Wolf Suschitzky – ‘Seven Decades of Photography’ book review

Wolfgang Suschitzky photographer

Wolf Suschitzky at the launch of his new book Seven Decades of Photography

Wolf Suschitzky was born the year that the Titanic was launched and is still taking photographs 102 years later.  He is without question one of the greatest documentary photographers of his generation having produced inspirational black and white street photographs for decades.  His work has now been released in a new book  ‘Seven Decades of Photography’ (edited by Michael Omasta and Brigitte Mayr) which contains many previously unpublished photographs.  I have not reproduced any of those here – for that you will need to buy the book.

Suschitzky’s photography is both instantly recognisable and hard to define.  He seems to have a peculiar talent for capturing a moment in history as well as creating a sense of mystery which raises more questions than it answers.  His use of the anonymous figure across his photographs adds scale, context and stimulates our intellectual curiosity.  Who were these people and what became of them?  Where are they going?  What was in their minds?  Photographs such as the one of Amsterdam below assault the senses on so many levels.  It goes without saying that it is technically masterful – wonderful composition, separate figures that do not overlap, a sense of movement, converging lines of cobbles that draw the eye into the photo.  It makes you want to step through the image into old Amsterdam to experience if for yourself.  That is the wonder of Suschitzky’s art – he connects you immediately to the subject and explores human interactions from a humanistic and compassionate perspective.

Wolf Suschitzky photo

© Wolf Suschitzky – Amsterdam

Suschitzky has been an inspiration for much of my black and white photography going back thirty years and it was a rare privilege to meet him briefly at the launch of this new book – although I did have some trepidation when it came to taking his photograph.  Not one you would want to mess up!

The indistinct image of a milkman in the photo below is very typical of his earlier work and it illustrates nicely how difficult this type of photography is to get right.  The image includes a hint of movement due to a longer shutter speed but not so much that the meaning is lost. The milkman is cast into anonymity by silhouetting but is clearly visible against the background due to Suschitzky using the light coloured van and the reflected light on the street to create contrast between subject and ground.  The rule of thirds abounds within this photo and the timing is perfect.  Any later and the subject would have been lost against the lamppost. There is so much that could have gone wrong with this shot but photography is all about patience and what comes through in this new book is that Suschitzky is a master of waiting, only pressing the shutter when the scene develops into that sweet point of maximum impact.

Wolf Suschitsky photo

© Wolf Suschitzky – the Cameo Newsreel Cinema in Charing Cross Road in 1935

The book opens with a personal reminiscence by Amanda Hopkinson followed by a useful analysis of Suschitzky’s photographic style by Julia Winckler.  Both sections help with understanding what it is that makes his photographs so good and highlight the dynamic between the commissioned works and his spontaneous photography that makes this collection such a rich mixture.

The son of a social democrat Suschitzky grew up in Vienna and although of Jewish background appears to have grown up outside of the constraints of religious orthodoxy before moving to London in 1934.  I am sure this helped form the foundations for his humanistic approach to documenting the world which is a common thread that runs through all seven decades of photographs. It is not possible to properly document something unless you have empathy – it is the cornerstone of our humanity.  It is self-evident from his work that Suschitzky has an empathetic approach to his subjects which is why the images have such an enduring ability to take us back in time.

Wolf Suschitzky photo

© Wolf Suschitzky Shoe black at work in Cambridge Circus in 1936

Photographs such as the one above speak to the social inequality that was rife in London – the contrast between the well-to-do couple and the anonymous worker cleaning the shoes is stark and although at first glance you are drawn to the faces of the couple the eye is inexorably taken down to the man on his knees whose face cannot be seen.  The theme of working people runs throughout his work and is illustrated beautifully in the selection of photographs chosen for this new book.

 

Wolf Suschitzky photo

© Wolf Suschitzky – Foyles Charing Cross Road 1936

Overall I think this is a must have book for anyone who appreciates the timeless quality of black and white photography from the glorious days before digital.  There is so much to learn from these images and the subject matter is very eclectic which made every turn of the page a delight of exploration.

Wolf Suschitzky photo

© Wolf Suschitzky – Victoria bus station 1939

Wolf Suschitzky photo

© Wolf Suschitzky – street cleaner Embankment London in 1934

The book is around 200 pages long with 170 photographs reproduced to a high quality and is available on general purchase from December 2014.  It is a perfect Christmas present for those who love quality photography or anyone who has an interest in social history.  A unique window into the mind of a master photographer and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Wolf Suschitzky photo

Wolf Suschitzky – Seven Decades of Photography

More information on Wolf Suschitzky’s work can be found here http://www.wolfsuschitzkyphotos.com

Please remember that all photographs in this review (apart from the first one) are copyright Wolf Suschitzky and should not be reproduced in any form or used elsewhere without his permission.

