Cairncross Review Review (Part the Second)

The silence is deafening and so is the noise.

The problem with the Cairncross Review is that it tackles issues which should trouble us all, and deeply, yet I’m seeing very little discussion of it not only amongst former journalist colleagues and photographers, but also the wider public.

Much of the problem seems to stem from a general lack of awareness that it was even being undertaken. When I look through the list of organisations and individuals who submitted responses to the call for evidence, all the usual suspects are there (Johnston Press, Facebook, Google, The Guardian, News UK), but not a lot from individuals with specific interests in the industry.

From the general public there were 588 responses, but the report doesn’t publish more than excerpts of these submissions. On the one hand, that’s a larger public response than I was expecting. On the other, it’s pretty abysmal given the importance of a thriving local press sector for our freedoms and democracy.

This relatively low response will be a result of factors such as ignorance of the existence of the review, apathy and perhaps most understandably, an exhaustion brought about by the constant white noise of Brexit debate.

And even I am sitting here wondering why I care so much for an industry which has now given me less than half of my professional life. I’m too busy with keeping my own business running (as well as trying to expand my documentary work, which is in itself a response to the collapse in local journalism) to invest in a future which will be entirely out of my hands.

For now I just need to summarise a few points from my reading of a selection of the responses, in no particular order:

  1. Facebook and Google consider themselves innocent in all this, indeed they claim to be putting masses of cash back into regional journalism and it’s the publishers which are failing to take advantage of the new opportunities open to them.
  2. The publishers consider themselves innocent in all this and their sales were fantastic and revenues strong until the nasty digital boys came and smashed up their game.
  3. Neither side can quite bring themselves to admit the truth, instead pushing positions which are self-serving and often delusional.
  4. Government ultimately has no answer to this. Whatever they do will be wrong and will end in tears, corruption and a slow death for local journalism (followed some time later, probably a Wednesday afternoon, by national journalism).

Whatever happens though, I will try to keep an eye on developments. I can’t help it, and I really do believe that if you care for democracy and a diversity of voices in the many media available to us, you should at least make an attempt to bone-up on the broad outlines of the Cairncross Review and the developments which arise from it.

From next week though, I need to get back to talking about my own work and personal projects before the crashing silence and deafening noise get too much.

Learning to Assist, Assisting to Learn

The work of a business or corporate communications photographer (which is what I do) is rather different from that of a truly commercial one, by which I mean a photographer who shoots commercial images for advertising campaigns.

Most of what I do is pictures for business communications (website, brochures, press releases and so on), which while it’s commercial in the sense that I make money from my work, it’s not commercial in the strict photography business sense of being for commercials/adverts.

That may seem like a rather fine, specific point to open an article with, but it’s pertinent here because a few weeks ago I found myself assisting a commercial (as in advertising) photographer.

Now the other stand-out point of this article is that I was assisting another photographer at all. In 30 years of being a professional photographer I have never assisted, but when I was asked if I’d be interested in helping with a series of shoots I didn’t have to think too hard about whether or not to dive in.

The thing is, assisting is one of the best ways to learn and evolve as a photographer. I never did it because I trained as a press photographer and cut my teeth with news photography at college and local papers. This was a typical career path for many newspaper photographers.

For commercial and studio photographers, assisting was the way to learn the ropes, develop techniques and evolve your own style.

If I have one gripe about those starting out as photographers now (ok, I may have more than one gripe, but let’s keep this brief), it’s that too many of them think that to be a commercial photographer, all you need to do is read the camera manual and start taking pictures. If a friend or your mum tells you your pictures are nice, you launch a website and hey presto you’re a fully-fledged commercial pro. Believe me, without a few years of assisting, training and a baptism or two by fire, this just isn’t going to cut it.

Anyway, back to the plot. In my case, the call came from friend, fellow photographer and all-round-good-egg Jon Raine whose work you really should take a look at.

Jon’s background is very much in the commercial sphere, shooting pictures for big brands, and one of his regular gigs has been to take portraits of TalkSport presenters which is what he was asking me to assist him with on this occasion.

The obvious benefit of this gig for me was to work alongside someone who has deep experience as both a photographer and a commercial art director. Seeing how Jon plans and executes his work was a great insight, as was seeing the similarities between his methods and mine. It helped reinforce some of my practices for me, which is also useful.

The benefit for Jon was not only that he got to listen to my jokes all day, but there were also one or two small tips I was able to offer back.

Also, being a photographer myself meant I knew what to look out for as his images came through to the laptop – an errant hair, a badly placed crease in a shirt or white fluff on a dark top (not always easy to spot until flash hits it).

Another advantage for Jon was that I could take behind the scenes photos while he worked, which he could then use for a record of his work and social media if he wished. Of course that was a mutual advantage because now I’m using one of the photos for this blog post, a BTS shot of Olympic champion and Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins.

So everyone’s a winner! Including the subject.

Goldfish Ate My Cat

How’s this for a blast from the past? A project from my college days, February 1991 to be precise, which involved mocking up a newspaper front page using pictures and stories I’d covered during the course. Well, two real stories at least; read carefully and you’ll notice some fake news too.

