Thursday, August 04, 2016

Bringing It All Back Home

In the National Gallery it's Van Gogh's Sunflowers. In the Louvre it's the Mona Lisa. And in Florence it's Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (above). It seems that every major gallery has one iconic work that is the principal focus of selfie attention.

Around these 'trophy' artworks the hushed reverence that was once the default gallery mode has been swept away by smartphone-toting tourists elbowing their way to a clear view on their screens or, even worse, blocking everyone else's by posing for a selfie. Anyone wishing to peacefully contemplate the actual painting in front of them is in for a hard time.

Collecting such photographs is one of the more explicable idiocies of tourism. Perhaps what I have been doing - taking pictures of people taking those pictures – is idiocy squared, but tourism and its idiocies fascinate and repel me in equal measure. Being a tourist traipsing around Europe's big cities, with no connection to anyone who lives there, carefully channeled through a string of 'must-see' landmarks to which no native gives a second glance, can be a deathly experience. Suddenly alighting on something recognisable, both to the viewer and to their Facebook friends back home, makes a connection between the real world and this transient state of novelty and boredom. Maybe that's what photography is all about. 

Florence 2016

Saturday, April 09, 2016

More Market Failures

Nine Elms regeneration zone

There is a striking disjunction between the desperate shortage of affordable housing in the capital, and the extraordinary panorama of cranes, pile-drivers and high-rise residential blocks in various states of construction visible from almost anywhere in the city with a view.

Even more extraordinary, at least to someone unfamiliar with London's dysfunctional property market, is the fact that many of the newly completed apartments transforming the skyline are empty, bought off-plan by overseas investors as convenient assets in which to stash their cash. But now it appears that all is not well in the luxury homes trade.

Battersea Power Station

Last month Morgan Stanley warned that prices of new, upmarket London flats could fall by as much as 20% this year, and the International Business Times reported that Chinese investors who bought apartments off-plan in the Battersea power station development are having second thoughts now the time has come to pay the balance on their relatively small up-front deposits. Those in the know are clearly expecting trouble: although pre-tax profits at the estate agent Foxtons only fell by 3% last year, investors knocked 33% of the share price. If these are the first signs of a bursting bubble, it would be good news for anyone who thinks of four walls and a roof as home, rather than an offshore shelter for their dodgy money.

More pictures here.

Construction of Alto Apartments, Wembley

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Chorus of Disapproval

Members of the ENO chorus in rehearsal, 1998
The chorus at the English National Opera has just voted for strike action in protest at proposals to cut four jobs and reduce the current year-long contracts for the remaining 40 singers to nine months. The cuts follow a 30% reduction in the ENO's annual Arts Council grant.

In 1998 I spent a very enjoyable three weeks dropping in on rehearsals for the ENO's world premiere of Gavin Bryars' Doctor Ox's Experiment, shooting backstage, in various rehearsal rooms and even, occasionally, on-stage, for a spread in Opera Now magazine. There's a lot of hanging around in rehearsals and I spent much of it in the very good company of the chorus. I don't know how many of today's strikers were there back then, but they were a diverse, humourous, and pleasingly stroppy bunch. I hope they win. More pictures here.

Director Atom Egoyan and the ENO chorus in rehearsal, 1998

Rehearsal for ENO's Doctor Ox's Experiment, 1998

Friday, February 19, 2016

London in 50

I've created a rotating gallery of pictures taken in my wanderings around the city, some on my way to or from commissioned shoots, a few, requiring special access, by prior arrangement. London in 50 is a work in progress, definitely not definitive. I've delved into the archives for some, but intend that older images will be displaced by new as the gallery evolves.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dam Nonsense

Hampstead Ponds Project 

Campaigners who failed to stop a £22 million flood defence programme currently underway on Hampstead Heath might do well to reconsider their position following the catastrophic flooding that has devastated northern towns and cities over the last week. 

Many local groups and individuals put up a sustained fight against the Hampstead Heath Ponds Project, largely based on concerns over environmental damage to a unique and much loved open space. The 16 month dam strengthening and spillway construction works across 12 of the heath's 30 ponds, which began in April, has undoubtedly caused significant localised disruption but, as events up north have shown, blocked-off paths, the loss of a few trees, and some unsightly construction equipment are trivial compared to the damage to homes, businesses, and the environment that would result if the existing dams were to fail. 

One of the arguments used by the Dam Nonsense campaign was that newly weakened government legislation rendered much of the work unnecessary. A much more sensible argument is that the floods in the north demonstrate that government attempts to justify cuts in spending on flood defences by such manoeuvres are extremely foolish – and extraordinarily costly. 

Hampstead Ponds Project

Friday, November 20, 2015

Uber alles: we're all in this together

Drivers' protest, 12-11-15
When Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell speaks of an army of self-employed workers who have been casualised by the internet, he could be talking about the 100 or so Uber drivers who protested outside the company's London HQ last week (above). But he could also have been talking about some of the freelance photographers documenting their demonstration, hoping to make a sale through one of the big online news photo agencies.

The positions of the two groups are remarkably similar: both provide their own, expensive, equipment; neither have guaranteed hours of work or income; in both cases, terms, conditions and rates are set by the company; and in both cases there seems to be an endless supply of service deliverers struggling to make a living from ever-decreasing rates of pay. The drivers' protest, sparked by an imposed 5% increase in commission, was not the first time they have lost out financially through changes imposed from above.

In a way, Uber is quite honest about its role. The big photo agencies hide behind bland titles. The names of Alamy, Getty, Corbis and the rest promise nothing. Perhaps only Demotix hints at some sort of (non-existent) egalitarian enterprise.

But although Uber calls its drivers 'partners', the company's real relationship to its workforce is pretty much as described by its moniker. In German, of course.

Many of the drivers have now joined the GMB. Hopefully collective action, with its backing, will bring results. It would be good to see photographers attempt something similar.

More pictures here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bringing Down the Shutters

Bringing Down the Shutters, my feature for The Journalist magazine on the massive decline in the number of staff photographers working for national and local newspapers, is now available online here.