Back from Bologna

I took a little break! Well, it was partly a break but also a great opportunity to do some personal photography work too.

My wife, Helen, is a freelance musician and she had a gig come up in the Italian city of Bologna, which I highly recommend if you haven’t already been.

So we took the opportunity to travel out together because we’ve not really had a break this year, and while Helen rehearsed I was able to take to my feet with a couple of film cameras to explore the city and find themes to develop.

I’ve no idea if the images I shot will come to anything as I’ve not had time to process the films yet, but I needed to be somewhere other than home, exploring new possibilities and just clicking the shutter to get my brain cells working creatively once more.

Had I been purely a tourist I would have done all the touristy things (though I did make the hike to the Basilica St Luca which gives excellent views over the city), but I prefer to see a place as its inhabitants see it, so I was quickly off the well-trodden hot-spots and finding myself in the grittier student quarters; Bologna boasts Europe’s oldest, continuous university.

Bologna is a very lively city, helped on this occasion by the Feast of St Petronius (also the reason for Helen’s gig) which brings crowds of devoted Catholic visitors to the city, which seemed to coincide with a large number of university graduations.

We had less than a week there and I found my interest flitting from the abstract to tourist activity to the bustling night life. It was more of a mental/creative workout than a structured approach with a particular theme in mind. If I’d had longer I could see themes and stories I would have liked to have pursued, but maybe that will be a good excuse for a return visit.

I’m just attaching a selection of phone snaps to this post, but I hope to make some of the film work available in future.

In the meantime, SALUTE!

Going Underground

Last week I was commissioned to take pictures in one of the most challenging locations I think I have ever had to work; Wookey Hole caves. Bear in mind, I’ve worked within the Arctic Circle, at the top of a 100ft hospital incineration chimney and from the deck of a helicopter over The Solent, but in terms of technical challenge I think this takes the prize.

The client was Somerset Art Works (SAW), organisers of Somerset Art Weeks Festival, a fortnight of open studios and events across Somerset. My job was to get photos of the launch event, but due to restrictions imposed by Wookey Hole I couldn’t use flash (it would disturb the bats) and by the artist (I couldn’t release my shutter during the live audio recording of the art work), I had to get everything I could during set-up and rehearsal.

There were some lights which the team had set up, but there was really only one that was usable for me, so I made the most of it and concentrated on getting shots of the choir as they rehearsed. I also had to get shots of guests and speeches, and there was a lot of help from mobile phone torches to make that even remotely possible.

For this gallery I’ve chosen a few of the choir photos because they’re the strongest standalone images from the set.

For full details, see the SAW Facebook page, from which I’m quoting their post:

Somerset Art Weeks Festival launched last Friday (20 September) evening at Wookey Hole Caves with new work by Ben Rivers, with the opening speech by Arts Council England Chief Executive, Darren Henley. Thanks to Somerset Film at The Engine RoomArts Council England Wookey Hole Caves team for making this possible, and to everyone at the event for supporting us.

Somerset Art Weeks until 6 October. Celebrating 25th year. https://somersetartworks.org.uk/artweeks

Bunker Mentality

It’s been a couple of weeks since my previous post so I thought I should update you on happenings at Gander HQ.

Because life isn’t hectic enough already I’ve decided to start a building refurbishment project with a view to moving my office from the studio I’ve been sharing for (I think) eight years now to what is essentially a 1950s concrete bunker at my home.

This structure is what would have been the laundry room, coal bunker and outside toilet when the house was built. The loo is still there and functional, the coal bunker is where we store timber for DIY projects, and the laundry room is what will become the new hub of my vast empire.

I’ve taken the decision to do it up and move my office in for a number of reasons: I fancy a change, I need space where I can carry out projects, film digitisation etc without disturbing other people, the bunker itself will slowly rot if I do nothing with it and I reckon after a year or two I’ll be quids-in and not paying rent anymore.

Of course I’ll miss the lovely office colleagues and the banter, but there will also be something liberating about not feeling obliged to use an office just because I’m paying rent on it. My plan will be to get out more and spend more time taking pictures for personal projects and also investing the rent money saved in those projects too.

This is all happening while shooting paid gigs and also trying (currently failing) to get going on personal work, but there is something immensely satisfying in doing the conversion work myself. It’s a bit of a race against time this week as I have just two days before it’s due to rain again and I’ve a job on one of those days!

Anyway, this is why I’ve not been blogging so much, but don’t worry! I haven’t forgotten you and I’m hopeful the sacrifice will be worth it in the end.

Nothing to do with photography. An Essay.

