Wolf Suschitzky – gone but not forgotten

I had the privilege of meeting the late Wolf Suschitzky three times – once a random encounter at the Museum of London, once at a book signing and then more recently when he agreed to a portrait session at his home in Maida Vale.  He came across as a kind, intelligent and empathetic gentleman – a product of his generation.

Wolfgang Suschitzky

Wolf Suschitzky aged 104 at his home in Maida Vale

He was born the year that the Titanic was launched and his career stretched across the golden age of film photography.  He is a much underrated photographer whose work has not quite had the acclaim that it probably deserves.

When we discussed his earlier work it became clear that a significant influence was his sister, Edith Tudor-Hart, who studied at the Bauhaus and used photography as a way to highlight social inequality.  She was also a Soviet agent but that is another story.  Her most famous photograph ‘bakery window’ was in a prominent place on his wall.

Wolf also studied at the Bauhaus but when I asked him about this he didn’t seem to think it had any influence at all on his photographic style.  He summed up by saying that all they taught him was how to make a good print and that is evident from his work.

Suschitzky is probably best known for his Charing Cross series – a range of photographs taken around Charing Cross in the 1930s which includes some immediately recognisable images such as the one of Foyles below.  However he took a wide range of photographs including portraits, animals, still life, street photography and urban landscapes.

Wolf Suschitzky photo

© Wolf Suschitzky – Foyles Charing Cross Road 1936

He took this photograph speculatively and then tried to sell it to Foyles. They weren’t interested which pretty much sums up people’s view of the Charing Cross series at the time – it is an evocative series that has become exceptional due to the passage of time and now contains some images that are instantly recognisable.

Wolf Suschitzky photo

© Wolf Suschitzky Shoe Shine on Charing Cross Road in 1936

Shoe shine is one of those photographs – a very hard shot to get at the best of times.  Wolf told me that the man in the photograph was a Soho gangster and was not best pleased at Wolf’s temerity in photographing him without permission.  His ‘moll’ however seemed quite pleased with the attention and posed for the shot.

What struck me when I met him was just how much Suschitzky remembered about the context of each of his photographs.  I could see them triggering memories for him as we spoke and when he tried out my Contax G2 he instantly switched back into photographer mode.

Wolf Suschitzky photographer and cinematographer

Wolf Suschitzky with a Contax G2

Looking at the range of his work it is the Charing Cross photographs that tend to get most attention.  However it is some of his lesser-known images that reveal his real technical skills. In particular his photographs of Amsterdam and Oldham.  Taken ten years apart the tonal range in these images show just how good he was both as a photographer and in the darkroom.  Taken on film and without any opportunity to preview the shot it is difficult for anyone born into the age of digital photography to appreciate just how hard it is to take photographs like this using film.

Wolf Suschitzky photo

© Wolf Suschitzky – Amsterdam

Wolfgang Suschitzky

Wolf Suschitzky, Oldham, 1947

He moved into portrait photography and took a range of portraits of famous people including H.G Wells.  The reason for the shift into portraiture was simple – as a struggling young photographer he had to make ends meet and portraits offered a way to pay the bills.

H.G. Wells by Wolfgang Suschitzky

H.G. Wells, 1939, by Wolf Suschitzky

I used this photograph of H.G Wells in 1939 as the basis of one of my photos of Wolf in 2016 and used film which seemed to be the right thing to do.

Wolfgang Suschitzky

Wolf Suschitzky taken with Contax G2 on Ilford XP2

Moving on from photography to cinematography was not an easy transition for Suschitzky – he told me that the most difficult aspect of it was ensuring he kept the contrast the same when switching between the scenes.  Again film and no preview.  A lot has been written about his cinematography so I won’t expand on that here.  Suffice it to say that some of it was masterful.

Wolf Suschitzky Bespoke Overcoat

The Bespoke Overcoat, 1956

He was the cinematographer for the Bespoke Overcoat in 1956 which won an Oscar for the best short film.  Of all of the films he worked on I think this best illustrates his craft – it is like a series of noir still photographs woven into a wonderfully atmospheric film.  It was played in full at the launch of his book, Seven Decades of Photography, at the Austrian Cultural Forum a couple of years ago and is well worth watching if you have not seen it.

