The Nikon Lens That Goes Up to 12

January 9, 2017

Nikon’s latest lens for the architectural photographer is the very flexible 19mm f4 Tilt & Shift lens. Weighing nearly 1kg, the lens is worth its weight in gold, and with a price tag to match the weight.

I have used previous Nikon Perspective Control lenses, from the early 28mm and 35mm lens, and more recently the 45mm and 24mm, which have been parts of my standard kit for architectural photography. I supplement these with the ever reliable f2.8 14-24mm lens, but the 19mm will be a must have lens for any architectural photographer.

Maximum shift can be applied in any direction, horizontally or vertically, with no vignetting. On the 24mm and 45mm lens, shift in the vertical direction is limited to 8mm, after which there is vignetting. The 19mm has no such limitations – I used it on several different occasions at the maximum shift in the vertical format and no fall off in focus and light intensity were apparent. The images (shot with both a Nikon D810 and a D800) from top to bottom was crisp and sharp.  Focusing is critical, and this is harder on such a wide lens, but forensically scanning the viewfinder to check that all of the image in focus is vital.

The lens has a huge bubble of glass at the front and therefore impossible to shade. However despite shooting at night, no ghosting or flare occurred on the image from nearby light sources. The nano crystal and fluorine coatings applied to the lens do a superb job. This is not a lens to be used in haste, so one must work more slowly and exactingly, as with a 5×4. The pleasures of using such a beautifully crafted and engineered lens are immense, and I haven’t even explored the tilt facility.

Nikon

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Varnishing Day, Royal Academy, Summer 2015

June 4, 2015

On Monday the 1st of June I participated in an age old tradition that gives artists the chance to ‘retouch and varnish their pictures after they have been hung’ before the opening of the Summer Exhibition, attended by over 200,000 people during its opening time. Today there is little left to do, especially when your image is a framed inkjet hung on the wall beyond reach. The real purpose of the day is to meet fellow artists, section curators, admire your image on the wall of the venerable Royal Academy and witness the prize giving to the best in show, judged by the Academy. This is the first time I have had an image in the exhibition, and what an honour it is to be received into this instituion.

The day starts with a loose assembly of non-member artists, Royal Academy staff in hi-vis jackets and two policemen on bicycles in the courtyard of the RA. I waited in the courtyard, chatting with a fellow artist, and spied David Hockney in a grey suit, striding through the space, puffing on a cigarette.
Soon after 11.15am we walked through the gates on to Piccadilly, the traffic commanded to stop by either of the bicycled policemen. We were led out by the clerics from St. James’s church and a steel band, this procession of about 300 people walked eastwards along Piccadilly until we reached St. James’s. Filing through the north door of the church, negotiating the metal access ramp to the church, the band played us in with ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’.
After a sweet service for artists, and with a poetry reading by Ian Ritchie, architectural curator, who appended some of his own poetry to the reading, the vicar reflected on art and the Holy Trinity.
Departing the church, shaking hands with the vicar we crossed Piccadilly in a more ramshackle fashion than earlier, and then dispersed into the RA to sample wine and antipasti and enjoy the exhibition, spotting our various works through the gallery. A hum of excitement filled the air as fellow artists described where their work was hanging and considered how many previous shows they had exhibited in.
Prizes were declared by Christopher Le Brun, President of the RA, with the Grand Award for Architecture presented to Peter Barber, for his scheme at Mount Pleasant, titled Coldbath Town, by Bahadir Kayan of Turkish Ceramics

Architecture Room at the RA

Architecture Room at the RA

Christopher Le Brun, Peter Barber and Bahadir Kayan

Christopher Le Brun, Peter Barber and Bahadir Kayan

Bahadir Kayan and Ian Ritchie

Bahadir Kayan and Ian Ritchie

Photographer Andy Earl and Ian Ritchie

Photographer Andy Earl and Ian Ritchie

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The event was a lovely celebration of an achievement I am immensely proud of, and so too all the other exhibitors. I was able to show my work to clients and friends who attended the event, and I now eagerly await the private view on Friday.