I stumbled across this while having an office clear-out. It’s pasted into the back of my first ever cuttings book, so it’s not been shredded or binned along with the eight-year-old bank statements, receipts, accounts and long-defunct business cards from long-defunct businesses.

The purpose of the exercise was to think about page layout and to get to grips with the newly-emerging technology of desktop publishing. In fact I recall this was done on something like a Mac 1 (or thereabouts). Looking at the caption for Norma Major’s photo you can tell I wasn’t all that impressed with the image quality available at the time.

The lead story about Don McCullin was clearly the one item I was taking seriously in this exercise, given the rather pretentious journalism I employed when writing it. But I still have a proper silver print of that photo I made at the time. It sits inside the cover of my signed copy of McCullin’s Unreasonable Behaviour.

Luckily no one came forward to claim the space shuttle prize and I’m afraid the competition closed in March 1991.

Two Decades and a World Away

Yes, I was there too. Another press photographer who covered Diana’s funeral and because my words will be lost in the blizzard of articles and analysis on this the 20th anniversary of her death, I’ll point you towards this excellent article by Fleet Street photographer Brian Harris before offering a few brief thoughts of my own.

For myself, I was a lowly local news photographer at the time and was astonished to be assigned an official pass to cover the funeral from a position directly opposite the main door of Westminster Abbey.

Like Brian, I remember being hissed at by the crowd as I made my way to the position. I remember the weird atmosphere as people cheered the stars of music, TV and film as they arrived for the service. I also remember seeing the shot of the card on the coffin which just read “Mummy” and yes it was a cracking shot, but Brian’s was more graceful.

As for my effort, well it wasn’t the strongest image of the day, but I found myself focusing on the expressions of the pallbearers, members of the Welsh Guards who were clearly struggling to hold their emotions together. The shot summed up the occasion and emotions of the day in a fairly tight frame.

So considering it’s not a shot I had never wanted to have to take, I’ll live with it and leave it here as part of a much larger record of a sad day which changed all who were involved at least a little and for ever.

 

Pink Elephants at Open Farm Sunday

The cliché of all clichés states that you should never work with children and animals, but I disagree. They can make excellent subjects and on Sunday 7th June I got to work with both as it was Open Farm Sunday, a national event and an opportunity for families to see the inner workings of farms all over the country.

I was booked to attend Meadowlea Farm in Somerset to capture a flavour of the day for sponsors ABP. The images were destined for press release and ABPs website and internal communications, so I needed to get a good variety of shots showing interactions between families, children, the farmers and animals.

I think my favourite shots of the day show a delightful young lad, Tom, doing some colouring in with one of ABP’s representatives, Robyn. The table was set up in one of the farm sheds, I just had it pulled forward enough to get the best of the daylight on them, then let them get going with pencils and crayons. After a few action shots I wanted them looking into my lens, so I told Tom if he looked carefully and smiled nicely, he might see the pink elephant that lives in my camera. It did the trick and Tom gave me a whole bunch of brilliant smiles, it was one of those moments you can’t help smiling at yourself. And of course Tom could see the pink elephant, children always can.

My First Digital Photos

I’d like to thank commercial photographer Chris Pearsall for the inspiration for this week’s article when he posted his very first digital image to a photographers’ forum on Facebook.

My first digital SLR was a Canon D30, a 3.1 megapixel camera which I bought at the tail end of 2000 for about £1,600. It was a pretty terrible camera, but I was shooting a lot of news at the time and it saved me a lot of rushing to 1-hour processing labs to get my images ready for scanning and sending to the picture desk. The next model up, the rather more capable 1D was I think about £3,500 at the time and on the shift rates I was on at the time would have taken forever to pay off.

Its main drawback was the slow, and not very reliable focusing. I could have my finger jammed down on the shutter button, desperately trying to get it to lock focus and take the photo of some celebrity or other rushing from their front door to a waiting taxi. If I was lucky I’d get a photo of the back of the taxi as it pulled away.

On slower-moving people and static objects it was fine, but not perfect. It’s fair to say that digital cameras have come a long way since 2000.

The earliest image I can find is a rather dull exterior of a house. It was to accompany a non-story about a gameshow contestant.

A big house at a distance... yawn

A big house at a distance… yawn

Another story I covered using the D30 (I wasn’t using it for everything at this stage) was something of a struggle, it being a nighttime air crash near Aldershot. Focus was difficult and the image noise further softened the images. Nothing I took that night made the paper.

Late in December 2000 I covered a visit by the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to the Millennium Dome before it closed and went on to become the O2 Arena. This shot of the director of the attraction, P Y Gerbeau, is a typical example of the struggles I had with that camera to get sensible colours and to get fill flash to work convincingly. I’m so glad things have improved since then, but it was interesting to go back to my very first CD of digital images. Another thing it showed me is just how much my photography has improved since then too!

firecrews examine the wreckage of an aircraft after it crashed into an industrial building near Aldershot.

