Zombie Down!

Well there you go. I wrote back in 2014 about how Johnston Press was a zombie company ‘living’ on borrowed time. It seems this particular zombie has finally succumbed to the self-inflicted blows it started raining down on its own head a couple of decades ago.

I don’t expect sympathy for the effect this will have on my JP pension because I was only there for about six years, but I do feel for those journalists and photographers who have had decades of working for local, regional or national who will have all their pensions in one pot and who may yet lose their jobs.

The story isn’t over yet, which of course means continued instability and unease for staff and pension-holders, as the majority shareholder, Christen Ager-Hanssen, has vowed to unwind the deal Johnston Press has signed with a group of investors.

Johnston Press’ chief executive David King claims “our business is profitable with good margins,” but this misses the point that it was the margins sought in previous decades are partly the cause of JP’s woes now. Not only were they too high, they were sought through asset-stripping as opposed to making high quality publications that readers would be loyal to.

Perhaps what is more troubling is that this is the same business model pursued by other publishers, so is this an isolated case? Were JP management just especially inept?

The Cairncross Review was set up to examine the current state of the UK news publishing industry and to look at how it can be protected and helped to thrive, but I fear by the time the review comes to publish its findings, there won’t be any news publishers left to save.

Women in Business

Have you ever noticed how male-dominated a lot of business imagery is? And then if there is diversity, it tends to be a rainbow nation of ethnicities and all genders in a slightly bizarre “aren’t we all just so happy to be here with our lattes and iPhones pointing and laughing into the middle distance” sort of a way.

My advice always is to avoid the clich√© by featuring your own business and your own colleagues in the images for your website. That way, you’ll represent a natural cross-section of your team.

However there is one area of my own website where I will always favour an image of a female business person over that of a male. The reasons aren’t purely for promoting women in business, but that too is a factor in my policy when deciding which photo should be on the home page.

The thing is, my work consists mostly of corporate portraits, with editorial-style business pictures, conference photography and various other forms of corporate communications photography following in behind, so it makes sense to make my main image a portrait.

Following on from that, for the most part people looking to book me for the work I do will find my website through Google (other search engines are available, but nobody ever uses them) and more often than not it’s marketing managers, office managers and personal assistants who find me. And they’re overwhelmingly female.

So yes, perhaps cynically, I want to make sure that landing on my home page is a comfortable experience for those most often given the responsibility of booking me. Certainly I see no reason why the “hero/ine image” needs to be male, and there’s something to be said for offering a main image to which my core clients can relate.

There is also the practical consideration that if someone landing on my home page sees a male face, there’s a risk they’ll think they’re looking at a photo of me, which if not necessarily upsetting, might at the very least appear conceited. I save my site visitors that particular pleasure for the About page, which when you see it you’ll understand why vanity is probably one of the few vices I don’t suffer from. The reason I feature my face at all is because I believe in practicing what I preach.

This post was inspired by the person who is the latest to be featured on my home page, Hazel, who works for a firm in Bristol. The other week I asked Hazel if she’d mind being featured, and the points outlined above are pretty much how I framed my request. Hazel completely understood and had no qualms about being featured on my home page, which is great because not all headshots necessarily fit, but her company’s portrait requirements work well within the space.

So thanks Hazel! And to anyone out there I photograph in future, especially women, don’t be surprised if I ask you too – I do like to update that page whenever I can. Equally I’ll understand if you’d rather not be featured, but at least if you’ve read this article you’ll understand why I’ve asked in the first place.

 

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.

 

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!

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.

Post Apocalyptic?

Yesterday I was nominated by my friend and office colleague David to take part in a Facebook seven-day black and white photo posting challenge. A personal photo each day, no people, no caption or explanation and I’m meant to nominate someone else each day.

Now much as I love David, he knows I’m not a massive fan of this kind of thing, but he’s a big fan of my photography so couldn’t resist just to see how I’d handle it. He also likes to watch me squirm, so that’s two excellent reasons for him to nominate me.

You might wonder why I’m not a big fan of this kind of thing then. Well, since you’ve made the mistake of asking, I’ll tell you.