No Ordinary Park has Extraordinary Rules

October 1, 2014

No Ordinary Park

Did you know that London’s newest public park is actually private property? I discovered this on a sunny late September morning when I went to photograph the art installation Newton’s Cottage, a timber frame sheered in two halves by the Carpenters Road lock in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It is one of the recent art installations that have been commissioned for the Olympic Legacy Park. I live in Hackney, so the park has become an enjoyable place to cycle, a tranquil place to walk, and a wonderful place to swim in Zaha Hadid’s fabulous Aquatic Centre. For me taking photographs in the park is part of the enjoyment I would expect to get from this 560 acre parkland, with wildflower areas, waterside paths, climbing frames, cycle paths (although flawed), and a major road that bisects the park and speeds traffic to Westfield.

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Two cyclists approach on the left as I photographed Newton’s Cottage.

I set up my tripod and framed a shot of the installation about 9am. A few cyclists and a runner passed overhead on the pedestrian bridges, but there were few people around, so I enjoyed the tranquillity of the water, catching the reflections of the installation on the mirror panelled soffit of the bridge. I admired the gift that had been made available to London, and considered the future value of that legacy.
Two cyclists approached, one dressed in a hi-vi was a security guard from the park, the other a uniformed police officer. I bid them good morning. Their response was measured. I asked if I had done something wrong. I was told that this was private property and I needed a permit to take photographs with a tripod. I said that I thought the park was public property, as it is part of the Olympic legacy that London benefited from. The police officer informed me that it is owned by London Legacy Development Corporation, a private company, and one of the byelaws prohibits commercial photography. I pressed him as to who owned the company and he was uncertain, suggesting it was run privately for the Mayor of London. At which point he decided that was enough talk about the rights of public access to private spaces, and I could be removed by the park security if I continued to take photographs. The security officer said it was possible to obtain permission from LLDC via the website. He indicated that the ban on professional photography was to protect commercial interest. There was little point in extending what was an exchange based on ‘we don’t make the rules, just enforce them’. We said our goodbyes and I found a board with the byelaws printed on it, issued by London Borough of Tower Hamlets, but with no reference to photography. Dogs, fireworks and vehicular usage were addressed, but not photography. A visit to the security office, through the gate marked ‘Authorised Persons Only’. I enquired as to where the byelaws were that displayed that prohibited photography. A uniformed guard said that no notice is on display yet, and that is ‘…something we are addressing’. I asked what was the reason for prohibiting professionals from taking photographs. ‘We like to know who is taking photos in the park, as any images have to be approved by the LLDC media office. They can issue permits for photography and are very helpful. Once you have a permit, you’re able to take photographs.’ There was an indication that this was to stop hostile reconnaissance, which is absurd given that the whole site is on Google maps and it contains two architectural significant structures that draw tourists and architectural enthusiasts alike.
I can’t argue with the civil approach and manner of the security guard, nor the polite but determined way I was directed to the website, but I am infuriated that our new public park is not public, but private.
If you want to take photographs at the park, you need to give the London Legacy Development Corporation 5 days notice.

Constructing Worlds – Architectural Photography at the Barbican

September 29, 2014

Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age.

