Posts Tagged ‘London’

India’s ‘private’ parks

Friday, December 11th, 2009

It’s with some relief that I read today in the Times of India that proposals to institute identity cards and entry fees to Bangalore parks have been scrapped.

The extraordinary idea, the brainchild of Horticulture Minister, Umesh Katti was to restrict entry to two of the ‘Garden City’s’ finest public spaces, Lalbagh and Cubbon Park to those that could afford, as he put it, the ‘paltry sum’ of Rs.200/-“. Further, identity cards would only be issued to those that had been ‘vetted’ over security concerns.

Lalbagh (Red Garden) is around two hundred and fifty years old. Cubbon Park, a British creation, is a century old. Both are a counterweight to the modernist, business friendly theme park that are the suburbs of modern Bangalore. Like most Indian parks they are populated by walkers, joggers, lovers, hawkers and the poor, sometimes untidily sleeping where they can. Oh, and Bangalore has a Laughter Club (a very Indian get-together where people laugh in groups to improve their health). Subversives all. Dangerous, anti-social elements that need checking and vetting and searching.

The case is interesting as it touches something that I have been photographing in Delhi for a while – Indian public space. Because cities are so crowded, public spaces become part of the personal, private sphere – a microcosm of Indian society. India has a profound love of gardens and greenery. I have written previously that all the major religions of this country have in some part a great reverence of nature – whether the gardens of the Mughals or the significance of the Bodhi tree for Buddhists or the garlanded offerings of Hindus. To privatise such public spaces for spurious ‘security concerns’ seems to me to be a very profound political statement. As Bhargavi Rao and Leo Saldanha of the local ‘Environment Support Group’ said. “It is an effort to showcase Bangalore as an elite, investment-friendly city where public spaces are out of bounds for local residents, especially the poor.”

Arundhati Roy has recently commented that,

“… the era of the Free Market has led to the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in India – the secession of the middle and upper classes to a country of their own… where they merge with the rest of the world’s elite”.

The poor and those that don’t quite fit into a corporate strategy are an untidy blemish and need to be excluded.

In fact it is entirely analogous to what is happening in much of the Western (well, read the US and the UK) world. Britain is the most spied-on country in the world in terms of CCTV and legislation passed over the last twelve years has meant that fundamental freedoms that we took for granted – like being able to photograph in public where we pleased – are no longer guaranteed. Extensions to pre-charge detention means that suspects in the UK can expect to be detained for periods exceeding those of other comparable democracies. As Simon Jenkins wrote in the Guardian yesterday, since 1997, the UK government has created more than 3000 new offences. 1,472 at the last count were imprisonable. You can be jailed for not having a licence for a church concert, smoking in a public place, selling a grey squirrel, trans-shipping unlicensed fish, or disobeying a health and safety inspector. All underpinned by a profit motive for private companies who have interests in surveillance, security operatives and prisons. If we make citizens afraid of each other they will be more pliable: I know photographers in the UK that have admitted to self-censoring in public. Taking pictures of children, of property, of the police are now likely to lead to confrontation with authority. A company has already found a way to ‘monetise’ this by paying ordinary people to watch CCTV footage and report anything ‘suspicious’.

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act in the UK no longer requires authorities to have reasonable suspicion to search people for such subversive activities as photographing on the streets. We are all suspects that have to be monitored. All the time. For our own good. Usually by private security. For profit.

Soon there will be nothing public left of all our public spaces.

India - New Delhi - a bench in the early morning mist in Nehru Park

India - New Delhi - a bench in the early morning mist in Nehru Park

India - New Delhi - A yoga class in Lodi Gardens in front of the Bara Gumbad Tomb

India - New Delhi - A yoga class in Lodi Gardens in front of the Bara Gumbad Tomb

India - New Delhi - A couple in the grounds of the Purana Qila, New Delhi, India. Such parks are often the only place where young lovers can meet away from their parents and families

India - New Delhi - A couple in the grounds of the Purana Qila, New Delhi, India. Such parks are often the only place where young lovers can meet away from their parents and families

India - New Delhi - Men play cards on a traffic island in New Delhi, India whilst one of their friends sleep. The traffic islands in the centre of the city often have manicured lawns and are well cared for. Many people sleep here at night but in the daytime they are used as small parks by workers

India - New Delhi - Men play cards on a traffic island in New Delhi, India whilst one of their friends sleep. The traffic islands in the centre of the city often have manicured lawns and are well cared for. Many people sleep here at night but in the daytime they are used as small parks by workers

UK - Cirencester - A private Security Guard examines the licence plate of a vehicle outside a Gated Community,

UK - Cirencester - A private Security Guard examines the licence plate of a vehicle outside a Gated Community,

UK - London - A Private Security Operative patrols South London council estate

UK - London - A Private Security Operative patrols South London council estate

Photo Forum

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I’ll be giving a talk about my work at the Photo Forum in London on Thursday December 3rd at 1800.