It was a tragic accident on a dark, wet night and the D30 struggled to work reliably

P Y Gerbeau at the Millennium Dome, Greenwich, London

P Y Gerbeau at the Millennium Dome, Greenwich, London

My 2014 In Pictures

This, dear reader, is the last post of 2014 and as such it’s become something of a tradition for me to do an annual roundup of images, choosing one for each month of the year as it comes to a juddering halt.

The middle of this year was rather dominated with work for University of Bath as I stepped in while their staff photographer recovered from a cycling accident, and while I could have filled more months with student profiles and university events I’ve tried to keep it more varied than that.

I hope you enjoy this year’s selection. It just remains for me to thank all my clients for their custom and support over the year and to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tim

Rotating milking parlour on a dairy in Wiltshire

January – Rotating milking parlour in Wiltshire for an article on the benefits of mechanised dairies

Jolly's of Bath store assistant Josh Gottschling in Revolutions Bar in Bath

February – Portrait of Jolly’s of Bath staff member Josh Gottschling in his favourite bar for an in-house magazine article

Nigel Lawson talking to an audience at University of Bath

March – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson addresses an audience at University of Bath on issues surrounding renewable energy – he’s not a fan of it

Two silhouetted faces in profile talking with Future Everything Festival signage displayed between them

April – The Future Everything Festival in Manchester for client Digital Connected Economy Catapult

 

Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

May – Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

Student  Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

June – Student Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

July – Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

A street at dusk in the historic part of Hall in Tirol

August – Finally, a holiday in Austria and I get to take pretty pictures of picturesque streets

Business portrait of Andy Harriss

September – Andy Harris of Rookery Software Ltd is a man every bit as interesting as his hair

Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco's store in Salisbury

October – Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco’s store in Salisbury

Chef John Melican stands at a farm gate with the sign PLEASE SHUT GATE nailed to it

November – A fresh portrait for chef John Melican’s new Melican’s Events website

Yarn-bombed tree in Melksham, Wiltshire

December – On the way back to the car from a job in Melksham I couldn’t resist a shot of this yarn-bombed tree in the December sunshine

 

 

 

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!

Where JP fail, others choose to follow

I had promised myself I wouldn’t re-visit the subject of Johnson Press or anything else quite as depressing for a while. The reaction to that article was incredible, receiving over 360 hits in two days which, for a modest blog such as mine is quite a big deal.

Indeed I had every intention of keeping things upbeat for a while, but then I got one more reaction to the article which I just couldn’t ignore; an email from someone whose situation perfectly illustrates the insanity which has overtaken newspaper publishing in this country. The victim of another publisher taking a short-term view and discarding both staff and reader loyalty in the hope of bigger margins.

There’s really nothing I can add to what this photojournalist says, so I’ll let their email speak for itself. Reproduced with permission…

Great to read your blog about Johnston Press.

Days after their announcement the publisher that I work for as a retained photo journalist also announced that it was going down the free content route and will no longer require my services!

The new model is to copy and paste press releases, and the associated pictures, thus removing my position.

I gather that everything is now geared towards ad revenue and pleasing PR people and press officers in the hope that they will advertise with said publishing group. As a result, all critical reporting has been banned in case it upsets said PR departments and everything will now be portrayed as sunny, regardless of the reality.

On the odd occasion a picture is needed from an event the ad man or webmaster will go along with their tablet, iphone etc and take a picture that is “good enough”. The parting shot was “with digital photography nowadays, we don’t need a retained photo journalist”

An editorial policy where PR people dictate content, as that’s what will happen, is an odd policy to adopt for a news publication. But hey, got to keep those PR people happy!

I was retained for 10 years and they just cut me adrift as if I never mattered. Over that decade the publisher would constantly apologise for not being able to pay me more (1k a month), but when they abolished my position this figure suddenly became a “considerable amount” . Loyalty, what ever happened to it?

Back to my roots

With my roots firmly set in newspaper photography, it’s always a pleasure to get a commission to shoot pictures for a client that require that newspaper style. It’s not the same as shooting for a corporate website or brochure which generally requires a bit less story telling and tends to be more polished. For a newspaper style you can work faster and produce a wider range of image options. It’s ok to pull in props from what’s around you if it helps, and you’re not looking for a totally slick look, which can leave a photo looking less genuine when it’s for a news context.

A good recent example is a job I shot for Positive Outcomes, a national training company, who offer a range of training and apprenticeship services to companies and organisations and training to help a whole range of people looking to improve their work skills.

In this example two people, Holly Drew and Alistair Johnstone, completed their on-the-job training while volunteering at the St Peter’s Hospice charity shop in Westbury on Trym, Bristol and I was asked to produce a set of images suitable for local press and web use to help tell their story.

After about an hour on site I had a good selection of images, both upright and landscape orientations to suit picture desk requirements. I thought perhaps you’d like to see a selection of the results.

Showing Holly and Alistair interacting as they work adds an extra layer to the picture story

Offering a vertical alternative reduces the risk of a photo being ditched just because it doesn’t fit the page design

Showing Holly and Alistair at work in the stock room is another opportunity to show them at work