From Wren to Rogers Photo Walk

May 17, 2012

The Wren to Rogers Open City walk was attended by only 5 people, though I expected 13 participants, but the smaller number made it much easier to speak to everyone and get to know them over the 3 hour period of the walk.

The walk takes in 2 delightful and rewarding buildings by Eric Parry Architects, 5 Aldermanbury Square and 60 Threadneedle Street. 5 Aldermanbury Square is a successful assimilation into the context of London Wall and Wood Street. It is as successful in the location as Alban Gate is crude and lumpen. Tapering towards the top of the building, its unusual shape gives the building a light transparent feel. Stainless steel cladding reflects onto the street below, and is in marked contrast with the wooden shuttering finish on the concrete at ground level.

Another Eric Parry building that delivers a treat is 60 Threadneedle Street. This understated and often overlooked building is a delight. The building reception is currently playing host to an exhibition of photographs by Nick RochowskiImage. At the rear the black frame and dichraoic glazing of the elevation on Throgmorton Street is in marked contrast to the gloom of Angel Court’s brown granite cladding. A dark corridor that spans the passageway between 60 Threadneedle and the old Stock Exchange (owing to the instability of the windows on the OSE), leads to Threadneedle Street, and a fine vista of the Royal Exchange is framed by the reception of 60 Threadneedle. The wavy glass on this elevation provides a great foil to the classicism of William Tite’s Royal Exchange.

These walks are conducted on a regular basis, please check the Open City website for details.

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Teaching Photography and Rainy Photo Tours of London

May 4, 2012

On Monday evening I finished teaching the last of 3 sessions on the Business of Photography at City Lit in Covent Garden. It was the only night that wasn’t raining. Previously everyone turned up, despite the appalling weather. There’s nothing like the warmth of a classroom to impart knowledge and share your experiences with other learners.
This contrasted with the photo tours I have been running for Open City, so far all but the new riverside tour have been held in glorious sunshine. The walk on Saturday, which took in the new architecture on the Thames in the City and Southwark, was rainy and windy. However of the 11 walkers who turned up, only one didn’t make it to the very end. The walkers are all keen supporters of Open City, and come equipped with cameras, questions and many insights into the buildings or planning of the City.
Wet weather needn’t put you off taking photographs; it just requires a different mindset and a willingness to get wet in the pursuit of the decisive moment.

Security & London 2012 Olympics

April 23, 2012

A walk around the perimeter of the Olympic site on Saturday revealed the enormous changes that have taken place in East London in preparation for the 2012 Games. It also revealed the unwelcome actions of security personnel employed by G4S on behalf of the London Olmpics.

There were four photo journalists and a video journalist in our group that attempted the walk. Halfway on the journey, near the vehicle entrance to Westfield, where the footpath and cycle suddenly ends without any indication of where one should safely traverse the roads, a security guard began shouting at us as we tried to find a safe way around the site. The guard strode towards us, hand outstretched, attempting to prohibit any photography by anyone of us. We were all carrying cameras, so any attempt to stop photographs or video was be a futile and useless task.

We were all stood on public land, where apparently G4S and private security have no legal rights to interfere with anybody.

After a heated discussion, the area we were discouraged from photographing, the booths and vehicle entrance to a shopping centre (where one assumes and hopes any sensitive material is hidden from public view), became the setting for lengthy discussions over our legal standpoint and the inevitable arrival of the police. During the discussions, we learned that guards actively deter people from taking photographs, despite the fact that they have no legal power to do so. The police, as is now more frequently the case, acted with politeness, civility and professionalism and affirmed our position as law abiding citizens who were entitled to take photographs from public land.

Unfortunately this professionalism is lacking in the frontline of security personnel who make the first point of contact with members of the public (or press).Image

Occupy LSX and Paternoster Square

November 9, 2011

One of the many consequences of the Occupy London campsite is the withdrawal, or revoking, of the public right of way through Paternoster Square. An injunction was obtained to prevent public access to the square, thwarting any attempt by activists to get near the London Stock Exchange, which is based in the square. Similar injunctions have been obtained by Canary Wharf, home to several banking institutions, and Broadgate, home to banks, lawyers and investment companies.

