only one I ever owned back in the late 1960s when I became interested in the environment) the trips I suggested and led were always in London, using public transport – and rather less popular. On at least one occasion I was the only person to turn up, and I had a very good day!

More popular were the outings to more scenic locations, and I enjoyed these too. They included Stonehenge and Avebury, some rather desolate areas of the Kent and Essex coasts, the Sussex coast and Surrey Woods and more. We also made a couple of weekend trips, staying overnight at B&Bs.

The group – which had to leave the club – became a group of independent photographers with the name Framework continued until 1993 and over the years organised almost 20 exhibitions, but the group outings came to an end I think in the early 1980s, probably because most of us were seriously into our own projects.

Most of these slides from around 40 years ago need considerable retouching to remove ingrained dirt and mould spots which attack the colour, and in some the dyes used in the images have faded beyond restoration. I think the quality of the chemicals used in their development, both those I used at home and some of those lab developed was rather variable. I’ve worked on these images in Photoshop to produce the results above, but it isn’t always possible to produce an really natural looking result. Some of course may have been taken largely because of the unusual lighting at the time, and some films that I occasionally used – such as Orwo – were incapable of producing realistic colour.

I’ll put more of my old colour images on Flickr shortly.


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

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.


Provence Spring 1974

May 18th, 2020
Vineyard, Provence aix1974-483

We took a short break in the south of France at the start of the Easter holiday in 1974, travelling by train from London. Getting off the ferry in France we boarded a sleeper train which took us all the way to Aix-en-Provence, though rather more slowly than the current TGV service. I vaguely remember it trundling slowly and noisily around the now abandoned ‘Petite Ceinture’ in Paris in the evening and waking up the following morning as we approached Avignon.

Montagne Saint-Victoire aix1974-490

We took several coach tours from Aix, taking us to the Luberon, to the incredible fortress at Les Baux-de-Provence, Les Antiques at St Remy de Provence and to Arles, as well as taking the train to Marseille and exploring Aix and the countryside around. We tried to climb Cezanne’s favourite mountain, Mont Sainte-Victoire , but had to abandon the attempt when clouds came down enveloping us. It didn’t help that I was suffering from a temporary paralysis which made it difficult to move my legs, an unfortunate side-effect of an antidiarrhetic drug.

Les Alyscamps, Arles aix1974-026

I photographed mainly in colour on the trip and was I think using cheap Ferrania/3M film bought in 50ft or 100ft tins to load cassettes, and home processed. They have lasted surprisingly well, rather better than the few rolls of black and white I also took which has suffered extensively from insect infestation, eating their way through the gelatine. I think I must have been fortunate in the processing kit I used, and some for later films produced rather less stable images.

Street, Provence, Spring, 1974 aix1974-304

My memory too has suffered over the 46 years since I made these pictures, and although some locations are clear from the images, others I am unsure or have no recollection of. So if you can confirm any please add this on rhw Flickr page.

I tried for quite a few to find similar images on the web, using both normal searches on Google and also its ‘search by image’. I could only confirm a couple of them in this way. What I did discover is that for some sites where I thought they might have been taken, Google images finds only pictures – and sometimes hundreds of them – taken from a very limited number of viewpoints, as if photographers are reluctant to explore the location and find new and different views. Rather as if the places were marked by little Kodak signs telling you to take your picture here – I think there are still a few in London.

Marseille aix1974-119

Too many of my pictures back in 1974 are perhaps rather like these, typical tourist images, and I’ve edited out some of these in the set I’ve put online, though others remain. None are great photographs, but many have some interest, at least for me and I hope for you.

Street, Provence, 1974 aix1974-048
Flick Album: South of France 1974

You can see the pictures larger on Flickr.


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

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.


My old slides

May 17th, 2020

I took my first colour pictures years before I was a photographer. I’d long had an interest in photography, assiduously reading Amateur Photographer from cover to cover in the local library each week and around the age of 13 had saved pennies from my very limited pocket money each week, finally managing to buy a Halina 35x, which looked like a real camera. But it was around 4 years later that I could afford to buy my first film and send it away for processing, an Ilford black and white film which was returned with 36 postcard-size deckle-edge lustre prints, mainly of ancient oak trees in Richmond Park, though one of my father in our back garden in tie and cardigan uneasily holding a garden fork still adorns an oval hole in one of those family composites put together by my wife on our landing.

