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Archives for November 2009

Your pictures of the week: Noon

Phil Coomes | 15:13 UK time, Thursday, 26 November 2009

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Your pictures of Noon

This week we asked you to send us your pictures on the theme of Noon.

You can see the pictures we have selected in a gallery here.

Many thanks to those who submitted work and my congratulations to those whose photos we selected.

Your pictures of NoonI hope you enjoy looking at the pictures and if you have any comments to make you can do so below.

If your picture didn't make this week's selection, why not send us something for next week?

The new theme is "Windows". Interpret this in any way you see fit and send your pictures to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk or upload them directly from your computer.

Please include the word "Windows" in the subject line of your message.

The deadline is midnight GMT Tuesday 1 December, and remember to add your name and a caption: who, what, where and when should be enough, though the more details you give, the better your chance of being selected.

We will publish a selection of your photos this time next week.

You can now see a list of the next four themes on this page which will be updated each week.

Files should be sent as JPEGs. They shouldn't be larger than 10Mb and ideally much smaller: around 1Mb is fine, or you can resize your pictures to 1,000 pixels across.

Please see our terms and conditions, but remember that the copyright remains with you. The pictures will only be used by the BBC for the purposes of this project. Finally, when taking photos, please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

My Lai: "Smoke coming from the muzzle"

Phil Coomes | 10:17 UK time, Thursday, 26 November 2009

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Villagers in My LaiA little over 40 years ago Ronald Haeberle walked into the offices of the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio, clutching a set of pictures that were to change history. He held in his hands photographs of people's bodies lying in the dirt of Vietnam who had been killed by US soldiers.

On the 16 March 1968 more than 500 men, women, children and babies were murdered in the village of My Lai and surrounding areas, but it was not until 1969 that news of this came to light following an investigation by the journalist Seymour Hersh. The inquiry that followed resulted in the court martial in 1970-71 of Lieutenant William Calley - a member of Charlie Company who was tried and convicted of murdering 22 "Oriental human beings" in My Lai on that morning in 1968.

Behind closed doors an internal army investigation in to the massacre revealed the true extent of the operation that involved two companies: Bravo and Charlie. Both received orders from their commanding officers, permitting them "to kill everything and anything".

Until now it has always been accepted that US Army photographer Haeberle did not photograph any of the actual shooting, he focused his lenses on the dead and those about to die.

Haeberle carried two cameras with him that day, one was an army camera and with it he was charged with photographing the mission to obtain pictures that would be used in the US press to say to the public "here's what we accomplished"; the other was his personal camera.

It was this one that contained a roll of colour-slide film which he used to record the day. He processed the film himself on his return to the US a couple of weeks after the events in My Lai. The film included pictures that, as he puts it, show "smoke coming from the muzzle".

In a recent interview with the Plain Dealer, Haeberle now admits that he did indeed take pictures of some of those doing the killing but later destroyed them. He said: "There are some photographs that after I arrived home [in the US] I realised that there is no way I can release photographs showing who the actual persons are doing what. I figured I'm not going to point my finger at any one soldier. I'm there. I'm part of it. I'm as guilty as anybody else, not for shooting a person, but for not reporting it... it's like one big cover up. There are photographs I could have pinpointed who did what."

You can hear and see the full interview on the Plain Dealer website

But what does it say about the role of the photographer. Some commentators have pointed out that during the inquiry into the event and even with the pictures of the massacre that survived, many Americans did not believe US soldiers could commit such acts.

Would Haeberle's pictures of the actual killing have changed that, or would they even have been printed? I doubt it, but as David Quigg said on the BBC World Service they would have helped create the context for the pictures we have seen. 

Quigg goes on to mention that today we'd press the delete button, and indeed he calls it the "cover-up button". 

I think that's possibly a little too simplistic. To follow that through for example you could argue that by simply not taking a picture we are effectively pressing the delete button. A photograph is but a representation of something and the decision to point the camera one way or another will change perceptions of the event depicted. It's also a flat representation and as well as revealing truths some would rather hide, it can also create untruths just as easily.

