Posts Tagged ‘photographs’

The Falling Man

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Most if not all of us remember what we were doing when we heard about the tragic attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11, the 11th of September 2001.

I was just getting my bicycle ready to leave college after a morning’s teaching – I was then working part-time and had finished for the day – when a distraught colleague rushed up to me to tell me the news. She had grown up in New York, and had just seen pictures on her computer showing a plane flying into one of the towers. We shared our horror at what was happening, and watched for short time together unable to beleive what was happening.

After a few minutes I left her and got on my bike and cycled home. I couldn’t eat lunch but began to search for more information on the web, finding both the pictures on the news channels and also a number of posts of mobile phone pictures and video taken by those close to the events, including some making their way out of the building. It was these pictures, with their rawness, often blurred and indistinct that really brought home the horror to me, and I sat and wrote an article linking to them and to some of the professional imagery.

I don’t know that it was a very good article, but I clearly saw the event not only as a terrible act of terrorism, but also as a clear indication of the power of ‘citizen journalism’, perhaps the first major world event where the story was told and illustrated most immediately and effectively by those caught up in the tragedy rather than profesional journalists. And it was a story that attracted around a million views in the next 24 hours or so.

Of course we soon saw a great deal of fine coverage from the professionals, particulalry of the later stages of the event, but these lacked the rawness and immediacy of those first acounts – which their technical shortcomings emphasized (as does the grain and shakiness of Capas D-Day pictures).

Esquire Magazine has published a long and very interesting feature about the photographs of people who fell from the burning towers, and in particular the ‘Falling Man’ captured in a series of images taken by photographer Richard Drew. Originally published on the front pages, it quickly became the subject of controversy, and disappeared from view except on some insalubrious web sites. As the feature reveals, it caused considerable distress among at least one family of a man who died and was apparently wrongly identified as the man in the picture.

The story by Tom Junod is an interesting one, which also raises many issues about the use of these and other photographs, and about what photographs can tell us about what they depict. He concludes that this image of one of the perhaps 200 men who jumped from the upper stories of the WTC rather than await the death that seemed inevitable is of the man who “became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen.

July 2019 on My London Diary

Monday, August 26th, 2019

Finally my pictures and comments for July 2019 are online. It should have been easy as I took the last week off with various family events, which even if they get photographed very seldom get shared publically on-line. But somehow I’m finding keeping up with things rather difficult, and for various reasons I think My London Diary is likely shortly to come to an end. But at least a few months more…

As usual in July I went to the annual Procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at St Peter’s Italian Church in Clerkenwell and managed to get all three doves leaving the basket in the same picture – always a challenge.

July 2019

Boris J is not our Prime Minister
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Sagra
No to Boris, Yes to Europe
Requiem for a Dead Planet at Daily Mail

Students march for climate
XR London Tax rebellion
GLIAS 50th anniversary walk
St John’s Wood – Paddington Basin
Extinction Rebellion Waterloo

XR Summer Uprising procession
XR call for Ecocide Law

BEIS workers begin indefinite strike
East London Extinction Rebellion March
Vegan for Life Parade
Belgian Army Cenotaph Parade
IWGB welcome new Vice Chancellor
XR East London marches for clean air
IWGB demand living wage at LouLou’s
Bring Back unlawfully deported ‘PN’
London’s Sinister Arms Trade
Pride is a Protest
Give Me Five days
Protest French police attack on XR
XR Carmen’s Carbon Procession
End Inhuman Electroshock treatment

London Images

St Ann’s – End of an Era

Friday, August 2nd, 2019

Although the ‘stars’ of photography so far as the media are concerned tend to be those who fly into trouble spots around the world to report on various crises – usually backed by the big international agencies, much interesting documentary work is carried out by people who never get an international reputation, and whose work is made inside communities in which they are embedded, sometimes for years, occasionally for a lifetime.

I’ve long believed that there is a huge unseen body of work out there which has never attracted museum shows, publications or any real exposure, perhaps just seen by a few friends or shown in a local library. Of course now, it may appear on Facebook or Instagram, but tends to remain hidden among the dross and the cat pictures. Of course there are some good cat pictures, probably at least three a year.

My thoughts were directed to this by a Facebook post linking to an article in the Nottingham post, Photographer reveals unseen images of St Ann’s before demolition, about work in the area of Nottingham which was being comprehensively redeveloped when then student photographer Peter Richardson was working ina temporary summer job as a labourer on buildings that were replacing the Victorian housing.

Now, around 50 years later, the freelance photographer has put together a book with 98 photographs that show a real insight into the crowded neighbourhood before demolition. You can see rather more pictures from it in the preview of St Ann’s, End of an Era on the Blurb website.

As well as the quality of the work, the book has other interests for me. At the time when Richardson was taking his pictures I was heavily involved in a similar redevelopment in a similar area of inner-city Manchester, not as a photographer but as an activist. Groups working in the two areas made contacts and learnt from each other – and I think were the first two areas to bring ‘planning for real’ modelling exercises which had originated in Sweden to local community groups in the UK.

