Sri Lanka escalation

The war in Sri Lanka is by all accounts into a 'final phase'. Though I've heard that phrase before....

The LTTE has accused the Government of shelling civilians, the Government have accused the LTTE of shooting civilians who try to leave the area, using them as human shields. If this report by Human Rights Watch is anything to go by, they are both correct in their accusations. Here is a sample.

Under international humanitarian law applicable to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE are obligated to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilian life and property. But since January, both sides have shown little regard for the safety of civilians in the embattled Vanni region in northeastern Sri Lanka, and more than 4,500 civilians are believed to have died in the fighting, according to UN estimates. The LTTE has violated the laws of war by using civilians as "human shields," by preventing civilians from fleeing the combat zone, and by deliberately deploying their forces close to densely populated civilian areas. The Sri Lankan armed forces have indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals, in violation of the laws of war.

There is very little real information about the situation and it is reports from aid agencies, such as the one above that are being relied upon. The Government has prevented journalists from going anywhere near the frontline and as a result there is very little reporting on the issue - I read one article today in the New York Times that was filed from Hong Kong and a Channel 4 (UK) report contains footage filmed by aid workers.

I worry about this for the simple reason that if journalists cannot get to an area to report upon the situation, and the only way any news can get out is through the aid agencies, will this mean the agencies themselves will be persecuted in order to censor the reports? I know this happens plenty, where aid workers are acused of working for the enemy (of whoever is doing the accusing) and by banning journalists, more pressure is applied to the aid workers themselves who not only have to do the job of helping the dispossed but also reporting on the situation.

I have a simple plea; let journalists in, so the aid workers can put down the cameras and get on with their other job.


Making news does not make money. now there's a surprise....

So let's stop taking about the commercial failure of newspapers and the fact that you can read the internet for free and get back to the fact that good reporting costs money and rarely, barely, makes that money back.

Now do you want to learn about the world or not?

Punished for the aesthetics

As I sit down at my computer ready to retouch some scanned film in Photoshop, I should perhaps bear in mind the debate over post processing files to the point of deception. You know the type, super airbrushed overly processed stuff; the nonsense that passes for photography on the covers of many magazines and in advertising. If you erased a wrinkle, trimmed the flab and swapped heads you are an illustrator.

This debate has once again kicked off in regard to photojournalism and Danish photographer Klavs Bo Christenson is the victim. He was excluded from the judging for this year's Press Photo Awards by The Danish Press Photography Union for the use of photoshop in his submitted images.

They asked him for his raw files in order to compare the 'original' to the final image. I understand why they did this but I have to admit I think this is a little unfair. Any photographer will tell you that the 'original' - raw file or negative - often requires a bit of work in the darkroom or on the computer in order to bring out the best in the image. As a way of checking to see if anything has been added or removed, or changed beyond recognition then I think this is fine, but when comparing a raw with a retouched file it is possible for there to be a huge discrepency without it being 'unacceptable'.

However, it's all a bit vague to be honest and a lot of it is down to personal taste. It's a bit tough to be objective about the use of post processing tools.

In Klavs Bo Christenson's defense, I would say that he is not trying to alter the content or spirit of the photograph, but instead is the victim of just plain bad photoshopping. The high contrast and vivid colours in particular make them look like they were digitally altered and as a consequence we are discussing the technique and not the content. In this instance, the aesthetic masks the content and that is where they fall down. You look at these pictures and think 'photoshop' before you think anything else.

The strange thing is that looking at his website, there is plenty of work that is not excessively or poorly retouched, so he or his retoucher seem to have done something very different for this series of image.

That Christenson's photos have been removed from competition is a shame, and the bad publicity he will probably get from this is not a good thing, but it is perhaps a lesson we all should learn from. We have some great tools for bringing out the best in our photos and making them look amazing. The aim of this should be to direct our attention to the content, not to detract from it. Let's not spoil a good photo by using photoshop excessively or without skill and care.

A retouched version. Photo: Klavs Bo Christensen.

The original RAW file converted to JPEG using the Default setting in Adobe Camera Raw. Photo: Klavs Bo Christensen.

Policing the Police, reporting protests.