Haeberle's pictures are without doubt some of the most powerful from the conflict in Vietnam, a conflict that photographically speaking was arguably the high point of photo-journalism. His pictures changed public opinion and there are not many that can make such a claim.

You can read about the events in My Lai in a BBC report marking the 30th anniversary in 1998 and details of the recordings from the army investigation can be read here.

Stock shots from the archive: Floods of 1968

Phil Coomes | 11:10 UK time, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

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Flooding in the West Country, 1968

Every so often I take a trip to the basement of Television Centre to rummage through the archive photographs on file in what was the old News Stills Library.

The collection comprises thousands of 35mm colour slides divided into three sections, personalities, locations and subjects.

Given the current flooding in the North of England and elsewhere I thought it would be interesting to see what was on file under the subject heading: Floods. The earliest pictures date from 1968 so I have concentrated on those for this post.

The first set of pictures show the village of Pensford in Somerset which along with the rest of the Chew valley suffered severe flooding on the 10 and 11 July 1968.

Pensford, 1968

These events were reported on the 11 July in The Evening Post which carried this:

"Pensford was a village without a heart this afternoon - a bitter, bewildered village ripped apart by a 12-foot tidal wave," and according to reports eight people died in the region that night.

On the 12 July the Somerset Guardian reported that:

"Chaos and desolation over a wide area of North Somerset followed Wednesday night's torrential storms, in which Pensford was the worst hit. Over seven-and-a-half- inches of rain fell in the Pensford area."

Four days later the Duke of Edinburgh made a visit to the area and that's when these pictures were taken. You can read more about the floods on the Publow with Pensford Parish Council website.

Duke of Edinburgh in Pensford

Duke of Edinburgh in Pensford

Duke of Edinburgh in Pensford

The next photograph on file shows a car attempting to navigate a flooded road in the south of England in September of that year..

Car in flood

Another picture shows two men attempting to paddle a small inflatable dingy along a flooded road as a Transit van creates a wave that threatens to push them into the wall, or perhaps give them a soaking. According to the card index this was taken in Molesey, Surrey, again in September 1968.

Two men in a boat

In the same year Dartford seems to have been under water too as these people attempt to manoeuvre a coach through the deep water...

Coach in Dartford

... the workers at Lloyd's Bank start to bail out...

Lloyd's Bank

...and three women get pulled through the flood in a boat.

Three women in a boat

The last two pictures show shoppers attempting to pick their way along a pavement piled high with debris removed from damaged properties and the Army moving in to help clean up. I'm not sure exactly where these were taken as it is listed as either Maidstone or Tonbridge.

Damaged shops

Army working in flooded area

Unfortunately none of the names of the photographers is recorded on the index cards for any of these pictures. The recording of that data seems to have started in the early 1970s.

You can see previous posts in this series here:

Update, 15:12: A reader has just e-mailed in to point out that the top image is reversed as the "chain gear is showing on the left of the bike". That's a good spot. I have found that many of the old slides in the archive are mounted back to front, but it seems I missed this one. I have now updated the top image.

Returning to the East

Phil Coomes | 10:10 UK time, Monday, 23 November 2009

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Dresden, 2009. Photo by Andy Biggs

It's fascinating to see how time changes the way we view pictures. Photographs taken on a trip or holiday can be re-visited and seen in a new light. This is especially true if those pictures relate to a major news event.

In early 1989 Andy Biggs wrote to the East German embassy to seek permission to cycle through their country. He remembers "that the reply was polite but this would not be allowed."

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall later that year he again sought permission in 1990 and was again refused. However, as the news reports indicated the border was open and as he had already obtained a visa for Poland and the then Czechoslovakia he set off.