This article is apropos of absolutely nothing to do with photography, but it’s an idea I’ve been thinking of committing to words for some time now.

If you’re a driver, or interested in technology, or the environment, you might find this an interesting read. You’ll be the judge. I warn you though, it’s not a short piece, so get the coffee and biscuits ready. Maybe a sleeping bag too.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave for the last few decades you’ll know that the environment is under pressure as never before, and that if we do nothing to address this we will all end up living under rocks or in caves.

We know our driving habits are just one aspect of modern life which needs to change. While the bogeyman du jour is diesel, petrol cars are at least as bad for the environment and simply replacing our diesel/petrol cars with electric isn’t going to solve the issue of energy consumption. It might push pollution out of our towns and cities, but it’ll still be a major factor in climate change.

What the environment needs is a massive shift in how we own and use cars and how we travel.

Most people seem to be of the view that the future lies in simply switching from one form of propulsion to another, that whatever car they have now, they will one day switch to an electric version of it and this will solve everything, but this simply isn’t radical enough. It doesn’t look far enough ahead and as I’ve already said, it doesn’t address the fundamental issues affecting the environment or climate change.

I won’t go into too much detail about why this simple switch isn’t enough, we already know the problems caused by battery production, electricity generation, life-span maintenance and eventual disposal. Instead I want to focus on how radically our private transport solutions will change in order to make an effective impact on the health of our planet.

Ok, so we know we need to make fewer journeys by car, and we need to make those journeys more effective, so how about if we start from scratch? I mean literally from a point where nobody owns a car?

That’s not such a radical idea. Figures for 2016 show 86% of new cars were bought under personal contract purchase (PCP) agreements. In other words, only 14% of drivers owned the (new) cars they paid for. The rest had them on plans under which the car was effectively owned by the dealership.

That’s the first step towards a new way of motoring. How about taking it a step further, and instead of motorists paying hundreds of £s a month for a car they don’t own, they pay for a contract plan which allows them to use the car they need, when they need it, without ever keeping the same car from one journey to the next?

That’s a taxi isn’t it? Well no it isn’t, at least not in the way I’m thinking.

Here’s the next piece of the jigsaw puzzle: We all know about driverless vehicles (DVs), but at the moment they seem like space-age technology and we’ll never live long enough to see them in common use. You know, like computers were never going to be widely owned. Or “radio telephones”. Believe me, just like those old technologies which we assumed would never hit the mass market, DVs will be everywhere before we know it.

What you probably currently think though is that one day you might own an electrically-powered DV. Actually, I don’t believe you will. Ok, some of you will own one because you don’t have the imagination to see a life where you don’t keep a car you chose personally in front of your house, but you’ll probably be a minority with money to waste on things you don’t need.

So how does this utopian dream work?

Let’s say you need a car to get to work. This might be a regular commute, or (like me) an irregular commute at irregular times and almost always to a different location. It actually doesn’t matter because the electric DV (let’s call them EDVs) will pick you up according to your schedule requirements and take you wherever you need to go. It’s still sounding like a driverless taxi, but stay with me.

Unlike a taxi, there will be a few fundamental differences; as I say, there won’t be a driver, but also the car will be exactly the right size for your requirements and if your requirements change, a more suitable vehicle will be along in a just a minute to take you to your next destination.

Let me elaborate: You book the car you need using an app. If it’s just you commuting, you book a 1-seater car. If a few people need a car on the same route at the same time, the app will offer to send a larger share car for a discount. You take your pick.

Let’s say you get to your initial destination and decide you need a larger vehicle – maybe you need one which carries more people, or one which ‘could’ carry more people, but you need to flatten the seats to take a long load, well just get on the app and within minutes of booking, a replacement EDV will come along. The first EDV you booked will go off to the next person who needs it.

One of the problems with owning a car is that it’s often the wrong shape or size for what you need. Most of us drive around with 4 or 5 empty seats in our cars, but with the scheme I’ve outlined above, we could save car space, energy and road space by only driving a car of the size we need for any specific journey.

Indeed the shapes of cars in a driverless, fully-electric world could be very radically different. How about just one rear-facing seat? Or a circular cabin for 4 or 6 people? For long journeys, what about a car you can bed down and sleep in?

In a properly driverless world, cars which can’t crash can be designed in a much wider variety of shapes. They can be made from much lighter materials because they won’t need crumple zones or side impact protection bars. The full range of possibilities is beyond imagination right now.

Also in this wonderful future you are freed from loan plans, fuel costs, servicing, MoTs, insurance, or having to spend weekends washing a car which is rapidly depreciating outside your house.

