The Birth of the Shard

If you take a stroll down Farringdon Road, from Exmouth Market towards Clerkenwell Green, you will come upon a magnificent sight-line into the City of London. It is not until you reach the Betsey Trotwood and the Free Word Centre that St Paul’s Cathedral emerges on the skyline, but from further up the road, a new landmark is emerging – Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers’ Shard of Glass, currently under construction.
Since I work at the Free Word Centre, I regularly happen across this view.  I often take a quick snap with the camera on my phone. Below is an example that has been filtered through
Birth of the Shard, by Yrstruly on InstagramA better attempt with an SLR and telephoto lense is on Flickr:

Birth of the Shard
Birth of the Shard by yrstrly on Flickr

I have found that the damp and foggy days when the building emerges from midst are when the Shard looks most interesting. The giant looms on the horizon, and one’s sense of scale is confused and compressed, which reminds me of the famous photograph by the Liverpudlian photographer E. Chambré Hardman, ‘The Birth of the Ark Royal’, taken in 1950.
Birth of the Ark royal
Photograph of the HMS Ark Royal, taken from the top of Holt Hill in Birkenhead, by Chambré Hardman.

See also the weathered early photographs of Tower Bridge and the Eiffel Tower under construction.  Watching The Shard rise, I have a strong sense of being embedded in history. I know that it will become a symbol of London, like Gherkin and Millenium Wheel, or the pointy Transamerica Pyramid in San Fransisco.  Watching it grow makes me feel like I am sat inside an iconic, historical image.

Heathcare Reform Photo

I just saw this photo on a BBC News report on healthcare reform.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and senior staff, react in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, as the House passes the health care reform bill, March 21, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

It was pulled from the White House’s official Flickr stream, and I think it may soon become emblematic.  It will be used to illustrate a huge victory, substantial but also symbolic, of the Obama Administration.  The President looks chuffed but not ecstatic.  A job well done, but you sense he will be turning to his staff to ask, “what’s next?
Maybe that’s not what happened in reality.  Maybe the President went mental and stood on a table with a knife, lording over his defeated enemies.  But we don’t see that photo.  Significantly, we only have this one image of the celebrations, so that is what will persist of that moment – its a clever bit of subtle PR.  Politicians have been shaping the narrative with flattering images for centuries, of course.  But its always interesting to watch it happen in real time.


Here I am, writing on my blog at 2:45am.
I’ve just read an interesting short blog post by Nicholas Carr on ‘Nowness’:

The Net’s bias, Gelernter explains, is toward the fresh, the new, the now. Nothing is left to ripen. History gets lost in the chatter. But, he suggests, we can correct that bias. We can turn the realtime stream into a “lifestream,” tended by historians, along which the past will crystallize into rich, digital deposits of knowledge.

I think this is why James Bridle’s Tweetbook appeals to me.  By pulling a large set of data into book form, James imposes a permanence on something that was previously transient.  I plan to recreate the project for my own tweets one day soon – Not to publish to the world, but a single copy for myself.  Twitter is a diary and it is upon diaries that some of the best history is derived.
I’ve found myself doing that with other creations too.  I have hundreds of digital photos sitting on my hard-drive, but I busied myself last weekend by printing out about five of them as 8″x5″ and putting them in nice frames.  I think that act of printing and fixing is an act of stepping out of the stream.  An act of stopping.  Only then can you look back, look forward, and perhaps, look properly inward, too.

Moving Photography?

Jason Kottke thinks that the stills video camera will become obsolete in a few years time:

As resolution rises & prices fall on video cameras and hard drive space, memory, and video editing capabilities increase on PCs, I suspect that in 5-10 years, photography will largely involve pointing video cameras at things and finding the best images in the editing phase. Professional photographers already take hundreds or thousands of shots during the course of a shoot like this, so it’s not such a huge shift for them.

I think he underestimates the convenience that the traditional method provides.  Editing even a few moments of video is a lengthy process, and selecting a precise frame or three from a length of footage will be too time consuming for the average punter.  Granted, professional photographers do fire off dozens of snaps in quick succession, to increase their chances of capturing ‘the moment’.  But the ratio of wheat to chaf in this process must surely never approach that generated by 25 f.p.s. video (or film).  I don’t doubt that at the very high-end, photographers will continue to use this technique, but the act of editing, of post-production, will keep the time premium high, and restrain its use to a limited number of professionals.  Without devoting the time to inspect every single frame, how can you be sure the quality of the image would be any better than normal?  It is certainly not an appropriate technique for photojournalists on a deadline, or the amateur snapper with other things to do.

