Adding a little colour

By , January 23, 2010 8:56 pm

I had the pleasure of covering Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women lunch at the Walbrook Club in London a few days ago, and was struck by the juxtaposition of a “gentleman’s club” with the colour and sophistication of the women in it. I found myself smiling at the seeming incongruity of the rather staid and forlorn hanger of “emergency ties” tucked behind the beadle’s enclosure that seemed to belong to a different age. An age finally losing its grip as women prove themselves to be more than capable of anything they want to do.

Catherine Mayer, Time’s London Bureau Chief, welcomed those present remarking that she had once thought such events would be redundant in the 21st Century. To prove how wrong she was, she recounted the recent story of a friend who is a fund manager. The CEO of a large company had hoped that the fund would invest in his business and arranged a meeting. Said CEO entered a room to meet the fund manager and her two junior male associates. He introduced himself to the associates and asked the fund manager for a tea with two sugars. Apparently the fund manager did invest in the company, saying that “with such a stupid man at the top I knew it was ripe for takeover.”

I think we deserve everything we get.

To be fair, it is symptomatic of a deeper malaise. We are all alike incapable of judging people by their merits when there is so much to distract us on the surface. Women can be just as guilty, but where they really score is in an innate understanding of the fact that image matters. While men congratulate themselves on having the balls to wear a colourful tie with their grey, crumpled, and dandruff-flaked suit, women show that they can run the very biggest organisations brilliantly, and still have time for personal flair and colour. If they are going to be judged for how they look, they aim to look good.

In the few seconds I had to work around my brief, I thought I would concoct a little homage to their sense of style:

To find out more about Torley and his music click here.

Season of Earthquakes

By , January 17, 2010 12:01 am

There is, apparently, no season for earthquakes. They can and do happen at any time of the year. But with the news pouring in from Haiti, I can’t help but think this time of year is when earthquakes happen, January in particular seems to be “popular”.

I have to confess to a personal interest. Fifteen years ago today, a matter of weeks after giving up the day job to pursue photography full time, I was in Japan working on the research for a picture story I was going to do on the A Bomb survivors. It was coming up to the 50th anniversary and I wanted a counter in the western press to the stories that were inevitably going to run. I had interviews set up, access to the archives and museums, and a great many people eager to help. What I lacked was an innate understanding of what it was like to be in a city that is destroyed in a matter of seconds. I was based in the Kansai city of Kobe.

The former (and now deceased) PA picture editor (and one of the founder members of the Picture Editor's Guild) Eric Pothecary told me that this was the best photo of "shell shock" he had seen since McCullin's famous image from Vietnam.

The former (and now deceased) PA picture editor (and one of the founder members of the Picture Editor's Guild) Eric Pothecary told me that this was the best photo of "shell shock" he had seen since McCullin's famous image from Vietnam.

Fires consumed whole city blocks.

Fires consumed whole city blocks.

At 5:46am local time an apparently dormant fault under the northern tip of the island of Awaji, about 20km from Kobe, ruptured at a depth of 14km. The resulting earthquake was measured at 7.3 on the Richter scale, and was the first recorded earthquake in Japan to reach 7 on the Japanese Closed Scale which measures the intensity of the tremor as experienced by people and objects on the earth’s surface, as opposed to the Richter Scale which is concerned with the seismic energy released at the epicentre of an earthquake. In terms of how it felt for people in Kobe, it recorded an 11-12 on the Modified Mercalli Scale; that is “Very Disastrous” to “Catastrophic”. It was, and remains, the first major earthquake to strike at close quarters and a shallow depth relative to a major metropolitan conurbation. Japan is used to having earthquakes, and for years buildings have been built to “withstand” them.

Discarded extinguishers

The remains of a hopeless battle three days later.

Nevertheless, the violence of the earth’s motion was too great. Nearly 6500 lost their lives, with thirty thousand requiring hospital treatment and almost a third of a million rendered homeless. The final cost of the quake has been estimated at as much as US$200 billion.

I got what I was missing and discovered what it was like to be in a city flattened in seconds: it has coloured my view of everything ever since.

On the face of it, the quake in Haiti is similar, a shallow hit. But Haiti isn’t built to withstand it, and it does not have the resources to pick itself up. Japan, despite its considerable wealth  struggled, and to some extent through misplaced pride, it paid the price. Haiti asked for help right from the start, and it needs all the help it can get.