The owners of these ‘public spaces’ were able to do this because the land is privately owned, and the public are only given privileged access to the space. Though this privilege may be revoked at any time, it is unusual to see it done so quickly. The ring of steel in place around these sites, and reinforced by a show of police presence, may become a more common site in the City.

This can only emphasise the gulf that separates the corporate world of bankers and high finance from the rest of the population. If the corporations want to have a dialogue with the 99% who don’t enjoy the bonuses, yet suffer the cuts, then this is not the way to do it.

Project Griffin and guidance for security personnel

November 8, 2011

Project Griffin Training Day October 2011

Project Griffin was formed in 2004 with constituents from the London Fire BrigadeLondon Ambulance ServiceCity of London PoliceCorporation of London and private security firms deployed in the City. Originally conceived by the City of London Police, it is now a national partnership and has been successfully exported to other countries.

Like many partnerships, it requires one party to be the leading initiator in the process, and in this case it is the City of London Police. Training days are held monthly at Wood Street Police Station. I attended as an observer, on behalf of the London Photographers Branch of the NUJ, and as a possible contributor to the training process.

The day began with an introduction to Project Griffin, and it wasn’t long before photography was mentioned, about 15 minutes into the session, and that came with the expression ‘Hostile Reconnaissance or innocent tourism?’

Special Branch officer gave an overview of the terrorist threat, from both domestic and international organizations as well individuals acting alone. The classification and assessment of the threat levels and the current threat level was addressed. The use of hostile reconnaissance as an important part of planning in a terrorist action was discussed.

In the event of an incident, the role of the security forces as support for the police was raised. This included deployment of security personnel to staff secondary cordons around an incident site, as directed by a police officer. The emphasis was on close working and cooperation with the police at all times.

An officer from Operation Fairway, an intelligence gathering operation co-ordinated by detectives based within the Counter Terrorism Command unit at New Scotland Yard. The operation’s remit is to detect, deter or disrupt terrorist activity. This involves enlisting additional ‘eyes and ears’ in support of the central government’s attempts to counter the threat, and Project Griffin dovetails neatly with this operation.

Hostile reconnaissance was covered in depth by Operation Fairway, and various types of reconnaissance were revealed. Despite the fact that the officer re-iterated that not all photography is hostile reconnaissance, it is one of the most manifest examples. It is hard not to think that guards leaving the training day will view photographers as potentially more suspicious than any other activity. However if the photographer is paying particular attention to control and security systems, ingress and egress routes, then a security guard ought to be suspicious, (unless the photographer has been commissioned by a company that supplies security systems).

Other possible indicators of hostile reconnaissance may include:

– making notes (something which photographers may do to record the position of the sun at a particular time of day),

– observation of security processes, entry points, perimeter barriers and reaction drills (though a photographer may be observing when a building is at its busiest to capture the buzz around the building)

– repeated walk-bys (again a possible research method used by a photographer to assess how the light falls most favourably on the structure)

– use of multiple sets of clothing

– type of equipment being used (eg covert filming using small device such as mobile phone)

– reaction when questioned (though the guard’s initial approach will tend to inform and influence this reaction)

– what images they are taking (though how this can be determined without looking through the images on playback is uncertain. In my experience guards usually stand aggressively in front of the lens, attempting to restrict further photography). Perhaps it may be more useful if the guard stood behind the photographer to see his or her perspective.

– Are the images to be found elsewhere? (ie are they easily available on Google Earth)

Any reports of hostile reconnaissance are investigated by Special Branch.

The typical response from many photographers when challenged taking photographs is to mention Google Earth and the visual information in that data bank. It was acknowledged that activists will probably use Google Earth to gather relevant data, and this is often followed up by a visit to the location.

It was also acknowledged that photography is not the only tactic used in hostile reconnaissance. Furthermore, someone taking photographs is not necessarily to be viewed as suspicious.

It is in this area that leads to some serious misunderstandings between photographers and security guards. It was emphasized that someone who is taking photographs is generally not suspicious, and certainly someone who is co-operative should not be considered as such. Guards were reminded that they had no power to demand deletion of images (if evidence of hostile reconnaissance is required, then this evidence would be vital), nor do they have the power to seize equipment. Though there is no law preventing photography, once a photographer questions the guards’ insistence that ‘photography is not permitted’, the suspicion of the guard is alerted. Common sense and discretion become rare, and very soon, terrorism and ‘the current climate’ is mentioned as the reason why photography is prohibited. The prohibition on photography becomes more confused and muddled, as happened in Braehead shopping mall in October.

