Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

I recently had the opportunity to look round the Stasi’s old head office (as visitors to my photo blog will be bored beyond belief by). A couple of things – first of all, here’s something in the spirit of the last post.

A real conspirator's radio

That – as you may be able to make out from the brass plate – is a model of the concealed shortwave transmitter used by none other than Richard Sorge to send his reports from Tokyo so Stalin could comprehensively ignore most of them. (I don’t think I’ve blogged this interview with his Japanese mistress in Die Zeit before, so there you go.) The East Germans made a bit of a cult out of Sorge (and you bet we would if he’d been a Brit) – as you can see from this photo.

The building has a sort of Stalinised Royal Festival Hall chic to it; this is the private meeting room inside the Minister’s offices.

Communist executive-suite luxury

They could make anything, as long as they could make it out of wood.

Hypermodern marquetry

Talking on this device was probably unwise.

East German personal tech

But more to the point, here’s the display in Chief Directorate VII (Counterespionage and Police Internal Affairs)’s unit hall of fame about their campaign against Amnesty International.

You know you're indecent when the Stasi put your photo on the wall

The text is in a truly awful bureaucratic German; I will try to render it faithfully.

Amnesty International – a “bourgeois (or civil – the German word is fundamentally ambiguous) human rights organisation” – is strongly oriented towards slander of the socialist states. The colleagues of Chief Directorate VII contributed successfully to identifying the enemy efforts to create AI operational bases in the GDR and to rendering their attempts at discrimination ineffectual.

The exhibits are a collection of Amnesty leaflets, reports, letters and the like, which they presumably collected by slipping over to the West and going to their street stalls. These are described at the bottom as “sichergestellte Hetzschriften der Amnesty International”, which translates as something like “securely recovered hate-sheets” and usually refers to something like Der Stürmer.


“We can’t go on like this” was all about style and look-and-feel; the tombstone seems to be a reaction against it and a reversion to a fairly crude, tabloid approach. Perhaps it reflects discord among the people who commissioned it? It would be easy to identify the first with Steve Hilton and the second with Andy Coulson’s influence, but this is perhaps too easy.

Certainly, the tombstone’s visual language is nowhere near as sophisticated as the Cameron poster – rather than the careful sequential progress from Cameron’s face in the optimal zone of attention to the final sales pitch, the reader’s eye is first drawn to the tombstone (which in a sense stands in for the face), presenting them with a totally decontextualised piece of policy argument (the clip-art stone and R.I.P OFF could be a Mike’s Carpets ad – what’s a rip off? why is there a tombstone here?), proceeding to the rant, and then leaving you with nothing much. The mention of the Conservative Party, which is the finale and the call to action, is stuffed up in the top right, off the main line of the plot and in a place you usually put visual elements to get them out of the way.

Nobody puts a newspaper headline or masthead in the top right hand corner of the page; computer user-interface designers usually put things like logout links or “close window” buttons there so you don’t accidentally click them. Not surprisingly, I felt the parody versions to be slightly unsatisfying compared to the Cameron poster, and at least going by traffic, the Internet public felt the same. The Cameron poster was a classic – a high-style product of the visual language of the corporate and governmental elite, as carefully designed as anything Apple or Porsche produce. It just begged to be subverted.

David Camera ON

Well, what can we say about this? First of all, there’s the block colour – an entirely black backdrop. Obviously this connotes seriousness, but more importantly, it signals a very different approach compared to the colour-of-nothing in the first Cameron poster. Rather than trying to avoid our conscious attention, it demands the foreground.

Secondly, it’s much more complicated than either Tory poster. For a start, it includes a joke; R.I.P OFF barely counts. David Camera On is actually funny, at least in part because it’s unavoidable – it hits exactly the image and persona he’s spent so much effort cultivating. If you put yourself on a poster like the Cameron one, there’s no way you can dodge this. A joke implies plot – the set up, then the punchline. The viewer is being invited to look for the punchline, indeed to come up with one themselves, and the organisation of the poster with its not-quite symmetrical halves leads us to it. The highlighting of the text on the left also plays a role in this, as well as acting as a sight gag about the camera.

Also, the well-lit Dave on the left, close to the optimal attention zone, acts as a beacon for the whole thing (rather like he does for the Cameron poster). The arresting image is there, however, to feed us into the joke. Framing a face emerging from darkness in the movies usually means we’re meant to pay close attention to what the actor is about to say. Probably it’s a secret of some sort – we’re becoming complicit in the plot. The function of the joke is to set us up for the policy message directly below it.

You’ll observe that this makes considerably greater demands on the viewer than either Tory effort. And it insists that the viewer takes part in the drama. This may be why the designers felt they could do without an explicit call for action – laughing at David Cameron is, after all, a political act.

How would we go about mocking this? It strikes me as more difficult than either Tory poster. A joke, after all, is hard to alter fundamentally without breaking something. The plot is considerably more complex. No doubt you could replace the central image, but you’re unlikely to find a photo of Brown looking as orange as left-hand Cameron anywhere. The best solution I can think of is to repurpose it as a generally nihilist one – Camera On. Camera Off. They’re all at it. Rub their noses in it on May 2nd. Or perhaps: Camera On. Camera Off. Who cares? We’re all on CCTV anyway.


