Posts tagged: chaos

You couldn’t make it up!

By , April 6, 2010 12:37 pm

The Digital Economy Bill is to be debated in the Commons this afternoon, and I suspect its advocates in the House are hoping it can be dealt with swiftly and passed into law before Parliament is dissolved. You can be sure that Blue Filter will be keeping an eye in proceedings and reporting the outcome. In the meantime, if you want a staggering example of why this legislation is so important read Jeremy Nicholls’ highly informative post on the Russian Photos Blog. Really… it defies belief.

The threat to our living – update II

By , March 3, 2010 5:53 pm

Busy, busy. Half way through a shoot for a bespoke bed manufacturer, very interesting – never knew how complex making a bed was, at least that is the excuse I gave my mother as a child and my wife now!

Anyway, a little belatedly, I have had a reply from Michael Fallon MP. I assume from the tenor of his reply that he is seeking reelection:

Dear Michael Cockeram (sic),

Thank you for your email of last week about the Digital Economy Bill. My apologies for not replying earlier.

This Bill is in the House of Lords and has yet to reach the Commons but we are already aware of the substantial concerns about authors’ rights and “orphan” works. The Conservative Party wants to ensure that the Bill does not damage the exisiting rights of content creators, not least those of professional photographers, and that it prevents identifying information from being stripped out from a digital image.

Some amendments are due to be made in the Lords next week but we shall want to scrutinise this part of the Bill very carefully when it reaches us, and improve it if necessary.

I am copying your concerns to our Conservative spokesmen here.

With all best wishes,

Michael Fallon

Well, the good news is that he appears to be on the side of professional photographers (I wonder how many reside in his constituency, and if you’re one and you didn’t notice apparently he is Conservative and there is an election?), although I am a little troubled by the “improve if necessary” bit. I think most photographers that have taken an interest would say that it was necessary, so no ifs, just improve, please. I might then even forgive your spelling my name wrong.. poor that, really poor, and there is an election soon too!

The threat to our living – update 1

By , February 19, 2010 12:21 pm

I have received a reply from Derek Conway to my letter regarding the Digital Economy Bill. It has all the passion of a man on his way out of politics and probably couldn’t care less:

Dear Mr Cockerham,

The reality is that the government will get its way on the Bill unless the Opposition manages to block it during the winding up of the present Parliament.

As an individual MP there is no way I can prevent this measure making progress so I hope your professional association has made the points you have given me to the Conservative and LibDem spokesmen.

Kindest regards,

Derek Conway TD MP

So much for representing the interests of your constituents! I never thought for a minute that he personally could stop it. But surely it is incumbent on him, however long he remains in the House, to hold the Executive to account? He could reassure me that he would ask probing questions and make a valid contribution to any debate. But apparently his attitude is, “what’s the point”?

It occurs to me, that with so many MPs declared to be standing down, that many, if not all, will be taking a similar approach. If so, we – the people – are no longer being represented at all, and there can be no greater justification for a call that Parliament be dissolved and a general election called immediately.

I await Michael Fallon’s response. In the meantime, this has been published today by the British Journal of Photography.

The threat to our living

By , February 17, 2010 3:44 pm

The government’s drive to enact the Digital Economy Bill before the general election poses, potentially, a far greater risk to professional photography as we know it than the digital revolution itself.

Much has been written on this quite eloquently already for example here, so rather than rehash, it makes more sense to take the problem up directly with our MPs. One wonders exactly how that will pan out given the numbers who have nothing to fight for, but I feel it is worth at least stating a case rather than lying down without a fight. On that basis I have written the following letter to two MPs – Derek Conway (Independent) who is the MP for the constituency in which I have my office, and Michael Fallon (Cons) who represents the constituency where I have my home.

I will post the responses when and if I get them. In the meantime I strongly urge you to do the same where ever you are. And by the way, if you are reading this as an amateur photographer, don’t be fooled into thinking this does not affect you. If you take pictures and post them on the internet, it probably affects you more than it does the pros.

Dear Derek Conway/Michael Fallon,

I should like to ask how you stand on the proposed Digital Economy Bill.

As a professional photographer of over 15 years based/living in your constituency, I am extremely concerned about the elements of the proposed legislation surrounding “orphan works”, and indeed anything that undermines my right as the author of creative works to be the sole controller of how and if such works are used. That right of control has been the mainstay of my living throughout my adult life. When on occasion I have discovered that my work has been used without my consent I have had the right in law to be recompensed and demand that the illegal use be stopped.

The proposed legislation will in effect remove that right, since there is no balancing item in the bill that requires publishers of such works to maintain a link between the works and their authors. Neither does the bill specify what would constitute a “diligent search” for the author of a given work. Once a work has been deemed to be “orphan” it can be used subject to a nominal payment to a government organisation. If the author subsequently comes forward, he or she gets a percentage of what was probably already a derisory sum, with the rest going to cover administrative costs and no doubt the government.