When I asked him what his best photograph was he pointed to the photograph of Guy the Gorilla which was hanging on his wall.  I have to agree as it is a poignant and impactful image captured by poking the camera through the bars of the cage – something that would be impossible in these days of health and safety.

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Guy the Gorilla by Wolf Suschitzky

Sadly Wolf Suschitzky passed away in October.  He had a long life and has left a wonderful legacy.  If you are a young photographer looking for inspiration then look no further.   Photograph the ordinary things in life – in a few decades time may make them extraordinary.

Wolf Suschitzky

Wolfgang Suschitzky, Maida Vale, 2016

 

 

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‘The Outsiders’ – a new photo series on the homeless in London

Everyone who has engaged in street photography has at some time come across homeless people.  It is a sad reality of our urban existence that some people will fall through the cracks and end up on the street.

On a cloudy afternoon earlier this year I was on Rupert Street in Soho when I spotted a group of people who were clearly homeless.  One of them caught my eye and became the seed from which this new photo series ‘Outsiders’ was to grow.  His name was Steve and it turned out we grew up only a few miles apart some 300 miles from London.

At the time I was experimenting with street photography using a Contax G2 and Ilford XP2 – a rediscovery of film so there was no opportunity to preview the shot.  After a chat he agreed to let me take his photo which is below.  It is my take on Homeless Irishman, Spitalfields, 1969 by Don McCullin.

 

The Outsiders photo series

Homeless Englishman, Soho, London 2016

After seeing the results I was immediately drawn to the potential of doing a photo series on the homeless in and around Soho but these have been done to death and are often trite and exploitative.  Any series like this needed a sound ethical basis so I quickly concluded that any photos had to be consensual and the series needed a clear purpose.  It could not simply be a series of candid snapshots of homeless people presented like some sort of Victorian peep show.

I was fortunate enough to see Martin Parr the following month at a talk he was doing at the Offspring Photo Meet in Hackney and he was very clear that I needed to ask myself what I was trying to say when planning a series like this.  I needed to ask myself the question “what are you hoping to achieve?”

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‘Brian’ (or possibly ‘Charlie’), Soho, London 2016

For me the answer was obvious – the series should challenge our preconceptions about the homeless and encourage us to see them as individuals and if possible interact with them rather than pass by on the other side.  The homeless in London are both visible and invisible at the same time.  A mass of people who everyone tries to avoid seeing.  A nuisance to be avoided.  A cause of dissonance when they ask us for money.

They are all put by people into the same homogenised grouping “the homeless”.  They are in the main not seen as individuals and their stories remain untold.  As a whole society takes a dehumanising approach to these people many of whom are where they are through no fault of their own. Here but for the grace of God could be any of us.

So I decided that the basis of the series should be to take the subjects out of context and force the viewers to come to their own conclusions as to who they are looking at and who the person really is.  I don’t want to display homeless people as victims but rather to highlight that they are not defined by their homeless state.

If I had told you that Dimitri (below) was an explorer rather than one of London’s street homeless your reaction to him would no doubt have been completely different.

The Outsiders photo series

‘Dimitri’, Charing Cross Road, London, 2016

This series is a work in progress and once I have enough exhibition-quality images I hope that there may be a possibility of getting it exhibited.  Photographers like Edith Tudor-Hart have taught us that photography is a powerful medium for highlighting social inequality.  A series like this cannot even begin to scratch the surface of the problems faced by the homeless in London but if it encourages just a few people to look again at these people and see them as individuals it will have been worth it.

The Outsiders photo series

‘Brian’, Soho, London 2016

This is proving to be the most challenging and rewarding series I have ever done.  The people on the street all have their stories and often the hardest part of being on the street is being constantly ignored and treated like street furniture.  The power of human interaction cannot be over-emphasised so next time you give someone some change (as many people do) please consider also giving them some attention and a few kind words.  They don’t bite…

The Outsiders photo series

‘Paul’, Oxford Street, London 2016

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Film is not quite dead

Since the advent of digital photography most of us have consigned our old film cameras to the cupboard and now shoot entirely using a digital format.  One consequence of this is that high quality film cameras can now be bought for a fraction of the cost than when they were new.

