Incredible Legacy

A while back I pledged to support the publication of John Downing’s book, LEGACY, through a Kickstarter campaign run by Bluecoat Press.

I’d previously supported Jim Mortram’s hard-hitting social documentary book Small Town Inertia in the same way and since John’s book required a ‘mere’ £8,000.00 to come to fruition, I thought it would be a great opportunity to see the photojournalism of a man who spent 50 years covering everything from Royalty to tragedy, the everyday to the extraordinary in a single book.

In the event the campaign smashed the target, raising a staggering £31,836.00, raised by 495 backers, which is testament to the level of respect and interest in his work.

My copy arrived today, and I was thrilled to realise I’d forgotten that my pledge level included a signed print of The Beatles taken at the press launch of Sgt Pepper in 1967. I think there will be a special place in my office for that print once it’s framed.

It’s almost pointless me saying much about John’s work; I’m genuinely not worthy to comment. You have to see the book to realise what a towering talent he has. His photos, regardless of what they show, always demonstrate an absolute command over his skills.

Whether the photos are of breathtaking, tragic or everyday subjects, there’s always an extra ingredient in his handling of the subject before him which just leaves you breathless. The sheer range of stories he has covered is astonishing enough, and far too many to list here.

My best advice is to buy a copy. Even if you have no interest in photography or photojournalism, buy it. You will learn something about history, about the human condition and you never know, you might learn something about yourself too.

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.

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.