German border, 1990. Photo by Andy BiggsHis luck held and the border post to East Germany was empty so he managed to follow his planned route and spent four weeks cycling across the country, then into Czechoslovakia and up to the Baltic Coast.

Now, nearly 20 years later he retuned to the area to see how the lives of those he met had changed.

Andy explains:

"As I approached the border in 1990 the line of Trabants grew. Those heading towards me were empty, while those that passed were loaded with western goods, boots bursting with boxes and roof racks laden with washing machines.
 
Trabant, 1990"Returning nearly 20 years later I was not certain what to expect but I managed to retrace some of my steps. The campsites were still there. They now had hot showers and seemed a little more cared for. The Czech border was now less defined, once a high fence, now it was no more than a stream and a series of stone markers. However the roads were much busier, the old East Germany was a much quieter and more pleasant place to cycle 20 years ago, even if many of the roads were cobbled.
 
"One of the motives behind my original visit was to see Dresden, a city which holds such an emotive history. As the wall came down, much of its tragic past was still there to be seen, I met five other foreign tourists on my first trip. But now the city has been restored to its grand past and the tourists bustled around, taking photographs, buying souvenirs and drinking coffee (see top photo). Here were the symbols of the new capitalism.
 
"As well as exploring the old places, I managed to meet up with a few of those I had met back in 1990.
 
"One of those people was Katrin who worked in a textiles factory, she is now 45-years-old. She had been educated in the old East German system, worked through the collapse of communism and was now a mother in a capitalist society. When I had met her in 1990 her English was unusually good, learnt mainly from her grandfather who had come to Britain. Russian was the main foreign language taught under the old GDR system.
 
Katrin"Over the next few days we caught up on nearly 20 years of life and she shared her memories of life under Communism.
 
"Katrin remembered that: 'All our education had a political message in it. One homework was to fill a page in your exercise book of newspaper articles that showed negative stories about the West, for each filled page you would get a merit. I actually did quite well.'
 
"'In 1988 my photograph was used at the Leipzig Trade Fair. The intention was meant to show how the textiles company I worked for used the latest computer technology. Although the computer was made in the GDR by Robotron, I had to hold the disc upside down so the BASF logo could not be seen, as this was a Western company. The printer was actually made by Epson but had a Robotron badge on it. However it didn't work because we couldn't afford a cable to link it to the computer. This type of thing was normal in the old GDR.'
 
Bernd in 2009"Another person I caught up with was Bernd who is now 70-years-old and has lived in the village of Neiderfrohna all his life. Born at the start of World War II his whole life was shaped by communism.
 
"It wasn't until 1993 that the village had a telephone. Back in 1982 a state-run store opened but it closed in 1990 and was never to open again. If there is one symbol of life in the GDR it is that of the Trabant car, affectionately know as the "Trabi". Made from a plastic that cannot be recycled and powered by a 600cc two stroke engine, it was basically an enclosed motorcycle with four wheels.
 
Bernd with a picture of his first car"Bernd said: 'I got my first Trabi in 1957 and although I do have a Mercedes it lives in the garage and I use my current Trabi for the daily errands. There isn't much room and you have to leave space in the boot for a tool kit, which needs to be kept close to hand! It reminds me of my youth and the life we used to have. As for the Mercedes that's fine for holidays.'
 
"While I was there Katrin's mother had her 70th birthday. All the village came, partied the whole day and on into the evening. The sense of happiness, family and community were as strong as ever. Hopefully in another 20 years time, these are the attributes that will not have changed."

Katrin's mother's birthday party

You can see more pictures from Andy's trip on his website.

Shots from behind the bar

Phil Coomes | 10:06 UK time, Friday, 20 November 2009

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Photo by Jo Crawford

There are times when I just love this job. It gives me a chance to work with pictures all day and, on occasion, a set of photographs jump out at me and scream new talent.

Jo Crawford is one example. Jo applied for a place on our work placement programme and sent some links to her work along with all the usual CV stuff. There were lots of good candidates for the placement but a couple stood out, Jo being one, the other was Laura Lean whose work we published a couple of weeks ago while she was with us.

