Measured Success

A PR job this week proved that in spite of everything, photography is being commissioned and it can be done safely.

What is different in this lockdown world is the logistics. I had to think more carefully about how I could execute the photos safely (thinking of my subjects as much as of myself).

So I took some simple precautions. No, I didn’t have a mask or gloves. I didn’t wear a hazmat suit. Neither did I take the pictures from the safety of my car.

I simply took a tape measure and some playground chalk. This meant I could mark out positions two metres apart for people to stand on before bringing them into the scene.

Everyone was at least two metres from anyone else (including myself) at all times. The simplest of tools kept everyone safe.

Of course some types of corporate photography cannot happen right now. For example, office headshots aren’t feasible when businesses have furloughed their staff. Cancelled events and business meetings mean none of that work is available to me right now.

However, it’s probably not a bad time for businesses to consider some positive PR. There are good news stories out there, and we could all do with some of that right now! And using a professional photographer to create the images you need will mean you get high quality photos safely.

If you have a good news story – perhaps it’s related to the crisis, perhaps it isn’t, drop me a line and we can look at options.

Maybe I can “chalk up” a success for you too.

Covid-19, The Update Post

The purpose of this blog post is to keep clients informed of my status during the Covid-19 crisis, should they need to know.

I’ll be keeping in direct touch with current clients only as required since I know they’ll all be scrabbling to keep their operations afloat.

This post will be linked from my Home page to keep visitors to the site informed.

Any updates to my status or activities will be posted at the foot of this article, preceded with a date to ensure clarity. If you want to know the very latest news with regards my coronavirus plans, scroll to the very end of this post.

Current Status:

In broad terms, I can tell you that my current status is ok. I am solvent (improved by forthcoming government assistance for the self-employed) and I am fit and well as I practice social distancing and keep journeys to a minimum.

Bookings:

My diary has emptied of advance bookings for at least the next two months. Normally I would also be picking up last-minute work, but of course that is also currently impossible. I want to be as fair as possible with my clients so I propose the following:

  • Any bookings which coincide with a lockdown period can be postponed for a future date without any surcharges.
  • Any bookings which have to be cancelled entirely may incur a fee, however this will be discussed with the client to find the best solution for a positive outcome.
Current Plans:

I have a plan to keep busy, starting with a programme of website updates, tweaks and improvements.

I’ve already brought my accounts up-to-date (sorting my sock drawer is next!) and my fine art print site takeagander.co.uk is also replete with the latest images. Sadly my print supplier has had to close temporarily, so although I can still take print orders, I won’t be able to fulfil them until the printer can re-open. Updates on that are more likely to be found on the takeagander website.

To my clients:

I want to assure all my clients that I have every intention of still being here for them when this is all over. Luckily I had already completed a programme of reducing overheads in the final quarter of 2019, which basically means I have no office rent or associated costs around my neck right now.

All my subscriptions continue to be covered, including for Photoshelter, which means all my client galleries should continue to be secure and accessible at all times. If you experience any problems with your gallery, let me know and I’ll be happy to help.

Anyone requiring help:

I remain open to enquiries, even if they cannot be confirmed bookings at this time. If you have a question I can help with, or you want to start an early conversation about a potential future project, I’ll be delighted to hear from you. If you just need to hear a voice other than your own, call me.

That’s all for now folks. Keep safe, keep well. I can’t wait to work with you again soon.

Updates:

2nd April 2020 – My main task this week has been to make tweaks to the website, some minor and others more involved. Due to a server issue on Monday/Tuesday progress was slow, but I’m glad to say everything is back to normal and I’ve done most of what I intended to complete.

This has included:

  • Writing this blog post, then ensuring there is a link to it directly from the home page.
  • Updating the Personal Projects galleries, making them smaller, more manageable and improving ease of navigation to them.
  • Updating the Business Portraits, Corporate Communications and Editorial + PR galleries with fresh content.
  • Re-writing the text for all the galleries.
  • Back-end tidying of the site structure. Whether this has any discernible effect is up for debate.
  • Re-jigging the About Me page with refreshed text and links to Testimonials and takeagander.co.uk
  • A tweak to my fees to help build a stronger business for the future.