And that’s another thing; as a percentage of the time you own a car, how much of that time does it spend idle outside your house, your place of work, or even at the shops? I can’t calculate an accurate figure, but for most of us it’s got to be around 75% or more unless you’re sharing your car with someone else who drives it at night when you’re asleep.

That’s a ridiculous amount of time to have something you’re paying several hundred £s a month for just to be sitting around doing nothing. I hear business people and politicians banging on about efficiency, well where’s the efficiency in that?

So an EDV you don’t own will be more efficient, because the minute you no longer need it, it can go and be useful to someone else. Even at night.

Now imagine if most of us switched to “communal” EDVs and got rid of our cars. Suddenly the number of vehicles cluttering up our kerbsides, drives and car parks would reduce massively. There would be the occasional EDV, but we’d see our streets again. We could re-shape them, plant them up, re-plan one-way streets to make the most of what we have.

Our streets would be safer for pedestrians and cyclists too. In fact, more people would choose to walk and cycle precisely because it would be safer to do so, and because the air would be sweeter to breathe.

Returning to the question of the environment, ask yourself which would be better: Millions of electric cars being built to replace the cars we own as individuals, or EDVs only being manufactured in numbers sufficient to meet real need? If not everyone is driving all the time (and no one is), we only need sufficient vehicles to service the journeys actually made, not to have them sitting doing nothing.

The savings in steel, alloys, plastics, glass, batteries and so on would be enormous, as would the savings in energy because EDVs would only be charged when they needed it. I bet a lot of electric vehicle owners find themselves having to top-up charge simply because the car has been sitting idle for long periods between journeys.

Of course all this will require a great deal of re-adjustment in individual thinking. We’d all have to give up the desire to own our cars. Some of us would already do this gladly, if given the opportunity, but I suspect there are many who still believe that the environment is someone else’s problem and they will cling to car ownership for as long as legislation allows them to. For the rest of us I imagine a very sudden switch from ownership to contract plan fuelled by the biggest scrappage scheme ever undertaken.

There will always be classic cars which people will want to keep (those Maestros and Cavaliers with their nostalgic tug back to the 1980s…) and I get that, but they’ll be such a minority that their environmental impact will become minimal. And eventually, once fuel becomes too scarce or expensive, they’ll eventually be permanently garaged; preserved in aspic or gently rotting away.

Likewise there will be every specialist vehicle from ambulances to ice cream vans for which a shared EDV equivalent won’t exist. Again, these are a minority on our roads, so losing everything except them will still mean a great environmental gain.

There would of course be great societal upheavals too. Taxi drivers would be a thing of the past. Traditional car mechanics will have a dwindling trade. We won’t need as many car parks. There will be economic impacts I can’t even begin to imagine, but as ever, this won’t stop progress.

My hope is that this might be one form of progress which, rather than crushing all that went before with no tangible benefit to mainstream society, will bring benefits to far more people as well as the environment itself.

One thing is for sure though; just replacing what we do now with a slightly shinier version which runs on a battery isn’t going to solve the issues we face. We’re going to have to think far more radically than that, and we’re going to have to be quick about it too. The question is, do we have the imagination and the will, and can we do it before it’s too late?

Backup! Backup!

Have you ever lost precious photographs? Some treasured family photos which you accidentally erased, or can only find on an unreadable hard drive? It’s a fear I share, except for me it’s not the photos of personal memories I worry about so much as the corporate website or brochure photos I’ve taken.

Perhaps worry is too strong a word, but it’s true that the minute I’ve finished taking photos for a client, I start taking precautions to ensure the safety of the photos.

Much of my work could be re-shot in the event of a disaster, but think of the inconvenience for my clients to have to re-organise colleagues for a head shot session. It will have been difficult enough to coordinate diaries the first time around; it might prove even trickier the second time. Other events are impossible to re-stage, which means image security is even more critical.

For starters, let’s take the journey back to the office. If I need to stop at a service station (or anywhere) on the way home, I’ll make sure I remove the memory cards from the cameras and take them with me. The same goes for any occasion on which I need to leave my car unattended. In the event of a break-in, all my kit is covered, but I don’t want my client’s photos stolen too.

Once I get back to base I’ll transfer the images from the memory cards and onto my laptop. I duplicate them onto an external hard drive too, so if the laptop suddenly dies I’ve already got one backup copy of the work.