Book details below

SYNEMA, Society for Film and Media
A-1070 Vienna, Neubaugasse 36/1/1/1
Email: office@synema.at

Art Data
Tel: (0)20 8747 1061
Orders: orders@artdata.co.uk
www.artdata.co.uk

Wolf Suschitzky: Seven Decades of Photography
Editors: Michael Omasta, Brigitte Mayr
200 pages with 170 b/w-photographs, printed in high quality duotone
SYNEMA Publications (Vienna) 2014
ISBN: 978-3-901644-61-0
Hardcover, 21 x 26,5 cm, Euro 35, £28.

Five steps to a unique photo

With the sheer number of photographs now being taken and published on the internet it is easy for your shot to be lost in the noise, especially if you simply go with the flow and take the photo in the same way as everyone else.  Here are five things to consider when taking a unique image that stands out from the crowd.

1 Look at what everyone else is doing and then do something different

The vast majority of people will take a prompt from how other people are photographing something and then simply replicate this.  You see it all of the time in London – everyone walking up to the same place, lifting their camera and taking what is essentially the same shot.  This is particularly noticeable at places like the Palace of Westminster.  People either cross the river and photograph the Palace including the bridge (as below) or point their cameras up at some crazy angle to try to capture Big Ben.  Often they will ask their relatives to pose in front of the scene and then wait until faces go stiff before pressing the button.

Palace of Westminster with Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1.  1/600s at f/11 and ISO 400

Palace of Westminster with Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1. 1/600s at f/11 and ISO 400

The result is thousands of homogenous photographs that lack any impact.  So the first rule of a unique photo is to look at what everyone else is doing and then resist the urge to copy them.  This will normally mean moving away from the place where all of the photos are being taken and going somewhere that is less obvious.  When I took the photograph below people were clustered on the southern embankment and beneath the clock tower so I deliberately decided to take the photo from the bridge.  The problem was that to capture the image in landscape format meant that the only option would have been to tilt the camera upwards which would have created crazy converging lines on the building.  So the secret to that first shot is that it was taken in portrait mode and then cropped in post-processing to a landscape format.  Once the shot was framed I waited for the lamp to be switched on, exposed for the sky to throw the image into silhouette and then pressed the button.

Fujifim XF 14mm sample image

A different take on the Palace of Westminster

We all have smartphones these days and this can give you a real edge when it comes to taking a unique shot.  Simply do an image search for the location and you will get an insight into how people have interpreted the location photographically.  You can then consciously decide not to replicate this.

2  Use framing creatively

A simple technique like using elements of the scene to create a frame around your desired subject can make a real difference when it comes to creating unique images.  When I took this photo of the GLA building in London I knew that the area had been photographed multiple times and there were literally thousands of photos of that building sloshing around on the internet.

Fuji X-Pro1 sample image

The GLA Building taken from Dead Man’s Hole – a mortuary beneath Tower Bridge

The answer was to look for a possible frame around the shot so I crossed Tower Bridge and after a few aborted attempts to frame the building through the holes on the top of the bridge I found the perfect frame for the shot – the Dead Man’s Hole which is a mortuary that sits beneath the bridge on the north side and allows for a perfect view of the GLA building.

Fuji X-T1 image

Battersea Power Station framed from the north

I used a similar technique when photographing Battersea Power Station and although the result was a little bit “Christmas cardy’ the photo illustrates the point well.  Using a frame for your subject can have a powerful impact.

3 Experiment with silhouettes 

The use of silhouettes can be a good way of making your photograph stand out from the crowd as most people will expose for the subject rather than the background and that is the way that most light meters work.  So if you are struggling for a unique shot and the lighting is right consider whether the shape of the subject is sufficiently powerful to be able to use silhouetting.

 

Fuji X-Pro1 sample image

St Paul’s Cathedral from the roof of No. 1 Cheapside

 

Fuji X-T1 Sample image

Low light shot of Tempelhofer Ufer in Berlin with XF 14mm lens.

Fuji XF 14mm lens sample images

Hampstead Heath with Fuji XF 14mm lens

 4 Change your perspective

It seems silly but the simple act of not photographing from eye level can have a profound impact on your final photograph.  Most people will take photos by bringing the camera up to eye level as that requires the least effort and is intuitive.  I would guess that over 90% of photos are taken in this way.  So one simple way of changing the way your photos look is to kneel down when taking the shot.  The difference this makes is illustrated neatly by the two photos below, one of which was taken at eye level  and one when kneeling down.