I’ve been on Facebook for, oh I dunno, many years. Twitter and Instagram too. Over the years I’ve posted pictures I’m very proud of and some junk I probably should have left on my hard drive or in my head. Of late I’ve been working to get my feeds looking more consistent in quality, more coherent in style and less scattered with random junk. This kind of posting challenge may not help.

Therefore I’ll have to be careful that what I post adheres to qualities I can be proud of. Tough to do every single day. But that isn’t the only reason – When I post pictures online I’m aware there is a trade-off happening; I’m exposing my work to a wider audience, getting more eyeballs on my pictures and helping my search engine optimisation, while the social media platforms are benefitting from a constant supply of free content and data they can mine, monetise and aggregate for future, as yet un-defined purposes.

Perhaps I’m being too conspiracy-theorist about this, but here’s a final point to consider; I’m meant to nominate one person every day of the challenge. That’s seven people over seven days (and even I remember from my school times tables terrors, that comes to 49). Each of those 49 people is meant to nominate 7 people, so that’s 343. 343 x 49 = 16,807. You get the idea, if nobody drops the chain we’re quickly into millions of people posting more millions of photos (I tried to work it out, my brain melted).

So mana for Facebook as it keeps people going back to their pages, interacting and laying rich soil for the advertisers who pay Facebook to display their wares in our feeds. We’re all working to feed it like we’re being paid, feeling guilty if we don’t, and so it goes on.

Thankfully we’re not all robot slaves. I was the only person David nominated during his 7 days. My wife got nominated, made it to day 4 and then forgot to continue. There is hope for the human race when we don’t follow the peer pressure and the made-up rules.

So my plan is to post a photo each day, only nominate if I can think of someone who would like to be nominated and I’ll state here that I won’t be accepting future nominations for this kind of thing. If it’s a nomination to be King of the World, I might accept that, but not another photo challenge please.

Inspired By Inertia

Having no scheduled shoots this morning I decided to process the two films I shot yesterday evening for my Saxonvale project (it’s a long term project which I’ve been posting on Instagram as @takeagander).

So there I was, up to my elbows in my dark bag, wrestling (circa 30-year-old East German black and white) ORWO 120 films onto processing reels when I heard a knock at the front door. I knew exactly who and what it was, but couldn’t risk fogging my film to go and answer the door.

Thankfully our post lady didn’t just push a “we tried to deliver” card through the door, instead she found a safe place to stow the package and told me on the card where it was.

I was also grateful that the films loaded remarkably easily (very old 120 film tends to resist being unfurled), so as soon as they were safely in the developing tank I retrieved the package.

It was a book I’d been looking forward to receiving for some months, J.A (Jim) Mortram’s Small Town Inertia.

The book is a searingly poignant collection of black and white images and testimonies detailing the daily struggles of people in the small Norfolk town where Jim lives.

Unapologetically political, very anti-Tory, anti-globalisation and definitely anti-austerity, Jim’s book documents his subjects in a way which brings home in the starkest possible terms the effects of unemployment, mental and physical illness and addiction under successive governments which have sought to sideline these issues in favour of a market economy unfettered by the constraints of conscience.

It is to some extent due to my awareness of Jim’s work that I have sought to spend more of my time on documentary and working in traditional film. The Faces of Routes project, though shot digitally, would almost certainly not have happened if I hadn’t had my social conscience re-awakened by seeing images from the Small Town Inertia project a year or two ago.

Of course my work is very different to Jim’s and nowhere near as comprehensive (or, of course, as good). Jim has been deeply involved in the lives of his subjects, often helping them with bureaucratic paperwork or just daily tasks, and this shows in the photos.

However, even though my projects tend to be more random, less overtly political and involve being less embedded with my subjects, I will continue to be inspired by the work of J.A Mortram and others like him.

To which end, I’d better get this morning’s negatives scanned and added to my own personal project. It’s all very well to be moved and inspired, but if I’m to genuinely honour the work of others, there is no better way than to keep on pursuing my own.

If you would like your own copy of Small Town Inertia you can buy it here. Visit Jim Mortram’s website here.