Contax G2

Contax G2 film camera with Zeiss Planar 45mm f2 lens

Well I recently resurrected my old film camera (a Contax G2), put in new batteries and some Ilford XP2, and was amazed at the difference it made to the photographic experience.  Everything was suddenly simpler.  There was no worrying about settings (other than aperture and shutter speed), no anxious looks at the back of the camera after every shot, and there was the glorious anticipation that comes with sending a film away and waiting to see the results.

In short I had forgotten how much fun can be had using film.  In addition the results were very good and the photos had a different quality to those taken using digital.

When I did a portrait session with the photographer Wolf Suschitzky earlier this month I felt I had to capture the scene on film bearing in mind he was a master of black and white photography during the golden age of film.  The following image is one of the photos from that session taken with the Contax G2 camera with 45mm Planar lens shot wide open at f.2 on Ilford XP2 film using ambient light.

Wolfgang Suschitzky

© Photographer and cinematographer Wolf Suschitzky taken with Contax G2 on Ilford XP2 

I then went walkabout to see what the camera was like outside and took this shot in poor light at Wrest Park.  The sky was a uniform white in the same photo taken on the digital camera but the film managed to get some structure into the sky.

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Wrest Park with Contax G2, 45mm Planar lens and Ilford XP2

 

What I also rediscovered is that using film is great for street photography – here is one shot I took in Soho using the Contax and an old expired roll of Fuji Reala.

Street photography with a film camera

© Street photography in Soho with the Contax G2 and Fuji Reala (converted to black and white in Lightroom)

All shots were developed and scanned to disk by AG Photo Lab who have been excellent value for money and very quick.

So if you have an old film camera lying around why not dust it off and see what it can do for you?  I know that my Contax G2 is now firmly back in the bag.

All images are copyright.  If you want to use them please get in touch.

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Street portrait – the look

Street portraiture

Street portrait taken in Hyde Park, London

Asking a stranger for their permission before you take the photograph always changes the dynamic in street photography.  Why not give it a try…?

Taken with the Fuji X-T1 and the XF 56mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

Click to view full size.

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Portrait of the day – the boatman

Grand Union Canal - boatman

Boatman from the series London’s Silent Highways

Taken with the Fuji X-T1 and the XF 56mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

Click to view full size.

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Photo of the day – Stonehenge sunset, a study in crimson

Stonehenge

Stonehenge sunset a study in crimson

Click to view full size.

Taken with the Fuji X-Pro1 and XF14mm lens.   1/125 at f/16, ISO 800.

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Photo of the day – Sooke Potholes, Vancouver Island

Sooke River

Sooke Potholes, Sooke River, Vancouver Island, British Colombia

Taken with the Fuji X-T1.   1/1250 at f/4.0, ISO 400.

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Solidarity with Refugees march in London 2015

On Saturday the 12th of September tens of thousands of people in London gathered to offer solidarity to the refugees who are fleeing war zones into Europe, in the biggest mass movement of people in a generation.

Here are some photographs of the march – if you want to use them they are available via this link at Demotix.  Please keep any comments constructive.

All shots were taken with either the Fuji X-T1 (with 56mm f1.2 lens) or the Fuji X-Pro1 (with 35mm f1.4 lens).

Refugee crisis

A refugee from Eritrea who now lives in Glasgow has travelled down to London for the march. He is carrying the Scottish and original Eritrean flags.

Refugee crisis

A member of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK declares refugees are welcome before the march begins.

Tim Farron

Tim Farron MP calls for immediate action on the refugee crisis to calls of “not enough” from the crowd.

Refugee crisis

“Our silence kills them”. Protestors highlight the use of chemical weapons in the war in Syria.

Refugee crisis London

All refugees welcome – a heartfelt but emotive message from a protestor before the march begins.

Refugee crisis protest march London

A protestor waits for the march to begin at Park Lane

Refugees Crisis London

Two friends on the Solidarity with Refugees march in Piccadilly

Refugee crisis London

A marcher declares that refugees and asylum seekers are welcome on the march in Piccadilly

Refugee crisis London

A protestor at the front of the march poses for the press photographers before the march begins

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Somewhere over the rainbow – Pride in London 2015 in pictures

On the 27th of June 2015 London’s rainbow warriors took to the streets again in a glorious celebration of defiance, tolerance and freedom.  Here is the start of Pride in London 2015 in pictures. All photos taken with the Fuji X-T1.