The City of London is considered a ‘target-rich environment’ for many reasons. Any attack would be a ‘headline –grabbing’ event. Over 300,000 commuters travel to the City each day and the City is the financial engine room of Europe. It is also a tourist rich destination, with a tangible history of some 2000 years and will attract tourists and commuters alike.

The session was informative, and I was grateful to be invited to attend. I will also have the opportunity to participate in the training, giving the security industry an insight into photographers working methods when they photograph buildings, demonstrating that a photographer’s scrutiny of a building is for honest and straightforward purposes.

It would also be useful to convince security personnel to treat photographers less suspiciously and with more civility. There is good reason for photographers to do the same.

In the meantime the Home Office has produced guidelines for the security industry on how to approach photographers working in public.

Photography in Public and Security Guards

July 27, 2011

On Friday 15 July I  attended a meeting with the Home Office, senior police officers from counter terrorism and other photography groups to discuss guidance for security guards and how effective communication could be established between security industry and photographers.

The meeting followed a previous meeting in May 2011 which realised the following action plan:

–       circulate the statutory code of practice for s47a remedial order

–       set up meeting with police practitioners to discuss training given to security guards

–       to determine who is responsible for providing guidance to Olympic security guards, ensuring that it reflects concerns raised about photographers

–       liaise with wider Home Office colleagues about how messages on photography could be provided to and circulated by Security Industry Authority

Throughout this meeting the concerns and issues that were raised by image-makers were taken seriously, and I believe given due consideration by the delegates. There was universal recognition that there is a risk in challenging photographers, and I believe there is a commitment by the Home Office and the police practitioners to address these issues. If we are to progress these issues and effect any change in the policing methods of security guards, it is vital that photographers are involved in the training and briefing of security personnel.

I believed that all delegates recognised that our involvement in the training process will be positive and useful.

The meeting was opened by Rob Hunt (Office for Security & Counter-Terrorism, Home Office), addressing concerns photographers have regarding counter-terrorism measures, as they seemed to bear most of the negative aspects of this law. This government recognised that the balance between counter-terrorism and civil liberties had become skewed, and the government is trying to seek a better balance. However there are still legitimate security issues about hostile reconnaissance as an integral part of attack planning, and for this reason the ability to stop-and-search, after reasonable suspicion has been established, is still necessary. Hunt addressed the concerns raised about s47a in the PHNAT brochure (these concerns have also been published on LPB site), noting that the threshold is much higher, and s47a is a substantive change over s44. According to Hunt, no authorizations for s47a have been in place to date.  Hunt’s assured the delegates that there is no provision for stop-and-search without reasonable suspicion under s47a. The threshold is much higher, as a police officer requires reasonable suspicion that a terrorist attack is in preparation.

Hunt did concede that s43 may be used more frequently, but this would be monitored as a significant increase in usage of s43 would be of concern to the Home Office.

Against this background, the threat level has been downgraded, largely due to the fact that the public are more attuned to what the police need. Public awareness of terrorism is now very high.

A significant issue facing photographers now is the deployment of private security guards, acting on behalf of building owners, often citing redundant sections of the Terrorism Act to deter photographers from photographing. Training of security guards exists under Project Griffin, which is expanding and updated frequently. Project Griffin is an initiative coordinating resources of the police, emergency services, local authorities, business and the private sector security industry. Part of training of security under Project Griffin in recognising attack planning is the use of photography for hostile reconnaissance. This element is downplayed by the police during the training, and other elements such as enquiring about evacuation procedures, exit strategies, staff & vehicle movements are also mentioned. However since photography is the only visibly manifest element, it is the one that is targeted most significantly by security guards. It is worth noting that neither Security Industry Authority nor British Security Industry Association provide no specific hostile reconnaissance training. Part of the problem is that police can only give guidance, not directives and regulations to security companies. Police feedback to security personnel on their ‘policing’, though there is some doubt as to how robust this feedback is.