But the second film I took, I think the following year, was Agfa colour transparency. Most or all of it was taken of a girlfriend, an aspiring model, sitting in a blossom covered peach tree (grown from a stone) again in our back garden. I’m not sure if any have survived and the romance certainly didn’t, perhaps largely because as a penniless student I didn’t have a sports car and couldn’t take her to clubs, restaurants and pubs like the older men she met.

For the next few years I was a film a year man, a roll of colour transparencies taken on holidays and outings. I did take a couple of rolls of black and white when still a penniless student, but my photography was rather more curtailed when I dropped the camera in the lake at Versailles on my first overseas holiday, a week in a student hostel on the outskirts of Paris with my future wife. Fished out after some minutes underwater it never worked reliably again, the leaf shutter closing when it felt like it rather than following the set speed.

Around five years later I could afford to replace it with a cheap Russian SLR, and by then I’d also taken a short darkroom course and was living in a flat where I could set up a temporary darkroom in the kitchen to develop film and make black and white prints and my photography really began. But I continued to take the occasional colour slide film, mainly still for holidays. And by the time I really began photography seriously I was usually carrying two camera bodies, one with black and white and the second colour film.

Until 1985, all of that colour film was transparency film, partly because at that time most publications would only accept slides, and I aspired to have my pictures published event if they seldom where. Most of it, largely on cost grounds, was in those early years taken on film which used the E3 process, and it hasn’t aged well. E4 which replaced it towards the end of the ’70s has done better and what little Kodachrome I took (it was more expensive) best of all. Of course my slides have been stored in far from ideal conditions at home which will have accelerated their ageing.

Thanks to the Covid lockdown, I have managed to complete the scanning of all those slides which I can find which seem worth scanning. A few in the past were scanned on a proper film scanner at around 20 minutes per image; a few years ago I found I could get acceptable results from my Epson 750PRO flatbed (though only by not using its automatic location which crops unacceptably) but have now found a bellows and macro-lens much faster and better. Retouching to remove spots and mould can still be time-consuming, and I’ll only do this when I need to use the images. I’ve found little if any gain in cleaning the slides other than with an air blower – and using cleaning fluids and cloths seems to make those in card mounts even dirtier.

At the end of last month I wrote a little about a cycle ride up the Loire valley with some pictures on Kodachrome from 1975. The pictures in this post are from Paris in 1973 and have survived better than most I took in the early years. You can see them larger by right-clicking and choosing to open them in a new tab.


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

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.


Super supermarket pictures

May 16th, 2020

Photographer Dougie Wallace who I’ve mentioned here before for work including his pictures of shoppers outside Harrods has a fine portfolio on LensCulture, Adapting to Covid-19 in London’s Supermarkets.

Rather more sympathetic to his subjects than in some of his work, Wallace’s pictures show a remarkable degree of intimacy to the shoppers and supermarket workers he photographs. It’s hard to believe that some were not taken at rather less than the regulation 2m Covid separation.

In the text he is recorded talking about some of the problems in making pictures under lockdown, and as still “struggling with the professional hazard of holding a camera close to the face while trying not to touch one’s face and remembering to regularly sanitize hands and equipment to protect against the invisible enemy.”

It is remarkable work made under challenging conditions. Wallace worked with the small, fast and light Olympus EM1 Mark 3, a Micro Four Thirds camera. I’ve not used this latest top of the range model, but very much liked the similar mid-range Olympus OMD M5 MkII which cost me less than a quarter of the price. Olympus back in film days were always the nicest cameras to use – I still have two OM4 bodies – and that superior user experience is still there in their digital models.

There are very few occasions when one really needs the larger sensor of a full-frame camera – perhaps copying negatives and slides. Working in very low light too; though wide aperture lenses and image stabilisation go some way to bridge the gap, they don’t help when you need depth of field and are photographing moving subjects.


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