Back to Personal Projects

 

It has been quite a while since I managed to get out and work on my personal project, People’s Frome, but on Wednesday afternoon last week I did manage to get out for a couple of hours. The weird thing is that whenever I decide I’m going to go and work on it, I worry there won’t be anything which will present itself to help move the project along.

And yet, almost every time I do go out, I find something that works. I guess that’s what they call making your own luck.

This particular trip was a bit of a mixture though. I’d taken a walk into the area of Frome which has so far been the anchor to the project, The Mount, and not seen anything worth a look. The light was rather flat and uninteresting; one of the strengths of this project so far has been how the light has helped set the tone. This time though, light wasn’t on my side.

The shot I came up with did include some serendipity though. I’d decided to show this path and fence with its view through to the Knights Maltings estate beyond (a relatively modern development which hugs up to a precipitous bank, above which sits The Mount). I’d taken a few shots when I heard a dog walker coming along behind me. We exchanged hellos as he passed and I waited for dog and owner to get to the right part of the frame to complete the shot.

Just as they got there, the dog cocked its leg and I grabbed the frame. I’m not going to pretend this is a modern classic, yet there is a lot about this image which pleases me; the balance between the rather grim fence and ticky-tacky housing beyond and the humour of the dog taking a leak and the way all the elements work together.

On the down-side, once I’d got this shot I carried on down the path, but while trying to traverse some flood water which was blocking my way, I managed to slip and fall forwards onto my camera. The camera was fine (once I’d cleaned all the mud off it), but I’ve been putting up with a very sore, possibly broken rib since. I guess that’s what they call suffering for your art.

Press Space for Storagebase

At a time when online marketing seems to dominate marketeers’ minds, it’s worth remembering that the local press still has the power to communicate your business to a well-targeted audience.

This is where the press release comes into play. Sometimes maligned, often mis-used or treated like a slightly grubby, distant uncle to all the shiny online marketing channels, press releases often fail through lack of appreciation of their importance.

Done properly though, a press release will get your business valuable editorial space. You can pay a high price for an advert, and while adverts are another good way to get in front of your audience, they’re viewed and treated differently by readers. Editorial is more trusted and allows you to get more of your business’ story into your message.

As an example, I was asked by Avalanche (a creative PR and social media agency, so local to me that we share an office) to work with them and their client, Storagebase, on a press release about their new self-storage facility and head office in Frome, Somerset.

The brief was to take press release photos to introduce the management team, the brand and the building to the local population.

I popped along to meet Storagebase’s MD Ben Morris and Jennie Wood from Avalanche for a pre-shoot site visit so I could get a sense of what shots would work best. Plus I love seeing the insides of buildings before they’re fitted out. This one had some really eye-catching internal structures and I couldn’t resist popping off a couple of shots during the visit.

On the day of the photo session the weather was a little tricky. It had been lashing with rain that morning, but it was dry by the time of the shoot. I’d hoped for blue sky so I could get some dramatic wide shots of the facility, but the sky was the same colour as the building and there was still a lot of construction going on, so I opted for something tight and punchy.

Making sure I included only the important elements (manager, assistant manager, hire van and the branding on the building) I ended up with a couple of photo options to put forward to the local press. Importantly, these included upright and landscape-oriented photos to ensure they would have a picture to fit any available page space.

The result was a picture and copy across three columns of the printed edition as well as an online article, again including the photo.

So when thinking about PR, don’t dismiss the press release. Done with care and skill you not only get eye-catching coverage in print press, but it’ll go in the online editions too. Plus you can often use the same images for other areas of your marketing such as newsletters, tweets, Facebook pages and so on – not always so easy with an advert, even less advisable with poor quality content.

Fun Experience in Frome

This week is mainly a thank you to Frome visitors Imogen and Ben who became accidental models when I was out and about last week with work experience photography student Becky Collis.

It was a quiet Monday afternoon when we took a stroll up Catherine Hill seeking a photographic opportunity for Becky to get to grips with. I spotted this stylish couple, classic film cameras in-hand, walking up the hill and approached them to ask if they would pose for us for a few minutes.

