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[Me]

Touring Britain bit by bit with a pair of boots, a few bicycles, a lot of trains and a bag of lenses. I take pictures and then I write about them.

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Sun, 13 Apr 2014

Tony Benn, 1925–2014

I meant to post these a few weeks ago, of course...

Tony Benn

Taken at Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival a whole 7 years ago, with the 50mm f1.8.

tony benn again

I think Tony spoke at every Tolpuddle since then, but I don't think I took any more pictures. I should have taken the 70-200mm f.28 along, but I guess I kept thinking: "he'll be here next year, making the same speech again."

Tony Benn

Now it's too late for that...

tributes for Tony


[Tag] Tags: politicians, politics, portraits, tony benn


Wed, 3 Aug 2011

Flashride for Blackfriars

Blackfriars Bridge

In 2000, London's previous mayor, Ken Livingstone, began the process of fixing forty years of mistakes that had been made in the pursuit of the impossible -- the comfortable accommodation of mass motor vehicle use in a dense city centre. He recognised that cities are supposed to be places for people and returned key locations like Trafalgar Square to use as more than mere traffic gyratories.

Boris! No more urban motorways

But the current mayor has not quite caught up with the modern age and still labours under the delusion that congestion and the problems of the motor vehicle can be solved with bigger and faster roads.

Flashride

While claiming to be the cycling mayor he tells us that a splash of blue paint along the gutter and through the bus stops is enough to fix the conditions that prevent most people from ever using their bicycles.

Mark on telly
20 saves Streets for people!

And his officers at TfL push through these wider and faster roads in the name of, er, accommodating pedestrians (wider roads are good for pedestrians, right?). While ripping out the pedestrian crossings.

Flashride

After ignoring the thousands of objections to the wider and faster road layout at Blackfriars, TfL announced last week that they were bring in the earth movers on Friday night. So with 48 hours notice we assembled a thousand cyclists for a go slow.

Placard
Streets for people! Mass

It might be too late for Blackfriars this time around, but we still have a mayor who is stuck in 1970s, determined to force ever more motor vehicles through the centre of the city, at the expense of the sensible majority who combine walking, cycling, and public transport, and the vibrant city activity that depends on attracting people. It's not the last he's heard from us.

20 saves

More at:

http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.com/

http://waronthemotorist.wordpress.com/tag/boris-johnson/

http://ibikelondon.blogspot.com/search/label/Boris%20Johnson

http://cycleoffutility.wordpress.com/category/mayor-of-london/


[Tag] Tags: blackfriars bridge, cycling, events, london, politics, protests, streetscapes, uk, urban


Sat, 16 Oct 2010

How to deliver a petition

Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital!

First, get 35,000 people to sign your petition, and find a friendly university stationary office who can print that many hundreds of pages. Hurry down Whitehall to hang around outside Downing Street while another petition goes in before you.

Science Is Vital!

Ensure that you have one Evan Harris to turn up unannounced with a Lord Willis, to efficiently direct and choreograph things.

Science Is Vital!

Pose and smile! L to R: Michelle Brook, Imran Khan (CaSE), Evan Harris, Jenny Rohn, Phil Willis, Richard Grant, Colin Blakemore, and Della Thomas.

Science Is Vital!

Get your petition out and wave it around for the camera.

Science Is Vital!

Panic when you realise you've got to reassemble it all again.

Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital!

Ring the bell, and pass it to the doorman, whose job description apparently includes posing for camera when petitions are delivered.

Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital!

Amswer some questions for the press agencies — I don't know whether any news outlet actually used any of their footage, but I imagine the agencies have cameras here all day to capture far more exciting things, like the arrival of Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier that morning

Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital!

And finally, play around taking pictures of eachother pretending to be the new prime-minister.

More photos in the Science is Vital flickr set.


[Tag] Tags: downing street, events, london, petitions, photo essays, photography, politics, traditions, uk


Mon, 11 Oct 2010

Science Is Vital!

Science Is Vital!

Yesterday, a couple of thousand nerds got together outside the British Treasury to preemptively protest the cuts to publicly funded research that are expected to be announced in next week's "comprehensive spending review". The rally was part of the Science Is Vital! campaign organised by Jenny Rohn, The Campaign for Science & Engineering, and a bunch of others.

Super-strings not shoe strings Down with this sort of thing.

It was another fun day out, with fancy dress, singing and dancing, models of the planets, chemistry kits, and some fabulously nerdy puns on placards. Not the sort of protest that scientists are well known for.

Science Is Vital!
Science Is Vital!