Any attempt to construct a world will always leave us questioning the inclusion of certain elements and the exclusion of other parts. So it is with Constructing Worlds, now at the Barbican. In this exhibition a pared down sample of 18 photographers is used to support the notion that architecture is ‘…both the protagonist and the silent witness…’ Through the selected works, the exhibition attempts to go beyond documentation of the built environment to an understanding of our constructed environment. An exhibition at The Photographers Gallery in 1991, Site Work, attempted a far wider overview of photography and architecture since early Modernism. By selecting a smaller number of contributors, the Barbican exhibition enables one to make direct comparisons both between the work produced by a single photographer and between the photographers over time.
It is fascinating to note the construction of Julius Shulman’s image in Case Study House #22, as previously unseen images are on show that inform the careful placement of models and lighting in the finished image. Thomas Struth’s images of street scenes, with the camera placed in the middle of the street, reveal the scenes as very distinct locations, successfully capturing the essence of place, whether it is the confusion of a street scene in China, ordered low rise terraces in England or a rigidly structured horizontal block in Switzerland.
Photographic interpretations of a constructed space vary through time as they do through the eyes of different photographers, working in the same period. Luisa Lambri’s slivers of light through a window of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, which lead the viewer to know more about the window, compare with Héléne Binet’s shafts of light which draw attention to the shadows in her images. These images without people, emphasise structural elements. Iwaan Baan’s celebratory images of life in the unfinished towerblock, Torre David in Venezuela depict a resilience and adaption of the surroundings, squatted and used as a place to live and work, rather than stand as an unfinished office block. Guy Tillim’s images depict the stark ruins of failed Modernist dreams in post-colonial Central Africa. Any people in the photographs look as bleak and as unhappy as the environment that they inhabit.
Bas Princen’s ‘Five Cities’ series are photographs of areas on the periphery of Istanbul, Amman, Beirut, Cairo or Dubai. They depict the harsher realities of life in poorer cities. A development of apartments in Amman on the edge of a quarry look set to crumble into the abyss; in Cairo a part of the city is covered in plastic garbage bags, this being the resource the residents use to survive.
Nadav Kander’s monumental images of the monumental Three Gorges Dam show everyday life; a picnic or washing a motorbike in the shadow of part of this huge civil engineering project. The images have an intimacy in their calmness, and the figures are clearly identifiable despite being as dwarfed by the structures in the images.
Although photography has been the promotional tool of architectural ideas, it also shows us the social consequences of the built environment, starting with Walker Evan’s images from the 1930’s of sharecroppers and vernacular architecture of Southern America, and Berenice Abbott’s images of cosmopolitan New York on the verge of significant architectural change, through to Simon Norfolk’s images of the effects of war on architecture and communities.
No other medium is able to render these effects so succinctly and dramatically, providing us with a readily accessible compendium of ideas.

Portland to Burkina Faso

April 30, 2014

Twelve months ago I set off on a 3 month cycle journey across the USA, enjoying magnificent scenery, quiet roads, favourable weather and the camaraderie of a dozen other cyclists. We would raise £130,000 for our chosen charities, one of which was Article 25.

This week I am preparing for a journey to Burkina Faso to photograph a school, designed and  built by Article 25 with assistance from Giving Africa.  I received a briefing email today about vernacular architecture in Burkina Faso and advice on etiquette, conducting business, greeting people and the exchanging of pleasantries. It’s a more welcome read than the bulletins from the FCO that advise against all travel in certain areas. And then there’s the notes about Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous form of malaria.

I’m packing and repacking equipment; lights, batteries, stands, tripods and cereal bars. Lunch may not be easy to source, so I will be reliant on the Clif bars that were our staple on the Portland to Portland ride.Image 

London’s Living Room?

December 13, 2013

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After our 3 month Portland to Portland cycle ride across 13 US states and Great Britain, the research document was completed this week. I went with ride captain Peter Murray to photograph him handing the letter into City Hall. I wanted a photograph of Peter outside City Hall, with Tower Bridge in the background to locate the image. I was using flash on camera as fill with no additional kit such as a tripod, so I was no hazard to other users of the space. The photograph was to be used to illustrate the story, circulated to trade press and was done on a pro bono basis. I think I had taken about 6 photos and was approached by the security guard who told me I needed permission. I told him what I was doing and that this was about presenting a document on cycling to the mayor and why I wanted to take the photograph. ‘Since you’re a professional photographer, you need permission to take photographs.’ I hadn’t heard this response used before at More London. And then that old standard, ‘this is private property’. I didn’t bother getting the permission, as I had the shot.

I was bemused and perplexed by this harassment of citizens accessing our seat of local government. 

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This was in stark contrast to two of the capitols I visited on our ride across the States. In Columbus, Ohio I stood on the steps where Lincoln spoke in 1859 in the Ohio Statehouse. No-one reproached me, nor eyed me suspiciously through CCTV. In Pierre, capitol of South Dakota, I wandered through the marvellous Capitol building, built in the early 1900’s, without any unpleasant encounter with security. I could take photographs and marvel at the accessibility to the halls of democracy. The door to the Governor’s office, read ‘please walk in’. Pierre’s population is only about 15,000 and I realise that London is home to more than 8 million, but the building described as having ‘London’s living room’ on the uppermost floor, feels more like London’s nursery as we are shepherded away from photographing any aspect of this building.

