My Personal Plain

Casual visitors to my website might be a bit confused if they read my blog. I’m supposed to be all Mr Corporate Headshot, Mr Corporate Comms and so on, yet my blog is often about my personal work.

Certainly SEO “experts” would have a thing or two to say about the fact that I’m not plugging the corporate work week-in, week-out, but I’m not sure they understand photography (or people), which in my view is a bit of a shortcoming.

Those experts will presumably have some understanding of search engine algorithms, but I’m more interested in posting material which allows potential clients a more three-dimensional view of my practice.

Which is why this week I am posting pictures from Salisbury Plain*, my current personal project.

After months of barely leaving the house, I was so pleased to be able to get back on the project and I’m happy to share a few of the latest results with you. Some, if not all of these, will be made available as fine art prints via my takeagander website where you can see more images from this project which I made before lockdown.

But given that this blog often veers away from the pure business of corporate communications work, how does a project like this help potential clients choose me over the next photographer? Why do I post personal work here? Let’s turn that around and ask, “What kind of photographer would I be if I didn’t do personal projects?”

Go to a dozen photographer websites and the majority will tell you at some point just how passionate they are about photography. All too often this doesn’t show through their work. I believe they are passionate about being a photographer, but mostly because they like having, or being seen with, cameras. There’s a chasm of distinction between being genuinely passionate about photography, and liking taking pictures (or liking owning nice camera gear).

My personal work is mostly shot on film using a variety of relatively low-tech, often un-glamorous cameras, because photography is the important part to me, not owning the gear or being seen to have the latest equipment. Working this way is also part of my “keep fit” regime in that it keeps my photographic eye honed even during quieter periods (lockdown being an extreme example).

In a world where “everyone’s a photographer” my passion isn’t just about being a photographer, it extends to the purpose of photography, its purpose and value to society. Getting heavy now, huh? Sorry, that’s really a whole other blog post there.

Perhaps next time you’re looking to book a photographer other than myself for a job (yes, I do know this happens!), take a look to see what personal projects they’re working on. If there are none, ask yourself if they’re genuinely as passionate as they say they are.

*I haven’t yet settled on a permanent title. I’m passionate about finding a good one.

On Being a Photographer

“Never Too Old to Learn” is the title of one of the assignments from the newspaper photography course I attended back in 1992.

I remember it particularly well because I ended up contriving a story in which a grandmother was learning to fly helicopters. Of course she wasn’t actually learning to fly helicopters, but since this was just an exercise in illustration it didn’t have to be a true story.

I found a suitably elderly model and a suitably cooperative helicopter pilot, put the two together and took some shots which worked pretty well. All lies, but it fulfilled the purpose of the assignment and the grandmother had a blast.

The reason I’m reminded of this particular college assignment now is because I’ve just bought a copy of “On Being A Photographer” by David Hurn and Bill Jay. Even as a photographer with 30+ years in his back pocket, I still expect to learn a great deal from reading this book.

The other college-days connection here is that David Hurn founded the School of Documentary Photography in Newport. I went to Stradbroke college in Sheffield because that was where budding newspaper photographers went if they wanted to get into the industry. Us Stradbrokers would scoff at the Newport photographers because they had a reputation for swanning about in desert boots while carrying Billingham bags and dreams of shooting for National Geographic.

We were “the real photographers” who would all go on to work for The Independent or Observer magazine, covering conflict and strife around the globe. In reality Newport was a very fine college (the very best for photo-documentary training) and we had as much chance of fulfilling our perceived destinies as those who went to Newport. In other words, not much chance at all.

Actually, most of us did at least make it on to local and regional papers and one or two of us worked with national titles. Even now, one or two of our cohort are still working (albeit occasionally) for international titles.

But Stradbroke for me was 28 years ago. So why have I gone back to the books? In particular one written by the founder of a course I disparaged at the time? Simple; I’ve grown up. I’ve changed and I continue to change. I’m always looking at new sources of inspiration and solid foundations for new knowledge. I slightly wish I’d been able to go to Newport, even better go to Newport AND Stradbroke; that would have been incredible, but it wasn’t possible.

On Being A Photographer has a particular focus on the kind of work I do in my personal projects now and in this regard it will prove invaluable. I know I’ll learn new, better approaches and I’ll have a clearer understanding of how a photo essay should be approached.

