Tim Gander’s photography blog.

It was 20 years ago today (well, two weeks ago and more like 30 years, but now I’ve ruined the headline)

Good grief! It’s official! As of May 31st I’ve been a freelance photographer for 20 years!

If I’m honest, the anniversary rather passed me by as I was in the middle of various projects and assignments from which I have only this week started to emerge, blinking into the daylight. Hence it taking me two weeks to acknowledge the milestone at all.

So, gosh, what does one say at such a momentous time? And don’t forget, I was a staff photographer before that (and freelance before that again) and have been a professional photographer for 30 years now, so even I have to admit that’s some kind of achievement.

Rather than celebrating with a cake, I marked the occasion by doing my VAT return and accounts. I mean, what could be more rock ‘n roll than that?

What this anniversary does beg me to do is look back and expand on the lessons I’ve learned over the years. Well alrighty then.

Any photographer who has been going more than a decade will tell you they’ve had to weather a lot of storms and I have to say I’m sometimes amazed (and not a little grateful) that I’ve not only weathered them, but by many standards done pretty well.

Plenty of photographers have fallen by the wayside in the face of everything that’s been thrown at us, starting with news publishers making early (and often fateful) decisions to cut back the expensive parts of their businesses – journalism and photography.

Then came THE INTERNET and everything got turned on its head, not all of it especially constructive it has to be said, but increasingly I’m finding that there’s a return to basic principles which the internet and digital photography cannot change.

Indeed I’ve been feeling increasingly positive since the darkest days of the global recession when it looked like lack of client budget, the rise of micro-payment stock image sites and a general willingness to abuse copyright would conspire to terminate my industry altogether. There were certainly plenty of voices proclaiming the death of photography, yet I feel we’re at the start of a resurgence now.

A new respect for high quality, creative, original, unique photography means that simply by having stuck to my principles, not only do I find new clients regularly searching me out, but regular clients repeatedly returning for more work.

All this means I also have the capacity to feed my other passions; personal projects, documentary, working with film and exploring new ideas. The biggest lesson is, I believe, that sticking to my principles and passions has been what’s kept me going.

And then comes the inevitable question, “what about the next 20 years, Tim?”

I have no crystal ball, but I’m positive I’ll still be working hard as a photographer right up until ill health or the ultimate full stop mean I can no longer hold a camera. Who knows? That could be 30 or even 40 years from now, but it’s possible I’ll not be blogging by then. Perhaps you’ll hear about that milestone through some other medium yet to be invented, maybe through the cerebral implant we’ll all be fitted with by then.

Inspiration from a Skip

Unbeknownst to all but my inner circle of close advisers, friends, family, the guy on the checkout at my local Lidl and some random strangers in the street, I’ve been working on a top secret photo project which I can now reveal to you.

Skip Art is the title of a new series of pictures created as an appetiser to a major new exhibition, The Chemistry of Bronze, starting on Saturday 26th May (preview evening on Friday 25th – open to all!) and running until July 15th at Black Swan Arts gallery in Frome.

The Chemistry of Bronze will feature pieces by established UK artists as well as tools, illustrations and demonstrations explaining the bronze casting process by local foundry Art of a Fine Nature.

My involvement in the project came about when I was approached by the the exhibition curator and ceramic artist Hans Borgonjon to see if I’d be interested in creating a set of images to be displayed in the areas leading to the main exhibition hall which would be an appetiser to the main exhibition.

The idea intrigued me, so off I went to the foundry to have a look around and see what pictures I could make. My brief was wide open except for one caveat; I couldn’t directly illustrate the process of bronze casting as this would be thoroughly explained inside the main gallery.

Foundry owner Jon showed me the various areas of the workshop; the racks of rubber moulds, the workshop where the wax models are readied for encasing, the room where ceramic powder is built up over the wax models and the furnace in which the models are cast.

All the while I was having a mild panic inside, thinking this is all very lovely, but whatever I photograph will just look like an illustration of the process of making a bronze and I can’t show that!

Then Jon showed me the skip into which all the pieces of ceramic casing are swept once they’ve been broken from the cast bronze objects. He reached in and picked out a fragment to show me, and there was the impression of a gecko’s foot. I thought it was cute, but didn’t think much more about it until the middle of the night when I was lying in bed trying to come up with an angle on the project.

The image of the gecko’s foot kept swimming into my mind and it suddenly struck me that this was my angle.

So a day or two later I went back to the skip. Jon issued me with rubber gloves and a mug of tea and I spent the next couple of hours skip diving for interesting looking fragments in amongst the ceramic dust and rubble, picking out anything which had an interesting impression left on its surface. I was silently cursing myself that I hadn’t already kept the gekko foot and assumed it was lost forever in the bottom of the skip.

