Tim Gander’s photography blog.

So, what I said before…

Only the post before last I posed the question of whether or not I ever stop. Thinking about photography, that is, and the answer surely is confirmed as a resounding NO.

At the end of that post I mentioned the rolls of film I was waiting to process from my holiday in South West Brittany, France, and just writing that line gave me the uncontrollable urge to get those rolls processed. So I processed them and here are the results.

Looking at these photos you might assume I had a rather peculiar holiday, but I actually really enjoyed it. But when I take pictures in my down time, I’m still working on approaches and processes. It’s a constant exercise in “how about” and “what if I”. I’m also developing a new method of digitising film, which will be useful when it comes to putting the Saxonvale book together, so a definite research angle too.

On this occasion I was working with basic kit, with a single stock of film, and exploiting the properties of the film to get a very graphic look from what I shot. This in turn influenced what I photographed and here’s a gallery of some of the results.

For those with the technical interest, these were all taken on a Canon EOS 1N camera with either a 40mm lens on Kodak Tri-X 400 rated at 800iso and push processed in Rodinol. A classic combination of film and developer which yields beautiful results.

Holiday over, back to work.

Learning to Assist, Assisting to Learn

The work of a business or corporate communications photographer (which is what I do) is rather different from that of a truly commercial one, by which I mean a photographer who shoots commercial images for advertising campaigns.

Most of what I do is pictures for business communications (website, brochures, press releases and so on), which while it’s commercial in the sense that I make money from my work, it’s not commercial in the strict photography business sense of being for commercials/adverts.

That may seem like a rather fine, specific point to open an article with, but it’s pertinent here because a few weeks ago I found myself assisting a commercial (as in advertising) photographer.

Now the other stand-out point of this article is that I was assisting another photographer at all. In 30 years of being a professional photographer I have never assisted, but when I was asked if I’d be interested in helping with a series of shoots I didn’t have to think too hard about whether or not to dive in.

The thing is, assisting is one of the best ways to learn and evolve as a photographer. I never did it because I trained as a press photographer and cut my teeth with news photography at college and local papers. This was a typical career path for many newspaper photographers.

For commercial and studio photographers, assisting was the way to learn the ropes, develop techniques and evolve your own style.

If I have one gripe about those starting out as photographers now (ok, I may have more than one gripe, but let’s keep this brief), it’s that too many of them think that to be a commercial photographer, all you need to do is read the camera manual and start taking pictures. If a friend or your mum tells you your pictures are nice, you launch a website and hey presto you’re a fully-fledged commercial pro. Believe me, without a few years of assisting, training and a baptism or two by fire, this just isn’t going to cut it.

Anyway, back to the plot. In my case, the call came from friend, fellow photographer and all-round-good-egg Jon Raine whose work you really should take a look at.

Jon’s background is very much in the commercial sphere, shooting pictures for big brands, and one of his regular gigs has been to take portraits of TalkSport presenters which is what he was asking me to assist him with on this occasion.

The obvious benefit of this gig for me was to work alongside someone who has deep experience as both a photographer and a commercial art director. Seeing how Jon plans and executes his work was a great insight, as was seeing the similarities between his methods and mine. It helped reinforce some of my practices for me, which is also useful.

The benefit for Jon was not only that he got to listen to my jokes all day, but there were also one or two small tips I was able to offer back.

Also, being a photographer myself meant I knew what to look out for as his images came through to the laptop – an errant hair, a badly placed crease in a shirt or white fluff on a dark top (not always easy to spot until flash hits it).

Another advantage for Jon was that I could take behind the scenes photos while he worked, which he could then use for a record of his work and social media if he wished. Of course that was a mutual advantage because now I’m using one of the photos for this blog post, a BTS shot of Olympic champion and Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins.

So everyone’s a winner! Including the subject.

Don’t I Ever Stop?!

Even when I’m not taking business photos for clients or shooting a personal project, when I go away on a break I take yet more photos. Which would be fine except that I obsess about not taking the kind of holiday photos I ought really to be taking.

If I tell someone I’m going for a break in wherever, the common reaction is for them to suggest things I should take pictures of while I’m there. It might be the pretty houses, the beautiful landscapes, the amazing night lights by the river or whatever. The problem is, most of these photos can already be seen on Google, so why would I just repeat what someone else has already done?