But how are such fees to be determined? A couple of years ago an editor approached me to use an image of mine she had come across, on the cover of her magazine. I rejected the request because I did not want to be associated with that publication, but had I agreed, the appropriate fee would have been nearly a thousand pounds. If this bill is enacted, a similar editor could find such an image, not be able to “discern” that it was mine, and pay a nominal fee for its use. What then? My work is used in a way I find objectionable, and on discovering its use, my recompense is a percentage of a figure that we all know is going to be significantly lower than it should have been.

If you wonder how likely this might be, consider that it is quite common when works are supplied to a client, for the layout process to strip (not necessarily deliberately) all the embedded IPTC data that indicates the provenance of the work, in effect orphaning work that had been carefully “marked” for ownership.

I accept that the issue of Intellectual Property in the digital age needs to be reexamined, but the bill as it stands while addressing key issues for the music and movie industries, is hammering a nail in the coffin of professional photography at a time when it was just starting to show a solid potential for growth following the digital revolution. When it is also dealing with the near collapse of traditional editorial markets, and the negative effects of a deep recession, the last thing we need is for our political representatives to hand over our near lifeless corpse to Mr Murdoch and his friends on a silver platter.

I hope I can rely on you to push for the bill to be reexamined paying particular attention to its effects on all forms of professional photography at its next reading in the House.

For further information on this pressing issue please read the following.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cockerham
Member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Haiti – avoiding the disaster porn

By , February 3, 2010 10:33 am

Much has been written recently about the unseemliness of some of the journalism (of all types) that has been coming out of Haiti since the earthquake. Some of it has been branded a kind of pornography of despair that has had more to do with raising the currency of the news organisations and/or journalists than about objective news reporting. Indeed, Foto 8 has posted an insightful piece that considers if the experience of Haiti thus far should lead us to examine whether a new approach to reporting such events is overdue.

It has become commonplace whenever some major incident, particularly a natural disaster, hits some unsuspecting part of the world, for the fora of photojournalism in particular to crackle into life with every camera swinging wannabe trying to get snippets of info so they can insert themselves into “theatre” with the expectation that it is going to launch their careers. In all likelihood, it won’t.

There are, though, still some glowing examples of how it should be. Brussels-based photographer, Bruno Stevens, has published this powerful, poignant, but more importantly, balanced piece. It documents without being judgemental or overly visceral. All the issues that have been raised about Haiti are there, but the pictures do the talking by themselves. Perhaps most important of all the images are about the plight of the Haitians, not about Bruno Stevens.

To help Haiti, give here.

UPDATE: I have just listened to this, broadcast on Radio 4’s Today programme. It could not be more apposite. McCullin has a major retrospective of his career opening at the Imperial War Museum’s Manchester galleries on February 6th – it will move to London next year.

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.

Afterwar – Lori Grinker

By , June 12, 2009 7:26 am

BOOK REVIEW:   Afterwar – Lori Grinker

We are all inexorably drawn to war.  Tales of courage under adversity, heroism under fire, acts of selflessness and love, men in uniform and the pomp and technology of the military in action.  It is at once fascinating, horrifying, shocking and guaranteed to provoke a response.

It is no wonder then, that war has always exerted a pull on photographers.  Some go to make a name for themselves; others hoping their work might make a difference.  Some go for the rush.  Whatever the motivation, they are usually divided into two camps: those who look for the dramatic images of combat in the front line, and those who turn to the plight of the civilians caught in the crossfire.

New York based photographer Lori Grinker has uniquely found a different way to portray war.  When the truces are signed and the guns fall silent, the press turns its attention elsewhere, but the sights, sounds, smells, relationships and losses are necessarily etched into the psyches of the combatants.  While other photographers have concerned themselves with showing the man within the war, Grinker has strived to portray the war within the man.

Afterwar manages the substantial achievement of personalising the conflicts of a century.  Men and women caught in the dehumanising chaos of war are left to reconcile their experiences with their own fundamental humanity.  Some meet it head on, others try to file it away, and get on with their lives.

Readers looking for groundbreaking photography or iconic images will be disappointed with Afterwar, but they will also be missing the point.  Allied with the testimony of her subjects in their own words, Grinker’s colour photographs achieve something that has eluded every other photographer: they deglamourise war.  While each of the subjects is portrayed with incredible dignity the overall effect is unremittingly dark and depressing.  War is hell.

Afterwar is elegantly designed, using a reverse chronology to take us back from a taste of the recent war in Iraq through all the major conflicts of the past century to the First World War.  It crosses continents, cultures and languages setting each conflict in context.  Ostensibly each person in the book represents a survivor of war, but their experiences have necessarily robbed them of something precious, and mankind as a whole is diminished by what they went through.  If there is any justice Afterwar will find its way to the desks of all those charged with calling men to arms.

Afterwar, Veterans from a World in Conflict is published by de.MO, and priced at £29.00.  Hardback ISBN 0-9705768-7-0.  248 pages.

This review was originally written for the Photographic Journal

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