I’ll do my captions and edits on the laptop version, but once that’s done I re-write the work to the external drive again. I then back up the external drive to a duplicate drive before erasing the job from my laptop. In the meantime, I’ll upload the edited high-resolution jpeg files to Photoshelter, which is where my clients access the files from.

At this point I’ll format the camera memory cards ready for the next job, but as you can see, by this stage the image files always exist in at least two places, with the high-res jpegs providing a third backup should both my external drives fail/go up in smoke.

For additional security the primary external hard drive stays at the office and the backup version comes home with me, so in the event of flood, fire, burglary, act of God, I should (SHOULD) be safe in the knowledge that one copy will always survive whatever disaster befalls the other.

All of this means that not only have I minimised the risk of not being able to deliver client images in the first instance, but that should the client subsequently lose the work, I should be able to re-supply it promptly.

Of course if a massive Solar flare strikes Earth, all my hard drives will get wiped. But then so will most of the internet and our energy supplies, water and transport… in fact modern life as we know it will come to a sudden halt and the army will be on the streets fighting pitched battles in a zombie apocalypse.

Some things you just can’t guard against.

Real People in a Digital World

When I think of the kinds of businesses which rely on stock images to illustrate their websites, I’d probably place IT support companies quite high in the table. I mean they’re into digital, noughts and ones and code, which has nothing to do with the real world, right? Well not really, but that helps explain why so may IT websites look the same – slick, but ultimately sterile.

Perhaps this is because IT companies don’t normally perceive that their clients would be interested in seeing anything beyond the service offer and price structure. Perhaps they don’t think personality is important, but as Jules says in Pulp Fiction, “Personality goes a long way”.

Ok, so Jules ends up machine-gunned to death on the toilet, but don’t let that put you off showing your personality! Sorry, this went downhill quickly. Let’s get back on track.

Certainly if you’re happy to run your business without properly engaging with your clients, I don’t recommend spending money on anything other than cheap stock photos, but one recent job reminded me that businesses with a positive culture will always benefit from featuring their own people in their website photography.

Netitude is a business which has grown fairly rapidly and is still expanding. Given it’s based in my home town of Frome, not known (yet) as the Silicone Valley of Somerset, Netitude is one of those business which most locals probably aren’t all that aware of, but which is doing remarkable things within its sector.

When the marketing assistant Lily got in touch the broad brief was to spend some time in their office working through a series of images to illustrate various areas of their website which needed a refresh. All the photos would feature real members of staff in genuine roles, not models pretending to do what Netitude does and not in an office potentially 1,000s of miles way.

The character of the businesses also shows through the images because the culture within Netitude is such that everyone I photographed knew why I was there and how to present themselves – friendly, approachable and professional. This character and culture is so important when communicating with current and potential clients.

Now rather than showing you a gallery of the images I came away with, I think it says far more to show the results in context which is why I’m showing a selection of screengrabs here. Alternatively, head over to the Netitude website for more information on what they do.

If you’re in the IT sector, don’t hide behind a bland website. It doesn’t matter what service people buy, they buy from people and if they can see your team, this helps build confidence. Of course I’ll be happy to discuss your options, so drop me a line any time via tim@timgander.co.uk.

The Need for Speed

It’s been a few years since my last major website redesign, but my current site appears to be working very well for me. Clients seem to like the simplicity and ease of access, so I see little point in making any design revisions for now.

However what I have become aware of over the last few months has been a gradual, but noticeable, slow-down in loading speed and that, I think, isn’t good enough so I’ve spent some time tackling that this week.

I know my clients are busy people, and a new client looking to find out more about me doesn’t have time to sit there waiting for the homepage to load. They may be looking for a photographer with my style, skills and qualities, but if they can’t get in to see the work, they may never find out what I can do for them.

So I’ve worked with a colleague to do some behind-the-scenes tidying up and optimisation, and I have to say the difference it’s made has been quite startling. It’s possible, depending on how you came to this blog article, that you will have noticed too.

There are still a few more tweaks I need to make; optimising key images is probably the main one, but also as I update and replace images I’ll be fixing those issues by default.

On which note, what I hope to do next is give the content a bit of a polish. Again, it’s been a little while since I updated the galleries with more recent work. I try to keep on top of this, but what with corporate jobs, admin and launching my fine art print site takeagander.co.uk I’ve had to prioritise tasks.

I’m always grateful for feedback, especially from business clients who are always my priority when it comes to setting out how the website works, so do feel free to throw bouquets or brickbats my way so I know how I can do things better.

After all, this website doesn’t exist to massage my ego; it’s there for you, the business client, to find out quickly, easily and with high quality presentation what my photography can do for your business.

