Monday, 28 March 2011

Image of the week #9... and then some.

On Saturday, I bravely took my new toy to the demonstration against the spending cuts. It's always tricky to take interesting photographs at demos... they all begin to look the same. But, to me, this is my most successful shot of that day;  a cut out of our prime minister being used as a mask, with the protestors on the awning of Fortnum & Mason's in the background. This is what he has reduced us to doing.

I know this is not photography focused, but I want to take this opportunity to voice my thoughts on the demo on Saturday. I joined the initial TUC march with 250,000 other people - an amazing turnout and there was a great atmosphere. A completely peaceful protest which showed solidarity and showed the discontent of the people.

While on the march, we got a tip-off that ukuncut were planning an occupation at 3.30 at Oxford Circus. I had heard of the group before, as I follow them on twitter; they perform peaceful occupations of stores and banks who evade tax. They are offering the Government an alternative to the spending cuts, saying that if Philip Green from Topshop and BHS, or Barclays Bank etc, paid their tax in full, the spending cuts wouldn't need to occur. I support this sentiment, and so once we arrived in Hyde Park we headed down Oxford Street to see what was going on.

Central London with the streets shut to cars is really quite something. There is an eerie silence (even with the hoots and whistles of the protesters). Oxford St had sort of become an outdoor arena for street performers and impromptu theatre acts. The crowd were much younger, and many groups were dressed up as clowns, and other forms of fancy dress. The atmosphere was quite carnivalesque. However, I noticed an underlying edginess; quite a few groups were all dressed in black, with black face rags and hoods, and seemed quite threatening. I have since learned that these people are instigating what is known as black bloc tactics; vandalism, rioting and street fighting. They do not belong to any particular group, and are not necessarily united with any beliefs, although they are usually out to get capitalist banks and corporations.

Towards Oxford Circus, BHS and Topshop had already been closed (not occupied) and police were standing guard. A group had gathered on the Circus, and soon we were given a little slip of paper with the instruction "you follow blue". Sure enough, there was a blue flag, and we followed it (along with the red and green flags) down Regents St and into Piccadilly. This was the ukuncut protest; to occupy a building which had been evading tax. Little did anyone suspect this was going to be Fortnum & Mason's.

My friend and I got separated at this point; he entered the store and I was left outside. The crowd was cheering and pushing, but it didn't feel threatening. The police soon barricaded the store, so protesters climbed up the pipes to get onto the awning. Fortnum & Mason's had been officially occupied, and it transpired that the owner does owe thousands of pounds in tax to the Govt. I hung around for 2 or 3 hours outside there, with another friend of mine; the scene was compelling... so many photographers, protesters of all ages, policemen... it was fascinating. Once the crowd began to diffuse due to tactics employed by the police Piccadilly felt almost apocalyptic; empty, with just rubbish on the floor and the remnants of smoke bombs in the air.

My friend and I had been in touch regularly throughout his occupation. When I saw the people leaving the store, they were being handcuffed and searched. I called him to warn him and he said the police inside had been told they were not going to be arrested. Well, they were... my friend spent 22 hours in a cell in Lewisham Police Station, and has been charged with trespassing. Communication between police inside the store and outside broke down completely; there is a good article in The Independent about it here. And I think these arrests aren't fair; the occupants of F&M did not damage anything, they didn't steal anything or harm anyone. They are just using their voice, which, last time I checked, was a human right.

The problem I have with the way the media has covered this story is this; they are getting the protestors of ukuncut confused with the black bloc group. Ukuncut is a peaceful protest which doesn't just oppose the Government, as the Unions do, but offers an alternative. And this is really important. The black bloc group, on the other hand, I suspect are just out for a fight, with no real purpose or message.

Being present at the protests on Saturday has made me aware of the power of the people, and it has made me think of the Middle East, especially Egypt, and how exciting it must have been to actually succeed in bringing down a Government. It is my belief that this shouldn't be the end of protests; we need to be a bit more French about the whole thing and really show how we feel. Many of my good friends have children, and, if we want them to be able to grow up in a fair society where they can have a good education and not worry about Health fees, it is now we need to say so.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Image of the week #8

I probably shouldn't announce this to the world, but I'm very excited cos I have a new toy. And it's mighty fine. Here are the first pics I have taken with it, of my friend Tori's adorable baby Millie...

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Charity Print Auction for Japan

The recent earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Japan has shocked everybody. It seems to make all other news seem somewhat trivial (apart from I've just heard French jets have flown over Libya... bad too). A triple whammy; how does anyone, let alone a nation, cope with that? The loss, the destruction, the uncertainty, the terror, the snow... so many horrific things to deal with, all at once. And the Japanese face it with a certain calm and stoicism which is nothing but admirable. And here, in the comfort of our own homes watching the events unfold on the news, it is hard to know what to do, how to help. But you can help. Everyone can.