They were gracious enough to agree and patient enough to let Becky and I take turns at posing and photographing them. I decided we should apply newspaper rules to the task, so the photo had to have a news feel to it, would require captions and a speedy turnaround at the end.

The photos below show Becky in action, followed by her portrait of Imogen and Ben, then her action shot of me followed by my version. Just click to see them larger and to cycle through the set.

Becky caught some nice light outside Kushi clothing store, who also kindly allowed us use of their bench, while I opted to bring them away from the window front. The light wasn’t as pretty, but I got the separation I wanted from the background. My preference would have been to use portable lighting to lift the daylight, but this was also an exercise in minimal equipment (precisely because I didn’t have portable lighting with me).

Within about 40 minutes we’d returned to the office, processed and captioned our images and delivered them to online galleries in the same way as we would have delivered them to clients. Job done and a nice little exercise.

So thank you Imogen and Ben (good luck with your studies!) and thank you Kushi for the loan of your bench. It was the perfect bench test!

 

Hot Off The Back Of My Camera

Between paid assignments I’m working to expand my portfolio with personal shoots, so having spent the entire morning editing and delivering a job for a client from a shoot in Surrey yesterday (more about that in a future post), I grabbed my gear and got down to H&B Tyres in Frome for a mini portrait session.

I’d popped into H&B previously to check that it would be ok/possible to do some photos as and when I was able, and was given the OK by the owner, Mike as well as a green light from a couple of the tyre fitters there.

I wanted to use the opportunity to take portraits of these guys because A) The staff area is a fascinating jumble of car parts and machinery and B) I wanted to take “formal” portraits in a setting I don’t typically find myself in. Most of what I shoot happens in nice, clean offices with predictable lighting against a plain or office backdrop. I wanted a bit more of a challenge to see what would come of it.

From the shoot, which finished just over an hour ago, I’ve pulled one image for this blog post. I think one or two more may well find their way into my portfolio galleries.

In the meantime, meet Donald who, as it happens, is a fan of Don McCullin’s work. I think Don the tyre fitter’s pose might well have been influenced by Don the photographer’s work.

News of Frome Views

Earlier this year I left the Alamy stock image library in order to preserve my professional integrity (I won’t bore you with details here), since which time I’ve been giving some thought about my future relationship with stock photography in general.

I’ve never been a great fan of stock photography partly because I always prefer to work on commission, where a client knows what they want and therefore I know I’m taking pictures which have a definite purpose. Stock photos mostly exist for no reason at all and will never be published; the idea of taking photos which just languish on a server somewhere seems sad to me.

Additionally, because stock photography is a numbers game, a photographer has to dedicate themselves pretty much full time to taking stock photos in order to make a living from it. The lack of motivation I have for doing nothing but stock shots all day combined with the exclusion of all commissioned work would kill the joy I have for my job.

Having said all that, I have decided there is room in my professional life to spend time taking pictures which interest me and which might also have a stock image value. I don’t have to offer them through an agency and I can set my own prices, but there is an additional benefit which you don’t get with a stock library, namely that by hosting the photos on my own gallery, I create content which is indexed by Google. It creates another small piece in the search engine optimisation jigsaw.

Even if I never sell a photo, the photos I host will have the benefit of helping to attract search result enquiries. I can adjust, chop and change what I offer, which will also signal to Google that I’m an active, creative photographer based in Somerset. They also show potential clients another side to what I do and might offer inspiration for their next project. All of this can only happen by keeping the images closely tied to my own website. When they’re held remotely by a stock library, the link between the image and the creator is weakened.

The images here are just a small taster, and though the collection itself is very small at the moment it will grow and you can see the full set here.

 

On The Mount

Tip: To see the image in full width, click the title of this post to lose the sidebar.

A bit of a change of direction this week; I recently started something which I hope will become a coherent series of photos journaling the real Frome town. I want to include the people and the places that get less of a look-in, which are often ignored for not being pretty enough, retro enough or chic enough for our attention. Like Standerwick, I want this series to inform the viewer without pushing an agenda. You see the pictures, you decide what they mean to you.