The scientists had been shocked into leaving their labs by the across-the-board cuts that our young government likes to remind us at every opportunity are absolutely necessary to save the economy and civilisation in general. Lib-Dem business secretary Vince Cable, whose department and budget (for reasons not obvious) include responsibility for most of the country's public research funding, had previously accused British scientists of the crime of producing work that was not excellent (merely "significant"), and warned science that under his leadership it would have to produce "more for less".

Ben Petra Boynton

So in part, the protesters motives were (understandably) selfish. They had their (poorly paid) jobs and (difficult) careers to worry about. Science isn't an industry that's easy to mothball, even for just three years, and expect to be able to switch it back on exactly as it was before once the economy has recovered. Research is about projects that take years to complete. With research in Germany and China rapidly growing, and with those countries seeking the expertise of ready-trained foreign scientists, our scientists could just go to another country. And with the private-sector always in need of the skills that scientists have, they could instead go and seek better paid and easier jobs in another industry. They don't want to leave the country or leave science, but they will. And once they go, they can't come back.

Colin Blakemore

And in part the protesters were here to highlight science's achievements: why the voting public trust and value science -- the cures for cancer and the internets and the time machines. If I've counted correctly, 32 Britons have won the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine -- between them their discoveries have saved countless millions of lives and immeasurably improved the quality of our lives. Everybody in the country knows or has known somebody suffering from a horrific disease -- a cancer or dementia -- and they won't look kindly on the man who cuts the hope of a cure.

Timandra Harkness Feed The World!

But mostly, the scientists were here to highlight the sheer absurdity of the idea that cutting research spending will help the national economy. When our best researchers are forced to go abroad to continue their work, they will take with them all of the knowledge that they would have shared with our students and businesses; they will take with them their patents and start-up companies; and they will take with them the overseas students that our universities increasingly rely on. The harm that this will do to our high-tech economy will be much deeper and much longer lasting than any beneficial effect from science's share of any spending cuts (leaving us yet more dependent on our erratic, inefficient and untrustworthy banking economy). This was a plea for evidence-based policy making to a government that has so far announced a whole lot of rash and irrational policy -- something that everybody in the country is going to want to join in with as the Tories get happy with the slashing over the coming months.

Pig Headed

More photos of the protest.


[Tag] Tags: budget cuts, events, london, politics, protests, science, uk, westminster


Sun, 4 Jul 2010

Victory Flashmob

Flashmob

The terrorists photographers gathered at New Scotland Yard today for a victory flashmob. (Not a protest — those require a permission slip from the authorities these days.) They stood around outside (ironically, just in the shade, where it was difficult to get a nicely lit shot), talking and laughing, and intimidating the police with their threatening lenses. They were gloating.

Flashmob

Because on wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights refused the UK's application to appeal their finding in Gillan and Quinton v. UK, making binding the finding that anti-terrorism stop-and-search violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by the Convention on Human Rights. A succession of home secretaries and police throughout the ranks have been complicit in systematic intimidation, invasion of privacy, and the hindrance of thousands of people going about their jobs and hobbies and daily life.

Flashmob

The government has been found guilty of great evil: a creepy authoritarian disregard for human rights and individual privacy. And now they have to stop being evil, and we can all move on. But lets not forget in all of this that they have also been guilty of great stupidity: the stubborn pursuit of absurd policies in the face of all evidence and reason. Five years ago on wednesday, real terrorists killed 56 people in this city. And in response to such a serious and real threat the government and police have been pursuing the ludicrous policy of harassing the likes of street photographers. That's stupid and evil.

Flashmob

(Pictures taken with the Sigma 10-20; edited with some difficulty in RawStudio and gIMP on my slow 2 yr old netbook, because I haven't gotten round to replacing the broken motherboard in the desktop.)


[Tag] Tags: bad policies, events, london, new scotland yard, photographer not a terrorist, photography, politics, protests, sigma1020, stop and search, uk, westminster


Sun, 13 Jun 2010

Law In Action: Owning Your Image

In this week's Law In Action, Joshua Rozenberg looks at an assortment of issues around the law and photography -- starting with the issue of interference in citizens' rights to pursue their hobby of street photography without harassment. The opening sequence is of Rozenberg and Grant Smith (of getting arrested fame) getting hassled by a building manager who confidently tells them that they can't photograph her building without permission (clarifying, "you can't film inside this building", prompting the wonderful reply, "oh, am I inside your building, then?"), and that they wouldn't be able to photograph the street without clearing the data protection requirements.