I’m not entirely sure it’s a healthy state of affairs, but whenever I go away I end up treating it like some kind of mini assignment. A good recent example is when my wife Helen and I went to Kent for a music festival she was performing in. We decided to make it a weekend as the weather was glorious and we were very close to Dymchurch Beach.

So instead of a snap of a sunny beach and blue skies, I zeroed in on the detectorist who was kind enough to chat and be photographed.

And during the festival, instead of photographing the beautiful little church where the music was being performed, I honed in on the side details of the event. Which would be fine if that just meant drinking the tea and eating the biscuits, but I came over all Martin Parr and took wry, dry observational shots of tea cups, trays of mugs and helpers in the cake tent.

Just to make it even more of an inconvenience for myself, I took all my photos on expired film (yes, I still have some from my Saxonvale project).

Now you may ask what the heck’s wrong with me, but the thing is a break is about enjoying yourself and having freedom to do what you want. It just happens I enjoy shooting film (expired or not) but with the freedom to explore a subject however I want.

It might not be everyone’s idea of a break, but I fid it liberating even though there’s still a background static of wishing not to fail to get good shots.

Am I weird? Probably. Perhaps I need a break. Which reminds me, I’ve got four rolls of black and white film from my holiday in France to process.

What Happened Here

I’ve settled on this as the title for my Saxonvale series because it sums up the nature of the project; a semi matter-of-fact record, with touches of humour, drama and sadness. The title hints at the disappointment that land which should have been developed decades ago was left to ruin, but perhaps I should be thankful it wasn’t or the project would never have existed.

Things are definitely winding down in terms of new pictures and the site has now been almost completely boarded out. I’m seeking a final few closing images to round out the project, but I really have to get the next stage (a book) moving.

What has struck me is the incredible timing with which I came to start the project. Early on I wasn’t sure I had a project, but once it became obvious it was happening I knew I had enough expired film to get me through about a year of shooting it. Sixteen months later and I’m down to one last roll of the original batch of film (I did find a second source, just in case it overran) and the site has been bought, boarded and awaits demolition and reconstruction.

Unless Saxonvale is about to enter another extended period of neglect, I think my timing has been incredibly serendipitous.

So while I’ll try not to bang on about it too much on my Instagram account (@takeagander) or here, do watch this space and I hope to bring occasional updates regarding the progress towards a book. When the time comes, I hope you’ll be able to support it!

Goldfish Ate My Cat

How’s this for a blast from the past? A project from my college days, February 1991 to be precise, which involved mocking up a newspaper front page using pictures and stories I’d covered during the course. Well, two real stories at least; read carefully and you’ll notice some fake news too.

I stumbled across this while having an office clear-out. It’s pasted into the back of my first ever cuttings book, so it’s not been shredded or binned along with the eight-year-old bank statements, receipts, accounts and long-defunct business cards from long-defunct businesses.

The purpose of the exercise was to think about page layout and to get to grips with the newly-emerging technology of desktop publishing. In fact I recall this was done on something like a Mac 1 (or thereabouts). Looking at the caption for Norma Major’s photo you can tell I wasn’t all that impressed with the image quality available at the time.

The lead story about Don McCullin was clearly the one item I was taking seriously in this exercise, given the rather pretentious journalism I employed when writing it. But I still have a proper silver print of that photo I made at the time. It sits inside the cover of my signed copy of McCullin’s Unreasonable Behaviour.

Luckily no one came forward to claim the space shuttle prize and I’m afraid the competition closed in March 1991.

Get Shorty

Even this short blog post is longer than the super small Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 lens, my absolutely favourite lens. It’s tiny, sometimes referred to as a pancake lens, but so sharp you could cut your thumb on the images it produces, yet costs just £200.00 new. I got mine for £90.00 secondhand.

It’s been the most-used lens through my Saxonvale project, but whenever I get the opportunity I use it for corporate photo sessions too, including portraits as well as for fly-on-the-wall work.

And in my experience it’s tough! I once slipped and fell and landed with my camera (40mm mounted) between me and a mud bank. I heard a click which I thought was the lens mechanism breaking. It wasn’t, it was the sound of one of my ribs fracturing! That hurt for a few weeks, but the lens was fine.

I wanted to write this post after seeing Neil Turner’s post about his favourite lens. Go here to find out which one he reaches for most.

So if I’m ever on a job for you and I put this dinky lens on my camera, check out the smile on my face.