I don’t want this to be just another series of “petty observations” the like of which you see on Instagram or twitter every day. Certainly Frome gets its share of those with many snaps of Catherine Hill and Cheap Street, or the Independent Market. I’m looking for the slightly grittier side of Frome.

The image below is just the first instalment, a bit of a scene-setter if you like, and it shows The Mount, Keyford, Frome, which is just one of the areas I’ll be chronicling. This series will eventually get its own gallery on my website and perhaps become an exhibition somewhere in the town. Well, that would be super, but we’ll have to see about that.

In the meantime, here goes nothing, as they say…

Feltham Drive looking towards Austin Close, The Mount, Frome, Somerset

Feltham Drive looking towards Austin Close, The Mount, Frome, Somerset

The News Itch

Sometimes I hanker after the good old days when I was rushing about covering news events. Of course most of it was pretty mundane stuff (community group cheque presentations, councillors on self-promoting visits to local Scout clubs and so on), but covering Magistrates or Crown Court, while often time-consuming was an interesting challenge. Or a stakeout waiting for some local scallywag to emerge from their last known address, house fires, road traffic accidents… these were not enjoyable, but you felt you were doing a useful job bringing the news to your readers.

Yes, I miss the rush of covering hard news and sometimes I ponder how difficult it would be to start covering local news without the backup of a recognised publication. The problem is, I often spot newsworthy things around my home town of Frome, but there isn’t a local newspaper that would pay for the photos and I’m not prepared to give them away for free to a commercial entity. Instead I occasionally post pictures on my photography Facebook page, and it’s interesting to see how many hits these posts get. It often results in a little spike in visits to the page, which makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be doing more.

Police cordon off an area outside The Cornerhouse pub in Frome, Somerset, after a fight.

It’s not art, but local incidents get little coverage in the papers

Naturally it always comes back to questions of whether I can afford to peel off from whatever task I’m on to go and take pictures of an incident just to share them on my Facebook page, as well as the question of whether, as an individual without the remit of a picture editor, I can really justify approaching police and fire officers to get the necessary details for the caption and gain the access required to get pictures which fully tell the story.

At least when I was a card-carrying press man I had something which said “within the constraints of the law and my professional codes of conduct, I have a right to be here taking photos.” I find it harder to do now that I’m just another bloke with a camera.

With the local publications increasingly ignoring the difficult-to-get or the stories breaking out of hours, I suspect I’ll find myself taking more pictures of the things which happen around my town. I’ll rely on experience and training to know what I can cover and how far I can push my access, because lord knows I have no interest in getting arrested or punched, but if you want to see how I get on and keep up with what I do, you can always Like my Facebook page or keep an eye on this blog.

If you’re like-minded and local, why not get in touch? It might come to nothing, but you never know, we might be the start of a new publishing empire!

Entering The Press Photography Dark Ages

Bizarrely, having written in my last blog post about the Pine Range fire which I covered for The Bath Chronicle in 1991, I was heading back to my flat from a family gathering on Sunday evening to discover the sheltered housing complex on the opposite side of my building from where Pine Range once stood was surrounded by fire crews, engines and hoses. A fire had broken out in one of the flats and 11 residents had to be evacuated, with one resident being taken to hospital suffering smoke inhalation.

Aside from the obvious concern that everyone had been evacuated safely I couldn’t help feeling I should take a few photos, in spite of the fact I had a fair number of other commitments that evening, limited time and no obvious client for any photos I would take.

But the news photographer blood which still courses through me was buzzing and telling me to get on with it and at least take a few frames to offer up to the local paper. More in hope than expectation; time was a paper would have torn my arm off at the elbow for a set of pictures from an event they couldn’t get to and would happily have paid for them. Times have changed so very much though.

Fire crews attend a fire at Gorehedge residential home for the elderly in Keyford, Frome.

A general view gives some idea of the scale of the operation

I don’t often find myself covering this kind of story any more. Most of what I do for publications is press release work, which of course doesn’t include things like un-planned fires. I had to pause and ask myself if it was still valid for me to take pictures at an incident if I don’t have an immediate client for the shots. I don’t even carry a National Union of Journalists card any more, having let my membership lapse some years ago.