Sample image Fuji X-Pro1

Woolwich Foot Tunnel – camera at eye level

 

Fujifim XF 14mm sample image

Woolwich Foot Tunnel – photo taken when kneeling down

 5 Use a long lens

Fuji 55-200mm zoom lens sample image

Seascape with Fuji X-Pro1 and 55-200mm zoom lens

Fuji 55-200mm zoom sample image

Stonehenge taken with Fuji X-Pro1 and Fuji 55-200mm zoom lens

A lot of us have a portrait lens or telephoto lens in the kit but tend to use it only for close up work.  One tip to making a difference to a shot is to use a long lens to compress perspective.  Intuitively people tend to want to get close to the subject so don’t go with the crowd – move away from the subject and use the long lens to create a different effect.

Fuji X-T1 sample image

London Pride with 55-200mm zoom lens

Finally

The basic rule when it comes to taking unique images is that you have to resist the temptation to follow the masses and this sometimes means ignoring the rules (even this one!)

 

Fuji XF 14mm lens review

Fuji XF 14mm lens image - Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge with Fuji XF 14mm lens. 10s at f/22 and ISO 100

There is something that new users need to know about the Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 lens -  as the X series are not full-frame cameras then the lens is really equivalent to a 21mm lens when it comes to the field of view and should be considered with this in mind.  This is not like the Voigtländer 15mm lens in terms of its field of view so it is important you manage your expectations.  It remains however an ultra-wide angle lens by any standards and gives a pretty extreme angle of view at 89º.  The lens I am using as a benchmark for this review is the Zeiss Biogon T* 2.8/21 for the Contax G2 as that was my stock 21mm lens for years and is outstanding quality.

One of the first photographs I took with the Fuji 14mm lens is the one of Tower Bridge (above) which was taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera.  Click on the images to enlarge (but please remember the sample images are copyright and shouldn’t be used without my permission).  Photos of the lens are copyright Fujifilm.

 

Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 wide angle lens

Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 wide angle lens

 

Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 wide angle lens

Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 wide angle lens – in manual focus mode

The lens has a quality feel to it – all metal construction with a proper ring for adjusting the aperture.  The aperture ring has end stops which is a very welcome change from the continuously turning aperture rings on the Fuji zoom lenses but there is no mechanical connection between this ring and the aperture so the ring feels a little loose and lacks the feel of a mechanical lens.  There is a good innovation on the lens in that to switch to manual focus you simply pull on the focussing ring.  It moves back towards the camera body with a satisfying ‘clunk’ and reveals proper distance markings that allow you to estimate the depth of focus when using manually although being an ultra wide-angle lens in practice this is not quite as useful as it seems.

The manual focussing ring really adds to the practicality of this lens from a user perspective – you can switch instantly from autofocus to manual focus and back again without taking your eye from the viewfinder. Optical quality aside this lens gets five stars for useability.

 

Fuji XF 14mm lens sample images

Hampstead Heath with Fuji XF 14mm lens

In use I have found the lens to be of outstanding quality – it is astonishingly clear, bright and sharp with no discernible distortion if used correctly although as for all ultra wide-angle lenses it will distort the image significantly if you fail to make sure that there is no tilt to the camera when you take the shot.  This is a characteristic of all lenses in this class.  You can see from the image below that even a small tilt of the lens upward will produce converging lines on your verticals.  You can use this for creative effect but in use it is essential to think carefully about camera alignment before pressing the shutter when using a lens like this.

Fuji XF 14mm lens sample image

Kirby Hall with Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1 body. 1/1000s at f/22 and ISO 200.

The lens has 58mm threads which is the same as the Fuji XF 18-55mm zoom lens and also takes the same lens hood.  This is really useful as it allows you to only carry one hood when using these two lenses and filters (such as ND and polarising) are interchangeable.  The lens accepts a polarising filter on top of a UV filter with no significant vignetting but if you then also add an ND filter it unsurprisingly does begin to impact on the lens.  In use I have found that two filters is the maximum I can use without risking mild vignetting.  This is perfectly fine for the vast majority of users and not at all surprising given the field of view.  The filter ring does not rotate on focussing which is great when using a polarising filter.

The diaphragm on the lens is made up of seven rounded blades and will produce a starburst effect when stopped down as in the image below.

Fuji XF 14mm lens sample image

Stonehenge with Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1 body. 1/120s at f/16 and ISO 400

One very welcome aspect to this lens is the close focus distance of only 18cm (7 inches).  While in no way a macro lens this does allow for some very close shots and an almost macro-like effect.  To use this close focus you must activate macro on the camera body as the normal close focus distance without this activated is 30cm.  The following photo was taken with the macro setting and illustrates the effect.

 

Fujifim XF 14mm sample image

Fujifim XF 14mm in Macro mode

I have used the lens on both the X-Pro1 and the X-T1 and autofocus is significantly better when the lens is paired with the X-T1 – it is much faster and more precise than when using the X-Pro1 which does hunt slightly especially in low light or low contrast situations.  However the autofocus even when used on the X-Pro1 is acceptable and the lens is capable of rendering some seriously impressive images in the right hands.