Some security personnel still operate under older training regimes that have not taken into account repeal of s44. Not all security companies invest in training and the transient nature of security industry employees makes up-to-date training difficult. Despite this the security industry is keen to take on more advice and become more professional.

While the public are srcutinised by security personnel and cameras, it is vital to remember that the public have every right to photograph in a public place, and that security guards have no powers whatsoever.

With that in mind, The London Street Photography Festival hosted a debate on ‘Why Does Street Photography Make Us Paranoid’ at Housmans Bookshop on 20 July. This was preceded by the film Stand Your Ground, in which six photographers were assigned to photograph buildings in the City of London from public spaces. All were challenged by security guards who tried to prevent photography of their buildings, maintaining that permission was needed. On three occasions the police arrived, who determined very quickly (and with good humour, civility and politeness), that the photographers were within their rights to photograph the buildings. The contrast between professional, trained law enforcers and the security personnel was revealing.

The debate, highlights which can be seen here, produced straight-forward answers from police and security, and a determination to work together and try to resolve this impasse between security and photographers. We must be aware of the increasing privatization of public space, which has provided a demand for private security guards. Given that private security has become a part of our public life, then our engagement with them as citizens should not be on the basis that we are suspicious (if we are taking photographs), nor worthy of any unwarranted interrogation and harassment.

© Grant Smith 2011

 

Stand Your Ground and PHNAT pamphlet launch

June 21, 2011

PHNAT Pamphlet Launch AOP Gallery Tuesday 14 June

Over 100 people attended the party to launch the PHNAT pamphlet, many of whom were press photographers directly affected by the misuse of section 44. A slide show of images of police and private security guard showing harassment and detention of working photographers provided the visual background to the event. The images were bookended by Jason Parkinson film’s ‘Hostile Reconnaissance’ and ‘Collateral Damage’.

The AOP provided use of the gallery and Ing Media supplied drinks. Larry Herman talked about the importance of the CPBF and why they supported the pamphlet. Marc Vallee gave a brief history of PHNAT and why it came into existence, starting with the lone campaign of Jeremy Dear outside Scotland Yard and culminating in the massive turnout of over 2,00 people in Trafalgar Square in early 2010, and the subsequent removal of section 44. His message of celebration was tempered by the as yet unknown usage of section 47a against photographers.

It was a great gathering that had a positive outcome, and gave everyone who attended a reason to celebrate the achievements of PHNAT. Over 500 pamphlets were distributed amongst the guests. The pamphlet was produced with the assistance of the NUJ and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, kindly supported by the British Press Photographers Association and the London Photographers’ Branch.

A week later I was part of the London Street Photography Festival Stand Your Ground. This event followed 6 photographers, including David Hoffman, Philip Wolmuth, Pennie Quinton, Michael Grieve, Toby Smith. We were photographing parts of the City from public spaces. At least 6 different locations were photographed and filmed by a dedicated videographer. All the photographers were stopped and questioned by security guards, who saw it within their remit to prevent photographers from photographing the building they were looking after. 3 of the photographers received police attention after the security guards contacted police. In all cases the security guards were incorrectly making statements about the legality of photographing a building without permission.  One photographer was told that ‘…it was against company law.’ I was informed that a permit was required from the City of London Police and the building owner (in this case Heron). After I made enquiries as to how I might obtain this permission, the guard backtracked and confirmed that I didn’t need permission from City of London. He did suggest that I may apply for one at Heron, but that would depend on the type of photographs I intended to take. This is part of the initiative known as Project Argus, a companion to Project Griffin. The inconsistency of approach by the security guards and their lack of understanding of the law is alarming. Given that approaches made by security to photographers are usually hostile and affirmative, it is no wonder that many photographers feel intimidated by their presence and look to shoot elsewhere. In my instance, two security guards crossed Bishopsgate and stood by me until the police arrived. This was antagonistic, unsettling and unnecessary. I didn’t provide the building security team a reason for photographing the newest and tallest building in the City, nor did I provide any identification, as I was well within my right to photograph from the public footpath.

The arrival of the police was welcome, as it was quickly established that I was within my rights, and was doing nothing wrong, to photograph the building. It was re-assuring for the police officer to immediately identify himself and ask if the security personnel had been physically heavy handed or had tried to grab my camera. I provided the officer with my details and the reason for photography and he indicated that the security personnel had acted irrationally in contacting police.