I still need to work through my T&Cs and find a place to display my lovely, shiny GDPR certificate, but this week really has seen impressive progress.

I almost forgot to mention, my image archiving catalogue is also now bang up to date with the last couple of months’ jobs. A rarity indeed.

3rd April 2020 – Yesterday morning felt like four hours of shovelling pixels as I made adjustments to my website. So I spent the afternoon shovelling compost as we work to improve our veg-growing capacity at home. I’m so grateful to have a garden, something so many people don’t have.

Most of today will be spent freshening up my LinkedIn profile page, then it’s back to the website to make some additional changes and improvements.

Back again! I’ve spent the entire morning freshening up my LinkedIn profile, though I’m sure there is more I could do. I’ve also improved access to my GDPR statement and certificate on my website.

I might head back out to the garden for the next couple of hours before my backside fuses to my chair.

6th April 2020 – It’s 05.11 on Monday morning and I seem to be awake. My sleep has been erratic for at least a decade, so this isn’t Coronavirus-stress-related.

At the risk of descending this blog into the realm of the personal, as I face the new week I wanted to share a word on my weekend. Having a garden big enough to do things in is a luxury these days, and I feel extremely privileged to have one large enough for four raised veg beds, a greenhouse, shed and tiny pond.

Although the pond is small, it attracts frogs and other wildlife, and is currently teaming with tadpoles. I’ll be spending time in the coming weeks defending the froglets from the many neighbourhood cats.

Tasks I achieved this weekend: A fresh coat of exterior paint on The Bunker, construction of a brassica cage, construction of two new garden table tops to replace rotten ones using scrap timber (they look better than they sound). Oh and a bit of sunburn! I’m normally very careful in the sun, but really didn’t appreciate that the breeze was deceiving me.

So today I’ll be back to working on my to-do list. I have a couple of rolls of colour film to send off for processing and thankfully the lab can still run safely. I also have a grocery run to do for an isolated resident, but I’m awaiting their list.

Good luck with your week, whatever it involves.

Final update on this post, since this is meant to be a point of useful information for clients, I’ll start a new post which will act as my on-going diary. Carry on reading there if you’re desperate to know how I’m doing.

Friday 22nd May 2020

My plans and risk assessments are well underway as clients start to make enquiries once again. I will have hand sanitiser and reusable mask with me on all jobs. Gloves are not necessary and I believe they present additional risk, so I will only wear gloves if they are required and are supplied by the client. I will wash my hands on arrival, departure and at any point during my time on site that is sensible to do so. Please bear with me because I suffer from hay fever and may need to wash my hands more frequently than normal.

I will work with my clients and subjects to maintain suitable distancing as much as possible.

I will ask that clients allow more liaison time prior to jobs in order that we can plan to minimise the risks to all involved, including of course myself.

If you have particular requirements or suggestions based on your own risk assessments, please feel free to share them with me.

Video

With clients looking for new ways to communicate to their audiences, I have used a large proportion of my lockdown time to get up to speed on good quality video capture, sound recording and editing. I have invested in the equipment required to ensure I am ready to talk to you about your next video project, so do drop me a line if you’re considering adding video to your corporate communications toolbox.

Blue Sky Thinking

Many of us are having to adapt to a new normal, myself included. So for the duration I’m going to post what I can, when I can.

It’s been 18 years since my press card expired, so sitting idly while the biggest World news story of all time breaks is an uncomfortable experience. Which is why I’m doing what I can.

Yesterday’s walk, for example, allowed me to at least click the shutter. I’d been thinking about how I might safely record at least one aspect of this crisis, and then I looked up.

What I saw was clear, blue skies. Not the normal blue, but a blue free of pollution, and that includes the ubiquitous contrails left by aircraft.

Now I appreciate the lack of contrails means many in the aviation sector will be suffering, but this raises new questions for us.

Right now all our thoughts are focused on a single issue, but climate change will return. While we’re asking for mortgage holidays, the climate is getting a pollution holiday. On the down-side, how long before surgical gloves, masks and test kit tubes turn up in dolphins?

And once the brakes come off the economy, how long before we go back to our old ways?