Fujifim XF 14mm sample image

Woolwich Foot Tunnel with Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1. 1/30s at f/2.8 and ISO 500

 

Summary

Overall this is an excellent lens and gets five stars for build, useability and optical quality.  It is a must have lens for the Fuji X system and will outperform non-Fuji lenses in all respects when paired with the Fuji X-T1.  It is not perfect (no lens is) but has no significant weaknesses.  If I could make one change it would be to make the clicks on the aperture ring more distinctive and I would dampen the ring to prevent accidental turning but this is a minor point.

So is this better than my Zeiss Biogon?  I think the answer is no but it is broadly comparable and that is high praise indeed.

I am not connected with Fujifilm in any way.  Hope you found this review useful.

Palace of Westminster with Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1.  1/600s at f/11 and ISO 400

Palace of Westminster with Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1. 1/600s at f/11 and ISO 400

Fujifim XF 14mm sample image

Honister Pass, Cumbria. Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1 body

Fujifim XF 14mm sample image

Brighton Beach with Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1 body

Fujifim XF 14mm sample image

The Palace of Westminster with Fuji XF 14mm lens and X-Pro1 body

This is the technical specification of the lens from the Fujifilm website.

14mm spec

Lightroom 5 tutorial – the making of Spooky Doll

Fuji X-T1 Sample images

Spooky Doll after treatment

Sometimes it is great to have a little fun when post processing an image.  I spotted this doll at a museum in Rochester and instantly saw the potential.  There is something very creepy about Victorian dolls – why anyone would have given this to their child is beyond me.  Imagine waking up in the darkness as a child to find her staring at you from the gloom!

To be honest she didn’t look all that bad as shot so I used post processing in Lightroom 5 and Color Efex Pro to create the doll from hell!

Here is what the doll looked like out of camera with no post processing:

Victorian Doll

Spooky doll out of camera image

She looked altogether too nice so the first thing I did was to use the Highlights tool to bring out the detail in the image – slid this completely to the left

Highlight tool

Highlight tool

Fuji X-T1 sample image

Spooky Doll with highlights tool applied

Although this made her a little less appealing it still wasn’t quite the effect I was looking for so I decided to roll out the big guns and develop the image in Color Efex Pro.  This is part of a suite of post processing software that is available from Nik and can be used as a plug in for Lightroom 5.  I selected the preset called ‘Dark Contrasts’ and the processed image now looked like this – a lot closer to the effect I was looking for but still not quite there!

Victorian Doll

Doll with Dark Contrasts preset

I saved the image into Lightroom 5 and then increased the contrast to darken the background and used the highlights tool to dirty the image somewhat but it was still lacking that creepy look so I decided to concentrate on the eyes for the final touch.  I selected the colour adjustment tool in Lightroom 5 and used the hue setting and luminance tool to make the eyes a whole lot brighter before selectively darkening the right eye to add a little more weirdness.

Victorian Doll

She’s looking at you!

Colour adjustment

Colour adjustment

Overall this only took about 5 minutes to do – the final image seems to be hated universally so I think it was a success!  Try not to have any nightmares tonight…

Fujifilm X-T1 review

fujifilm x-t1

Fujifilm X-T1 – is this the ultimate mirrorless camera?

 

Is the Fujifilm X-T1 camera better than the X-Pro1? I think the answer is a resounding yes.  I will leave the technical reviews to others – this is purely about the X-T1 from a user perspective as much technical information is pretty meaningless when it comes to me using a camera in a day to day situation.

As a user I’m interested in only three things – how easy is the camera to use, is it reliable and does it take great photos?

Well earlier this year I got a chance to find out.  I had been using a Fujifilm X-Pro1 for about 18 months and mentioned in passing to my brother that I was thinking about the X-T1 as a possible replacement but it was too expensive.  Imagine my surprise the following week when a brand new X-T1 arrived in the post completely out of the blue!  Having an older brother definitely has its advantages…

User interface

I have now had a chance to try out the camera in a lot of different situations and it is everything that the X-Pro1 should have been – certainly the best mirrorless camera I have ever used.  One of the real strengths of this camera is the user interface, with the vast majority of settings being dealt with via manual dials rather than having to access a menu system (which inevitably interrupts your photography).

XT1 top

Xt1 top

From the top you can see that there is an analogue dial on the left that allows you to change the ISO settings on the hoof.  This is a real godsend as you can change the settings without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.  In practice  for outdoor photography I tend to leave this set to automatic (with the default ISO set to 200, the maximum set to 6400, and the minimum shutter speed set to 1/200).  It is possible to set the default parameters for the ISO in the menu so you know exactly what you are getting when you select ‘A’ on this dial.  In lower light or when doing long exposure shots a simple turn of the dial and the ISO is changed.  Far far better than trawling through a menu.