Jo has been here for the past two weeks and so, on her final day, I want to share some of her pictures with you.

Jo recently completed a photographic degree at Leeds College of Art where she had been shooting fashion pictures; her dissertation looked at the role of images in that industry, but for her major project, she took a different route.

Photo by Jo CrawfordAlongside her studies, Jo had been working behind the bar at Flares - a nightclub in Leeds - for a year or so when she hit on the idea of documenting that environment photographically. She said:

"Working in the club meant I already had a good relationship with the owners and so they trusted me and just let me get on with it."

Her tutors and friends were supportive, and although she says it is somewhat of a cliché these days, a talk by Martin Parr at her college finally gave her the push and belief she needed to go ahead.

For me, this is undeniably a powerful set of pictures, fresh and inventive. It's shot in a simple honest way and captures the atmosphere of the bar.

When I first saw them, I was reminded of Tom Wood's book Looking for Love that captured the Chelsea Reach Nightclub in Merseyside in the early 1980s, in itself one of the great documents of that time, and one I had on virtually permanent loan when I was at university. If you don't know it then track it down, though a copy will now set you back more than £300.

Photo by Jo CrawfordAnyway, it turns out that Jo's tutors felt the same way and invited Tom to lecture, so Jo got to hear his views too. One simple instruction struck home, and that was that you can never shoot enough.

On seeing the Looking for Love series by Tom Wood, Jo was worried that her project had already been done, wondering what she could add - but rightly, she put this to one side and started to shoot. She remembers she wanted: "to make the project my own, to come up with my interpretation of where I worked."

For practical reasons Jo worked with disposable cameras as she set out to capture the regulars and those at work behind the bar.

She used a variety of shooting techniques, sometimes asking permissions, sometimes not, gauging reactions and capturing people enjoying themselves.

Photo by Jo CrawfordOne thing she wanted to avoid was yet another depiction of "drunken Britain", as she puts it. She continued: "This is not a negative portrayal, this is people having fun, and I was in there too, present, involved in each scene."

I asked if she had any bad reactions from customers, but she says not. That of course comes from knowing the people, regulars and reading the mood. There were times when people would pose, but eventually they forgot about her and she could capture the scenes she was after.

At any given time, Jo would have three cameras, one left at each till point so she could pick them up as required. She followed Tom's advice and got through around 50 cameras which, following a first edit, resulted in a few hundred frames which she then pared down to just over a dozen:

"At first I wasn't sure it had worked. But as I started to edit the story it started to come together and I could see the final project emerging."

Individually the pictures work, but you need the set to draw you into the nightclub's world. The laughs, embraces, kisses and relationships, all random elements thrown into the frame at all angles, and the grain and grit of the pictures just adds to their allure.

Photo by Jo CrawfordPerhaps the best judges are those depicted. The owners of the club and staff came to her end-of-year show and loved it; they laughed and found the whole set tremendous fun.

Currently Jo has a few other projects in mind, but as if to reinforce her point, she states: "whatever it is, I will be part of it, something I'm connected to."

There are so many photographic projects out there that anyone working in the documentary tradition needs to develop a personal style. It's unusual to see that so early in a career, but here you can see the basis of a personal vision, one that's actually well-rounded, and I hope Jo continues to explore this side of her work. I for one look forward to seeing more of her photographs.

You can see a set of Jo's nightclub pictures in a gallery on the BBC site here or look at her own site Jo Crawford Photography.

Jo is also part of a number of photographic collectives on the web, No Culture Icons and Beady Little Eye.

Your pictures of the week: Grey

Phil Coomes | 11:34 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009

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Your pictures of grey

In contrast to last week's theme of sparkle, this time we asked you for pictures on the subject of grey.

Maybe it's the view from our office across west London that inspired the subject as it's fairly bleak, but I'm pleased to say you have managed to find more uplifting scenes to photograph.