Photo-Forum is a place for working photographers across the spectrum to bring images, ideas, photo stories, approaches and work in progress for supportive debate and criticism.

So I’m hoping people won’t throw things…

The Unseen Bert Hardy

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Tomorrow night (the 10th of November) the Photographers Gallery in London will host a talk by Graham Harrison who has recently unearthed work from the Hulton Archive by Bert Hardy. If you are in town, I urge you to go.

Hardy was a giant of the British documentary press tradition and is best remembered for his work for Picture Post Magazine. Born into poverty in Blackfriars he taught himself photography and was renowned for his sensitive, human images of war and everyday life.

Bert was an inspiration for me and I had the privilege to photograph him shortly before he died in 1995 upstairs in the flat above the darkroom that he’d set up near Waterloo. I had hoped to show that image here but after moving offices recently, I’ve mislaid the transparency. I will post it soon I hope. I’d also like to write more about the Bert Hardy Darkrooms and Charlie who tirelessly printed my work for more than a decade – and I will soon.

It seems that Graham, an extraordinarily talented photographer and now the creator of the Photo Histories website has found a huge number of Hardy’s unpublished images for Picture Post. Some of the very best will be shown for the first time.

Michael Clark – a blast from the past…

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

So, last Friday I went to see Michael Clark’s new work, ‘Come, been and gone‘ at the Barbican – his tribute the the 1970’s music of Lou Reed and David Bowie. Shockingly good if only for seeing Kate Coyne stuck all over with syringes… (you had to be there). Anyway, I remembered that I’d recently scanned an old set of trannys of Clarke in rehearsal for ‘Mmm’ years ago. All shot on 320 Tungsten film pushed one or two stops… you had to hold your breath and hope the shadows wouldn’t block completely. With the advent of digital, that seems such a long time ago…

Anyway, here’s some images from that set…

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

The leaf, the rain and the poet

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Yesterday, I managed to put my back out . I just bent over to pick up a file of papers and it gave way. Some of you will remember a more serious occasion in Delhi two years ago and me laying on the floor for weeks on end, moaning… but that’s another story. Anyway, as I lay there in a completely dignified manner with an ice-pack glued to my lower spine, I was distracted by the rain pelting down on my windows; it is almost summer in London after all. Then something odd happened. A leaf landed against the pane. A single, solitary leaf, not extraordinary, a leaf from a neighbour’s tree. It just sat there. Stuck. It’s still there despite the sunshine and the best efforts of the evening winds to dislodge it. It got me thinking. Firstly, how dirty the windows actually are and then, looking at it more closely, I thought I’d photograph the little chap. Over the last few years, I seem to have been looking more and more at plants and less and less at people. For the last couple of years, I’ve been making work in Delhi about space and gardens as a way to view the city and, strangely enough, I think my favourite frame that I made last year was of a tree and its fallen blossom in Hue on assignment in Vietnam. I don’t think my leaf is in that league but it did bring to mind the poetry of Ryokan whose work I always have with me when I travel and when I am down:

The plants and flowers
I raised about my hut
I now surrender
To the will
Of the wind

My particular favourite when it’s raining in London and when I have hurt my back:

You must rise above
The gloomy clouds
Covering the mountaintop
Otherwise, how will you
Ever see the brightness?

Here are the photographs that I mentioned. I hope that you like them. One day, I will go back to Japan and make some work on Ryokan

A leaf on a window pane blown there in a storm

UK - London - A leaf on a window pane blown there in a storm

Vietnam - Hue - Fallen blossoms under a tree

Vietnam - Hue - Fallen blossoms under a tree

(more…)

Why Umbra Sumus?