I regret very much that I was not at that time an active photographer, being penniless, unable to afford a working camera and lacking any practical training in photography that would have enabled me to work on a shoestring – both things that were remedied a couple of years later. But Richardson’s pictures remind me very much of the people and the homes that I met in Moss Side.

Like Richardson too, I’ve also published books on Blurb – with 16 of them still available. It isn’t an idea way to publish, but does give you the freedom to do so at relatively minimal expense and being print on demand comes with no problems of storing and distributing editions, and the print quality can be good, though not state of the art.

But the problem is price. A single softcover copy of this book costs £44.99, plus an excessive postage charge. Authors can benefit from fairly large discounts offered from time to time by Blurb (and don’t pay any author’s markup), but even so the books are expensive. It makes it impossible to sell through bookshops, where a realistic price would need to be at least £75. There is a cheaper EBook for £9.49 which is more reasonable, and I always advise people interested in my works to buy it in electronic form, though I also sell most of my books direct a little below Blurb prices.

Personally I’ve been thinking for the last couple of years of abandoning Blurb for any new publications. Perhaps publishing a small short-run print book, but making my work available free as PDFs or at higher quality on the web than my current web site. I do make a little from Blurb sales, but hardly enough to notice. For me the point of publishing is to share my work, not to make money.

Philip Cunningham’s East End Portraits

Thursday, August 1st, 2019

I don’t always want to switch on the computer in the morning. I spend far too long sitting at the keyboard these days, very much feeling a slave of the machine. But of course there are many things I want to do – including posting here – which make it necessary.

But of course there are compensations. It’s good to hear news from some of my real friends – people I actually know off-screen – and to see what they have been doing. And occasionally among the mountains of gloom and despondency that make up the news there are some tiny gleams of hope.

One of the small pleasures of each morning is an email from Spitalfields Life, a blog which often presents an interesting view on some aspect of London, usually East London, and particularly at times some interesting art work or a fascinating interview with an aged character.

There are sometimes some fine drawings – such as those by Danish Illustrator Ebbe Sadolin (1900-82)  whose elegant wandering lines show scenes from post-War London including a number of familiar places. And while often the photographs to articles are rather functional rather than inspired, doing their job as illustrations, there are occasional posts of real photographic interest.

One such a few days ago, was Philip Cunningham’s East End Portraits, taken in the 1970s when he lived in the area first as a Youth Worker and then a probationary teacher. These, as the article states, are “tender portraits of his friends and colleagues” and show a real warmth and affection for the subjects. The pictures also tell you a lot about the area and its people.

The subjects include a few people I’ve known (and a couple I’ve photographed in much later years) as well as several others whose names I recognised.

Streets & people

Monday, May 27th, 2019

Thanks to PetaPixel for bringing to my attention the video 1838-2019: Street Photography – A Photo For Every Year with 182 photos — one photo for every year between 1838 when Daguerre set up his camera overlooking the Boulevard du Temple and 2019 with activists hassling an MP outside Parliament in London.

It’s a curiously hypnotic experience, with each photo appearing for around 6 seconds, with a musical soundtrack that reflects the changing decades, and a rather strange selection of images by Guy Jones, taken on streets around the world, though majoring on the USA. I found it rather annoying but I couldn’t stop watching, though I did turn the volume right down.

Almost all of the pictures certainly are taken on streets and show people, but it rather reflects the lack of any real integrity in the term ‘street photography‘. And while the pictures do reflect the changes in technology over the years, any real historical oversight is entirely prejudiced by every picture from the 20th and 21st century being presented as colour – which for most means a recently colorized version of an original black and white picture. Some colours were rather less than believable. This is faux history in the making.

You’ll probably recognise a few of the pictures, and some of the photographers, but mixed in with these are some rather anonymous postcard views, press images and amateur holiday snaps, which don’t always seem particularly appropriate to represent the year in which they are taken. It’s in a way a very uninformative video; often I found myself wanting to know more about why a particular picture was taken and what it it shows. And for those taken in more recent times I did wonder whether Jones has permission to use the images from the copyright holders. I hope so, though I saw no closing credits to indicate this.

Pure Colour

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

I’ve long been something of a fan of Joerg Colberg’s Conscientious Photography Magazine though I often find myself arguing with his opinions and sometimes wondering why on earth he bothered to review some publication. But it’s always good to see some critical thinking about photography, even when I feel he has got it completely wrong.

His review of Pure Country by Bill Sullivan is perhaps a good example of what both interests me and to some extent infuriates me. Colberg begins with a rather interesting discussion of colour in photography, considering 25 reproductions on-line of William Eggleston‘s ‘ The Red Ceiling‘ (aka Greenwood, Mississippi, 1973) a picture that if you have any interest in photography you are doubtless familiar with (click on the link to see a not very convincing version of it on Wikipedia should you need a reminder.)

