The power of the weather, abuse of power by jobsworth guards and playing with a fish-eye…

The power of the weather, abuse of power by jobsworth guards and playing with a fish-eye…

Well, the weather in the past week has put paid to most things, be it gigs in Hyde Park, the Red Arrows display team or all manner of other things. The news on Saturday put all this into perspective with the terrible events happening in Beijing. With the worst rainfall in some 60 years at least 37 people have been killed and countless hundreds injured. There have since been questions about the infrastructure in the city and its ability to cope with such conditions.

I was in Beijing in 2006 and witnessed the oddest rainfall I’ve ever seen, before or since. At about 8pm the heavens opened and the rain came down hard and fast. It is an exceptionally humid climate there, mainly due to the pollution, this gives the rain an almost pliable feel. It kept up solidly for about twenty minutes and then just stopped – it was almost as if we were under a gigantic shower head.

Another ability of the weather (especially rain) is it’s unerring ability to change people’s moods. I’ve been in town several times in the past couple of weeks and have seen and heard people looking fed up, sounding really depressed and totally negative. I think the Olympics can take some “credit” for this – not so much the games themselves, but the mess the ancillary work is making of the city. Much has been written about the increase in journey times and the blockades being imposed by the “Olympic Road Network” or ORN, for short. This comes into full effect from Weds 25th but whilst writing this on Monday, I’m hearing tales of 2-hour plus journey times for the A12, A13 and around most of central London – a few restrictions have been put in place early on. I know Bungle has been telling everyone that will listen that “London is ready” but I really don’t think we are, we could never be – we do not have the transport infrastructure, the road network or the goodwill of the people to make it work.

When you pepper all of this with weeks of rain, is it any wonder that the general mood in London is that of a pissed off population? I had my own reason to be severely pissed off at a Security guard working at Fenchurch Street on Saturday morning. As the weather was half-decent and not forecast to be too hot, I thought I’d pop up into the city nice and early to try and grab a few shots. I’d also decided to make myself work for my images, in that I would only use my “fish-eye” lens. I’ve had this particular bit of glass for a while but it tends to get shuffled around in the camera bag rather than pulled out and used. I’d seen some work by another photographer during the week and it gave me the inspiration to give it a try.

Firstly, more on the “guard”. I got to Fenchurch Street just after 7am and there was next to no-one about. The station is busy during rush-hour during the week but sees little business at other times, so much so that trains during the late evening run from nearby Liverpool Street and this one closes early. So, I’m in an almost empty station, with a very noticeable camera and bag and not being at all furtive – being 6ft plus and built like the proverbial, I don’t “do” furtive very easily.

I took three whole pictures inside the station – of an EMPTY concourse. As I made my way down to ground level and was about to leave, Jobsworth came running over to me demanding, not asking; DEMANDING to see what I’d taken pictures of. Quite properly, I refused – no guard has the authority to demand anything either in law or in practice and in general, nor do the Police until you’ve had your collar felt, although it makes things easier if stopped by a copper if you at least offer to show your work. I do occasionally get asked and generally I don’t mind showing anyone, but I’ll be buggered if I’m going to give into a demand!

He was straight on his radio and told – not asked, TOLD me to wait where I was. By this time, my annoyance meter is centering and heading towards peak. I was told that the station manager was coming and that I was “in trouble”. It was all I could do to prevent myself from laughing. Whilst we were waiting for the arrival of the scary manager (I’d already cottoned on to the fact this this was highly unlikely to be the Station Manager – it’s 7am on a Saturday, running the place will have been delegated) I asked him what authority he had to make demands. He then came back with the phrase I really wanted to hear – “you might be up to no good”. I replied “what, you think I’m a terrorist?” He came back with “well, you could be, taking pictures in the station”. Annoyance meter is now red-lined and sticking. I didn’t reply but waited for the manager, who was, in fact not the manager at all.

I asked him quite calmly why I’d been accosted and he explained that Network Rail get all upset if images of their stations appear on the internet without their knowing about it. My first response was along the lines of how he knew if the pictures were destined for the internet, which he could not answer. So I repeated my question – apparently there is no pre-formed response to this, as he pretty much acknowledged when pressed further. I also pointed out that I’ve taken shots inside this and other stations many times in the past but that no one had ever batted an eyelid. I was prepared to accept that by the law of averages I was bound to get a pull at some point and I don’t object to that as such, but it was the manner of the guard and the appalling way he’d treated me – I repeated verbatim what had been discussed and watched as his eyes widened. He reached out his hand, apologised and we shook on it. I went on my way but I could hear his raised voice as he put forward his views on the subject to Jobsworth.

I know everyone is a bit jumpy in London and more so at the moment because of all that is going on, but a degree of common sense and reality needs to be applied – if you are a guard and you don’t have any common sense, give it up and do something where you are not required to think, as doing so is clearly going to be beyond your capability. I wasn’t going to publish the internal shots, but just to be bloody minded for a moment, here they are:

Now, how could these images possibly be of use to anyone? I was only playing with the fish-eye and getting a sighter in!

Right, on with the pictures. This particular lens has a 180 degree field of view, which is either a blessing or a curse, depending on your requirement at the time. It’s great for capturing ultra-wide shots and enabling one to get very close to something and still get everything in, but at the same time it can capture too much sometimes. I’ve not tried using it to photograph people, but I’d like to, if there is a willing volunteer about! As I said earlier, the plan was to use only this lens today, which meant completely changing the way I viewed the world around me.

Now comes the more creative bit – shots like this are difficult to get with standard lenses. I placed the camera on its back, opened the lens right up to the full 10mm, set the timer to let me get out of the frame and hit the shutter button. The appeal here was the three different cladding types – traditional stone, steel rain-screen cladding and glass curtain-walling.

More art this time. It’s the memorial to the 52 people that lost their lives in the 7th July 2005 bombings, a day which changed London forever. There is one post for every person that perished and also a commemorative stone nearby which lists the names of the victims. The technique was the same as for the 3-buildings picture.

This image has not been adapted in any way, save for “de-fishing”. The colours are as rendered by the lens.

I think my favourite from the session has to be the 3-buildings one, which turned out better than I thought it would. I’ve certainly gained an appreciation for this lens that up until now had not manifested itself in me. I will certainly be more prepared to try it in different situations in the future.

Sunday proved to be a bit of a landmark day in some ways, but as this entry is already 1600 words strong, I’ll have to relate the tale in a separate entry.

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