The clamour for the photo (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The clamour for the photo (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Misunderstanding Creative Commons

I’m a fan of Creative Commons, the fantastic project that provides ready-made licences, with increasing degrees of freedom, that you can bestow on any content you create.
One thing I find amusing and irritating in turn is the inappropriate use of these licences. Over on Flickr, I see countless examples of people giving their snap shots an ‘All Rights Reserved’ licence, as if they are part of the Getty or Magnum elite.
There are thousands of examples of this, so I hate to pick on anyone.  But the latest example I have come across just happens to be the Flickr group for The Last Tuesday Society, a bizarre yet highly successful events company based in London.  Now, I’ve been to a couple of events that they have put on, and they are great fun.  Sexy, risqué, warped, funny.  They upload literally hundreds of snap-shots for each event they run, but Mr Victor Wynd uses a simple domestic camera with a built in flash, so, to be frank, they’re not all that impressive.  And yet bizarrely, there’s no way I can reproduce this photo, or that photo, or even this photo, because they are All Rights Reserved.
And that’s just silly.  The people taking and uploading the photos is in the business of promoting events, and so it would be in their interests for their images to be seen by as many people as possible.  Especially photos like this, which would, I’ll wager, sell a fair few dozen tickets if they appeared on a large news website or even in the Metro, or londonpaper, or London Lite.
And its not just companies that are guilty of this particular misunderstanding.  At the risk of alienating certain friends of mine, I do wonder why the images for mkultra, strangerpixel and rossfadam are not given a more liberal licence.  Doing so would surely bring their work to a wider audience, and may even increase the rate at which their images are used for editorial or illustrative purposes.  As we saw with the case of MC Yogi last year, providing some work for free (however high the quality) can lead to greater exposure, and paid for contracts, a short way down the line.
Amusingly, a more liberal approach has worked for me.  I recently found that one of my photographs has been included on the popular Schmapp website.  It is actually a rather average image, poorly lit and unimaginatively framed.  And its inclusion is also unlikely to make me any money.  However, it does mean an increased exposure for my Flickr stream, and also fulfils a particular purpose for the community.  A net gain all round?

The Botanical Gardens in Sheffield, September 2008
The Botanical Gardens in Sheffield, September 2008

Photos in the Crowd

The buoyancy of the President’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, at the inauguration yesterday, was refreshing and delightful. Its fashionable to lament the fact that children “grow up too quickly these days.” Its becoming equally fashionable to note the innocence of the Obama girls in the midst of the overwhelming pomp of campaign, transition, and inauguration.

Malia gets her own snaps for the family album (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Malia gets her own snaps for the family album (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Especially noteworthy, bizarre yet endearing, was Malia’s insistence on taking digital photos of the event with her consumer camera (appallingly, though not unsurprisingly, E! Magazine has wondered aloud about how much those pictures would be worth). Most hilarious was the moment, right after her father’s speech, when she leant forward and asked the old man sitting in front to take a photo of the crowd, because he clearly had a better view. It was Joe Biden, the new Vice-President.
Meanwhile, a defining image of the inauguration for me was the sight of thousands of other citizens all stretching to capture the moment on their own cameras, phones and camcorders, something like this:
The clamour for the photo (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The clamour for the photo (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

This sort of image will become, has become, commonplace.  I think this obsession with recording significant moments for ourselves is fascinating.  Malia and The Crowd had two utterly different viewpoints on the proceedings, yet both exhibited the same urge.  In both cases, there is an irrationality to their actions.  The inauguration was long known to be one of the most reported events in the history of news media.  On one level, its absurd that the First Daughter would need to actually press the shutter herself – the image of her father raising his hand will persist without her (I noted athletes doing a similar thing during the Olympics).  Likewise, its absurd that the grainy figure of Obama raising his hand in a wave, as he strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue, will not be similarly recorded in high-resolution, extreme close-up, by hundreds of professionals.
And yet, I’m as guilty of this as the next man.  For example, was my recently posted photo of Gordon Brown at all necessary?  To no-one but me, I would suggest.

And that, I suppose, is the answer.  Contrary to what the reporters at E! Magazine might hope, Malia’s photos are not for public consumption.  They are a personal aide memoir (much like this blog).  The camera-phone photos, poor quality, though they may be, server as a document to one’s presence of the event, a self-generated certificate of attendance.  The grainier the better, to the extent that poor picture quality actually becomes a mark of authenticity.


ChicagoSuz, a commenter at Huffington post:

Weegee (my favorite photographer) would go to a fire and while all the other photogs were taking pictures of the flames, he would take pictures of the fire’s victims watching their homes burn. That seems to be what Malia is doing. While the media focuses on her Dad, she seems to be focusing on the people who came to see him. It’s a whole different perspective.

Update II

Here’s the sort of image I mean.  The glow from the digital camera screens looks like fireflies:

President and First Lady at the Washington Hilton. Photo by Kevin Mazur/
President and First Lady at the Washington Hilton. Photo by Kevin Mazur/