I honestly don’t think any of that matters though. Whether or not a newspaper wants to use my photos is entirely their call. As a trained, experienced news photographer I still feel I have a duty to record events if I am able. I can’t know at the time of taking a photo whether I will have captured something banal, tragic or incredibly newsworthy. All I can do is call on all my training and experience and get on with taking pictures.

Now that local newspapers no longer cover local stories and events with anything approaching enthusiasm perhaps it’s more important than ever that photographers with the right training and skills create quality visual records of what they witness.

Firefighters work through the building to ensure there are no pockets of fire left

Firefighters work through the building to ensure there are no pockets of fire left

Looking at the paltry photographic coverage the Bath Chronicle gave the Tour of Britain last week, and The Frome Standard’s belated attempt at photographing a major news event on their own doorstep (their photos were taken over three hours after the event), it’s possible that historians of the future will look back on the stories of our time and wonder why the photos from the early 2000s are worse than the ones taken a century before on far more primitive equipment.

Crews start to wind-down as the incident de-escalates

Crews start to wind-down as the incident de-escalates

 

 

Blast from the Past – Frome Pine Range Fire

Sometimes I like to pull something from my archive and share it with you, so here’s a photo from February 1991 showing the Pine Range furniture factory in Frome being attended by fire crews as it’s gutted by fire. I apologise for the quality of the reproduction here, it’s an old newspaper cutting and I no longer have access to the original negative – a common occurrence of my very early work which is held by The Bath Chronicle (more likely the negatives no longer exist).

Fire crews attend the fire at Pine Range, Frome, February 1991

Fire crews attend the fire at Pine Range, Frome, February 1991

I vaguely recall the circumstances surrounding this call-out. I was a freelance at “The Chron” at the time and I was probably working late, printing the day’s shoots ready for the next day’s paper, when a reporter came into the photography department to see if a photographer might be around to attend a breaking story. Luckily for them, I was.

The story had come through of a big fire in Frome, so we headed out in my car (to be pedantic, probably my then-girlfriend’s car) to see what was up. I know it was late at night, might even have been around midnight, when we got there to find a few fire crews in attendance at the building which was billowing smoke.

It was such a bitterly cold night that the run-off water from the fire hoses was freezing to the road, and I recall struggling to walk up the incline to the scene because of all the ice under foot.

There wasn’t a huge amount to photograph, I just had to make sure I got the building and fire engines to fill the frame. After taking a few different angles, I was pretty much finished. There wasn’t much light about, and I recall using my large hammerhead Metz flashgun to illuminate the entire scene.

It was hardly a moment for great art, but I would have headed back to the Chronicle offices straight after to process my film and make some prints so the picture desk could choose one for the paper the next morning. I probably rolled into bed in the early hours and would have been back on duty about half eight the next day.

One small coincidence of this job is that from where I currently live my living room window overlooks the site of the Pine Range building, which was subsequently demolished and is now a block of flats. Hardly Circle of Life stuff, but curious all the same.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

This week’s blog is going to be mercifully short because today I’m working feverishly behind the scenes to get my newly designed blog and website up and ready (exciting and scary!)

However, I hate to disappoint all the beautiful people out there who like to swing by every Tuesday in search of some nugget of information, entertainment or um… can’t remember what the third thing might be, so I’m taking this opportunity to give you an early alert to one of the changes you’ll see on the site.

Angled detail view in black and white of cobbled street, Frome

Now available to buy as an enlargement

It’s all a bit work-in-progress at the moment, but if you look at the Personal Project Photography gallery you’ll see that the images there are available to buy as prints or enlargements. New options will be added and updated, as will images from my archive and (in time) new images which I’ll add as and when they’re ready.

You’re welcome to have a look, and if you see something you like you’ll be welcome to order it! If you see a photo you like which isn’t available in a size or finish you’d want, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

For technical reasons, not all photos will be available in all sizes because I want to ensure that whatever you buy looks fantastic on your wall.

This is just one feature of the new site which will have a different look and will incorporate this blog far more seamlessly, making it easier for everyone to see and access the bits they need.

So exciting times all round! I’m hoping that by the time you read my next article, the new site will be finished and live. Wish me luck, and thank you for your patience during this construction work.