On the right are dials for shutter speed and a plus or minus three stops exposure compensation wheel.  I use this wheel constantly when using this camera – it is the best way to fine tune your exposure on the fly.

Fuji X-T1

XT1 back 2

Although the back of the camera has a lot of switches and buttons most of the main settings can be changed by simply pressing the ‘Q’ button and using the rear command wheel (above it) to dial in the settings. When you press this button the following menu appears which has the most used functions listed in one place.  This allows you to select film simulation modes, adjust white balance, apply presets, use the timer etc.  Very handy and much better than selecting from a menu hierarchy.

Fuji X-T1 Q button

Q button menu

It is all incredibly intuitive and easy to use.  Some reviews I have read have criticised the menu selector buttons as being fiddly and difficult to press.  This was absolutely not the case for me – menu buttons work fine and I’ve had no problems with them.

Fuji X-T1 review

X-T1 menu selector buttons

Fuji X-T1 dials

Drive selection dial

Underneath the dials on the top sit other selector switches such as the drive selection dial (above) that sits beneath the ISO dial.  This allows you to switch immediately between single shot, high or low speed speed continuous photos, bracketing or multiple exposure without entering the menu.  

Electronic viewfinder

The X-T1 is not a single lens reflex and has no mirror box, relying instead on an electronic viewfinder system.  This makes it much smaller and lighter than a DSLR and also means that what you see in the viewfinder tends to be what you get when you take the shot (it shows you the image in real time).  The viewfinder is very large and very bright although it is prone to noise in a low light situation.

 

Fujufilm X-T1 EVF

Electronic viewfinder (from Fujifilm website)

 

You will find that the viewfinder is very immersive and as it shows the image in real-time I tend to then fine tune the shot with the exposure compensation wheel without taking my eye from the viewfinder.  This helps to prevent blowing the highlights in a high dynamic range situation.  I was not convinced when I first had the camera as I was used to an optical viewfinder but am now totally sold on this.

 Autofocus

One of the reasons I wanted to move away from the X-Pro1 was the autofocus – simply put it is not good enough in a camera of that price and this resulted in too many missed shots due to that camera hunting for focus and being too slow.  This has been corrected in the X-T1 where the autofocus is very quick (it is claimed to be the world’s fastest) and locks onto the subject accurately time after time.  The predictive autofocus allows tracking of moving subjects in real-time as well and this works very well – a real boon when using the camera for street or sports photography where subjects are moving quickly.

Image quality

I have put some sample images at the end of the post – click on them to get the full-size image.  In terms of overall quality of the photographs the camera is about the same as the X-Pro1 – easily capable of taking world-class images in the right hands.

Worth remembering

It is worth noting that this is not a full-frame camera so you need to do some adjustments when considering issues such as the focal length of the lenses etc.  Simply put you should multiply the focal length of the lenses as quoted by 1.5 to get the equivalent focal length for a 35mm camera.  So the XF 14mm lens is really equivalent to a normal 21mm lens when it comes to the area being captured.

Summary

Overall there are a number of very positive aspects to this camera including:

  • User interface – very intuitive and easy to use. Does not interrupt the flow when taking photos
  • Electronic viewfinder – astonishingly clear and bright
  • Analogue dials (wonderful to use – I hate menus)
  • Light and small (very unobtrusive and easy to carry)
  • Excellent autofocus
  • Excellent image quality
  • Fast start up – very few missed shots
  • Remote control via the iPhone app
  • Wireless image transfer – quirky but useable
  • Tough and weather sealed for use in the rain (a real boon)

Improvements could be made to the cover on the ports (very flimsy) and the exposure compensation wheel needs a lock button to avoid turning it accidentally but overall this is an outstanding camera with no significant weaknesses and is now my main camera for all conditions.

The more I have used this camera the better it becomes.  Does it take better photos than the X-Pro1?  No it doesn’t but the improvements in design and autofocus etc mean you are far less likely to miss a shot.  Would I recommend buying this camera?  Yes without hesitation.

The photographs of the camera are from the Fujifilm website and the copyright sits with them.  I am not connected to Fujifilm in any way.

For the techies among you who want to know the specification of the X-T1 it can be found on the Fujifilm website here http://www.fujifilm.eu/uk/products/digital-cameras/interchangeable-lens-cameras/model/x-t1/specifications/

There is also an excellent review of the camera by Steve Huff which you can find here http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/03/10/the-fuji-x-t1-review-fuji-creates-the-best-x-to-date/

Fuji X-T1 Sample images – click to see full size

 

Fuji X-T1 sample image

Pride in London with XF 55-200mm zoom lens

 

 

Fuji X-T1 sample photograph

Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin

 

Fuji X-T1 sample image

Memorial – Unter den Linden with XF 14mm lens

 

 

Fuji X-T1 sample images

Kew Gardens with Fujifilm XF 60mm macro lens

 

Fuji X-T1 sample images

Pride London 2014 with XF 55-200mm zoom lens

 

Fuji X-T1 Sample images

Spooky Doll – Fuji XF 18-55mm zoom lens

 

Fuji X-T1 Sample image

Low light shot of Tempelhofer Ufer in Berlin with XF 14mm lens.