My little piece of help is in the form of a great initiative run on the photo-sharing site Flickr. Charity Print Auction for Japan is a group which has been set up in order to raise money for the crisis. Photographers post pictures to the group, which are then auctioned off. The photographer pays for the print to be printed and the shipping, and the winning bidder gives his cash directly to one of the charities supporting Japan. On receipt of a screen-grab to prove this has been done, the photographer sends the buyer the print. Everyone wins... Japan gets a little more help, the buyer gets a lovely print to go on their wall, and the photographer feels like he's done a good turn.

Some prints are going for as much as $200, others for as little as £15. But every penny counts... and there is some great work on there. Personally (and I probably shouldn't say this!) I'm bidding on one of David Axelbank's Night Flowers. I have a print (shown here) up there also, which I'm very pleased to say has raised £50 already... but more bids very welcome! My auction ends on Wednesday, but other prints end earlier... and later... and more images are being added every day so it's worth checking back!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Street Photography; How to lose friends and alienate people.

This seems to be the year of Street Photography. Format Festival, in Derby, has it as its theme, the London Street Photography Festival launches in July, there is a big street photography exhibition on at Museum of London, and this season's issue of fLIP, the magazine for London Independent Photography, has the theme streetlife. Last year saw the publication of a Thames & Hudson book on the subject, and in-public published a book in honour of their 10th anniversary.

But here's the thing. I'm about to issue a statement which may lose me some friends. I have a problem with street photography.

"Their first murder", Weegee, 1941
At the launch weekend of Format Festival, my friend told me that a mutual friend of ours, who's in his 50's, asked her "what's street photography?". This person is not completely alienated from the photography world, although he is not a photographer; he is an artist. But his question interested me because I realised that street photography is a fairly new genre. The term is new, but the actual type of photography it stands for has been going on since cameras were small enough to take out on the street (or not, if you count Weegee). Henri Cartier Bresson, Rodchenko, Robert Frank; all these people took photographs of life unfolding around them; but only now do we refer to them as street photographers. A l'epoque, they were just great photographers; a little later, they were reportage photographers.

Don't get me wrong, there are still some great photographers who are documenting life on the street. A lot of the Magnum photographers who are showcased at Format - Chris Steele Perkins, Ray Depardon, Bruce Gildon, and members of the street photography collective in-public are good examples. But it is my opinion that others who jump on this street photography bandwagon are exploring it not for the original ideas of reportage photography, but for the sense of humour with which it is often related. It is now all about visual puns or mismatched elements in the composition, and the fact that people go out to create these photos make it much less successful. They become a one trick pony, and all start to look a little same-y.

"Beer St", Hogarth, 1751
In his launch speech at Format, Joel Meyerovitz (another one who is termed a street photographer; although actually it seems he hasn't been doing that kind of photography for quite a number of years, certainly not since the term began being used) said that street photography was the one genre which was truly photographic, because it wasn't present in painting. And I have to disagree with this. Think of Hogarth's engravings of street scenes in London - ok, they were to make a point about the social classes, but they are still a document, or a report of street life. Likewise, Pieter Breugel's large paintings depicting carnivals and festivals are not exactly recorded in a fraction of a second, so not conforming to Bresson's Decisive Moment, but they are a document of latter day street life.

The Fight between Carnival and Lent, Pieter Breugel, 1559

My point is that documenting the streets has been a point of interest for centuries, because it is an interesting space; it's where life is played out for all to see. And I'm not saying we should stop doing this; it's true that photography is a perfect medium for it. I just think we need to question what "street photography" really is, and what the point of it is if it's in the form of endless visual puns. Can't we just go back to documenting life like the great photographers of the mid century?

I'm expecting a barrage of comments from people I know and like from the industry (you know who you are!). But I'm not dissing you - you are all great photographers. I just have a problem with the term, and the bandwagon it has created. Maybe I'm too much of a control freak to be hanging around the streets waiting for the decisive moment...

Monday, 7 March 2011

Image of the week #8

This week, the image of the week is not one of mine, but one of the great Joel Meyerovitz, who I had the good fortune to listen to at the Format Festival this weekend. My own review on the festival in another post... for now, enjoy this:

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Image of the week #7

Ooops... missed last week's image of the week. Have been busting a gut to get my new project scanned and printed in time for showing at Format... here's a sneaky peak:

I'm gonna try and get the whole series on the website tomorrow... so watch this space for details!
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