Really delighted with the changes you’ve seen in Britain? Especially the ones embodied in architecture, the art that we shape and that then shapes us? Let the Labour Party, and any other party that shows up (we like a good party) know, by adding your photos of change to this Flickr group!

So far I can see a lot of stuff from user “Labour” (hey – communications signed by a Thing – it doesn’t get any more Web 2.0 than that), at least one obvious sleeper, and someone calling themselves “Womble Lancs” who is posting a hell of a lot of pictures of public buildings in Lancashire and Greater Manchester and whose user pic shows someone on a motorbike. The only possible conclusion is that this person is actually Hazel Blears.

I’d like to broaden this out, though; why not photos of change inflicted on the public by the powerful more generally? Anyway, I’ll be on it as soon as I’ve given Yahoo! actual “money” in exchange for more Flickr space; it’s a new business model in Web 3.1415 that might catch on, apparently.

(Appreciation is due to Owen Hatherley.)

IPC sub-editors dictate our nation’s youth. Ha, been a while since I heard that one. There is talk at the Meadi Grauniad that someone wants to re-open The Face. I can almost feel the unusually stiff square binding and remarkably heavy paper already. It was like being a member of a secret league against wankers.

Actually, this isn’t a good idea. Don’t do it, man; think of the 10,000 word 5-part stinker review I’ll have to fill up the blog with. I’m measuring up the space already. The disappointment and bitterness and drunken nostalgia; it won’t be pretty. Especially if you’re planning to rehire this guy:

“How do you maintain the cachet if you give it away for free?” asks one former editor. “Dazed, Vice, etc would murder it. Like Shortlist, it would be read by Polish cleaning ladies on the way home from the 4am shift.

Eh, just a fart then.

The subs [subscription] issue is equally tricky. How do you sell the subs? Who wants it? Or is it controlled subs – free to trendy shops – in which case it has no editorial teeth and no budget.”

This is true, however; once you get into someone else paying for your distribution with a magazine, your editorial independence and therefore, in the long run, your relevance and quality are going down the pan. The old crack about the freedom of the press being restricted to those who owned one was never that clever; there is a long tradition of the most surprising publications running off the same press.

But distribution. Now that’s the tough one. That’s the one the bastards have always controlled.

Update: Laughed.


I may not be blogging 3GSM for this blog, but you can look at the pictures on Flickr, here.

Mobile phone wars. Georgians complain they can’t get American submarine cable engineers to come back, for fear. And they sue.

The Administrative Panel of the Tbilisi City Court has rejected an appeal filed by Russian cellco MegaFon against fines imposed by the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) for unlicensed use of radio frequency spectrum within Georgia’s sovereign territory. The GNCC won its claim that before the recent war Megafon covered only part of the former Autonomous Republic of South Ossetia, but that in August the operator unlawfully expanded its coverage area and exceeded the conflict zone to include the regions of Gori and Kareli.

Trade does follow the flag, then; at least some kinds. I’m struggling to see how the Georgians hope to collect, but I suppose they feel better for it.

Meanwhile: a plan.

Non-governmental organisations would distribute mobile phones to Afghans for them to make their own video diaries.

Anti-Western films already circulate on Afghanistan’s estimated 6m mobiles. These films are also distributed among the country’s half a million internet users.

The plan has been devised by an outside consultant. Although no decision has yet been taken, it is said by the Foreign Office to “have merit”. It envisages having up to 100 short films made by Afghans ready in time for a film festival next summer.

A film festival? Christ, the Mick & Ruth approach is taking hold. More seriously, I can’t think of any way this is going to actually harm anyone, so I suppose it should be welcomed, and there’s a reasonable chance of it being a useful check on warlords of various persuasions. This is probably more useful, however.

I recall a similar project sponsored by the GSMA that involved a suite of short films by various directors, led by Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt. The killer detail being that while he was being feted at 3GSM, he was also on the lam from the Indian police…

Via Calculated Risk, galleries of repossessed houses in Los Angeles. This one can stand for a common theme.

It’s hardly got any windows on the street side at all! Just two huge garage doors. Those doors are a common feature throughout the show – houses whose outward appearance is totally dominated by monster garages, like a great big fat ugly gob. Anything human in the architecture skulks behind the garage, as if ashamed. It’s as if cars designed these buildings for their own use – realising, of course, they needed to make provision for the people, but sadly not being quite able to understand their needs.

This is, of course, not irrelevant to why they are already down one-third of their value. Perhaps we need a word for the opposite of architecture?

So, Cyclone George tore through the old haunts, killing three people on a mining railway construction camp. Could have been worse, though – it got up to 275 Km/h.. This bloke stuck it out in South Hedland, and has photos.

Sneaking through the barrio, I came on a bleakly lighted doorway, that bore the mark of the cult…


The place called itself a “Poulperia”, which I took to mean it specialised in squid.