Berlin Street Art

Street Art in Berlin

Berlin and Latin America by Interbrigadas – Luckenwalder Strasse

Berlin has been described as the street art capital of Europe so when I went there recently I was very interested to see how their street art scene measured up against London.  The enormous mural above greeted us on the first morning as we stepped out of our hotel – it is one of the largest murals in Berlin and is painted on the side of the Mercure Hotel in Luckenwalde Strasse.  Apparently it was commissioned by Interbrigadas to promote German/Latin American understanding and it contains many evocative images, especially on the left side (if you click on the image it will open full size).  if you want to see it the nearest station is Gleisdreieck U-Bahn and the DHL depot in which the mural sits allows easy access for a closer look.

Street art in Berlin

Xberg Astronaut by Victor Ash – Mariannenstrasse

We spent an entire day walking around Berlin looking for street art and came across some great examples such as the Cosmonaut/Astronaut in Kreuzberg (above) by the Portuguese artist Victor Ash which is thought to be one of the largest stencil drawings in Europe.  Its impact is immediate and highlights the dynamic between street art and graffiti that is widespread in Berlin as the building had been tagged multiple times with unsightly graffiti.  Many good pieces of street art that we found had been tagged and in some cases ruined.  The problem with damage to street art seemed to be far more widespread in Berlin than in London although it is the nature of the beast when it comes to uncontrolled urban spaces.

Street Art in Berlin

Mural by ROA in Oranienstrasse/Skalitzer Strasse

This huge mural by the Belgian Artist ROA can be found in Oranienstrasse  and was commissioned by Skalitzers Contemporary Art in 2011 for the exhibition Transit.  It is a high impact piece and can be accessed easily for a closer look as the fence is rickety at best! ROA has painted murals all over London, one of the most well known being the Heron/Crane in Hanbury Street which can be seen below.

Street art in London

Sacred Crane/Heron by ROA in Hanbury Street, London

If you are going to look for street art in Berlin then one of the must see places is the East Side Gallery in Mühlenstrasse which is a surviving section of around 1.2 kilometres of Berlin Wall that is covered in street art.

Berlin Street Art locations

Location of the East Side Gallery in Berlin

Berlin Wall Street Art

East Side Gallery Berlin

There is something fascinating about the art on the Berlin Wall – this huge memorial to the past was extensively tagged/painted on the west side but remained untouched on the east as the east side of the Wall lay in the so called ‘Death Strip’ and was off-limits until 1989.  Art in the East Side Gallery is well worth seeing but most has been tagged which is a shame.

Berlin Street Art

Curriculum Vitae by Susanne Kunjappu-Jellinek

In the piece above by Susanne Kunjappu-Jellinek there are roses painted around each of the years when the Berlin Wall was standing – each rose depicts someone who died that year trying to escape to the West.  It is very evocative once you understand the context.

Other well-known works adorn the Wall here such as the well known painting by Dimitri Vrubel showing Leonid Brezhnev and East Germany’s Erich Honecker kissing (based on the infamous photo by French photographer Regis Bossu).  It is a very noticeable work and immediately recognisable.

Berlin street art

Brezhnev and Honecker kissing by Dimitri Vrubel.

An image that repeats itself in Berlin is Kani Alavi’s evocative painting of a sea of faces spilling through a gap in the wall, some of which resemble ‘The Scream’ – smaller versions of this can be seen in Mitte and Kreuzberg.

Berlin street art

Many Faces – an evocative image by Kani Alavi

 

Berlin street art

Trabant breaking through the Berlin Wall by Birgit Kinder

 

Berlin Street art

Berlin by Night by Yvonne Onischke

We found that Kreuzberg was one of the best places to find street art in Berlin.  As for many cities the street art tends to proliferate in poorer areas so if you are going to take photos in some more deprived locations then it is best to be sensible and take stock of the area before flashing your expensive camera around.  Kreuzberg is a fascinating area – one to avoid on the first of May each year though as it is the epicentre of the Mayday riots in Berlin.

One of the interesting things we came across at Bethaniendamm in Kreuzberg was this tree house ‘Baumhaus an der Mauer’ or Tree House on the Wall.  The house was apparently built on a piece of land that belonged to East Germany but ended up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall so the West Berlin authorities had no jurisdiction.  A Turkish immigrant (Osman Kalin) saw the opportunity and first grew vegetables on this vacant plot before finally building this tree house which is now a bit of a tourist attraction.  Some of the locals near here are understandably a bit sensitive when it comes to street photography so be sensible.

