The Female Perspective

Once in a while I need to step back from talking about my own work on this blog and take a look around at some of the other incredible work which exists out there.

That’s what I’m doing this week, having just stumbled across a new website which gathers together all the female photojournalists, from the inception of the genre to the present day, and presents them in a single website. The site in question https://trailblazersoflight.com/ is pretty large in itself, but then links off to external sites and articles about each photographer.

You can click on the name of any photographer within the huge list of names to see more about them. Where there is no standalone website representing the photographer, you’ll be taken to an article about them (New York Times seems to feature regularly here). Otherwise, you’ll be taken directly to the photographer’s website.

What strikes me is the sheer quantity of highly respected photojournalists listed. It doesn’t surprise me that they are women, but there are so many at all, and that so few are names I have ever come across previously.

I’ve bookmarked the site so I can work my way through photographer-by-photographer to learn about those photojournalists I’ve never heard of before, as well as to remind myself of the incredible work of those with whom I’m more familiar. Seeing the work of top operators of the field is one of my main sources of inspiration.

Of course the site is extremely important if we’re ever going to highlight the work of women in a male-dominated field, but I think it’s worth setting aside the female-centric focus and just wallowing in the sheer breadth, depth and quality of the work. It’s a shame that many of these names have faded from discussions about photojournalism, where perhaps the more macho side of reportage has taken precedence, but this project is a start in redressing the balance.

Perhaps what is more tragic is that as newspapers and magazines continue to die on their feet, and as shooting true photojournalism becomes ever more dangerous, opportunities for photojournalists of any gender are increasingly difficult to find and fund. I very much hope that female photojournalists will find greater equality with their male counterparts as well as an industry vibrant enough to make the future bright for such talent to flourish and to be recognised.

This is vital if women are to be inspired to take up this noble profession in decades to come, and I see sites such as Trailblazers of Light as an important force for such inspiration where other sources are struggling.

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.

Why wasn’t my Dad Vivian Maier!

Those of you who follow me on twitter (those of you who don’t, why don’t you?!) may have read my tweets over the past weekend that I am currently looking through a box full of old transparencies taken by my late father. Most appear to date from the very late 1950s and early 1960s, though not all are dated.

Of course I was hoping to stumble across a veritable Vivian Maier-style collection of emotive, historical images. Unfortunately for me, my Dad wasn’t the street-photographer type.

Many of the images were taken in Germany of the places my Mother and Father visited when making trips to see my maternal grandmother in Ludwigshafen am Rhein where she lived, but Dad always liked taking pictures of landscapes, old houses and castles. None of which change much even in 50 years.

I’m still working my way through the slides though. There are maybe a couple of hundred in all. Again, not exactly Maier proportions, but some have caught some interesting fashion styles and cars and I need to look at them all before deciding if there is anything worth scanning.

One of the main problems I’m finding is the deterioration of the slides. Some have fungi growing on them. With some the slide mounts have sprung open, and others have lost all colour except magenta. Bit of a mixed bag of problems really.

Just out of curiosity, I’m posting a small selection of them here. These aren’t proper scans and I’ve left them deliberately messy – let’s call them instagrams that took a little longer to develop.

With all these issues though, it makes you wonder what state our digital files will be in 50 years from now. One solar flair and perhaps all digital photography will be wiped! Hmm, if only I could control the Sun, then I could control the digital photography market! MWAHAHAHAHA!!!

*Tim has gone for a lie down and nurse will be along shortly with fresh medication.

View of Pultney Bridge and Empire Hotel, Winter 1961

Taken circa 1961, of the Empire Hotel and Pultney Bridge, Bath

Magenta photo of large trees in a park

Trees in a park. All the colour dyes apart from magenta have disappeared.

My mum at Frankfurt Zoo, circa 1960.

In those days you dressed smart for holiday.

Oi! Tim! What’s the best photo you’ve ever taken?

I don’t much enjoy trying to answer that question (especially when it’s asked like that), but since it’s a question I get asked, well sometimes at least, I thought it might be an idea to do an article on it.

Probably the simplest answer is that I tend to like whichever was the best photo from my most recent assignment at the time of asking. I do tend to prefer more recent work, perhaps because with every brief, with each new location, there are challenges to be met and overcome and I still love to learn something new from each shoot. And maybe it’s that having a press background, I tend to see older work as having passed its sell-by date.

Of my press photography, I’d still say my favourites are my photo of Tony Blair campaigning in Oldham in 2001 and the portrait of Tony Benn in Bath. Those pictures seem to sum up the evangelical character of the former prime minister, while the other sums up the thoughtful, statesmanlike manner of Mr Benn. More recently, the unguarded shot of Richard Noble of the SSC Project pleased me in its informality and got a decent showing in Director magazine

news cutting bath chronicle 1992 election showing chris patten defeat

Capturing a historical moment has a certain buzz.

When I look at my recent commercial photography, I’m often drawn to the simple, relaxed corporate portraits, especially where I’ve captured something of the subject’s character, but I also have a fondness for the beekeeper portrait, which was not only tricky to light, but was tricky to shoot since I was in full protective gear and surrounded by bees at the time. The beekeeper was a decent chap too, and gave me some honey after the shoot. Of course, what’s important is how the photo looks, not what was involved in getting it to look that way, but each picture has an emotional attachment for the photographer, which is why we’re often the worst judges of our own work.

Looking at my gallery of public relations photography, I’d single out the portrait of the barbary lion, partly because he’s so handsome and also because everyone who sees that photo reacts with a “wow” or similar, which is always encouraging.

Apart from the lion, I’m quite fond of the PR photo which I took for the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative. The idea of making it look as though the fridges in the middle of a field might actually be working tickles me, and adds an extra dimension of interest to the shot.

portrait photo actress penelope keith

Actress Penelope Keith in mid-interview. Never published, but still a favourite.

There are many photos and assignments I’d rank as favourites, but going back beyond the last 12 years leads me to that period when I was a staff photographer, so don’t have the copyright in those shots, which means I can’t publish them here.

There’s the shoot I did in Norway with the Royal Marine Reservists, which included a striking shot of a marine bursting up through freezing lake water during a survival exercise, his shocked expression and the water droplets cascading from his hair making it almost uncomfortable to view the photo. Or the single frame I managed to get of HM The Queen arriving at Portsmouth Harbour train station on a drizzly night, simple headscarfe and clearly not expecting a photographer, though smiling all the same.

Delving even deeper into the past, I’ve featured here a couple of favourites from the very beginning of my career, when I freelanced for the Bath Chronicle. Now I think about it again, it isn’t just my recent work I’m happiest with. I think I have some pretty cracking older shots too…

How about you?

Whether you’re a professional or amateur, do you have a favourite of your own? Or perhaps there’s a photographer you admire, or a particular photo that sticks in your mind. Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below.