It might take me another 30 years, but I hope this book will put me on the path to being a better documentary photographer. I’ll have to let you know how it goes.

 

I’ll Make These b****y Pictures Move!

There is a vague recollection in the furthest reaches of my mind of my dad making a joke about “moving pictures” while shaking a photo up and down in his hand. It involved the “b” word and was very funny. You had to be there.

Which brings me in the clunkiest way possible to the announcement that I have added moving pictures to my suite of client services. They’ll even have sound! And they’ll be in glorious colour (actually, black and white is also an option, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Yes, lockdown has given me the opportunity to learn a huge amount about shooting video, recording sound and using editing software to bring it all together. I’m not going to pretend I’m the next Martin Scorsese, I still have much to learn, but I’ve used the time to get the basics nailed down.

My focus will be on corporate testimonials, talking heads and interview pieces, giving businesses the material they need to keep putting fresh material out on social media. I think video is well suited to this kind of use and will help my clients communicate more effectively than they might with just a text-based blog.

To give myself material with which to practice camera settings, focus, exposure, colour balance, sound recording, editing, and so on, I shot a short film at home using the best model I could find in my house (my wife). She did a fantastic job, and while the result is probably not what you would call corporate style, it demonstrates much of what I’ve learned in this exercise. You can see the film here.

The result is just over 4 minutes long and it’s entitled A SHEDx Talk with Dr Helen Roberts. I hope you get a few minutes to watch it, because the feedback I’ve had so far has been that it is calming, soothing and inspiring!

 

Measured Success

A PR job this week proved that in spite of everything, photography is being commissioned and it can be done safely.

What is different in this lockdown world is the logistics. I had to think more carefully about how I could execute the photos safely (thinking of my subjects as much as of myself).

So I took some simple precautions. No, I didn’t have a mask or gloves. I didn’t wear a hazmat suit. Neither did I take the pictures from the safety of my car.

I simply took a tape measure and some playground chalk. This meant I could mark out positions two metres apart for people to stand on before bringing them into the scene.

Everyone was at least two metres from anyone else (including myself) at all times. The simplest of tools kept everyone safe.

Of course some types of corporate photography cannot happen right now. For example, office headshots aren’t feasible when businesses have furloughed their staff. Cancelled events and business meetings mean none of that work is available to me right now.

However, it’s probably not a bad time for businesses to consider some positive PR. There are good news stories out there, and we could all do with some of that right now! And using a professional photographer to create the images you need will mean you get high quality photos safely.

If you have a good news story – perhaps it’s related to the crisis, perhaps it isn’t, drop me a line and we can look at options.

Maybe I can “chalk up” a success for you too.

Coping with Corona

My previous post was becoming a bit long-winded as it grew from being a central point of information for clients into more of a diary of my daily doings during lockdown.

So to keep that post a little tidier, this one will brings you more up-to-date with what’s been happening. I suspect subsequent posts will be of a similar vein until paid commissions pick up gain.

The problem with lockdown is I’ve slightly lost track of time. Is it Christmas yet? I’ve sort of forgotten what I’ve done since my last diary update in the earlier post, but I’ll recap briefly here.

On a personal level, I’ve completed a fruit cage in the rear garden, created new planting beds in the front garden, stripped, cleaned and re-installed the rubber door seal on the washing machine. During that episode I discovered a pinhole leak in a copper pipe behind the sink unit, which I was lucky enough to be able to repair (Easter Bank Holiday Monday during lockdown is not a good time to be booking a plumber).

I also accidentally punched a bumble bee in the face, but made up for it by releasing a honey bee from our dining room. Karma restored.

After a friend very kindly posted me some sourdough starter, I’ve returned to making sourdough bread after a two-year hiatus. I’ve baked my first loaf and looking forward to making sourdough pizza this Friday.

“going with the flow”

Work-wise, jobs continue to keel over, but that’s to be expected. I’m keeping my hand in by shooting a mix of digital and film photos because I have to keep practising, my mental health demands it as much as my client work does.

With a view to the future, I’ve started looking at new ways of expanding the fine art print sales side of the business, but that is still a long, slow process rather than a quick fix solution.

I will just add, if you do appreciate my work and you’re interested in having a genuinely beautiful print for your home or office wall, please check out takeagander.co.uk. Pre-orders are being taken and prints will be made once the printer can return to work. It would help me a ton to sell a few prints at this time.