I’d pulled quite a few interesting pieces from the skip and was thinking of calling it a day when I decided to have one more look in an un-promising corner of the skip. That’s when I found the gecko’s foot Jon had shown me as well as the second, smaller foot you see in the photo. I was happy now and could go and make the photos.

The next few blog posts will reveal more about the project and the exhibition and keep you informed of progress as we head to towards the launch evening, so do watch this space.

 

Is your photographer GDPReady?

With the Facebook data scandal still simmering in the headlines, most people will assume that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into effect on May 25th only applies to large organisations, but it also affects a great many photographers. In particular it impacts on those, like me, who regularly photograph people for business websites, press releases, social media and so on.

In a rather large nutshell, anyone who handles data has to get their house in order and register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) before the deadline or face sanctions. I’ve registered, paid the annual fee, and I’m going through the data I have to ensure it’s secure and compliant.

What this largely means for me is that I need to work through my client galleries removing old ones or ensuring they’re not accessible to anyone except the client. I also need to make updates to my website to ensure people have an understanding of what GDPR means in relation to my work and how I handle their data.

Some galleries are publicly shared because I’ve been asked to make them so, but even then I’ll be looking at closing access to the oldest ones. All this is going to take some time as I’ve been running the system for many years now, but as I add more client work to the delivery system I’ll be making sure it’s only visible to those who need to see it. The only exception to this will be where the person I’ve photographed has given permission for me to allow their images to be searchable.

There is a slight conflict around all this in that as a photographer I should have the right to use my work to promote myself, otherwise clients needing my services won’t be able to find me, but I have to balance this with keeping and handling personal data (a face coupled with a name and place of work for example) in a responsible manner.

There are ways of making all this work, but it’s going to take more than a few weeks to really hone it. Thankfully, for the most part, my entire back catalogue of digital work dating back 18 years isn’t stored online or I think I’d have a mental breakdown at the enormity of the task. While I use cloud storage to deliver images to clients and to allow them to have an online database of the images I’ve shot for them, all my original work is backed up to off-line hard drives which keeps them secure from a data breach point of view.

The other good news is that the personal work I undertake, such as the current Saxonvale project, falls under the artistic exemption of GDPR. Of course this doesn’t mean I can be slap-dash with peoples’ personal data, but because of its nature it’s less prone to result in either a complaint or an investigation by the ICO.

Even so, I have taken images for that project which will only ever see light of day in print form because they’re too sensitive to be shared online, and that raises an interesting question about the future of photography; will we find the internet a less useful space for getting important stories out if there’s a risk of a data breach in publishing online?

Only with a few judgements behind us on data breach cases will we build a true picture of what is or is not a breach of GDPR because it’s not entirely clear from the regulation text itself given the multitude of potential scenarios. In the meantime, I’ll do all I can to keep within the rules.

To be honest, it’s mostly just common sense and courtesy and of course you’ll want to make sure any photographer you work with is compliant. Well now you know of at least one photographer who is working towards that goal.

On My Hobby Horse

When a professional musician isn’t gigging or recording, they’ll be practicing; running up and down the scales, trying new techniques, working on pieces they may have to (or would like to) perform some time. When they do this, we don’t consider them to be indulging in a hobby, it’s just part of being a professional.

Professional photographers also need to practice between gigs. Of course we can’t sit in a room or studio and just run up and down the shutter speeds on the camera for an hour or two. We have to find pictures to take, pictures which stretch our abilities and keep our brains photographically sharp. That’s where the personal project comes in, at least for me.

I’m not very good at just going out with a camera and taking random photos. In particular I’m not very good at photographing pretty scenes just for the pleasure of it. I have to find a theme and work to that, but sometimes when I’m doing this I’m told “It’s nice you still have photography as a hobby.”

Ok, I’m not massively irked by this kind of reaction. It’s understandable when photography is such a hugely popular hobby. I’m even aware of people who think that being a professional photographer is simply a case of translating one’s hobby into paid work. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy meeting people and taking pictures for businesses, but I’m not sure I’d spend a day taking head shots against a white backdrop just for the giggles.

However, this mode of thinking ignores the possibility that a personal project has the potential to turn into something with a value beyond just being practice between gigs. Currently I have a number of projects on the go which pay nothing up-front, but about which I’m hugely excited and I hope will excite other people too, once they come to fruition.

The problem could be in the term “personal work” or “personal project” which implies I’m only taking the pictures for my personal photo album, but it’s the term most widely recognised by photographers and publishers to mean a project which is exploring an idea without having a defined end point or deadline, or a pre-determined place for publication.