The other week I was looking at coverage of the G20 meetings and the protests surrounding the event. I was a little annoyed at the focus on a tiny violent action by a few protesters, in particular the way the media pushed this image. You can see in this video on the BBC how the semi-circle of photographers wait expectantly for someone to play up to the camera - sure enough, someone soon does and the photographers can be clearly seen snapping away. Sure enough, this small part of the day turned up all over thea place, shot from many different angles.

Why did this annoy me so? Simply because it seemed to be as if the media was encouraging the actions of these protesters. It seemed like very negative reporting to me. Why not lead with the fact that thousands turned out onto the streets to peacefully protest and demonstrate. What about democracy in action? (as the politicians so quaintly refer to any mass demonstration where in their policies are criticised).

No wonder many officers do not enjoy policing protests. In fact a good number of them probably agree with many of the greivences voiced. A few, however, take a very hard line. And that line is currently getting very solid indeed.

Video footage from the protests has emerged over the past few days that is very damning of Police behaviour. Here, one shows a Police officer striking and pushing to the ground a man who was walking away from him, hands in pockets. This man is Ian Tomlinson. Shortly after this event, Mr Tomlinson suffered what appeared to be a heart attack and died. Initially the police claim that protesters prevented medical care from being given, though this video clearly sees protesters backing off as a ring of Police surround Mr Tomlinson. Far from hindering, they appear to be helping the Police clear space.

Even if the actions of the Police officer who struck Mr Tomlinson and his subsequent death are unrelated, this is clearly an unneseccary act of brutality.

Only days later, at a vigil for Mr Tomlinson, the Police are again filmed acting in a violent manner, quite out of proportion with the actions of the public. I don't know about you, but backhanding a woman to get her to move back and then taking a kosh to her legs is a big no no where I'm from. I don't care if she is shouting abuse in your face.

Frankly, if there are going to be hordes of people, professional journalists, film crews, citizen journalists, members of the public or whoever all brandishing cameras and waiting to document the events that take place at these protests, I'm glad they're not all waiting for some idiot to put in a window pane.

Just as lumping together all protesters under the banner of a few is a mistake, labelling all Police as thugs is also misleading. I have had my fair share of unpleasant treatment by officers but I have also been helped by them.

However, If a few Police are going to attack those they are supposed to be protecting, harrass and restrict reporters and generally behave like the State's hired thugs, I'd at least like them to be caught revealing their true totalitarian colours while they're at it. If journalists are to be treated with the same contempt as protesters then the Police will have to realise that more and more lenses will be pointed at them, and they should be held to account for actions such as those caught on these videos.

Fair Use.

I recently had to delete a bunch of spam comments on older posts on this blog, which was tiresome except for the fact that I discovered some comments on an old post I had not read.

They related to my use of an image by Marc Vallee.

I didn't ask permission to use the image as it is my belief that the image I post on this blog are covered by the Fair Use terms of U.S. copyright law. Marc himself had asked my opinion on copyright in the comments, to which I replied that I was following Fair Use guidelines but if he wanted me to remove the image I would.

Fair Use is something that is hotly debated. For the record, most of the images I post on this blog are copyrighted. I do not always ask permission to use images and maybe out of respect I should. That is a failing on my part. I still maintain that the law allows me to use images on this blog in the manner in which I do. If the copyright holder disagrees then I will always remove the image as soon as I am asked. I have no objection to my own images being used on blogs and in any other non-profit manner. I of course want to get paid for my work but most blogs and the like are not money making exercises and are instead a source of opinion and information, two things that I believe people should be able to offer up freely should they wish. If I saw one of my photographs on a billboard in Times Square it would be a different matter, but if I saw it on a blog with commentary (good or bad) I would have no problem with it.

Comment and debate are important parts of our society and culture and I would hate for the world to turn into a place where nobody will allow anyone to comment on what people do without asking for permission first. That is a slippery slope toward censorship of debate and I do not like the look of that future at all. I am happy to put out opinions in public that people may disagree with. A friend once told me that I had really strong opinions. I inferred from her tone of voice that she thought this could be a bad thing. My response was that yes, I may have strong opinions on certain matters, but I will always listen and I am always open to changing my mind.