You can see the pictures we have selected in a gallery here.

Your pictures of greyI hope you enjoy looking at the pictures and if you have any comments to make you can do so below.

If your picture didn't make this week's selection, why not send us something for next week?

The new theme is "Noon". Interpret this in any way you see fit and send your pictures to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk or upload them directly from your computer.

Please include the word "Noon" in the subject line of your message.

The deadline is midnight GMT Tuesday 24 November, and remember to add your name and a caption: who, what, where and when should be enough, though the more details you give, the better your chance of being selected.

We will publish a selection of your photos this time next week.

You can now see a list of the next four themes on this page which will be updated each week.

Files should be sent as JPEGs. They shouldn't be larger than 10Mb and ideally much smaller: around 1Mb is fine, or you can resize your pictures to 1,000 pixels across.

Please see our terms and conditions, but remember that the copyright remains with you. The pictures will only be used by the BBC for the purposes of this project. Finally, when taking photos, please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

A year in the park

Phil Coomes | 16:35 UK time, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

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Forest Park by Edward Crim

This week I want to mention a 365 day project being undertaken by photographer Edward Crim in St Louis, Missouri, in the US.

Forest Park by Edward CrimEdward has set himself two goals; the first is to take a picture every day for a year in St Louis' Forest Park, the other is to shoot a picture of the capitol building of each state.

It's the first set I'm more interested in as it's on a similar line to my own project but with the added twist of creating a set space in which to shoot. Now this could be a good thing in that it focuses the mind and allows you to really explore the space, or it could feel confining.

Given the nature of the park and having explored it remotely using Google Maps and satellite pictures then it would seem to offer a wide range of different opportunities, especially if you live nearby.

Forest Park by Edward CrimThis is one of the keys to a long term project, access. There's no point dreaming up a fantastically visual idea if you can't get regular access to the space. So for anyone thinking of creating documentary work I'd say once you have come up with a series of ideas, interests, subjects that you are passionate about then the next step to whittling down your list is to look at access.

Can you sustain the story and go every day, or once a week to the location, or is it so far way that you will only be able to make the time to visit once a month or even one trip a year.

Day 37 of Phil's projectI think this is one reason that 365, photo-a-day, projects are increasingly popular as you can just shoot what you find each day, as I am, or indeed construct pictures, or take a self portrait if that's your thing.

Looking at Edwards work we can see a range of styles that portray the park through the seasons and the way it's used by a wide range of people. It's an excellent idea that is being well executed and one worth browsing.

There's plenty to see and background details too as alongside the chosen pictures Edward publishes the shots that didn't make the cut and also writes a blog about the events of the day. I hope you enjoy looking at the project.

Your pictures of the week: Sparkle

Phil Coomes | 08:33 UK time, Thursday, 12 November 2009

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Sparkle by Adam Lewis

It was fireworks night this week so we set the theme to sparkle. It seems to have been a popular as we received more than 500 entries.

Not all are of fireworks though and you can see the ones we have selected here.

Your pictures of sparkleThe shot above is by Adam Lewis who worked long and hard to get the result he wanted.

I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures and if you have any comments to make you can do so below.

If your picture didn't make this week's selection, why not send us something for next week?

The new theme is "Grey". Interpret this in any way you see fit and send your pictures to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk or upload them directly from your computer.

Please include the word "Grey" in the subject line of your message.

The deadline is midnight GMT Tuesday 17 November, and remember to add your name and a caption: who, what, where and when should be enough, though the more details you give, the better your chance of being selected.

We will publish a selection of your photos this time next week.

You can now see a list of the next four themes on this page which will be updated each week.

Files should be sent as JPEGs. They shouldn't be larger than 10Mb and ideally much smaller: around 1Mb is fine, or you can resize your pictures to 1,000 pixels across.