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

The first question people asked me was ‘why are you doing a blog?’. The second was ‘why have you called it something daft like that?’.

The ‘why’ about having a blog is easy – the pretentious title is a little more tricky. Bear with me.

Those of you that know me know that I grew up in Hackney. A tricky place – “worst services, best crime” as Iain Sinclair would have it in That Red Rose Empire. In the 1970’s when the Holly Street estate in Dalston was a byword for all that was wrong with urban town planning, crime and decay, I sometimes used to go with my father to Brick Lane on a Sunday. The ‘Lane in those days was a very different place. Full of pavement stalls selling one shoe, dirty second hand clothes and the like. At one end would be the Spitalfields market where you could still see the tramps as we used to call them drinking themselves to death with meths around bonfires of refuse and rotting vegetables. At the other end would be Club Row, an infamous market for pets and small animals. You could buy all manner of bizarre creatures from all manner of bizarre creatures. At this end too would be the regular National Front demonstration: a handful of men with Union Jacks in a little corner snarling at the Bangladeshi’s that walked past. None of this meant particularly much to me as a boy. I used to walk through the swarming crowds oblivious to the now well documented history of the area. For my father, though he never spoke about it, this had a resonance. A ‘rubbish’ Jew as my non-Jewish mother always said (with a penchant for bacon and no idea of the religious duties thousands of years of Judaism had passed to him) we’d walk past the Nazis which of course echoed the speeches of Mosley that he would have heard in Ridley Road Market in the thirties (and indeed fiftees) as he grew. We’d also walk past the Mosque on Brick Lane that used to be a synagogue that was the heart of the old Jewish East end. On the side, high up – so far that if you looked, you’d certainly bump into someone coming the other way – was a sundial. The title page of this blog is the inscription on the sundial on that palimpsest of a building.

Built in 1743 the imposing square frame was originally a church built by the Huguenots, French Protestants exiled from their homelands who came to the area, a slum outside the city gates where they built beautiful houses and prospered. The inscription “we are but shadows” in Latin seemed to echo the refugee experience that I suppose I am part of. I’ve never worked much in England, never felt the need as many photographers do, to explore their  surroundings. For me, I was always interested in the Other. Perhaps it was about escape, a desperate run from Hackney. The world is a big place and we don’t have long: ‘we are but shadows’ reminds me of the impermanence and transitory nature of what we are – and I wanted to know as much of the world as I could. Photography has in some small measure allowed me to do that.
Ironically, when I started as a photographer I was drawn to these places that I had walked with my (even then elderly) father. Quite by accident I’d stumbled on the last days of the Jewish East End – specifically an organisation called “Food for the Jewish Poor” – a charity that had once given soup and later tins of food to the last elderly Jewish survivors of the area. I turned up and asked if I could hang around and take some pictures for my portfolio. Little did I know that I was following in the footsteps of the sadly underrated Sharon Chazan a young photographer who a few years before had undertaken a large project to record much of Jewish London and was murdered by one of her elderly subjects, Moshe Drukash. A strange, tragic happening in an area of strange, tragic happenings.

Shadows on shadows.

Here are some of the images that I made. I only found them a few days ago… They’ve never been seen publicly before and I hadn’t seen them for nearly twenty years…

An old man leaves the Soup Kitchen in Brune Street in East London which was erected by the Jewish community in 1902 to provide charitable support for Jewish immigrants to the area. The facility closed in the early 1990's as more and more of the original Jewish residents died or moved. The charity gave free food to elderly Jewish residents of the area

An old man leaves the Soup Kitchen in Brune Street in East London which was erected by the Jewish community in 1902 to provide charitable support for Jewish immigrants to the area. The facility closed in the early 1990's as more and more of the original Jewish residents died or moved. The charity gave free food to elderly Jewish residents of the area

An old man collects his grocery allowance from the Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor in Brune Street near Brick Lane.

An old man collects his grocery allowance from the Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor in Brune Street near Brick Lane.

An old woman collects her grocery allowance from the Soup Kitchen

An old woman collects her grocery allowance from the Soup Kitchen

An old boxer poses for the camera while he waits for his weekly food parcel from the Soup Kitchen at

An old boxer poses for the camera while he waits for his weekly food parcel from the Soup Kitchen

The Soup Kitchen is now expensive flats for wealthy City types and my father is long gone.

Umbra Sumus.