In the end, the size and place of this kind of disaster is incidental. Only those who have experienced it first hand can ever truly understand how terrifying it is when the ground – that one thing that we all take as a constant – turns against you.

Today, of all days, my thoughts are with all those who have been scarred by earthquakes, and in particular it is with those in Haiti.

These are some of my photographs from Kobe, and form part of a very long term project called Shikata ga nai 仕方がない, a very common Japanese expression that translates as “It Can’t Be Helped”.

If you want to help the people of Haiti click here and donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee Haiti Appeal.

Because the water mains were ruptured, applaices had to be daisy chained together from the nearest culvert to provide water to tackle the blazes. And of course, many of the appliances were destoyed in their stations.

Because the water mains were ruptured, appliances had to be daisy-chained together from the nearest culvert to provide water to tackle the blazes. Many of the appliances were destroyed in their stations.

The high frequency earthquake was particularly devastating for low rise buildings.

The high frequency earthquake was particularly devastating for low rise buildings.

Burnt out area in Nishinomiya

Burnt out area in Nishinomiya, January 24, 1995.

Melted hoses

Frequently only one hose could be spared for a fire that in normal circumstances would have required 10-15 appliances, let alone hoses.

Any closer than this and I would have lost my hair.

This was as close as I could get with a 200mm lens without losing my hair.

The building to the right was a multistory carpark. The only noise you could hear was that of car horns and alarms, a noise which continued until the car batteries died.

The building to the right was a multistory carpark. The only noise you could hear was that of car horns and alarms, a noise which continued until the car batteries died.

The upmarket Kobe suburb of Ashiya.

The upmarket Kobe suburb of Ashiya.

Burnt out area, Nishinomiya.

Burnt out area, Amagasaki, January 24, 1995.

Fumi and her daughter Hana were pulled from the ruins of their home in the background.

Fumi and her daughter Hana were pulled from the ruins of their home in the background. January 17, 1995.

Locally based soldiers tried to offer some assitance for search and rescue, but were hampered by the destruction and the peculiarities of the terrain: a thin strip of habitable land bordered by mountains and the sea.

Locally based soldiers tried to offer some assitance for search and rescue, but were hampered by the destruction and the peculiarities of the terrain: a thin strip of habitable land bordered by mountains and the sea.

Where people were pulled alive from the ruins friends and family used anything as a makeshift stretcher to get them to the hastily erected field medical centres, all the time dodging live sparking power cables.

Where people were pulled alive from the ruins friends and family used anything as a makeshift stretcher to get them to the hastily erected field medical centres, all the time dodging live sparking power cables.

People are stunned by the destruction and ensuing fires.

People were stunned by the destruction and ensuing fires, not really knowing what to do next.

We English – update

By , January 16, 2010 4:10 pm

Simon Robert’s latest work continues to attract fans around the world. To update his own posts on the glowing reviews that have marked We English out as one of the books of the year Photo Eye have just published their review of the best photo books of 2009, and We English makes it into the top 10 of three different reviewers: Martin Parr, Andrew Phelps, and Marco Delogu.

However, not all his reviews have been so glowing. “Bollos” on Amazon said it was rubbish, adding, “don’t bother, full of stunningly boring pictures. pretension (sic) title, very poorly executed. mine’s going to the charity shop.” To which a Mr Tim Morris responded: “Please tell me which charity shop your (sic) sending this brilliant piece of work to, I would love to have it, and any over (sic) items that you don’t understand.” All of “Bollos'” other reviews are on bits of IT equipment, so I’m not entirely sure what he was expecting to find in a large format book of photographs entitled We English, but I would not be at all surprised to find he supports a very national British political party, and never bothered to look through the book prior to purchase.

Still, Simon, if success is measured by being either loved or loathed, there appear to be no middlemen for you.

Notes from the VisCom Classroom: A Tale of Two Students

By , January 9, 2010 12:08 pm

A very worthwhile post on Black Star Rising about not selling yourself short. If you intend to be a photographer for a living, take heed:

This is a tale of two photography students. One sold some pictures to a client and was bummed out. Another failed to land an assignment but ended up feeling

via Notes from the VisCom Classroom: A Tale of Two Students.

Checking the details.