Please see our terms and conditions, but remember that the copyright remains with you. The pictures will only be used by the BBC for the purposes of this project. Finally, when taking photos, please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

Day 31 of my Kodachrome project

Phil Coomes | 10:40 UK time, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

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Flower in the rainMy daily photo project shot on Kodachrome continues to roll on, though as the weeks pass it's becoming more of a challenge, primarily due to the fading light.

Most of the pictures I have shot so far have been on a rangefinder, but I've dug out my old Olympus XA3 compact and have just put a roll through that. Bit of a risk as I haven't used it for years, but it seems to be OK.

The only problem I had was when my daughter dropped it and the back sprung open. At that point there was only one shot on the roll that I hadn't duplicated on a different camera. With luck the frame won't be a total write-off and I guess it all adds to the feel of the project.

It's an interesting little camera, zone focus, auto exposure with a 35mm lens, and that's it, certainly a step back from many of the compact cameras on offer today, simplicity seems to be the key. I'm guessing the pictures won't be pin sharp but with luck they will have their own characteristics.

The other thing I've been doing this week is setting up an RSS feed from Flickr that reports any images tagged with Kodachrome. It's fascinating what it throws up, images of old film boxes and some delightful frames from times long past. Here are a few that caught my attention.

Patrick Joust is well known to us here as we featured some of his wonderful pictures from Baltimore in a gallery earlier this year.

Patrick has just published a few old Kodachrome slides taken by his father in 1969 that show the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, good timing, given it's the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall.

Another image I liked was this one taken in Michigan in the 1950s and published by Don Hudson. The colours are just delightful and as one of the comments notes, the picture has the feeling of a Stephen Shore.

Back in the UK I found this picture taken outside the gates of Buckingham Palace in London.

I wonder how many little yellow boxes of film there are hidden away in cupboards around the country, each one holding precious memories and glimpses into our past.

So I encourage you to dig them out and take a look, and maybe share some of the photos.

Mixing personal and professional

Phil Coomes | 11:04 UK time, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

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Blackpool Beach, 1982

Books on the English seem to be popular at present. Last month I looked at the landscape photography of Simon Roberts who captured the English at leisure and now there is a new volume to add to the shelf on the subject, England, My England by Chris Steele-Perkins.

It's a totally different approach. England, My England is a collection of pictures taken over the past 40 years by Chris and includes photographs drawn from a wide range of news stories and features, personal moments and long-term social projects including his much admired look at the Teddy Boys in the late 1970s.

The TedsI've been a long-time admirer of Chris' work. His book The Pleasure Principle, in which he explored public rituals in Thatcher's Britain, is often retrieved from the shelf, and even now, many years later, brings delight and a wry smile.

Through the years Chris has approached photography in many ways, from the black and white social commentary of the 1970s through to the more self -expressive images of Mount Fuji that were one of the finalists in this year's Prix Pictet awards.

For me though it's Chris' almost personal pictures that work so well. From the two pensioners dancing in 1973 through to the couples picnicking at Glyndebourne in 1988 he manages to capture some of the absurdities of life, yet without looking down or patronising his subjects.

On one level the pictures are remarkably simple. There are no clever techniques, weird angles, just good honest photography.

Picnic at Glyndebourne Opera, 1988In the introduction to England, My England David Elliott states:

"Funny stuff photography, it can trigger things you don't expect... This book is not a lament for the past, but merely a record and a celebration of some of the things he (Chris) has lived through, has been fascinated by, and survived."

A photographer never has a day off. A shot of Chris' friends and family on a walk in Kent shows a group of six people all clad in dark coats on a wet day, with one mysterious figure in the distance in red set against a verdant green hillside. Again it is a simple picture, but it snuggles alongside the other frames, and is part of the photographers' life so just as valid as something shot on assignment.

Perhaps the best example of this is the double-page spread that on one side shows a group of homeless men in Holborn, and on the other page a shot of his wife playing "pick sticks" with their son in a warm candle lit home. At first it seems to jar, but then you realise it's a very honest approach, one that many photographers find themselves in as they enter situations that are removed from their own lives to get a picture.