My own office's manager signs off every email (invariably marked "Urgent", and with "Urgent" in the all-caps subject line -- "Urgent: The south toilets are closed for maintenance, please use the north toilets"; "Urgent: Please don't leave tea-spoons in the sink"...) with her name and letters -- the impressive title of "Member of the British Institute of Facilities Managers". The Institute's website offers courses in facilities management. I guess office managers can learn how to confidently and intimidatingly bullshit about the law; how to confidently project an absurdly inflated sense of the importance of their role; and how to confidently look busy with all kinds of invented official business.

Why do so many office managers think it's acceptable to make up absurd lies that not only insultingly insinuate that practitioners of another profession are too incompetent to discover and understand what the law says about their profession, but lies that also lead them to incorrectly accuse those professionals of acting illegally? Those are pretty serious insults, and pretty serious allegations. Why do office managers think it's part of their role to go around making them? Why do they think it's useful to anybody that they tell these lies? And why do they think that an acceptable response to being challenged and educated about how these are lies is to call in the police?

Because the police are still telling them that it's useful for them to do so. And they still haven't provided the slightest credible evidence to support that position. The police are actively encouraging office managers to waste police time. To waste time and public money that could be spent keeping London's streets safe from criminals and terrorists.

The programme moves on to discuss the use of photography and filming in surveillance. Do listen again, while you can -- link expires Thursday. Grant Smith's photos from his encounter are here.


[Tag] Tags: bad policies, grant smith, jobsworths, law, london, media, office managers, photographer not a terrorist, photography, police, politics, radio 4, reviews, stop and search


Mon, 3 May 2010

May Day

May Day is a day of traditions, a day of marching with banners and dancing around the May Pole, dressing up as trees and casting adrift flower boats. It's a day of looking silly and causing a disturbance. A day of village fêtes, called off when it rains.

Morris dancing

Morris dancing. The Wikipedia entry for morris dancing has a very major omission, and is a good example of the unfortunate systemic bias that necessarily plagues a collection of articles written only by those with a close interest in the subject of the article: the entry entirely overlooks the fact that morris dancing is the archetypal relic of England's embarrassing traditional "culture", synonymous in contemporary song and film with the uncool, collectively understood as shorthand for the depressingly detestable pastimes of weirdy beardy lonely old men.

That's not a comment on whether the stereotype is true, just an observation on the omission of an encyclopaedic cultural reference.

Morris dancing

The image problem of these bizarre cultural fossils is perhaps in part down to their perception as isolated provincial expressions of defiance against modernity, at times appearing as explicit as the Padstow Darkie Day tradition, where residents of the small Cornish town dance through the streets in black face singing minstrel songs — a tradition they staunchly defend against accusations that it's just a tad racist. Keeping alive our festival traditions keeps alive in some the perceived possibility of a long passed past, a reassuring fantasy of a golden age, where men were men, women were women, crop yields were in the capable hands of devastating local fugal plagues instead of the distant faceless bureaucrats of the European Union, and the politically correct nanny state didn't make laws against good clean fun like the fox hunt or splat the rat.

Splat the rat

And so it seems thoroughly appropriate that the same day as is allocated to keeping alive our national traditions should also be a traditional day of politics, of solidarity, and of progressive causes.

Splat the rat

Look at this filthy ugly rat getting whacked.

Folk against Fascism's village fête at the Southbank Centre mixed it all very nicely. The fête against hate (I don't know why they didn't call it that. Their marketing department needs to be sacked.) reclaimed great English cultural traditions from singing and dancing to hoopla and a good clean mystical fortune telling, turning them against those who claim to represent the English and claim ownership of English culture and identity. A celebration of the English united against the petty parochial hate of moronic flag-waving thugs.

Fortune telling

And best of all, it had the traditional May Day downpour, forcing everyone to pack it away inside, and keeping the bloody morris dancing to a minimum.

Fortune telling

[Tag] Tags: british culture, events, history, london, photo essays, politics, protests, traditions, uk


Mon, 18 Jan 2010

Tough on crime in fantasy land

Conspiracy theorists believe that there is a tall building somewhere in this photograph.

Conspiracy theorists believe that there is a tall building somewhere in this photograph.