For now at least we have to stick with the term, so perhaps I should just get off my hobby horse and await the day when the terms are more widely understood and photography between gigs is recognised as having a value.

It’s fair to say that over the last year or two, my actual hobbies (cycling, playing guitar) have been rather squeezed out of my life by my personal photo essay work. It’s up to me to re-adjust that balance, but photography is definitely not my hobby.

Analogue Dialogue

Yes, I’m back to talking about film. Except this time I’m talking about me talking about film, so it’s all getting a bit meta as people like to say these days.

Getting to the point, after I had an article posted on Petapixel back in January this year, I got an email from Bill Manning at Studio C-41 asking if I’d like to do an interview with him for their podcast. The opportunity for me to talk about myself? Well of course I didn’t say no!

Studio C-41, based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is a fun and informative regular podcast (available on iTunes and through the C-41 website) which discusses news, developments, ideas and artists mainly, though not exclusively, involved in analogue film photography. It’s worth having a listen if you want to know what’s going on, and more especially if you want to hear hep cats like myself spouting forth on the subject.

Well rather than me writing a load of words about me talking a load of words, head over to the podcast and hear my pearls of wisdom for yourself. It is 39 minutes long, so you might want to arm yourself with a cup of tea and a packet of digestive biscuits. Here’s the link for you.

 

A Helpful Guide

How many public relations and corporate communications photographers do you know who publish their rates online? I bet you often have to dig around on their websites, discover there is no fees information there, then have to email them and wait for a reply before you can even start to get a feel for their rates. And since you’re going to get a few estimates in, this process can really slow you down.

Several years ago I made the decision to simplify life for my clients and myself.

My fees guide is based on the fees I tend to charge for the services I tend to be asked to undertake. Before this I was often spending time putting estimates together only to discover that around 90% of the time they were the same as I’d quoted another client for a near-identical job. So why not save myself the trouble and save my clients’ time and just publish what I pretty much know I’ll charge for any given time frame for the work I typically do?

Of course not every client needs exactly the same thing, but the fees I set are a guide and as such are adaptable to most scenarios. It’s often not much more than a tweak here or there to get to a final fee. What this also means is that by having guide fees published online my clients are happier knowing that I’ve based my final fees on a foundation which they’ve already seen.

This instils confidence that I’m not just plucking figures out of the air depending on what I think I can shake out of a client’s purse. Also, the client who doesn’t want to budget for the quality and service I offer can save themselves the time of contacting me when really they want someone who’ll do a much cheaper job (it’s true! such clients exist!)

So next time you’re scouting for a photographer to undertake some PR or corporate work for you, if you’re lucky enough to need someone in the Bristol/Bath/ area, at least you know of one photographer who’s open and up-front about their rates. I’ll be happy to hear from you!

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

Just when I thought my Saxonvale project might come to an end it seems it’s not over yet.

My original plan was to shoot the project until either my original stock of expired film ran out, or when the site got cleared or developed. Well the site got partially cleared and I’m down to the last few rolls of film, so it would have made sense to bring the project to a close.

However, the site is still accessible and the story is still developing as a couple of “tenants” have moved onto an area which has yet to be cleared and secured, and so rather than reaching a conclusion, the story has simply evolved.

Because of this I took the decision that I wasn’t prepared to let my film supply run out just yet. I put out a plea on a Facebook group for photographers and one in particular, a notable veteran of documentary photography David Hoffman, came forward with a very generous offer to help. This morning an intriguing mixed box of film arrived which should keep me going for quite some time yet!

There’s a freezer drawer at home which was starting to look rather empty, well it’s about to get indigestion.

Allied Gs

 

It may or may not be news to you that Google have come to an agreement with Getty Images which allows the search engine giant to use images from the Getty library across its products and services.

It may not even interest you to know this, but it would seem that behind the hand shake there are other movements which will have consequences for both image creators and users, and I’m cautiously optimistic that the changes will be positive.

Getty had issued a legal claim, an antitrust lawsuit, against Google because of the way the search engine returned high-resolution images in search results which allowed users to download Getty images without having to visit the Getty site. The same deal happens for individual photographers whenever someone searches for images. The result is, fewer visits to a site and greater ease for an unscrupulous organisation or individual to download and re-use images without payment, permission or acknowledgement for the photographer.

A couple of things seem to be happening here, though the full details are not especially clear, but on one level it would seem that Google have committed to making it harder for people to unknowingly or unwittingly download and publish images which are copyright-protected and at the same time put searchers back in touch with the creators of the material they find.

At the same time, the Google/Getty deal means Getty will be paid for Google to use images held by them (Getty) in their (Google) products and services. It strikes me that this licensing deal could amount to Google simply paying Getty a sweetener in return for being allowed to show Getty images in search results; a sort of retainer, if you will.