He bid me a polite farewell and could continue to do what I had been perceived as a suspicious activity by the security team.

The reception at Heron Tower on Bishopsgate contains the largest privately owned aquarium, home to more than 1200 tropical marine fish. Just don’t try and photograph it – nor push your nose up against the glass to look at life in the goldfish bowl.

© Grant Smith

Right Here, Right Now, Format International Photography Festival

March 7, 2011

Derby Format 2011, Right Here, Right Now

Talks by Richard Kalvar, Chris Steele-Perkins and Grant Smith

Richard Kalvar, a Magnum photographer talked about his formative years in New York City under the tutelage of a fashion photographer. Realising he wasn’t going to enjoy working as a fashion photographer, he took to the streets of New York and ‘found’ images. As a street photographer, he maintains that it is about observing. Photographs are not made, but found. ‘You have to feel curious and make connections with human beings.’ ‘I loved the pictures I was taking, and I love my pictures.’ Kalvar argues that unless photography is difficult, there is no credibility in it. As he doesn’t crop his images, he has to get it right in the camera. Using a Leica with a 35mm lens, a camera, ‘…because it’s perfect and you don’t have to about the equipment, it allows you to concentrate on picture taking’, he went in close and captured images that juxtapose people, expressions, attitudes and street paraphernalia. Images with a prescient anticipation of circumstance, rich in texture, detail and wry, quirky observation.

Chris Steele-Perkins another Magnum photographer has spent his life travelling the world making connections with people. Blessed with courage and an eye that captures undisclosed tensions in his images, he has documented conflict and war zones. Back home in the UK, he documented the English. A memorable image taken in colour at Blackpool beach depicts picnickers, sunbathers, children astride a donkey and a dog urinating, all woven together in this improbable scene by splashes of red fabric. It was unusual for Steele-Perkins to work in colour, but it gave him an alternative way of portraying his homeland. Recently he has photographed Mt. Fuji in Japan, using the iconic mountain as a backdrop to the activities of Japanese citizens in the foreground. Fuji becomes a significant part of the iconography of the image by virtue despite its background role. Looking at his images, it’s not clear what has happened before, or will happen afterwards. Perhaps the whole scene will collapse. The ambiguity in the images poses many questions in the viewer and I think this is one of his objectives.

My talk concerned photographers’ rights, especially regarding shooting in public places, following the recent end to section 44. I illustrated the talk with examples of my work and the harassment I have received from private security guards. Anecdotal stories regarding police response and questioning highlighted the confusion resulting in this broadly and indiscriminately deployed law. Culminating in the PHNAT mass photo-gathering in January last year, after the ECHR ruled that use of s44 was illegal, the event drew attention to the number of citizens adversely affected by s44.

Covering the right to take images in public of people, buildings and children, I emphasised the legality of taking such images. The climate of fear and suspicion breeds a mistrust of photographers as observers. While the state is and private companies are monitoring the citizens with the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world, the innocent citizen is made to feel suspicious and guilty, and the photographic observations of the citizen are discredited.

Questions from the floor highlighted the uncertainty that is still evident concerning the legality over photography in a public place. Members of the audience asked about photography of children in public, and what is deemed a public place. One question asked whether a public library was a public place. Like many interiors, the public library is not a public place, it is a privately managed space that is made available to the public. This also applies to public transport.

A successful day that addressed many of the issues concerning photography in public, and promoted the cause of PHNAT.

Later I made contact with organisers of the London Street Photography Festival, taking place in the summer, who are keen to run workshops in around the theme of street photography during the festival.

The exhibitions on show during the festival all used the subject of street photography as the theme. A striking display by several Magnum photographers in the city square showed images from New York, Australia, Istanbul and Italy. All taken on the streets and capturing candid, life-affirming moments that awoke new passions in this viewer.

Elsewhere in Derby venues showed images from highly productive workshops, as well as work from member organisations like Hardcore Street Photography and In-Public. A fascinating film, made by Nick Turpin titled In-Sight, looked at the work and working methods of four of the In-Public photographers.

