Protest and Survive

I urge everyone to attend a mass photo gathering in defence of street photography on January 23rd at Midday in Trafalgar Square organised by the pressure group I’m a Photographer not a Terrorist.

As their website eloquently states:

Photography is under attack. Across the country it that seems anyone with a camera is being targeted as a potential terrorist, whether amateur or professional, whether landscape, architectural or street photographer.

Not only is it corrosive of press freedom but creation of the collective visual history of our country is extinguished by anti-terrorist legislation designed to protect the heritage it prevents us recording.

This campaign is for everyone who values visual imagery, not just photographers.

We must work together now to stop this before photography becomes a part of history rather than a way of recording it.

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Images are funny things though and far be it from me to suggest that our rights are being eroded on a day to day basis by those that seek to make our lives more secure… but here are just a few recent developments to may be of interest:

The Children’s Secretary sets out £400m plan to put 20000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV supervision in their own homes

CCTV Cameras fitted in homes to spy on neighbours

Pubs ordered to close because of lack on CCTV

Talking TV cameras in London

But it’s OK because soon, the State will be able to ‘spy’ on every ‘phone call or web search anyway

And let’s not forget that private security operators can join in the fun too

It’s all for your own good. Welcome to the future…

A (late) Christmas post

As I slowly melt into the armchair under the weight and fug of too much food, alcohol and bad television I wondered what I could post that had some flavour of Christmas, image-wise… Seeing as I’ve never shot a Christmas story or stock at this time of year, I’m struggling a bit. I have come up with an old story I made in Northern Lebanon in 1998 about the work of Khalil Gibran, author of the Prophet. I travelled to B’sharre, then under the de facto control of the Syrian army of occupation and worked on a piece that illustrated the themes of Gibran’s poetry. Here are some pictures.

Lebanon - B'charre - A effigy of Christ in a coffin in a Maronite church in Khalil Gibran's birthplace in Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - A effigy of Christ in a coffin in a Maronite church in Khalil Gibran's birthplace in Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - A crucifix painted on a wall in the snow in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon. The area is occupied by Syrian troops and so the indigenous population paint crucifixes as a symbol of opposition
Lebanon - B'charre - A crucifix painted on a wall in the snow in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon. The area is occupied by Syrian troops and so the indigenous population paint crucifixes as a symbol of opposition
Lebanon - B'charre - A mysteriously empty coffin in a graveyard in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon.."... do not grieve for me... I am gone from this place...". Gibran
Lebanon - B'charre - A mysteriously empty coffin in a graveyard in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon.."... do not grieve for me... I am gone from this place...". Gibran
Lebanon - B'charre - An elderly Maronite Christian couple leave church in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - An elderly Maronite Christian couple leave church in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - Dying flowers on a tomb in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - Dying flowers on a tomb in Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon
Lebanon - B'charre - A shepherd and his flock of sheep and goats near Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon..  ..." And He put His hand upon my shoulder and said, "From this day you shall love this sheep more than any other in your flock, for she was lost and now she is found"...Gibran
Lebanon - B'charre - A shepherd and his flock of sheep and goats near Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon.. ..." And He put His hand upon my shoulder and said, "From this day you shall love this sheep more than any other in your flock, for she was lost and now she is found"...Gibran
Lebanon - B'charre - A cross stands on a hillside in the Quadisha Valley near Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon. The Valley was the last refuge of the Maronire Christian hermits after the Islamic (Arab) invasions.
Lebanon - B'charre - A cross stands on a hillside in the Quadisha Valley near Khalil Gibran's birthplace, B'charre, Northern Lebanon. The Valley was the last refuge of the Maronire Christian hermits after the Islamic (Arab) invasions.

India’s ‘private’ parks

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

India’s other filthy river

I read yesterday that the World Bank is to lend India $1bn to clean up the Ganges River. The Ganges is one of the world’s most polluted waterways and supports perhaps 400 million people. Despite earlier government promises to make its water drinkable by 1989, it flows with industrial effluence and sewerage. As I wrote previously, a solution to the water crisis is crucial to India’s survival and as Sunita Narain (and others) have argued it needs an Indian solution.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been touched by the magic of this river often over the years. I’ve covered two Kumbh Melas (the enormous religious bathing pilgrimage that takes place four times every twelve years at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna) and visited the extraordinary Varanasi many times. There is something touching, real and honourable about Indian’s reverence and awe at the Ganges; something that speaks about life and its transitory nature. It’s a beautiful thing to see villagers come hundreds of miles just to bathe in the river and feel its coolness at dawn as they submerge themselves. Humbling and puzzling to see the processions of corpse bearers literally running to the cremation grounds on the ghats in Varanasi to burn a body. I shall never forget my first sight of a body (suicides, children and snake bite victims are swallowed by the river whole) bloated, rolling and turning in the gentle waves of my boat one morning at dawn.

Some pictures:

India - Varanasi - A man makes an offering to the Ganges at dawn
India - Varanasi - A man makes an offering to the Ganges at dawn
India - Varanasi - A worker at the Burning or 'Manikarnika' Ghat tends a cremation fire. The men are all from the same low caste called Dons - Dalit's or 'untouchable's' rendered ritually unclean by their work
India - Varanasi - A worker at the Burning or 'Manikarnika' Ghat tends a cremation pyre. The men are all from the same low caste called Dons - Dalit's or 'untouchable's' rendered ritually unclean by their work
India - Allahbad - Pilgrims cross one of the many pontoon bridges erected at the Kumbh Mela
India - Allahbad - Pilgrims cross one of the many pontoon bridges erected at the Kumbh Mela
India - Allahabad - Saddhus dry themselves after a ritual bath at the Kumbh Mela
India - Allahabad - Saddhus dry themselves after a ritual bath at the Kumbh Mela
India - Allahabad - Pilgrims ritually bathe at the Ardh Kumbh Mela
India - Allahabad - Pilgrims ritually bathe at the Ardh Kumbh Mela
India - Allahabad - Saddhus in a boat at the Kumbh Mela
India - Allahabad - Saddhus in a boat at the Kumbh Mela
India - Allahabad - A pilgrim and his wife get ready to immerse themselves in the Ganges as an act of religious purification
India - Allahabad - A pilgrim and his wife get ready to immerse themselves in the Ganges as an act of religious purification

The Unseen Bert Hardy

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.

Willy Ronis

The France 24 website has a lovely slideshow tribute to the last, truly great, mid- century French photographer, Willy Ronis.

I have always loved his work for it’s romantic but humanist perspective. The beautiful, evocative portrait of his wife, the Leftist artist Marie-Anne Lansiaux, at the sink – Nu Provençal (1949) is deservedly one of the most famous images in photography.

We used to distribute Rapho’s images at Network and I could never quite get over the thrill of being able to look into that extraordinary archive.

The last word to Ronis though who said that ‘to transform chaos into harmony is the constant quest of the seekers of images’.