Will contrails once again scar the blue skies?

Quiet Skies is the mini series resulting from yesterday’s walk. I may build on it, we’ll have to see, but I wanted to create something thought-provoking and hopefully beautiful.

So while you can, get out there and remember to look up once in a while. This is how the sky used to look.

Beyond the Brief

Next time you’re planning to update the photography for your corporate communications, why not consider allowing some additional creative time within the session? Allowing some creative space beyond the brief could result in some interesting results.

An excellent example of this is from November last year when I was commissioned to create new team head shots for business data analysts Kaiasm – I’m massively paraphrasing what they do for the sake of brevity.

There was one shot which I pretty much took as a bit of a joke; I’d noticed how the data graph behind the founder Liam McGee’s head made him look like he had a halo. When I mentioned this to him, he obliged with a suitable pose and expression and I took the shot.

The photo was included in the final edit because I know clients often enjoy the odd outtake in their set, but I didn’t expect to see it used.

A couple of weeks later, the local paper ran the photo with an article about Kaiasm and their pending expansion plans.

So allowing some creative freedom and a dollop of humour can lead to unexpectedly useful results. That photo will have drawn far more attention to the article than any plain headshot or stock image of the office would have done, and will have conveyed Kaiasm as a business run by human beings, not robots.

Bear in mind the creative possibilities, even the occasional happy accident afforded by engaging a professional photographer, and you may find the results are a revelation.

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.

2020 and BEYOND!

Often at the close of a year I’ll put together an annual review, but 2019 was different in that it was the close of a decade.

So why didn’t I do a review of the decade? Simply put, I ran out of time. After three months of Bunker conversion, the end-rush to get it ready to coincide with the looming termination date of my tenancy at The Old Church School (eight years there!) PLUS client work PLUS admin PLUS Christmas, I had to make some harsh decisions about what I could and could not fit in.

In fact I was so busy, it barely sank in until quite late in December that we were in fact staring down the barrel of the 2020s. By the time I’d twigged, it was too late to put anything meaningful together. Sorry about that.

However, I’m now fully set up in the new space and although it’s early days, so far it’s working very well and I’m proud of what I accomplished in renovating what was a tatty-looking concrete structure, turning it into a genuinely usable, some may say attractive, workspace. I’m particularly chuffed that the only part of the project I didn’t tackle was the electrical installation. I may be insane, but I’m not mad! My general DIY skills have definitely improved with this project though, just don’t ask me to convert your shed/bunker/garage for you.

Returning to the subject of the turn of the decade, perhaps it’s a shame I didn’t get to look back and reflect, but I actually feel more in the mood for looking forward. After all, my photography of ten years ago is nothing like the work I’m doing now, and even further removed from where I want to take it in the coming years.

Through this year and the next few years, I’ll be working hard to build the fine art projects and prints side of my business (takeagander.co.uk) while continuing to invest in my corporate work, which still represents the bulk of my business.

The launch (see previous post) of the open air exhibition of panels from What Happened Here was a great end to the year and an indicator of the kind of outcome I’m looking for with my personal work – getting it out there and noticed and looking for new opportunities to shoot fresh work and see where it takes me.

With the corporate work I will of course keep developing my style, skills and services, but this relies in part on the personal projects which help me develop new practices outside of client time; I don’t believe in using my clients as guinea pigs for experiments.

What I’m aiming for is more of the same as in recent years, only bigger and better; my corporate work feeding my ability to shoot personal projects, with income from fine art prints and other uses of that work building up into it’s own sizeable income. I have plans, some vaguer than others, but plans nonetheless.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sign off now and start putting those plans into practice. In the meantime, do watch this space for news on forthcoming deals on fine art prints – I hope to announce something big soon.

Drive-In Gallery

As Bowie never sang, “It’s a crash course for the ravers, it’s a dri-i-i-ive-in photo exhibition.”

So having crammed another Bowie reference into a blog post like pushing a banana through a keyhole, what I’m trying to explain here is that I’m massively thrilled to announce that tomorrow sees the launch of my first solo exhibition in an open-air space. To be precise, it’s a car park, making this the world’s first drive-in photo exhibition.

