Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: March 2009

Photographing London Demonstrations

Some quick advice to answer some questions I’ve been asked about photographing tomorrow’s G20 demonstrations in London (with the usual caveat that none of this should be construed as legal advice). Generally speaking, if you’re in a public place you can photograph whatever happens to be going on. Privacy doesn’t really apply since in a public demonstration neither the demonstrators nor the police have any reasonable expectation of privacy. Equally merely photographing a demonstration is unlikely to amount to a breach of the peace.

However some amendments to the Counter-Terrorism Act in February this year could affect photographers’ relationship with the police. With some very poor, wide drafting, typical of the current government, the new rules catch anyone eliciting information regarding members of the armed services, intelligence services or police which is “of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. This potentially covers photographing police officers and we are just expected to trust that the statute will not be abused. An easy non-lawyer article summarises the change.

The G20 demonstrations clearly are not linked to terrorism so calmly explaining that should diffuse any attempt to stop you under the Counter-Terrorism laws. The chief issue is often misinformed police officers who genuinely misunderstand what photographers are allowed to do. In that respect I highly recommend everyone print and keep a copy of this UK photographers rights leaflet in their camera case to help them explain if questioned.

Common sense should prevail, particularly since the police are understandably likely to be tense: if you see problems likely to occur, don’t argue, take a step back and move elsewhere. If the police try to search you, complying is usually best, although they should not have any right to seize your equipment to my knowledge. Make it clear you are there as an observer rather than being confused as part of the demonstration to avoid breach of the peace accusations. Good luck!

Austen Improvements

Many readers now consume these blog entries purely via the RSS feed or through Facebook. It’s certainly great for ease but there are a few benefits lost by not visiting the site itself. The first is just that it’s prettier. The posts are obviously designed to be viewed within the site’s layout and some formatting may be lost depending on your reader’s ability to interpret CSS. And then there are the extras like the Twitter stream in the sidebar with three short bursts of continually changing content, for those who don’t actually use Twitter, not to mention the ability to quickly access other areas of the site. I briefly considered reducing the feed to an excerpt with a link to the full post so that people would be notified of updates but still visit the site. After consideration I am not going to do that and nor will I in future. As a consumer myself I feel it should be up to the user how they choose to access their web content and it should be made available in the widest possible way.

On the subject of Twitter, I recently stumbled across the formula for evaluating those narcissistic Twittering celebrities (celebritwits?) — you know, the self-obsessed ones who treat it like a personal fanclub rather than any form of social dialogue. My count of those I can stand has risen to three: Neil Gaiman is still there, of course, along with Jimmy Carr (whose posts often feel like free stand-up snippets) and Amanda Palmer (who provides gems like this). Interestingly none of them made the list…

For those who always felt Jane Austen’s novels were missing that one little thing on which you could never quite put your finger, at last you can put your mind to rest. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies rectifies the novel’s surprisingly obvious flaw with panache brains! As it opens, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” How true. It is available from Amazon.

And those crazy Russians have surpassed themselves once more with a fantastic psychological experiment called Mars 500 that aims to study the feasibility of manned spaceflight to Mars. Locking six volunteers up in a series of cramped, interconnected cylinders for three months, the effects of isolation and confinement in close quarters will be carefully monitored. With current propulsion technology a trip to Mars would actually take closer to two years, but if this experiment is  successful, a longer one is planned. Perhaps stranger is that this bizarre “opportunity” attracted 6,000 applicants from 40 countries!

Gaming in the Clouds

OnLiveThe biggest news out the Game Developers Conference has undoubtedly been the OnLive service, which has been heralded as everything from the end of consoles to the death of retailers to a complete joke that won’t actually work. Depending on whom you talk to. The basic idea is simply a combination of videogaming and cloud computing. This simply means that rather than installing and running a game locally, you contact a server online and all the heavy number crunching happens at that end with the results being sent back as streaming video. That means you could play high-end games on minimal hardware – even NetBooks are able to decode video, which is all that is required.