Baumhaus Berlin

Tree House on the Wall, Kreuzberg

Berlin has many buildings that have been occupied by collectives and there seems to be a comprehensive counter-culture in play across the city.  Examples include Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles) which was taken over by artists when the Wall came down.  Remains of metal sculptures can still be seen on the outside although the building now seems to be abandoned.

Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles)

Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles)

So which city was the best for street art?  It is hard to say – Berlin seems to be covered in street art and it is part of the culture there but much of the art is tagged and damaged.  I think London just about has the edge but I would say that wouldn’t I?

Further information on the East Side Gallery can be found here http://www.eastsidegallery-berlin.de/data/eng/index-eng.htm

 

 

Berlin in monochrome

Pergamon Museum in Berlin

Pergamonmuseum – Contrasts

The fact that black and white photography is thriving so many years after the advent of colour film is testimony to the impact that this medium can have when trying to capture memorable images.  Berlin as a city lends itself to monochrome images and in spite of trying to see how I could use colour to enhance the subject most of the photos I took there recently ended up being processed in black and white.  There is no point in using colour unless it adds something significant that cannot be addressed through black and white alone.  The scale of that city, the huge monoliths that line the wide streets, the great halls of culture, the wide open spaces and scars of the past also tend towards wide-angle photography.  All of the photographs in this post were taken with a Fujifilm XT1 camera and Fujinon f2.8 14mm lens.

Photograph of Tempelhofer Ufer in Berlin

Noir at Tempelhofer Ufer

Most of the time during the visit the light was not good – overcast skies caused diffuse rather than dramatic lighting and the sun only shone on one day out of the five.  This took away a lot of potential for dramatic skies in the outdoor shots but you have to work with what you have.  The camera was set to ISO Auto (maximum ISO 6400, default ISO 200 with minimum shutter speed of 1/200).  All of the shots were done using aperture priority with the shutter speed set to automatic.  This set up is simple, prevents camera shake if subjects are moving, and allows you to concentrate on the subject rather than the camera settings.  The photo above was taken while walking back from a day of street photography – it was early evening but to get the starburst effect on the lights the camera was stopped down to f 22 with the default shutter speed of 1/200.  This is rather counter-intuitive as it forced the ISO up to 6400 and people always advise you to shoot wide open when it is dark.  Sometimes you have to break the rules to get the results you want and the image leapt out of the viewfinder as I framed the shot.

Street Photography at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin

Checkpoint Charlie

Berlin lends itself to street photography and is generally safe for this as long as you are sensible as for any big city there are some places more edgy than others.  I had a run-in with some locals in Mariannenplatz who took exception to me photographing street art near their squat but it was nothing serious and soon resolved by a little discussion.  The chaps in the photo above nearly ran me down after I took this photo – the perils of wide-angle photography!

Memorial to the victims of war and dictatorship in Berlin - Neue Wache

Memorial – Unter den Linden

There are many powerful images to be captured – the memorial above is in the Neue Wache on Unter den Linden near Museumsinsel (Museums Island).  It is a powerful monument that was dedicated in 1993 as the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship.”  To get the effect above I exposed for the highlights and knelt down to emphasis the subject against the lighter walls.

Konzerthaus near Jagerstrasse in Berlin

Konzerthaus near Jagerstrasse

One of the characteristics of Berlin is that it is full of parallel lines – cobbles marking out the pavement or the grand squares are everywhere.  If you have a wide-angle lens you can kneel down and use the converging lines to draw the eye into the photograph as in the photo of the Konzerthaus above and the Berlin Wall below.  The three main areas to see the Wall are at Niederkirchnerstrasse (below) where you will find a large section of preserved Wall near the foundations of the Gestapo HQ in Berlin.  Part of the site is the Topography of Terror Museum and running parallel to the Wall here is an exhibition on the destruction of Warsaw.  Powerful stuff.  The best preserved piece of the Wall that we found was at Bernauer Strasse http://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de/en/ which has a Berlin Wall memorial and a long section of the Death Strip along with lots of photographs and interpretation panels.  For street art on the Wall the best location we found was the East Side gallery at Mühlenstrasse in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg.