However, it appears that I managed to piss off a few people with the use of Marc's image and as such I will endeavour to be more respectful in future by asking permission. I have been intending to make this blog a little less random and a little more in depth anyway so perhaps it is time to take longer, post less often and generally be more aware of how what I post is perceived. The readership of this blog is tiny but that doesn't mean I should not take account of the fact that some people have a different interpretation of Fair Use, that the U.S. copyright law does not apply everywhere and that even if I am legally allowed to use a copyrighted work here, that doesn't mean I should do so without permission, purely out of regard for the copyright holder.

I never intended to cause any offence to those whose work I respect and if I have done so I apologise.

Gangster Politics

A meeting of the G20 leaders (Reuters Pool Photograph)

A meeting of the heads of the five families, from the Godfather Part I.

G20 Coverage

The four mass marches converge on the Bank of England

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

I had a conversation with a friend a while back about how the current economic crisis was a missed opportunity to really shake up this top down greed based capitalist structure.

I guess the past couple of days have seen a few more missed opportunities.

It comes as no surprise to me that the vast majority of photographs I have seen of the protests in London have showed nothing but antagonism and violence. It would seem that everybody on this march was a) wearing a bandana over their face b) getting drunk and c) shouting at or otherwise provoking the police.

There's a lot of people in the picture above, some of them may well be friends of mine. I got an email from an old friend today that just happened to mention the fact that he'd survived a full on baton charge, and I know he's not the type to go breaking any bank windows. In fact I know how much he loves to keep a low profile.

Here's the thing. I am pissed off at the governments and the banks. I have been for a lot longer than the past six months (I think it's more like ten or fifteen years...) and I have no love of heavy handed police tactics but I also hate the way the media focuses on such a tiny part of the whole. The headlines make it sound as if chaos was breaking out across the city, when in fact the pictures I saw were mostly of the windows of the RBS being smashed from about a dozen different angles, such was the lack of widespread rioting. There were thousands of protesters on the streets, does the debate really have to be reduced to the old 'look at these violent troublemakers' line.

I'm pretty sure the vast majority of people on this march didn't break anything or hurt anyone. In fact kudos to the Guardian for a seemingly balanced view of the protests in this video. It shows a bit more of the reality of what actually happens at protests such as this. Though their front page told a very different story.

Honestly, you'd think a revolution was going on.

Anyway, I was not there so I really don't know. But it does seem to me like the branding of these protesters as violent does a disservice to the vast majority. Incidentally, I also believe that many of those on the march would happily fight for a cause if they thought there was no better way to go about things. Maybe there isn't, but unstructured acts of wanton damage is not really a decent solution to the problem and all that will get you is a baton in the face, and probably the face of the person stood next to you as well.

If you are inclined toward insurrection and armed struggle against oppression, at least do it properly, and have a damned good plan of what to put in it's place. Otherwise, all you'll achieve is to allow the media to reinforce some pointless stereotypes and make it difficult for anyone to get a serious point across.

G20 protests - Photo opportunity?

I found this photograph with no credit on the BBC website this morning. A large number of protests and demonstrations are taking place in London to coincide with the G20 summit that is taking place in the city.

As you can see, the media is out in force and from the looks of it they seem to be after that classic 'violent protest' image. Here the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland are being smashed while a swarm of photographers and film crews behave like vultures around a carcass. I'm never quite sure what smashing a few windows is meant to achieve, and I'm even less sure of the need to encourage the behaviour in this manner. It reminds me of when I was a kid and you'd get into fights in the playground. Even if it started small, a ring of kids would soon gather usually chanting 'fight fight fight!' and goading you on untill either someone really got hurt or a teacher would come and break it up.

I sympathise with the reasons for protesting and if I was in London I would probably be at one of the demonstrations myself and yes I'd have my camera (even if I wasn't 'on the job') but I would probably be looking more for images like this one instead..

I took this six years ago as the streets of cities around the world filled with people who were protesting the upcoming war in Iraq. I guess no one listened to us. Maybe we should have smashed some more stuff.

In any case, with the relationship between the police, the media and the general public at a pretty low point, I am curious as to how the day in London will turn out - especially if the media, the protesters and the police all start behaving like morons. I grew up in a town where economic and social tensions occassionally erupted into full scale rioting. It's not pretty and it doesn't really help anyone much. Those who want to instigate a violent revolution would do well to remind themselves that breaking a few windows is really a rather poor way to go about doing things, and maybe we photographers would do well to remind ourselves that it's a bit pointless to encourage this kind of useless behaviour.