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Training for Portland

March 26, 2013

Another cold day for a ride. I check for body warmth, fill my water bottle, stash a banana in my back pocket, keeping it separate from the phone and the cash. Outside I mount the Garmin device on the bike and feel the cold air whip my face. I roll down the hill and think about how far I’ll go into the forest.

For the third month in a row these morning rides have been cold or wet, or a combination of the two.

Driven by a need to put ‘miles in the legs’, I have pressed on through this long winter and I’m not sure it’s getting any easier. Hills are still hard to ride up, I can’t always keep up with the leaders on the weekend rides and I find it a challenge in the cold to ride that little bit further.

 I have supplemented these training rides with a Saturday morning British Military Fitness class, where snow or blizzard don’t interfere with the instructors’ training regime.

I’m hoping for a milder climate and pleasant riding once we arrive in Portland, in just over 3 weeks time.

Everything was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s, Barbican Sept 2012 – January 2013

September 14, 2012

Everything was Moving
The 60s and 70s saw immense change in our view of the world. From landing on the moon to the destabilizing nature of neo-colonialism, the visual catalogue of this period was recorded by many courageous and gifted photographers. A dozen of them are represented in this exhibition.
The exhibition is split over two levels, and it is the bottom level that is the most visceral.
David Goldblatt’s photographs of South African miners have a powerful resonance today, as we recently learned of the brutal killing of miners in the platinum mines of Marikana. Images of mineworkers and their accommodation are given context by Goldbatt’s description of exploring and playing in the mine dumps as a young child. One image of a meeting between a worker and his manager demonstrates the assumed master servant role underpinned by apartheid. The corpulent white boss gestures expansively, his papers and the ashtray on the table staking out his territory. Adjacent to him sits the black worker, arms pulled close to his side, compressing him into the chair. In front of him on the table sits a small packet of cigarettes.
Bruce Davidson’s images of black oppression and segregation in the Deep South are particularly confronting. These images are a permanent visual reminder of the crimes against fellow man perpetrated in our lifetime. The images, never exhibited before in the UK, pitch you right in the middle of this appalling period of American history, riding with the Freedom Riders on their dangerous journey from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi.
On the other side of the Atlantic, and light years away from freedom, Ernest Cole’s photographed life as a black man under the apartheid regime. A devastating portfolio of images of deprivation, inhumanity, subjugation and exploitation. In a moving interview he says he took photographs ‘…just to show what life is really like in South Africa’. He overcame extreme prejudice and humiliation to produce these remarkable photographs. He lived in exile in New York, dying in poverty in 1990.
William Eggleston’s extraordinary photographs of landscapes leave one desperately curious, trying to understand what is unknown. An image of a the rear end of a Lincoln, with the rear wheel chained to a lamppost, another of a wall jukebox in a café that only has the selection buttons, the song titles and artists’ names are illegible. The iconic final image, of the blood red ceiling behind the bare light bulb, bears the caption ‘Greenwood, Mississippi’. His portraits are no less enigmatic. The gaze of the subjects is unknown, just off camera line, or out of frame, here and not here. Once again one tries to piece the missing evidence together.
Upstairs the exhibition continues with Larry Burrows’s large vivid colour images from Vietnam, depicting burned-out lives and decimated landscapes. I remember the image of the marine gunner reaching towards his dead commanding officer, stretched out in a cruciform, when it was published in Life magazine. The awkward theatricality of the image makes this a very painful image and the horrific sounds of the battle seemed to be stilled for a split second. The bland title, South of the DMZ’ tells us nothing of the horror contained in the frame.
Li Zhensheng’s images from the Mao’s Cultural Revolution are an amazing visual document from this time. Working within the communist regime, his images were used for propaganda, but other images were taken without approval and depict some of the harsher realities and absurdities of life under Mao.
‘Everything was Moving’ is an apt title, as the viewer sees a rushing kaleidoscope of images, events moving quickly that it can be hard to secure oneself on the floor. Everything is still moving, and as events move quickly, so does the means by which these events are recorded.