I used to work on Cleveland Street in central London. Our next-door-neighbours at "The Tower, 60 Cleveland Street", were one British Telecom. Their offices were designed for some old fashioned method of telecommunications routing involving microwaves, and so it just happens to be one of the most distinctive -- most noticeable -- buildings in the country, being as it is, a narrow cylindrical building of 620 feet, covered in antennae and dishes, in an otherwise low-rise and conventional section of the centre of a major world city. Legend has it that, because of the potential military importance of the communications networks, the tower was only officially revealed to exist in 1993 by an MP responding to the persistent rumours -- conspiracy theories! -- that there might possibly be a large and unusual shaped top secret skyscraper somewhere in the vicinity of the Tottenham Court Road. These days, the tower is largely redundant: the idea of using microwave technology as the backbone to a communications network didn't really have time to catch on before fibre-optics became the in thing. These days, most of those antennae and dishes are decoration, unplugged and silent, protected from removal by a grade II listing. The building is nothing more than heritage. It just sits there looking pretty, counting down the days to the Olympic games in LED lights that can be seen from miles around.

At the same time as working in Cleveland Street, I was living in the shadow of another transmitter, the more mundane but equally difficult to miss Crystal Palace Transmitter, which rises 720ft above the chalk hills eight miles south of the city centre. Though only the second tallest structure in the capital, once its 360 foot base height is factored in, it becomes the highest, and is prominent on the horizon from around the city. It is the main transmitter of television and radio -- local and national, BBC and independent, analogue and digital -- for the whole city.

A stop and search what I got

In february 2008 I photographed the transmitter from the public park below it and was issued with a stop-and-search by the metropolitan police. A pair of officers drive a patrol car around Crystal Palace all day specifically for this purpose (at least, this was the case in 2008). I think they were probably just bored and wanted something to do -- somebody to talk to -- for five minutes. They explained the reason for their constant zealous and jealous vigilance: the transmitter hosts the emergency services radio system (I have subsequently been unable to verify this fact) and is known to be a terrorist target. One of the officers said, "nah, it's fine, just, like, you shouldn't put the photographs on the internet or whatever, cos they might be used by terrorists in planning an attack."

A picture what I took of the transmitter.

A picture what I took of the transmitter.

There are 418 flickr photographs tagged "Crystal Palace Transmitter", and approximately 38,000 google image hits, alongside the usual detailed Wikipedia article and fine google earth coverage. Its existence is not one of London's better kept secrets.

The point I want to make about all this is not about whether the things the policeman said are true or lawful, or to bitch about the general behaviour of individuals in the metropolitan police (these two might have been a bit dim, but they were perfectly nice), nor is it really about the need to stand-up for our civil liberties (you're familiar enough with that argument already). Because the idea of stopping and searching photographers in the name of keeping London safe fails at a much more fundamental level than the civil liberties argument: terrorists don't go around photographing the crystal palace transmitter. And piles of money -- our money -- are being spent to act upon the absurd idea that they do.

There are two main reasons why terrorists don't go around photographing the Crystal Palace transmitter -- apart from the fact that it's easier to look the photos up on Google Earth. Firstly, it's because terrorists aren't photographers. I don't simply mean that, like almost 100% of people, almost 100% photographers are not terrorists. I mean that terrorists aren't photographers. Perhaps in cheap TV dramas, where one can't illustrate that a character is shady by showing that he is thinking shady thoughts, terrorists go around with their expensive SLR equipment taking photographs of their targets. In the real world, they don't. When asked for evidence to support the efficacy of their activity, the best the police can do is point to one guy who went around filming stations with a phonecam and who was successfully prosecuted for, er, fraud and immigration offences. He could, perhaps, theoretically, be linked to terrorism, though, they say. And apparently that's good enough evidence for police in London.

Secondly, terrorists don't go around photographing the Crystal Palace transmitter because terrorists aren't interested in the Crystal Palace transmitter. Not unless they are shit terrorists. I'm not an expert on the way terrorists think, but I understand that Terrorism Studies 101 teaches that the goal of the terrorist is to make a scene: to get into the headlines and get into people's heads; to spread their message and to spread fear. Toppling a tower in a suburban park and depriving a few million people of Celebrity Big Brother for the five minutes that it takes the engineers to switch on the backup signals is somewhere down in the thousands on the list of the most effective ways one could achieve that goal. Toppling an iconic piece of architecture in a busy central business district -- even if the tower was functionally redundant -- would have a far higher impact. Which is exactly why terrorists did target the BT Tower: the IRA exploded a bomb there in 1971. But I never did get a stop-and-search on Cleveland Street.

Some of us still cling to the unfashionable idea that if one wants one's actions to be effective, they need to have some basis in reality and be informed by evidence about how the world works. The Home Office told us what they think of that idea back in October. If there's one thing the Home Office can be commended for, it's being consistent in ignoring the inconvenient complications of the real world as they instead throw our money away on absurd ineffective solutions to serious social and security problems.


[Tag] Tags: bad arguments, bad policies, london, photographer not a terrorist, photography, politics, stop and search


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