Berlin Wall at Wilhelmstrasse near Topography of Terror Museum

Berlin Wall at Niederkirchnerstrasse

The large museums and cathedrals also offer great opportunities for photography – a few more examples are below with the locations.  The next post will be in colour and on the Berlin street art scene (with some suggested locations and a contrast with the street art in London).  After this trip I have once again fallen in love with Berlin and one thing I can say for certain – I’ll be back…

 

Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin

Deutsches Historisches Museum

 

Museums Island in Berlin

Museumsinsel, Berlin

 

Potsdamer Platz in Berlin

Potsdamer Platz

 

Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Holocaust Memorial – Cora-Berliner-Strasse

 

The Crypt below Berlin Cathedral - Museums Island

The Crypt below Berlin Cathedral – Museumsinsel

 

Bode Museum - Museums Island in Berlin

Bode Museum – Museumsinsel

 

The camera in your pocket

Sunset over Arran

Sunset over Arran

When it comes to photography there is one universal truth – the best camera you own is the one you are carrying. Too many of us invest a lot in high quality cameras only to find that we don’t have them with us when a good photo opportunity presents itself.  Well it is worth remembering that with the arrival of the camera phone there is now no excuse for missing those shots.

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A lot of people think that camera phones are simply too limited to deliver good photography.  After all most of the basic options we all take for granted are missing – you can’t vary depth of field by changing the aperture, the ISO is often not controllable and the cameras tend to decide their own exposure settings. However with a little time you can learn the characteristics of your phone camera and use these to your advantage (or you can download an app that gives you more control such as 645 Pro).

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With a little care and creativity your smartphone is capable of delivering some pretty good images.  All of the photos in this post were taken with an iPhone and a couple of them would not have been possible without the unique features that smartphone cameras offer such as the ability to take panoramic shots by simply moving the camera allowing you to create an image similar to that from an ultra wide-angle lens.  As the manual options are currently  limited the single most important thing to concentrate on when using your phone as a camera is composition.

The photograph below was taken at the GoMA in Glasgow using the panoramic setting on the iPhone – a careful sweep of the camera from left to right allowed for the entire installation to be caught in one image.  Things to remember when doing this is that you should practice the sweep first to make sure all will be captured, move the camera at an even pace and keep the arrow in line with the white line that appears in the middle of the screen.  There will be distortion in the middle of the shot but this can be used as below to enhance visual impact.  Often taking care to ensure clarity between the subject and the background can really help with a shot like this one.

The Lamp of Sacrifice

The Lamp of Sacrifice

Once you have taken a photo with your phone there are a whole range of options for developing them on the phone to give you the effect you want.  The two apps I use most for this are Snapseed (ridiculously cheap and easy to use) and iPhoto (quite limited but has some good options) although the photo below was developed using Colour Efex Pro in Lightroom 5.

The Glasgow Necropolis

The Glasgow Necropolis

Most camera phones use wide angle lenses so remember the characteristics of these when composing a shot.  They will tend to have a large depth of focus (i.e. both the foreground and background tend to be sharp) and they will make closer subjects look disproportionately large and far away subjects look tiny.  It may be a good idea to put something in the foreground to draw the eye into the shot as you would with any wide-angle lens on your system camera.

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Ultimately the thing to remember is that good photography is not about the quality of the camera – all you have to do is look back in history at some of the iconic images from the early days of photography to realise this is the case.  The camera in your phone is way better optically than the early cameras used by some of photography’s past masters.  Given the choice I would always choose to use my Fuji over the iPhone (that goes without saying) but that is not always an option.  So perhaps it is time to stop playing Bubblewitch on your smartphone and start taking some great photos – after all the sky’s the limit…

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Unmitigated England

Great Central Railway, Sheffield Victoria to Banbury
by Sir John Betjeman

‘Unmitigated England’
Came swinging down the line
That day the February sun
Did crisp and crystal shine.
Dark red at Kirkby Bentinck stood
A steeply gabled farm
‘Mid ash trees and a sycamore
In charismatic calm.
A village street – a manor house –
A church – then, tally ho!
We pounded through a housing scheme
With tellymasts a-row,
Where cars of parked executives
Did regimented wait
Beside administrative blocks
Within the factory gate.
She waved to us from Hucknall South
As we hooted ‘round a bend,
From a curtained front-room window did
The diesel driver’s friend.
Through cuttings deep to Nottingham
Precariously we wound;
The swallowing tunnel made the train
Seem London’s Underground.
Above the fields of Leicestershire
On arches we were borne
And the rumble of the railway drowned
The thunder of the Quorn;
And silver shone the steeples out
Above the barren boughs;
Colts in a paddock ran from us
But not the solid cows;
And quite where Rugby Central is
Does only Rugby know
We watched the empty platform wait
And sadly saw it go.
By now the sun of afternoon
Showed ridge and furrow shadows
And shallow unfamiliar lakes
Stood shivering in the meadows.
Is Woodford church or Hinton church
The one I ought to see?
Or were they both too much restored
In 1883?
I do not know. Towards the west
A trail of glory runs
And we leave the old Great Central Line
For Banbury and buns.

Taken from John Betjeman Collected Poems (1989)
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