Posts Tagged ‘photography’

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

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.


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.

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.

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