Even though the pictures I’m making now aren’t necessarily going to be offered as prints, making them allows me to explore my own experience of lockdown. Documenting my relatively privileged existence isn’t what really turns me on, but it’s vital I keep making images; not just for my own business, but for my sanity too.

 

Covid-19, The Update Post

The purpose of this blog post is to keep clients informed of my status during the Covid-19 crisis, should they need to know.

I’ll be keeping in direct touch with current clients only as required since I know they’ll all be scrabbling to keep their operations afloat.

This post will be linked from my Home page to keep visitors to the site informed.

Any updates to my status or activities will be posted at the foot of this article, preceded with a date to ensure clarity. If you want to know the very latest news with regards my coronavirus plans, scroll to the very end of this post.

Current Status:

In broad terms, I can tell you that my current status is ok. I am solvent (improved by forthcoming government assistance for the self-employed) and I am fit and well as I practice social distancing and keep journeys to a minimum.

Bookings:

My diary has emptied of advance bookings for at least the next two months. Normally I would also be picking up last-minute work, but of course that is also currently impossible. I want to be as fair as possible with my clients so I propose the following:

  • Any bookings which coincide with a lockdown period can be postponed for a future date without any surcharges.
  • Any bookings which have to be cancelled entirely may incur a fee, however this will be discussed with the client to find the best solution for a positive outcome.
Current Plans:

I have a plan to keep busy, starting with a programme of website updates, tweaks and improvements.

I’ve already brought my accounts up-to-date (sorting my sock drawer is next!) and my fine art print site takeagander.co.uk is also replete with the latest images. Sadly my print supplier has had to close temporarily, so although I can still take print orders, I won’t be able to fulfil them until the printer can re-open. Updates on that are more likely to be found on the takeagander website.

To my clients:

I want to assure all my clients that I have every intention of still being here for them when this is all over. Luckily I had already completed a programme of reducing overheads in the final quarter of 2019, which basically means I have no office rent or associated costs around my neck right now.

All my subscriptions continue to be covered, including for Photoshelter, which means all my client galleries should continue to be secure and accessible at all times. If you experience any problems with your gallery, let me know and I’ll be happy to help.

Anyone requiring help:

I remain open to enquiries, even if they cannot be confirmed bookings at this time. If you have a question I can help with, or you want to start an early conversation about a potential future project, I’ll be delighted to hear from you. If you just need to hear a voice other than your own, call me.

That’s all for now folks. Keep safe, keep well. I can’t wait to work with you again soon.

Updates:

2nd April 2020 – My main task this week has been to make tweaks to the website, some minor and others more involved. Due to a server issue on Monday/Tuesday progress was slow, but I’m glad to say everything is back to normal and I’ve done most of what I intended to complete.

This has included:

  • Writing this blog post, then ensuring there is a link to it directly from the home page.
  • Updating the Personal Projects galleries, making them smaller, more manageable and improving ease of navigation to them.
  • Updating the Business Portraits, Corporate Communications and Editorial + PR galleries with fresh content.
  • Re-writing the text for all the galleries.
  • Back-end tidying of the site structure. Whether this has any discernible effect is up for debate.
  • Re-jigging the About Me page with refreshed text and links to Testimonials and takeagander.co.uk
  • A tweak to my fees to help build a stronger business for the future.

I still need to work through my T&Cs and find a place to display my lovely, shiny GDPR certificate, but this week really has seen impressive progress.

I almost forgot to mention, my image archiving catalogue is also now bang up to date with the last couple of months’ jobs. A rarity indeed.

3rd April 2020 – Yesterday morning felt like four hours of shovelling pixels as I made adjustments to my website. So I spent the afternoon shovelling compost as we work to improve our veg-growing capacity at home. I’m so grateful to have a garden, something so many people don’t have.

Most of today will be spent freshening up my LinkedIn profile page, then it’s back to the website to make some additional changes and improvements.

Back again! I’ve spent the entire morning freshening up my LinkedIn profile, though I’m sure there is more I could do. I’ve also improved access to my GDPR statement and certificate on my website.

I might head back out to the garden for the next couple of hours before my backside fuses to my chair.

6th April 2020 – It’s 05.11 on Monday morning and I seem to be awake. My sleep has been erratic for at least a decade, so this isn’t Coronavirus-stress-related.