 

Skills Challenge Challenge

The lack of recent blog posts is a result of the sheer volume of corporate photography work I’ve had on over the last few weeks, some new clients but also plenty of returning and recurring jobs. I’m sorry if you’ve missed me, but I’m also fairly sure you haven’t.

One of my favourite repeat assignments is the annual Society of Operations Engineers (SOE) Skills Challenge for bus and coach technicians. I blogged about this back in 2016, but to recap SOE is an association bringing together engineers from many sectors with the aim of maintaining and improving standards for the benefit of public safety through training and education of its members, and the skills challenge is a chance for technicians in public transport to test their skills and learn new ones.

The Skills Challenge takes place in June each year at S&B Automotive Academy in Bristol, and this was my fourth year of covering it.

My task is to get action shots of every contestant taking part during the event, which this year ran for an entire week. I can’t miss anyone because the pictures are used at the subsequent awards event to highlight the runners up and winners, so it’d be a bit awkward to miss a shot of someone who’s won a category. With 80 contestants taking part across the week, that’s a challenge within the challenge!

While it’s important that I capture a selection of shots of each participant, I also have to be wary of being too intrusive; many of the challenges are under timed conditions and require a great deal of concentration, so to get through everyone I have to use on-the-spot logistics to work out which challenges I can cover while the participant is in action and which I can set up to look like action when the participant is between challenges.

Further to that I also keep the client fed with “rush” images for their social media channels which they update during each day. Even then I have to be wary of showing anything which might give clues to participants who have yet to undertake the challenges, but who might be seeing the pictures on Twitter or Facebook. Sometimes it feels like I’m juggling with raw eggs, but it’s always a huge amount of fun.

The finished images are not only used for the awards event, but also feature in literature and display materials designed to promote SOE and the Skills Challenge for subsequent years, so I always ensure there’s a good choice of picture shapes for the client including images with space for design considerations.

I shot over 3,000 images over the week this year with a final edit to the client of just under 650, which will see them good for at least another year!

Besides the physical, mental and creative challenge of covering the event, perhaps the greatest pleasure is from working with the teams from SOE and S&B Automotive, who are incredibly good fun to be with, as well as all the contestants who without exception are friendly, accommodating and patient when it comes to having their photos taken.

So to celebrate another successful skills challenge, here’s a selection of images taken over the week. So until (hopefully) next year…

A Welcome Review

A new review into the future of UK press journalism was announced today and although I fear it may be too late, it’s welcome to finally see the issue being tackled at government level.

The independent review into the future of high-quality journalism in the UK, chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross, has issued a call for evidence from organisations and individuals and will look at the causes of the startling decline hitting the industry.

The review will look at issues such as the decline in advertising revenue, the effect of social media, the consequences for the press from a national to a local level and what might be done to ensure a vibrant press for the future.

I happen to believe, and have said for many years, that what has happened to the press (in particular the regional and local newspapers) over the last two decades has become a threat to open justice and democracy, with court proceedings and local government council meetings being seen as too expensive to cover.

The subject is huge and the solutions not entirely clear. Of course I would love to see a return to high-quality local and regional journalism, with good quality news photography being part of that mix.

I may sound like a broken record when I talk about photography again, but it’s incredible that in an age where images (and especially high quality pictures) are the bedrock of the popularity of some of the biggest social media platforms, local news outlets have forsaken the model of using creative, informative (but paid-for) photography in favour of boring, badly executed free content.

On the odd occasion I find myself in Germany or Austria I make a point of picking up the local papers and am astonished at the difference. Beautifully-produced broadsheets on high-quality paper with professional photography appear to be doing just fine and they’re packed with classified ads too! This may be because the internet is English, or perhaps it’s a cultural pride thing. Perhaps this review will look at Europe for ideas.

Of course the internet has had a massive impact on journalism in this country, but the foundations of this decline were put firmly in place by the short-sighted and often greedy management teams which bought up smaller publishers like they were on a supermarket trolley-dash, then asset-stripped stripped them to make their money back. I won’t bang on, it’s a subject I’ve tackled before and I won’t bore you with it again today.

Hopefully, as readers of my blog (isn’t blogging part of the problem?), you’ll be keen to put your own views to the committee via their call for evidence. I certainly shall because I think it’s high time this issue was tackled seriously and not just treated as a victim of “progress”.

For more information, take a look at the announcement page, but it’s all summarised on the call for evidence page too.

 

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.