This clash of cultures is there on the page, without comment or judgement. As the title suggests, England, My England is more a story, a journey though a life in photography where every page takes the viewer in a new direction.

You can see a selection of pictures from the book in a gallery here.

All photographs © Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos. England, My England is published by Northumbria Press.

Your pictures of the week: Seven

Phil Coomes | 09:35 UK time, Thursday, 5 November 2009

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Your pictures of the week

It's time once more for a gallery of your pictures. This time we set a simple theme, the number seven, for you to interpret visually.

You can see the ones we have selected here.

The shot above is by Andy Peacock, who notes: "Seven?... can only be the dwarfs! They all enjoyed posing, but there was one that was a bit bashful!"

I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures and if you have any comments to make you can do so below.

Your pictures of the weekIf your picture didn't make this week's selection, why not send us something for next week?

The new theme is "Sparkle". Interpret this in any way you see fit and send your pictures to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk or upload them directly from your computer.

Please include the word "Sparkle" in the subject line of your message.

The deadline is midnight GMT Tuesday 10 November, and remember to add your name and a caption: who, what, where and when should be enough, though the more details you give, the better your chance of being selected.

We will publish a selection of your photos this time next week.

You can now see a list of the next four themes on this page which will be updated each week.

Files should be sent as JPEGs. They shouldn't be larger than 10Mb and ideally much smaller: around 1Mb is fine, or you can resize your pictures to 1,000 pixels across.

Please see our terms and conditions, but remember that the copyright remains with you. The pictures will only be used by the BBC for the purposes of this project. Finally, when taking photos, please do not endanger yourself or others, take unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

Last orders at the bar

Phil Coomes | 10:28 UK time, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

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Public house in Worksop by Chris Etchells

Photographer Chris Etchells has been working on a project called Last Orders At The Bar: The Demise Of The Great British Pub.

According to the British Beer and Pub Association, 52 pubs are closing each week and the figures for the first six months of 2009 show the rate of pub closure increased by a third, so Chris' photographic project is timely.

Chris feels that:

"Hidden amongst the demolition and dereliction are some architectural gems. Remember, just because something is broken doesn't mean it isn't beautiful. These photos are not an obituary for the British public house, but a petition against their decline written with homage to their lost charm."

You can see a selection of his pictures in a photo gallery here.

The project is ongoing and Chris hopes to exhibit the work and perhaps produce a book; for now, he's still gathering pictures and looking at the background to the closures.

Chris said:

"It's too easy too simply blame this decline on the recent credit crunch and ignore the other factors at work, the change in society for a start. The pub used to be the bastion of the working man.
 
"People socialise differently these days. The internet and social networking sites keep people in touch and up-to-date with their friend's daily news and gossip in a way that used to be served by socialising in the pub night after night.
 
"So are things really that bad? Is the glass half empty or half full? Not all licensed premises are faring so badly. Pubs that have diversified into offering food are able to buck the trend, being able to act more like restaurants with the added social aspect a pub brings. City centre bars seem to be prospering too, as are the ubiquitous chain pubs for obvious economic reasons."

I wish Chris well in his project: it's well-conceived and has a strong visual pull, so the final set should be engaging.

Photo-a-dayMy ongoing photo a day project on Kodachrome continues, and this week's picture is a street photo taken in London. A simple enough shot. The red/orange stripes in the window caught my eye and then I was lucky enough to spot this woman with red hair passing through the frame. You can read more about the project in my post from a few weeks ago.

As before, I'd love to hear from anyone who is shooting their own project, whatever the subject or format, digital or film, and I'll mention some of them as we go along. So if you'd like to be featured, send me an e-mail.

My next picture will be published here next Wednesday; in the meantime you can follow the daily set of pictures here.