At the risk of descending this blog into the realm of the personal, as I face the new week I wanted to share a word on my weekend. Having a garden big enough to do things in is a luxury these days, and I feel extremely privileged to have one large enough for four raised veg beds, a greenhouse, shed and tiny pond.

Although the pond is small, it attracts frogs and other wildlife, and is currently teaming with tadpoles. I’ll be spending time in the coming weeks defending the froglets from the many neighbourhood cats.

Tasks I achieved this weekend: A fresh coat of exterior paint on The Bunker, construction of a brassica cage, construction of two new garden table tops to replace rotten ones using scrap timber (they look better than they sound). Oh and a bit of sunburn! I’m normally very careful in the sun, but really didn’t appreciate that the breeze was deceiving me.

So today I’ll be back to working on my to-do list. I have a couple of rolls of colour film to send off for processing and thankfully the lab can still run safely. I also have a grocery run to do for an isolated resident, but I’m awaiting their list.

Good luck with your week, whatever it involves.

Final update on this post, since this is meant to be a point of useful information for clients, I’ll start a new post which will act as my on-going diary. Carry on reading there if you’re desperate to know how I’m doing.

Friday 22nd May 2020

My plans and risk assessments are well underway as clients start to make enquiries once again. I will have hand sanitiser and reusable mask with me on all jobs. Gloves are not necessary and I believe they present additional risk, so I will only wear gloves if they are required and are supplied by the client. I will wash my hands on arrival, departure and at any point during my time on site that is sensible to do so. Please bear with me because I suffer from hay fever and may need to wash my hands more frequently than normal.

I will work with my clients and subjects to maintain suitable distancing as much as possible.

I will ask that clients allow more liaison time prior to jobs in order that we can plan to minimise the risks to all involved, including of course myself.

If you have particular requirements or suggestions based on your own risk assessments, please feel free to share them with me.

Video

With clients looking for new ways to communicate to their audiences, I have used a large proportion of my lockdown time to get up to speed on good quality video capture, sound recording and editing. I have invested in the equipment required to ensure I am ready to talk to you about your next video project, so do drop me a line if you’re considering adding video to your corporate communications toolbox.

Blue Sky Thinking

Many of us are having to adapt to a new normal, myself included. So for the duration I’m going to post what I can, when I can.

It’s been 18 years since my press card expired, so sitting idly while the biggest World news story of all time breaks is an uncomfortable experience. Which is why I’m doing what I can.

Yesterday’s walk, for example, allowed me to at least click the shutter. I’d been thinking about how I might safely record at least one aspect of this crisis, and then I looked up.

What I saw was clear, blue skies. Not the normal blue, but a blue free of pollution, and that includes the ubiquitous contrails left by aircraft.

Now I appreciate the lack of contrails means many in the aviation sector will be suffering, but this raises new questions for us.

Right now all our thoughts are focused on a single issue, but climate change will return. While we’re asking for mortgage holidays, the climate is getting a pollution holiday. On the down-side, how long before surgical gloves, masks and test kit tubes turn up in dolphins?

And once the brakes come off the economy, how long before we go back to our old ways?

Will contrails once again scar the blue skies?

Quiet Skies is the mini series resulting from yesterday’s walk. I may build on it, we’ll have to see, but I wanted to create something thought-provoking and hopefully beautiful.

So while you can, get out there and remember to look up once in a while. This is how the sky used to look.

Catch it while you can!

Of course I’m not talking about coronavirus here, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. What I’m referring to is my interview on BBC Somerset, which is only available until some time on the 15th March, so the link I’m posting below won’t work after that date.

The interview by BBC Somerset Radio’s evening presenter Charlie Taylor came about as a result of the launch of my outdoor exhibition in Frome which features 13 images from What Happened Here, my long-term art/photo-documentary project on the Saxonvale site.

I went along to talk about my work, the origins of What Happened Here and about how Mendip District Council came to sponsor the public exhibition of the work.

You can listen via this link and I kick in about 15 minutes from the show’s start.

So yes, enjoy it while you can and feel free to drop any comments or contact me with any questions.

2020 and BEYOND!

Often at the close of a year I’ll put together an annual review, but 2019 was different in that it was the close of a decade.

So why didn’t I do a review of the decade? Simply put, I ran out of time. After three months of Bunker conversion, the end-rush to get it ready to coincide with the looming termination date of my tenancy at The Old Church School (eight years there!) PLUS client work PLUS admin PLUS Christmas, I had to make some harsh decisions about what I could and could not fit in.