Pride in London 2015

Members of the Magic Maverick Theatre Company prepare for the parade

Pride in London 2015

A participant rests for a moment in the build up to the parade

Pride in London 2015

A cascade of colours on Baker Street before the event

Pride in London 2015

The Magic Maverick Theatre Company at Pride in London

Pride in London 2015

An event steward poses for the camera after giving directions

Pride in London 2015

Flamboyance personified at Pride in London

Pride in London 2015

The Amnesty International contingent dance for the camera

Pride in London 2015

A magnificent rainbow wig dazzles spectators at Pride 2015

Pride in London 2015

A participant blows a kiss to the photographer at Pride

Pride in London 2015

Father and child soaking up the atmosphere in Baker Street

Pride in London 2015

Sharp contrasts and bright colours near the American Embassy group

Pride in London 2015

A father and daughter wave to the crowd from the American Embassy bus

Pride in London 2015

Embracing the moment as the music thunders

Pride in London 2015

An angel pauses for breath amidst a flurry of photographs

Pride in London 2015

Campaigners mock President Putin mercilessly at Pride

Pride in London 2015

Striking face paint at Pride – an oasis of creativity

Pride in London 2015

The future’s bright – posing for the camera near the American Embassy group

Pride in London 2015

The march gets underway properly

Pride in London 2015

A dancer leads the group while the march pauses on Baker street

Pride in London 2015

Happy and happy twins at Pride

Pride in London 2015

A reveller pauses for a photo – picked out from the crowd by the 56mm lens

Pride in London 2015

A moment of affection amidst the chaos

Pride in London 2015

Beneath the mask

Pride in London 2015

A reveller cocks his head for the camera

Pride in London 2015

The atmosphere is electric as the march begins

Pride in London 2015

Pride is a magnet for photographers. Three enthusiasts on Baker Street.

 

 

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Fuji XF 56mm F1.2 R lens – first impressions

A few weeks ago in a moment of madness I decided to buy the Fuji 56mm F1.2 portrait lens – equivalent to 85mm in full frame format.  Here are my first impressions.  The build quality of the lens seems very good – a large and solidly built piece of kit but not disproportionate in size when fitted to the X-T1 body.  The lens hood is plastic (an advantage in my opinion over metal as it is very light) and perfectly functional.

In use the lens has so far performed very well and is able to capture a good image in very low light (the first shot below was taken in a poorly lit crypt).  The autofocus is not as fast as some equivalent lenses and can hunt a little in low light – not surprising given the amount of glass being moved about by the motors but you will want to be aware if planning to use the lens for action photography rather than just portraiture.

Overall I think this lens is a game changer if you are using the Fuji X system and have not yet invested in a fast prime lens.  Images are astonishingly sharp and the shallow depth of focus when shot wide open makes subjects leap out of the frame almost as though they are in 3D.  In the first shot below you can see that the eyes are in focus but the ears are not – the depth of focus is really that shallow.

The only problem you are likely to come across with this lens is that the fastest shutter speed on the standard X-T1 is only 1/4000 unless you upgrade the firmware to version 3.  This is perfectly adequate for most situations but this lens gathers so much light when it is wide open that the normal shutter cannot operate fast enough in bright light meaning you have to stop down the lens to get the shot which negates the benefit of having a fast lens.  If you are thinking of buying this lens makes sure you upgrade your camera firmware to include the electronic shutter option as that goes to 1/32000 which will allow you to exploit the lens in all lighting situations.

Overall I am delighted with this lens – have hardly had it off the camera since I bought it.

Fuji XF 56mm R lens sample images

Fuji XF 56mm lens test image

Portrait in low light f1.2

The bokeh (the out of focus area) is very good when shot wide open – an example is below showing out of focus candles appearing as large round globules.

Fuji XF 56mm lens test image

Fuji XF 56mm lens – bokeh

Fuji XF 56mm lens sample image

Fuji XF 56mm lens – natural light only

Fuji XF 56mm lens sample image

Book stalls at Waterloo Bridge – F1,2

Fuji XF 56mm lens sample image

Portrait in artificial light – F1.2

Fuji XF 56mm lens sample image

Row of books at F1.2 illustrating shallow depth of focus

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