Klein's Rome re-visited

Phil Coomes | 10:35 UK time, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

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Photo by William Klein

Once in a while, a photographer comes along and nudges photography in a new direction.

It may be a little simplistic to suggest that the history of photography runs smoothly or is something a simple timeline could illustrate. Though trends come and go, some stand the test of time. One photographer who helped define a decade was William Klein.

In the early 1990s, I attended a photographic course at the University of Westminster, or maybe it was still in its old guise as the Polytechnic of Central London. Anyway, the course was on documentary photography and was run by Gus Wylie.

Gus is a fine photographer himself whose books on the Hebrideans should be on the shelf of all lovers of black and white documentary work. I digress.

During the course Gus introduced me to many photographers, but one of his real "heroes" was William Klein, a photographer that until then I had not encountered.

The next day, I managed to pick up one Klein's books, Close-Up, in a second hand bookshop in Charing Cross Road. The title of that publication gives you a clue to his work, but it's not macro, it's just in your face.

Klein was born in New York in 1928, lived in Paris, and then moved back to the US where he published his book; Life Is Good And Good For You in 1956.

It was a ground breaking publication that would be the first in a series on cities. Klein wanted the book to feel as alive as the streets he photographed and employed graphic design, wide angles and right-in-the-face shots. There is no hiding from Klein's lens.

Later that year, Klein was in Paris at the same time as film director Federico Fellini. Klein rang Fellini's hotel and was put straight through, so riding his luck announced he had a new book out that he'd like to show him. Fellini told him to "come tomorrow at four".

That meeting led to Klein being offered the position as Fellini's assistant, though Klein was quick to point out that he had no "idea what an assistant did". It didn't seem to matter, and as it turned out Fellini had a number of assistants.

Photo by William KleinOnce in Rome, a series of problems led to filming being delayed, so Klein took to the streets with his camera in hand. He wasn't alone on his walk: Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia acted as his guide and sometimes appear in the pictures.

The resulting set of photographs was published in 1959 and now, 50 years later, it has been re-issued with a new look.

This time, Klein's Rome consists of two volumes: one contains the pictures that are run full-page with no captions, and the other holds some of the graphic design that appeared in the original version, alongside additional commentary by Klein and others.

In the foreword, Klein asks:

"How could I make photographic sense out of a city that I barely knew and where I hardly spoke the language? But that's the problem with photography in general. I was willing to take a shot... I soon found out that the Romans reacted to the camera much like New Yorkers. Everyone felt they deserved to be photographed, immortalized."

Klein's work is as fresh as ever. Turn the page and you can't be sure what you'll see: a shot of Rome's classical architecture or a stolen moment, faces pressed towards the lens, arms and limbs entering and exiting the frame at all angles.

Oh, and don't forget the film grain - lots of it, some caused by blowing up segments of negatives. Klein has sucked the light of Rome into his little black box.

Klein is having fun and his subjects are too; he is as much in the picture as they are. The pictures are not aggressive. Klein was open: his subjects know he's there with a camera and they welcome him. The pictures confirm that Rome is a beautiful city, with great light and gorgeous people.

The shots are not all straight street shots. Perhaps Klein's best known picture was taken for Vogue magazine. Klein recalls that when he was shown the dresses for the fashion shoot, he knew it had to be shot on the Piazza di Spagna. Klein took a telephoto lens up onto the steps of the Piazza and instructed the models to walk back and forth until they started to attract attention.

Klein's captions states:

"I was up on the steps with my camera; nobody saw me. Soon men began to think these girls were crazy hookers and they approached them and tried to feel their asses. The editor from Vogue started to get nervous, afraid there would be, if not a gang rape, at least a traffic jam. The girls continued, the men closed in, the editor panicked completely and signalled wildly to me that we must stop. So we did. She gathered the girls and saved them from a fate worse than death and that was it. A wrap. And maybe one of the best fashion photographs ever."

William Klein: Rome by William Klein is published by Thames & Hudson.

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