In fact I was so busy, it barely sank in until quite late in December that we were in fact staring down the barrel of the 2020s. By the time I’d twigged, it was too late to put anything meaningful together. Sorry about that.

However, I’m now fully set up in the new space and although it’s early days, so far it’s working very well and I’m proud of what I accomplished in renovating what was a tatty-looking concrete structure, turning it into a genuinely usable, some may say attractive, workspace. I’m particularly chuffed that the only part of the project I didn’t tackle was the electrical installation. I may be insane, but I’m not mad! My general DIY skills have definitely improved with this project though, just don’t ask me to convert your shed/bunker/garage for you.

Returning to the subject of the turn of the decade, perhaps it’s a shame I didn’t get to look back and reflect, but I actually feel more in the mood for looking forward. After all, my photography of ten years ago is nothing like the work I’m doing now, and even further removed from where I want to take it in the coming years.

Through this year and the next few years, I’ll be working hard to build the fine art projects and prints side of my business (takeagander.co.uk) while continuing to invest in my corporate work, which still represents the bulk of my business.

The launch (see previous post) of the open air exhibition of panels from What Happened Here was a great end to the year and an indicator of the kind of outcome I’m looking for with my personal work – getting it out there and noticed and looking for new opportunities to shoot fresh work and see where it takes me.

With the corporate work I will of course keep developing my style, skills and services, but this relies in part on the personal projects which help me develop new practices outside of client time; I don’t believe in using my clients as guinea pigs for experiments.

What I’m aiming for is more of the same as in recent years, only bigger and better; my corporate work feeding my ability to shoot personal projects, with income from fine art prints and other uses of that work building up into it’s own sizeable income. I have plans, some vaguer than others, but plans nonetheless.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sign off now and start putting those plans into practice. In the meantime, do watch this space for news on forthcoming deals on fine art prints – I hope to announce something big soon.

Drive-In Gallery

As Bowie never sang, “It’s a crash course for the ravers, it’s a dri-i-i-ive-in photo exhibition.”

So having crammed another Bowie reference into a blog post like pushing a banana through a keyhole, what I’m trying to explain here is that I’m massively thrilled to announce that tomorrow sees the launch of my first solo exhibition in an open-air space. To be precise, it’s a car park, making this the world’s first drive-in photo exhibition.

Now, don’t ruin it for me by googling this and finding one already exists, I did search and the closest I found was an underground car park ramp to some billionaire’s posh residence with walls lined with priceless paintings. That doesn’t count.

This all started a few months ago when I approached Mendip District Council (owners of the Saxonvale site) to see if there was any way I could continue documenting the site since they’d made it secure. The timing of my contact was perfect – someone in the council had seen What Happened Here and decided some of the photos would look great on the site hoardings, so we looked at various possibilities from a few different angles and came up with a plan.

Mendip council officers agreed to go ahead with the project and I re-scanned the chosen images since they were going to go big, and I mean VERY big.

Two days ago I visited the very excellent Compugraphic in Frome to see some of the prints coming off their large-format printer ready to be mounted on aluminium composite board; thirteen images in total, 1.5 x 1 metre in size with two of them 1 metre square format. In other words, really huge prints and certainly larger than I’d ever had anything printed before.

I’d been concerned that I couldn’t supply good enough files for such enlargement, but when I saw the prints I nearly cried! They look fantastic, and where I’d been thinking that viewing distance would make up for any loss in quality, I’ll be happy for visitors to walk right up to these. They’ll be able to dive right into the grain of the images.

The panels will be displayed on hoardings in the Merchants Barton car park in the town centre for at least the next few months, so if you do happen to be in the area I hope you’ll check it out. You can find out even more from Mendip’s press release here.

In the meantime, this may well be my final post of 2019 as Project Bunker is overrunning and I’m on a deadline to transfer my office into it by the end of December.

So I’ll take this opportunity to thank you, my clients, my friends, colleagues and suppliers for making 2019 a pretty good year, with an extra special thank you to Naomi and her colleagues at Mendip District Council for rounding it off so spectacularly for me.

Oh and with regards the continued access to the Saxonvale site, we’ll see. I’m doubtful at this stage, but you never know, it could be what keeps me busy in 2020.