The Derby Museum displayed work commissioned by Format, shot by Bruce Gilden, of people on the streets of Derby. Large black and white photographs that put the viewer in conversation and direct confrontation with the subject.

Format has delivered a stimulating and inspiring festival, from the exhibitions to the talks and workshops on offer. Using the theme of street photography is relevant and timely. The city of Derby has embraced the festival, and well posted signage directs you around the city to experience the festival. Though most of the activity takes place at the Quad, the rest of the city plays an accessible and welcoming host to the other activities.

The continued culture of street photography is under threat, and Format is a powerful reminder to us that we shouldn’t let this discipline of photography become a victim of the suspicion of photographers that is now so prevalent, and the indiscriminate application of the terrorism law.

For the next month there are activities and talks over the weekends, so don’t miss the chance to be inspired. Next weekend (12 March) Paul Lewis and Roger Tooth will be talking on photojournalism and the public realm.

7 March 2011

Children in Architectural Photography

September 9, 2010

Marcus Fairs of Dezeen Magazine recently commented on his twitter site that ‘…architectural photographers manage to make children look lonely, even in photos of a kindergarten’.

Marcus’ point is timely and recognizes an underlying problem with images of children, as taking photographs with children as a secondary subject is being made more difficult.

Have you ever wondered why people in photographs are either blurred, have their back to the camera, look lonely and not engaged with neither the space nor the photographer?

Prior to digital imagery, film required long exposures, especially interior scenes and this resulted in blurred imagery owing to movement. Digital imagery meant that images can be recorded at higher speeds, as the light sensitivity of the recording chip can be rated at significantly higher levels than can be achieved with film. This can deliver more intimate imagery, as photographers can now successfully record scenes that are low lit.

Yet the images that are published are not like this. Home owners are often unwilling to be so critically exposed by the camera and have their living habits openly viewed. Pictures of the public in corporate or commercial buildings often depict people half turned away from the camera, or hurrying past so that they are blurred. Rushing out for a meeting or a sandwich, they often aren’t in a mood to be photographed, and see the photographer as a major nuisance; an inconvenience in a perhaps already stressful day. There is a suspicion of anybody taking photographs and the public become unwilling subjects in the attempt to bring scale and humanity to the buildings.

Photographs of schools or kindergartens raise entirely different issues. The blind belief that anybody taking photographs in a school, especially a male, must have an ulterior motive prohibits an easy interaction between subject and photographer. Some of the provisos I have operated under when photographing children in schools have been absurd. On a recent assignment photographing building works at a school in Hackney, the project manager told me it was illegal to photograph children, and advised me not to engage with the children under any circumstance. Other parents have asked whether the images would be on the internet. If the images were for printed publication, it was deemed acceptable; the internet was definitely out of bounds. Some schools are quite relaxed about photography; a circular is sent out in advance that advises parents’ that a photographer will be working in the school. If they prefer their children not to be photographed, then the child does not take part in any activities that may be in danger of being photographed. However the normal restrictions are that children can only be photographed from the back, any front on images are blurred so that their faces are not recognizable, or they are far enough away from the camera so as not to be identifiable.

The result is often an image of a small child standing alone in a playground looking lonely.

Law In Action Tuesday 8 June 2010

June 9, 2010
'We encourage a policing style where law-abiding members of the public should be able to go about their business unhindered by police officers. Police have no powers to stop people filming unless there is reasonable suspicion that it is connected to terrorism.' Frank Armastrong, Second-in-Charge, City of London Police

'We encourage a policing style where law-abiding members of the public should be able to go about their business unhindered by police officers. Police have no powers to stop people filming unless there is reasonable suspicion that it is connected to terrorism.' Frank Armstrong, Second-in-Charge, City of London Police

'You must clear photographs of people under the Data Protection Act' Building Manager. 'Hiding behind the Data Protection Act is nonsense'. Richard Thomas, former Information Commissioner

You're facing my building and I'm really sorry - you're not allowed to film it.' Building Manager

Yesterday’s edition of BBC Radio 4 Law In Action examined misuse of Section 44 against photographers and the right to take photographs in a public place.
These images were taken when I was prevented from taking photographs of Moor House on London Wall, as recorded by the BBC. The quotes are from the programme.