The fact this is developed by the guy who brought us WebTV suggests we should take this a bit more seriously than we might be inclined. The key was developing a video encoding algorithm that cut out the usual latency in the process to produce almost-instantaneous results. However limitations even in broadband delivery mean there will be additional delays in sending your control inputs to the server and in receiving the video back. By all accounts the (obviously highly controlled) demo was very impressive. As with many others my instinctive reaction is that this sounds great for some games, but first person shooters and action games that rely on split-second timing will surely suffer. Nevertheless, consider my curiosity piqued because if they can make it work, wow!

A new mp3HD lossless mp3 format was recently announced. It’s backwards compatible insofar as it maintains the same file extension and contains the lossy version as well, so will play on current hardware. However that effectively means putting a lossless-size file onto your player only to get lossy playback which isn’t particularly efficient use of space, so I can’t really see this one taking off.

And since this has clearly turned into an unashamedly techie post:

Zombies, Sharing and Folklore Stamps

Stubbs the Zombie: The SoundtrackThese days my exposure to new music has become somewhat limited since I don’t listen to the radio. Instead discoveries tend to stem from browsing the latest releases and sales at 7digital and amazon mp3 and listening to the samples. Delving a little deeper into their stock occasionally turns up a delightful gem, most recently Stubbs The Zombie: The Soundtrack from the last generation videogame. The game itself, a twist on the zombie genre by having you play the titular undead character, was entirely mediocre, never quite living up to the humour it promised. The soundtrack however, is a wonderfully quirky mix with modern indie bands covering pop classics from the 1960’s, when the game is set. Think a Death Cab For Cutie rendition of Earth Angel alongside a Flaming Lips cover of If I Only Had a Brain.

Long time readers will remember I used to share a lot of my photographs through the royalty free archive at morgueFile. Although there is no remuneration, it’s rewarding to see your work end up in all sorts of interesting and unexpected places. Undoubtedly the weirdest was a close-up headshot of my sister in traditional Bharatha Natyam dance dress which someone turned into a cushion! For no particular reason I stopped around two years ago, though around that time I started taking more shots of friends and family which are less useful to share. After this long hiatus I have just returned to the site and uploaded some of my recent work so I’m curious to see where it’s used this time. To date full size versions of my photos have apparently been downloaded there over 5770 times, which I have to admit is slightly scary number.

Perhaps as a corollary to my love of Neil Gaiman, I am a big fan of artist Dave McKean, so I was greatly excited to see he has been asked to design a series of stamps based on mythical creatures from folklore. The samples look beautiful and they are due for release on June 16th this year.

Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction have released a free Tour Sampler EP to promote their upcoming NINJA 2009 tour (see what they did there?). Trent giving away free stuff is hardly newsworthy any more, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth listening to. Arguably more interesting is that it means this promotion model is clearly working for him if he is continuing to do it. Giving the fans what they want makes them happy so they buy stuff — who knew?

I realised the Questions FAQ was horribly out of date, so I’ve updated it to bring it in line with, well, now. The new version is marked “beta” since I’m currently open to suggestions for new questions. Anything you want to ask, now’s the time…

Pure Reason Revolution @ Dingwalls

Since nowhere in London could sell it to me, I ended up buying the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens from Amazon and, as if by design, it happened to arrive on the day I was to see Pure Reason Revolution play at Dingwalls in Camden. My main reason for selecting the lens was its low light ability (due to its wide aperture) and there are scarcely more extreme lighting conditions than at a gig. Time to test it out.

Of The I - guitarist purple smokeThis was really my first attempt at gig photography and you can see the results in the Pure Reason Revolution gallery. These were my first few hours with the lens so I’m still learning how to use it. Interestingly a lot of my favourites are actually the more abstract/body shots towards the start. Capturing a concert is a considerably different skill and one that I’d like to hone. The general theme here was dark and moody with a lot of high contrast black and white shots, though I’d be keen to get more variety. The real issue with using this lens is that its lack of zoom means framing close-ups is virtually impossible unless you can position yourself right in front of the band, so it’s certainly not what professional concert photographers would choose. Dingwalls is a small venue with capacity for around 500 and it’s easy enough to get round the front/right side of the stage (particularly, it seems, if you’re carrying a sizeable camera as people happily let you through and even security give you space). While this offered a decent vantage point for the support acts (Of The I and The Domino State), PRR sadly set up their keyboards here, blocking clear shots. I’m generally less happy with those, but given they were the band I went to see I kind of had to include them!

