Posts Tagged ‘black lives matter’

The Language of Photography

Saturday, November 21st, 2020

Thanks to a tweet by duckrabbit I went to read an article on the blog of London portrait photographer Andy Barnham, From weapon safety to the language of photography. I know little or nothing about weapon safety – and the St. Louis couple who stood outside their home pointing weapons at Black Lives Matter protesters seemed to me appallingly dangerous for their mental attitudes rather than the important points of firearms etiquette that Barnham points out.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey have been charged with unlawful use of a weapon and evidence tampering. They had a card printed using the photograph of themselves taken by UPI photographer William Greenblatt without permission, and he sent them a polite letter asking for a fee of $1500 for the usage. On 6th November they went to court in St Louis asking for ownership of the photo, stating it was taken on their property, claiming damages from Greenblatt and UPI and asking for a ban on the use of the photo by UP and others including a company producing t-shirts and other memorabilia. According to The Hill, the St Louis Post Dispatch (unavailable in the UK except by VPN) “the couple have a long history of suing their neighbours … over small neighborhood issues“. This case seems unlikely to enjoy any success.

But Barnham goes on to think about the language of photography, and in particular the way many talk about ‘shooting’, ‘photo-shoots’ and other related terms when describing photographs and the act of making photographs. He goes on from there to write “at a time when BLM is questioning the country’s historical connection to the slave trade and has seen statues removed, is the termmaster/ slave’ appropriate, especially when the terms have ready alternatives such as primary/ secondary, key/ fill and so on? “

You can read more in his post, and in the various comments on it. Here is the comment I added to those already there.

Now we mainly use wireless flash triggers for multiple flash, the terms ‘master’ and ‘slave’ are in any case redundant. But the terms never referred to the lighting function but to how the units were fired. When I used multiple flash set-ups, the slave was usually the main light, set up to one side, while the master was a subsidiary light used as fill but physically connected to the camera sync socket or hot shoe. Sometimes the master might even be masked to that no light from it reached the subject, but it was still able to trigger the slave or slaves.

I’ve long tried hard to avoid the word ‘shoot’ in my thinking and writing – like Paul Halliday, I’ve always ‘made’ pictures. In similar vein the word ‘capture’ now favoured by some uses of digital cameras also raises my hackles, and I’m not that happy with ‘take’ either – it has that suggestion of ‘stealing souls’.

Back to multiple flash, where one flash is used to trigger another I would suggest the terms ‘lead’ and ‘echo’ are suitably short and clear and perhaps better express the essential difference.

Of course we should still use terms such as ‘main light’, ‘rim light’ and ‘fill’ to talk about what the lights are doing, but ‘master’ and ‘slave’ were never about that.


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


Showing faces II

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

For a rather wider discussion of the issues involved in photographing protests and showing the faces of those taking part, you may like to read On Ethics, The First Amendment, and Photographing Protestors’ Faces by Allen Murabayashi.

It is of course in some respects a very US-centric article, talking about Trump and about the constitution. But I think it makes some of the reasons for the disagreements over the issue clear, and is worth reading.

Murabayashi gives his own opinion in two short paragraphs as the end of the piece:

To me, the real discussion shouldn’t be about the blurring or obscuring of faces, nor gaining consent of a subject. These are tactical choices, and in the U.S. there is simply no expectation of privacy in a public setting.

Instead, we ought to continue to consider how photography is used to portray others (particularly the vulnerable), and whether an image truly advances a story or simply acts as a signifier for the photo we should have taken.

Op cit

The link in the last sentence is to another piece by Murabayashi, The Photographic Phases of Depicting COVID-19, which is also an interesting read.


Black Lives Matter

Sunday, June 7th, 2020

Staines, Surrey, UK. 4th June 2020.

I won’t be going to today’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest at London’s US Embassy though I would like to be there, both to show my support and also to take photographs, and it would be an easy journey for me.

The health risks of attending, though not huge, are greater for me than for most or all those who will be there, as if I were to be infected my life would be at greater risk both because of my age and because I have diabetes. I’m fortunate not to have great problems with diabetes, and I think I lived with it for over 30 years before it was diagnosed as a contributory factor to my heart attack in 2003, and now insulin and a careful diet usually keep it well under control, but it does mean my immune system isn’t too great.

The risks would be quite low. According to one of our leading epidemiologists speaking on the radio yesterday, about 1 in 700 people currently has Covid-19 and is infectious, although they may not be showing any symptoms. The proportion who are infectious in the protest crowd is likely to be rather smaller, as those who do have symptoms will almost certainly stay away. The protest will be taking place outside in a very open area, which will cut down the chance of infection.

The chance of being infected depends on various things. You reduce it by physical distance from an infected person – so if people at protests are able to keep that 2m away from people not in their own social group that helps greatly. If people who have the virus are wearing even simple home-made face masks that greatly reduces their spreading of the virus.

Protesters ‘Take the Knee’ at the side of Staines Town Hall.

Being a photographer is slightly more complicated. In the nature of things you have to move around and thus have a greater chance of coming close to one of that very small number of infected persons present. The moving around also cuts down your chance of always keeping that 2m distance. If you are, like me, someone who likes to get close to those you are photographing, you would be advised to change your way of working, moving perhaps to longer focal lengths. And you would certainly be advised to wear an effective mask when working. Moving around does have the advantage of decreasing the time you are close to any individual, which will also reduce the chance of infection.

The main danger to protesters will almost certainly come from policing. The police seem consistently to fail to observe social distancing and fail to wear face masks, so putting the public at risk. But also they often try to herd protesters into smaller areas where social distancing may be impossible, often to try to keep traffic flowing.

A silent die-in for 8 minutes 46 seconds in the Two Rivers shopping park in the centre of Staines, the time Floyd was restrained by a police officer.

It was probably unwise for me to leave home on Friday to cover a Black Lives Matter protest which I could hear from my window in Staines, particularly as I rushed out unprepared, forgetting to pick up my face mask. Of course I tried to keep at a suitable distance but there were moments when this wasn’t practicable. It was a rather smaller protest, with perhaps a couple of hundred people, not all of whom were wearing face masks either. Rather more of my pictures than usual were made with a short telephoto lens, with my wide-angle used largely for wider views in an attempt to preserve social distance.


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.