Now, don’t ruin it for me by googling this and finding one already exists, I did search and the closest I found was an underground car park ramp to some billionaire’s posh residence with walls lined with priceless paintings. That doesn’t count.

This all started a few months ago when I approached Mendip District Council (owners of the Saxonvale site) to see if there was any way I could continue documenting the site since they’d made it secure. The timing of my contact was perfect – someone in the council had seen What Happened Here and decided some of the photos would look great on the site hoardings, so we looked at various possibilities from a few different angles and came up with a plan.

Mendip council officers agreed to go ahead with the project and I re-scanned the chosen images since they were going to go big, and I mean VERY big.

Two days ago I visited the very excellent Compugraphic in Frome to see some of the prints coming off their large-format printer ready to be mounted on aluminium composite board; thirteen images in total, 1.5 x 1 metre in size with two of them 1 metre square format. In other words, really huge prints and certainly larger than I’d ever had anything printed before.

I’d been concerned that I couldn’t supply good enough files for such enlargement, but when I saw the prints I nearly cried! They look fantastic, and where I’d been thinking that viewing distance would make up for any loss in quality, I’ll be happy for visitors to walk right up to these. They’ll be able to dive right into the grain of the images.

The panels will be displayed on hoardings in the Merchants Barton car park in the town centre for at least the next few months, so if you do happen to be in the area I hope you’ll check it out. You can find out even more from Mendip’s press release here.

In the meantime, this may well be my final post of 2019 as Project Bunker is overrunning and I’m on a deadline to transfer my office into it by the end of December.

So I’ll take this opportunity to thank you, my clients, my friends, colleagues and suppliers for making 2019 a pretty good year, with an extra special thank you to Naomi and her colleagues at Mendip District Council for rounding it off so spectacularly for me.

Oh and with regards the continued access to the Saxonvale site, we’ll see. I’m doubtful at this stage, but you never know, it could be what keeps me busy in 2020.

Photos with Grace

Between running the Found Notes project, converting the bunker into an office, client work and a yet-to-be-announced exciting piece of news (watch this space!), I’ve also been trying to get out and about with film cameras to make new photo-documentary work.

That’s not easy when I seem to be in a phase of casting about trying to work out exactly what it is I feel I need to document, but while I work through that question it’s important that I don’t let that side of my practice grind to a complete halt. Apart from anything else, just getting out and looking and shooting pictures opens up ideas to possible new series, even if the pictures I take don’t present obvious answers right now.

One example is from yesterday when I got a few minutes to pop along the road to take pictures of local climate protestor Grace Maddrell. Her specific campaign is to raise awareness of the forest fires destroying rain forest in The Congo.

I’d seen Grace over the last couple of weeks, but yesterday was my first opportunity to make a few images. We started with a chat so I could get more background to her campaign and motivation, then it was a mix of posed and un-posed pictures to see what worked.

The image here is probably my favourite, though ultimately it’s just a fairly simple posed portrait. It’s possible I’ll re-visit Grace for more photos – it would be interesting to document her protest as it continues in different weathers and as the Winter really sets in. That may sound a little heartless on paper, but I want to show her dedication and she is very serious about this cause.

Grace spends her time protesting in her home town of Frome as well as Bath and Bristol and campaigns alongside the Extinction Rebellion and FridaysForFuture movements, but by her own admission her ability to travel is limited by her lack of funds. But at least she’s doing what she can.

If you’d like to follow Grace’s story, you can find her on Twitter as @ElmGrace. Go give her some support and if you see her, give her a wave and a smile, she’d appreciate that. Even better, join her on her protest.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to do what I can to document her campaign locally. It could become the unexpected next series.

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.

Could the fair be more fun?

Every few years I’ll give in to temptation and pay a visit to the biannual Frome Wessex Camera Club camera fair held at the Cheese and Grain in Frome (you know, that place the Foo Fighters did a surprise gig in once; you must know where I mean).

I’m not a natural fan of camera fairs; I think I got over the thrill of standing in a room full of expensive gear I couldn’t afford as a shop assistant some time around 1989.