Storms Now, but Storms Ahead Too?

Two nights ago we experienced the weirdest lightning storm anyone seems to remember witnessing. I had only seen something similar once, about 30 years ago in Germany, but even that was nothing compared to this more recent event.

Accompanied with Biblical rain, for almost an hour lightning lit up the night sky with astonishing frequency with BBC Weather reporting some 48,000 strikes nationally. It never struck Earth in my bit of Somerset, it was all cloud-to-cloud, which is what made it and its accompanying Hollywood thunder noise all the more eerie.

It happened to be the day we learned Boris Johnson was to be our new prime minister, and some speculated that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were about to burst through the clouds and lay waste to all that lay before them.

Of course politics and the weather are not so closely related. Setting aside political decisions which might cause or reduce global warming over generations, we can safely say this lightning storm and Bojo’s appointment are not that intertwined. However, as metaphors go its timing could not have been better.

So what of this new political future? Are we moving to the sunny uplands? Or hurtling towards a terrible storm? Anyone who knows my politics will be aware that I happen to believe Brexit is a very bad idea (putting it both mildly and diplomatically). However, it seems that’s where we are headed and whether we are inners or outers, we’re going to have to deal with whatever Brexit means.

It’s practically impossible to know how Brexit will affect my business. I know it will affect a great many people whose work takes them regularly in and out of the EU and their futures more than mine will rely on a sensible deal being reached about freedom of travel. For my part, looking back at my books over the period during which we were meant to leave, I’d say the uncertainty has definitely affected the willingness of businesses to press ahead with new projects. It’s been a real stop/start year so far.

Perhaps with a definite date in mind clients will feel better able to plan for October 31st and freer to make investment or expansion decisions. Sadly I suspect there is still a great deal of doubt about what Brexit will ACTUALLY mean. For all Mr Johnson’s energetic promises, he still has to deliver what Theresa May couldn’t and it still might not be the Brexit some people had in mind (while still managing to be the Brexit many never wanted).

I worry about the effect Brexit will have on those who have less control over their lives and fewer resources to deal with any negative consequences. I also know business will carry on one way or another. What is absolutely certain though is that nobody, not even Boris Johnson, has any real idea what to expect on the other side of all this. I think we can assume Boris will be ok, but beyond that, not much can be said with any certainty.

Possibly the most inconclusive conclusion I have ever written.

Sweet Luxury

The other day I was asked to come into a business in Bristol to undertake a portrait session so members of staff could post to Twitter and LinkedIn with fresh, up-to-date (and importantly, professionally-taken) profile photos.

The pictures were taken at the end of an in-house social media training seminar, and I suspect this helped convince attendees of the importance of a decent avatar portrait. I believe this kind of training is an excellent idea for businesses wanting their staff to help promote the brand on online platforms, and of course a clean, clear profile photo gives their posts greater gravitas.

What made it for me though, apart from the lovely welcoming people I got to work with, was the huge amount of space I was given to work in.

If your business has just taken over larger premises and you haven’t quite expanded into it just yet, take the opportunity to make headway on your headshots. While the entire office isn’t crammed with furniture and people, it makes a great space to work in and I can light the portraits better than if I’m shoehorned into a stationery cupboard, or a board room with an immovable table filling it.

Of course once you’ve filled the space, I’ll need to come back to photograph all the newly appointed team members. Don’t worry though, as long as there is room enough, I can make the lighting work. It’s just so much nicer when there’s space a-plenty.

 

It’s all happening here!

Yesterday was pretty eventful as a couple of projects finally came to fruition.

I was in the middle of setting up my exhibition of prints from What Happened Here at Black Swan Arts cafe in Frome when I noticed a mention from Ilford Photo on Instagram to say they’d just published an article I sent them a few months ago.

The article was a fun little thing about how to get extra creative with a Konica Pop, a classic 1980s point-and-click camera. I’d rigged one up so it could fire a flash that wasn’t built into the camera and some of the results were (I thought) pretty interesting.

The exhibition and the article aren’t really connected, other than they both involve film photography, but they’d both been planned some time ago. I just hadn’t expected them launch at the same moment, but that’s no problem, it’s all part of the fun!

So now you have a choice of physically seeing a bit of What Happened Here in Frome (just 13 prints for this show), or virtually seeing my article on the Ilford site here: https://www.ilfordphoto.com/making-photos-pop/

Of course you have the choice of doing neither, but I hope you do. They’re very different projects, but I hope equally entertaining.

Whatever you end up doing, have a fun and safe weekend.