Guitar HeadsThe band had their new album on sale and hung around afterwards to sign copies too. Titled Amor Vincit Omnia, line up changes in the band are matched by a sound shift. Although still familiar, the new sound includes a lot more electronica and even some dancy beats in places. The result is a less ethereal record than The Dark Third. While still good live (if not quite as incredible as their old stuff stills sounds) my initial impression was that I would not be listening to the album very often. In fact the first half has really grown on me. It’s disappointing that later on there are a few tracks I will always skip over, since their debut is one of those wonderful albums I can happily listen the whole way through.

And as with every PRR gig I’ve been to so far, I bumped into Jon from uni. With him were Philly J and James, so it was great to catch up, grab a beer afterwards and get home far later than I’d intended. Great music, a nice first set of concert photos, a signed album and catching up with friends — if I can improve, gig photography might be a lark worth getting into.

Truth Through a Lens

That person is not what you think they’re like.
What you think they’re like is probably true, just not about them.

An interesting musing on truth in portrait photography from the BBC’s Genius of Photography. I liked it for its apparent contradiction, but the idea is that when you look at any portrait, what you are seeing isn’t that person but a photographer’s interpretation of them. So what you think they’re like is really true of either the character or the photographer. In fact sometimes a photographer is effectively creating a “self portrait” in the way they photograph someone else. I found myself particularly drawn to it having just ordered my new lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 I mentioned previously, from Amazon. Not without some inconvenience as my bank decided a £300 lens was an suspicious purchase, apparently ignoring the amount I’ve spent with Amazon recently. I suspect I will be using it almost exclusively for a while once it arrives.

The programme was immediately followed by Good Bye Lenin!, an excellent German film set in East Berlin around the time the Wall came down, about a son’s white lie to protect his mother which escalates out of control. Strangely I find myself associating it more with the USA, where I first saw it with Jenna in a mostly empty, freezing cinema, than with eastern Germany, despite having spent so much time there with Kirsten’s family over the past several years. It was the first time Jenna had seen a foreign film on the big screen, something hard to do in Baton Rouge, so I was sad to hear that cinema no longer exists. The film has that perfect balance of the tragic and comic which gives it a real emotional resonance in several scenes toward the end. Watching it late last night left me with a strange yearning for something that I can’t quite place.

The cutesy sounding IPKat blog is actually a very well respected source of news in the IP world and they’ve just published a well thought out rant about the creation of a Digital Rights Agency and why it’s an ill-conceived idea.

Empire 5 and Franklyn

Feeling in a solitary cinema mood on Monday evening, I decided to see Franklyn. A stylish trailer followed by lukewarm reviews meant I was hesitant to suggest it to others, making it a perfect choice. I was also keen to scout out some other good screens in central London, since I generally dislike the crowded mid-size multiplexes. So it was that I discovered Screen 5 in Empire, Leicester Square. The smallest of their five auditoriums, it was quite unlike any other I have seen.

The room is wide and shallow with an average sized screen. The seating stretches spaciously across the width the room with a slight curve, at around 10-12 seats per row. But here’s the kicker: there are only four rows. That’s it. It’s kind of like the home theatre you might expect a millionaire to have built for himself. My only minor gripe is that while the seats recline comfortably, a little extra slope to the room would have offered a better view of the screen from the rear seats, should anyone be sitting directly in front.

Franklyn

As for the film itself, Franklyn is an interesting curiosity. Its chosen “urban fairytale” description is apt, with its stories being set in modern London and the sprawling steampunk metropolis of Meanwhile City, which features some stunning overdesigned architecture. The fantasy portion with a masked protagonist hunting down “The Individual” bears its closest resemblance to Dark City in both style and tone. Unfortunately since Proyas’ pre-Matrix masterpiece is criminally underwatched, it’s likely to be a worthless comparison for most. Ultimately Franklyn demands a lot of patience as it unfolds with questionable pacing but it has something to offer for those willing to invest the time. It also exudes that wonderful debut film vibe (think Donnie Darko) which can never truly be recaptured by a director later in their career.

"You shouldn't trust the storyteller; only trust the story."

(CC) BY-NC 2005-2017 Priyan Meewella

Up ↑