As Wikipedia reminds us, this is a picture about which Eggleston himself has commented “I’ve never seen it reproduced on the page to my satisfaction” and I suspect he may be even less convinced by most of the reproductions online. As well as viewing it on-screen, I also own various reproductions of it it books and magazines, as well as having viewed the “original”, Eggleston’s approved dye transfer print, at various times in exhibitions.

Colberg reproduces not the picture, but 25 versions of it averaged out into a single colour, with 25 slightly different red tones, and he asks what is the proper colour. Actually in this case the answer is fairly clear, and implied in Eggleston’s answer – it is the colour of the dye transfer print.

And at least dye transfer prints are pretty stable, though they will like anything else look different depending on the illumination they are viewed by. Eggleston went on to talk about the ‘blood-red’ of the original print, so if you want to know what it should look like, you might just prick yourself and compare.

I don’t actually consider Eggleston a good guide to colour. Most of the images in my 1989 copy of ‘The Democratic Forest‘ appear to me to have a colour cast, usually a slight yellow or perhaps pale orange. Many of his actual prints – the C-types rather than the dye-transfers – that I’ve seen in exhibitions seem to have degraded a little over the years even further in that direction, I imagine they were printed on Kodak colour papers which don’t generally age well.

Back in 1985, when I largely moved from colour transparency to colour negative in my work, part of the reason was that Fuji had come out with new and improved colour papers, giving cleaner colour reproduction and promising longer life. They also enabled you to control printing more easily, allowing burning and dodging with no colour shift.

Colour has both a scientific and a subjective, personal and emotional aspect. We can measure accurately in terms of hue, saturation and brightness, look at the spectral distribution of reflected light and use measurements such as these to determine how accurate the reproduction of colour is through particular materials and processes. But accuracy of reproduction isn’t always the goal, and there are always colours which are outside the range of any particular reproduction.

Personally in my own work I like to aim for reasonable colour accuracy and try to avoid any colour casts, though I don’t always succeed. There is always a temptation to make things just a little on the warm side and I normally succumb. I generally don’t like photographs that clearly distort colour, something practicised by some photographers to achieve a personal style.

Colberg goes on to state “Maybe it all comes down to the fact that there really isn’t such a thing as the world in colour. There’s just what you make it look like, plus there are basic facts such as women being able to see more colours than men.

Objectively I think he is wrong, confusing colour as a measurable, physical property describing how objects interact with light, with our subjective experience of colour. What I see in my mind as red or blue may be nothing like what you see as these colours, and we may have very different experiences and emotional reactions to them. We may even use different words to describe them – I often argue with my wife over whether something is blue or green, and while we all still talk about the rainbow having both blue and indigo, it is a distinction that has been lost since someone first coined “Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain”.

Colberg goes on to discuss Bill Sullivan‘s book Pure Country, which I’ve not seen. From his review and the page images on the publishers web site, I suspect it is not something I would like and certainly not something I’d fork out $80 plus shipping for, although the included “74 page pictorial index called the Pure Country Graphic Index 1659-2018 people, countries, color photography, worlds fairs & expositions, paintings, Suprematism & The Bauhaus. The index functions as a graphic timeline of dates, information, and images that inform the book set along an historical timeline with a major focus on the evolution of color image-making and photography spanning the last five centuries” does sound mildly interesting and at least in the couple of pages shown reproduces its images in more or less correct colour, but it appears to lack any real depth that might make it useful.

Black Day

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Tamils have little to celebrate on Sri Lankan Independence Day following their catastrophic defeat in the civil war, brought to an end after 26 years of fighting with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

As a placard states, this is a ‘Black Day for Tamils’. Sri Lanka got its independence from British rule as Ceylon on 4th February 1948, with a government including prominent Tamil leaders. But in 1956 S W R D Bandaranaike became prime minister declaring himself “defender of the besieged Sinhalese culture” and made Sinhalese the only official language of the government greatly heightening the tension between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, whose language and culture was under threat. When Bandaranaike tried to soften his approach to avoid the conflict, he was assassinated by an extremist Buddhist monk in 1959.

Increasing conflict between the two ethnic groups led to the formation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 1976, calling for an independent Tamil state, Tamil Eelam, in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Intermittent clashes developed into a full-scale civil war in 1983. The LTTE as well as conventional fighting also carried out suicide bombings and assassinations and was designated as a terrorist group by many countries, including the UK, where it remains a proscribed organisation.

Since the end of the war efforts at peace and reconciliation appear to have been rather half-hearted, and attempts to bring war criminals to justice have been prevented by the Sri-Lankan government.

The LTTE adopted a flag showing a tiger jumping through a circle of bullets, with crossed black bayonets on a red background, with their name on it, and in 1990 a version of this without the English and Tamil text was adopted as the national flag of Tamil Eelam. Though banned in Sri Lanka it is widely used by Tamils at protests abroad, and though some feel its association with the LTTE makes it illegal in the UK, the police seem to be decided against attempting to take action which would probably fail in the courts.

It was a dull and damp morning in London, and I only stayed around an hour at the protest outside the Embassy in a Bayswater backstreet before leaving for another event in South London.



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