Cycling to Freiburg from Basel and back

September 9, 2012

The longest ride I have attempted was done on a hire bike, with no pannier, so the aching lower back pain I had was the result of a backpack with too much weight. Next time I’ll pack lighter.
I hadn’t used isotonic drinks before, preferring water on rides, but I found the added glucose, supplemented by sweets, to be vital to keep up energy levels and tackle the steep hill on our return.
My legs and thighs felt good and I could have continued cycling, but the back pain was the only negative effect.

Leaving Basel, my fellow rider, Peter Murray and I visited the Vitra Design Museum at Wiel am Rhein, thrilled at the daring concrete planes and skewed walls of Zaha Hadid’s fire station, enjoyed lunch and a browse through the catalogue of Vitra furniture displayed so informatively and seductively at Herzog de Meuron’s showroom that balances long beams on top of each other. Each one ending with a pitched glazed full height window, giving panoramic views over the countryside. Families come out to the estate to picnic and window shop, taking guided tours of the complex.

Getting underway from Weill eim Rein, we spent a little time identifying the route out to Freiburg. This was a cycle track that ran parallel to the road, through forest, vineyards, orchards and maize crops. Before Mullheim, several kilometers of road had to be negotiated and shared with cars, but all cars passed leaving plenty of room. Part of this route was a downhill run on a 10% gradient. Great fun, but it the same couldn’t be said of the ascent on the return leg.

The cycle paths are in excellent condition, with no potholes or tree routes breaking through the surface. At the junction with roads that employ roundabouts, cycle paths meet the round some 20 metres away from the roundabout. Vehicles approaching the cycle path give way to cyclists, and drivers are aware of cyclists, stopping in plenty of time. Unlike the UK, where drivers assess the distance between them and the cyclist to see whether they can make a turn before the cyclist arrives at the same point, I had the impression that cyclists were treated as fellow road users, but more vulnerable and thus deserving more attention and care. This integrated planning, which considers all road users, takes cyclists off roundabouts (which are the most dangerous places for cyclists) and reduces the risk to the cyclist.
The roundabouts and approach roads are planted with wildflowers, softening the landscape and providing little dances of colour.

Signage between towns is often patchy, though once in the larger cities (like Freiburg) signage is clear and cycle routes around town are easy to locate.
In Freiburg, which has a large pedestrian precinct in the medieval city, the only cars that I saw were taxis, and they look out of place in the small cobbled streets. On our return to Basel, we did have trouble locating the train station, as all the signage is directed at vehicular traffic.

The hire bikes were solid mountain bikes, which ran comfortably, with smooth gear changes and good brakes. A pannier rack would have been useful. Returning the bikes we cycled down the ramp to the bike parking underneath Basel station. This is a vast cycle park, accessed by a key system, providing secure and clean parking.

Returning to London City Airport, I cycled home to Hackney through Silvertown and was pleased to find a shared cycle path similar to those I had used in Germany. It runs for just over a mile, running out at the roundabout by the old Blackwall dock. This is a large and dangerous roundabout, used by trucks and busy with cars, and it’s poor planning that leaves the cyclist to negotiate this hazard, before joining the cycle super highway on the A13.

Freiburg’s Canals

Common Ground Venice Bieannale 2012

August 28, 2012

Common Ground is the theme chosen for the Biennale by the curator David Chipperfield.
All of us have different interpretations of how this should manifest itself in the exhibitions. Common ground may be the meeting and collaboration of architects and artists, architects and engineers, architects and planners. Some of us may think of the common ground as that space which we inhabit as a result of the built environment, the ground we walk through or the space that allows us to enjoy our leisure time. The most successful of these exhibitions that address the common ground occupied by citizens was the pop-up discussions hosted by the Australians. A two square metre rug with the graphic ‘Formations’ was placed on the ground and became the focal point of discussions on aspects of architecture; planning, fee competition. Participants sat on the rug, while others stood around the mat, straining to hear the discussion. Claiming this piece of ‘common ground’ was the simplest and most effective way of responding to the brief.