However the evening before the fair was on, a friend called and asked if I fancied meeting him there. The peculiar thing was, up to the point of that phone call I was oblivious the event was on.

At first I was reticent, but he’d only recently asked if I wanted to meet at another camera fair and I’d turned him down for that one. To avoid looking like a curmudgeonly hermit, I sad yes this time.

I think the last time I’d been to the FWCC fair was 2017, and 2013 before that, so I knew this was a risky place for me and my wallet to be.

So rather than having gear acquisition as my primary plan, I decided to use it as an excuse not only to see my friend, but also to test out and shoot some Ilford Delta 400 film rated at 1600. I’d shot some during my recent trip to Bologna, rated at 400, but I wanted to find the parameters of what this film can do and the flat, poor lighting in the Cheese and Grain is the perfect scenario for this. I thought I might get some interesting photos too.

Well the exercise was a useful one, even if the resulting images aren’t exactly dynamite. At least I know now this is a brilliantly versatile film, but for some reason I couldn’t ‘get my eye in’ so the photos are what they are. I’m posting them here to shame myself into doing better next time.

Of course you can go in with a wedge of cash and blow the lot on some very lovely gear – my friend did exactly that. In fact he picked up some genuine, if pricey, bargains alongside some very cheap non-pricey bargains, and the fair usually has something for any budget.

Even I picked up a fun little camera, thanks to my friend having loads of cash on him and me paying him back after. I know, I cheated.

My bargain was a red Konica C35 EF3 for £15, flash not working. It turned out that when the seller said the flash didn’t work, what he meant was that you could switch the flash on IF you wanted the camera to get fantastically hot/ you wanted the smell of burning electronics up your nose.

No problem though, I can use the camera without flash and it’ll allow me to play more in my ‘down time’. Or on a really cold day I can turn the flash on and warm my hands by the resulting electrical fire.

Now what I’ve been building up to very gingerly in this article is my impression that the fair was a lot quieter this time around than I’ve seen it in previous years. Fewer dealers, fewer visitors. I’m sure there used to be more of both and a lot more gear to tempt the canny bargain-hunter. It just felt a little hollowed-out.

Perhaps I got there too late in the morning for the real rush, but I got the impression it had been a little on the quiet side from the start.

In the past there were people selling historical prints, but none this time around. By way of compensation there was a table laid out with beautiful prints and cards for sale by contemporary photographers Roy Hunt and Martin Wade, who both work in traditional film (thumbs up from me), but again I got the impression they’d not been overwhelmed with sales that morning.

It would have been good to have seen more in the way of photo books on offer, or film and film processing equipment as this is enjoying such a resurgence amongst younger photographers. I did spot some film, but it was tucked out of site under a dealer’s table.

The one issue the fair does suffer is the almost exclusively older white male patronage. Yes, I fall into that category, but neither gender nor age balance would have been improved by my absence.

Another challenge the fair must be facing is that where film cameras used to take up a lot of table space, they’re becoming harder to source at a reasonable price. Some have reached collectible status and prices have gone through the roof. It’s also inevitable that as years pass, more of the old mechanical and electronic film cameras will simply die of old age.

The risk with the fair is that unless it attracts a younger and more diverse crowd, its dealers and visitors will also die of old age.

Perhaps a help stall where someone starting out could get free impartial advice about which kit to go for, and even guidance as to which dealer has what they need. More books, contemporary prints, an exhibition or perhaps a competition or other promotional events would help get people through the door.

For the fair to continue and thrive, Frome Wessex Camera Club will to have find ways of improving their reach. There needs to be better marketing to younger people, and better marketing over all since I was blissfully ignorant of the event until my friend called me. In fact as I exited the event via the cafe I bumped into a couple of friends who’d cycled in for breakfast. Even sitting in the room right next to the fair, they were oblivious to what was on in the main hall.

I’ve had a bit of a flurry of requests for work experience from Frome College students doing photography courses, so I assume the interest is there, but I didn’t see anyone of college age and I was there for a good couple of hours.

Photography is all about imagination, and this event definitely needs an injection of that to stop it becoming, like a broken old Zenith E camera, beyond worth saving.

Note: The next fair is 19th April 2020.