By , January 8, 2010 7:29 pm

Captions can make or break an image. Consider the following image which was included in a handful of pictures of the year suggestions by various newsmedia:

Photo: © John Moore/Getty Images

The BBC ran it with the following caption:

US President Barack Obama warned of “difficult days ahead” in Iraq as US troops withdraw from towns and cities, six years after the invasion. Here a young boy reacts upon seeing his father return from a 12 month tour in Iraq.

The problem – just in case you didn’t spot it – is that if the father has been away for 12 months in Iraq, who, exactly, is “Daddy”?

The photo was taken by John Moore from Getty Images. A fine photojournalist awarded Magazine Photographer of the Year by POYi in 2008. He was the man at the scene when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and his images will be familiar to anyone interested in world events. I don’t know, but I suspect that the caption as published by the BBC was not John’s own, which means that someone at the BBC should probably have been more careful when redrafting whatever the original caption was. Life also ran the picture in their review of the year, but with a different caption:

Ayden Kaplan, 3, spots dad– Staff Sgt. Joshua Kaplan–while standing next to his pregnant mother, Kendra, in Fort Carson, Colorado. Kaplan had just returned from a year in Iraq. Inside Kendra’s hand is an envelope with information on the gender of their unborn baby–she’d held off on opening it so she could find out with her husband. (It’s a boy.)

At least their caption says that the child is her husband’s, although it would still leave people wondering how it could have been possible. So, should Staff Sgt. Kaplan be worried? Thankfully no, as a different image (but clearly from the same sequence) was run by Life in another article with this caption:

FORT CARSON, CO – AUGUST 18: Kendra Kaplan, 5 months pregnant, watches as her husband SSG Joshua Kaplan and fellow U.S. Army soldiers arrive on August 18, 2009 in Fort Carson, Colorado. She had brought a sealed envelope with an ultrasound, so that they could learn the baby’s gender together upon Joshua’s arrival. The Kaplans will be having a baby boy, conceived during Joshua’s mid-term leave in March. Approximately 575 soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat team from the 4th Infantry Division returned Tuesday following a 12 month deployment to Iraq. At lower left is their son Ayden, 3.

When the Washington Post ran the picture on August 19 (the day after it was taken) their caption was more careful, and I suspect came from Moore himself:

Aug. 18: Kendra Kaplan, 5 months pregnant, watches as her husband SSG Joshua Kaplan and fellow U.S. Army soldiers arrive in Fort Carson, Colorado. She had brought a sealed envelope with an ultrasound, so that they could learn the baby’s gender together upon Joshua’s arrival.

The question that ought to be pondered here is this: if a picture is supplied to a news or media organisation with a caption, should the organisation have the right to change the caption as they see fit, or should it be standard practice to use the caption supplied? Often the problem lies with the photographers themselves who submit images with very poor captions or non at all. Just because you take photos it doesn’t mean you don’t have to write the odd thing, and learning to do it well will give you much more control over how your pictures are used – and maybe save you the odd embarrassment.

What a monster!

I have not written much about equipment on this blog (save for the item about what I really want which ironically seemed to generate more comments than the other pieces). To be honest I am not that much into “gear”. It’s not that it isn’t important, because clearly it is. It is just that the only equipment related stuff I want to write is indepth reviews of things that I think people might find useful – there are a couple in the offing). But this item caught my eye, and it is just so unbelieveable that I could not really ignore it.

If you want one, they are about £45,000!

Polaroid’s unlikely saviour?

I am a huge fan of Polaroid film, and little would make me happier than to see it rescued – particularly Type 55. But the various attempts to raise it like a phoenix from the ashes of its sad lack of viability in the digital age continue to flounder. So how is this for an unlikely saviour? I hope it works, but the words “straws” and “clutching” come to mind for me – maybe I am just too cynical!

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Happy New Year

By , January 5, 2010 10:03 am

I have several rather long winded posts on the go – and promise not to publish them all at the same time – but thought I would wish all a Happy New Year. And what better way to do it than draw your attention to a positive treasure trove of photography articles on Telephoto, The Telegraph’s blog on art photography.

To be fair, Telephoto is a collaboration between The Telegraph, Foto 8, Dispatches and The Drawbridge, pooling their content to create in their words a “single window on the best and the curious in today’s art and documentary photography”. Their RSS feed has an interesting piece as lead on a Leibovitz Vanity Fair cover of Tiger Woods. The picture was taken three years ago but is so much more significant now!

Enjoy.

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