I very much hope that this move by Google means they’ll be working towards a more creative-friendly business model, one which is more sympathetic towards photographers and more understanding of how the way Google’s systems work has a direct impact on creators.

It’s unusual for me to write about Google and Getty in such positive terms, but credit (and bylines) where credit’s due, this does seem like a great opportunity for Getty to do something positive for the wider professional photographer community and for Google to reciprocate in a very constructive way.

For my part, this isn’t simply about protecting my own copyright, but also about protecting my clients’ images against unscrupulous exploitation, something which hasn’t always been easy to do. Let’s hope that task just got easier.

Niall on a par with Parr

It isn’t often I get to see the launch of a new photographic exhibition. I either seem to be working, or have other family commitments, or it’s too far away, but yesterday evening was a real treat as it brought together two very excellent photographic forces in one space and time.

Niall McDiarmid’s Town to Town exhibition launched at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, and this was too good an opportunity to miss and I’m glad I didn’t.

First of all there’s the Foundation itself. There are highly regarded photographers who have achieved great success without necessarily putting anything back into the profession. Of course this isn’t a prerequisite of success, but it’s wonderful when someone of Martin Parr’s renown decides to set up a foundation and an exhibition space dedicated to photography which includes facilities for research, teaching and more importantly the patronage of photographers who don’t get the exposure they deserve.

All these principles are at the heart of what the Martin Parr Foundation is about, and this is such a rare thing in the world of photography that it can only be a force for good. That it’s in Bristol rather than the capital (Parr lives in Bristol and clearly loves the city) is an added bonus as London is already well-served with gallery space.

Town to Town is drawn from many years’ work by Niall, who has travelled the UK in search of the diversity and colour which makes up our society today. You can read more about the exhibition and Niall’s work here, but it’s clear from seeing this work that in an era when documentary photography often struggles for an outlet and recognition, it’s incredibly important that our society is documented.

We all live in our social bubbles, online and in real life, and seeing such colour and diversity reminds us that other people live lives which may be different to our own, but with many of the same hopes and dreams which we carry too.

If you do manage to get along to the exhibition (entry is free and it’s easy access from Bristol Temple Meads station) you’ll be rewarded with an astonishing array of characters all captured with Niall’s subtle eye for colour and detail. There’s a definite formula to his photos but the uniform approach, broken only occasionally, simply reinforces the fact (to me at least) that all our differences are what make us all so similar.

Oh and it was a delight to see Martin Parr there (he doesn’t know me, but I did a cross-the-room man greeting* and he responded in the universally accepted way**), and I also managed a quick word with Niall who is just such a humble being and deserves a great deal of recognition for his work. And before anyone says it, no he’s not the new Martin Parr; he is Niall McDiarmid.

*A mimed “alright?” with a nod and a smile. When walking around Frome, this is a common greeting between males who don’t know each other.

** A mimed “yup” or similar with corresponding nod and smile as above.

Slave to the Algorithm

Photographing events doesn’t get more funner (new word) than when I’m left to get on and be a fly on the wall, and the NWERC is a fine example of an event packed with opportunities for any keen-eyed, camera-toting fly.

Now, rather than me trying to specify the essence of the event, and getting it horribly mangled, how about I let the event speak for itself. From the NWERC website,

“The Northwestern Europe Regional Contest (NWERC) is a contest in which teams from universities all over the Northwestern part of Europe are served a series of algorithmic problems. The goal of each team is to solve as many problems as possible within the 5 hour time limit.”

Got it? Good, but what’s my role in the event? Well obviously to generate photos which can be used by the event organisers, host and participating universities in order to generate publicity for future years’ events.

My main task is to capture the runners-up and winning team as they take to the stage once all the scores are in, which is all good fun in and of itself, but the bit I really enjoy is when I’m roaming the hall during the last hour or so of the coding time.

That’s when the teams are either at their most ecstatic or at their wits end. Last November’s event was the second year running I got the commission, so I knew what to expect and where to go for the best images.

Starting with a fairly spectacular scene showing the sports hall packed with aching brains, I then made my way to ground level to get in amongst the coders and record the triumphs and tragedies as they waged war with algorithmic problems.

And if you’re wondering what’s with all the balloons, a team would receive one each time the automated scoring system detected they’d cracked a problem. You can imagine the pressure of seeing other teams amassing more balloonage (another new word) than yours. I thought some of the teams were ready to float off!

Sadly for me the event isn’t happening in Bath this year, but it may return another year. If it does, I’ll be ready and waiting to get my wings buzzing and my segmented eyes trained back on the subject. As long as I don’t go completely Geoff Golblum, I’ll enjoy being a fly on the wall once again.