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.

Back from Bologna

I took a little break! Well, it was partly a break but also a great opportunity to do some personal photography work too.

My wife, Helen, is a freelance musician and she had a gig come up in the Italian city of Bologna, which I highly recommend if you haven’t already been.

So we took the opportunity to travel out together because we’ve not really had a break this year, and while Helen rehearsed I was able to take to my feet with a couple of film cameras to explore the city and find themes to develop.

I’ve no idea if the images I shot will come to anything as I’ve not had time to process the films yet, but I needed to be somewhere other than home, exploring new possibilities and just clicking the shutter to get my brain cells working creatively once more.

Had I been purely a tourist I would have done all the touristy things (though I did make the hike to the Basilica St Luca which gives excellent views over the city), but I prefer to see a place as its inhabitants see it, so I was quickly off the well-trodden hot-spots and finding myself in the grittier student quarters; Bologna boasts Europe’s oldest, continuous university.

Bologna is a very lively city, helped on this occasion by the Feast of St Petronius (also the reason for Helen’s gig) which brings crowds of devoted Catholic visitors to the city, which seemed to coincide with a large number of university graduations.

We had less than a week there and I found my interest flitting from the abstract to tourist activity to the bustling night life. It was more of a mental/creative workout than a structured approach with a particular theme in mind. If I’d had longer I could see themes and stories I would have liked to have pursued, but maybe that will be a good excuse for a return visit.

I’m just attaching a selection of phone snaps to this post, but I hope to make some of the film work available in future.

In the meantime, SALUTE!

Going Underground

Last week I was commissioned to take pictures in one of the most challenging locations I think I have ever had to work; Wookey Hole caves. Bear in mind, I’ve worked within the Arctic Circle, at the top of a 100ft hospital incineration chimney and from the deck of a helicopter over The Solent, but in terms of technical challenge I think this takes the prize.

The client was Somerset Art Works (SAW), organisers of Somerset Art Weeks Festival, a fortnight of open studios and events across Somerset. My job was to get photos of the launch event, but due to restrictions imposed by Wookey Hole I couldn’t use flash (it would disturb the bats) and by the artist (I couldn’t release my shutter during the live audio recording of the art work), I had to get everything I could during set-up and rehearsal.

There were some lights which the team had set up, but there was really only one that was usable for me, so I made the most of it and concentrated on getting shots of the choir as they rehearsed. I also had to get shots of guests and speeches, and there was a lot of help from mobile phone torches to make that even remotely possible.

For this gallery I’ve chosen a few of the choir photos because they’re the strongest standalone images from the set.

For full details, see the SAW Facebook page, from which I’m quoting their post:

Somerset Art Weeks Festival launched last Friday (20 September) evening at Wookey Hole Caves with new work by Ben Rivers, with the opening speech by Arts Council England Chief Executive, Darren Henley. Thanks to Somerset Film at The Engine RoomArts Council England Wookey Hole Caves team for making this possible, and to everyone at the event for supporting us.

Somerset Art Weeks until 6 October. Celebrating 25th year. https://somersetartworks.org.uk/artweeks

Bunker Mentality

It’s been a couple of weeks since my previous post so I thought I should update you on happenings at Gander HQ.

Because life isn’t hectic enough already I’ve decided to start a building refurbishment project with a view to moving my office from the studio I’ve been sharing for (I think) eight years now to what is essentially a 1950s concrete bunker at my home.

This structure is what would have been the laundry room, coal bunker and outside toilet when the house was built. The loo is still there and functional, the coal bunker is where we store timber for DIY projects, and the laundry room is what will become the new hub of my vast empire.

I’ve taken the decision to do it up and move my office in for a number of reasons: I fancy a change, I need space where I can carry out projects, film digitisation etc without disturbing other people, the bunker itself will slowly rot if I do nothing with it and I reckon after a year or two I’ll be quids-in and not paying rent anymore.

Of course I’ll miss the lovely office colleagues and the banter, but there will also be something liberating about not feeling obliged to use an office just because I’m paying rent on it. My plan will be to get out more and spend more time taking pictures for personal projects and also investing the rent money saved in those projects too.

This is all happening while shooting paid gigs and also trying (currently failing) to get going on personal work, but there is something immensely satisfying in doing the conversion work myself. It’s a bit of a race against time this week as I have just two days before it’s due to rain again and I’ve a job on one of those days!

Anyway, this is why I’ve not been blogging so much, but don’t worry! I haven’t forgotten you and I’m hopeful the sacrifice will be worth it in the end.

The Need for Speed

It’s been a few years since my last major website redesign, but my current site appears to be working very well for me. Clients seem to like the simplicity and ease of access, so I see little point in making any design revisions for now.

However what I have become aware of over the last few months has been a gradual, but noticeable, slow-down in loading speed and that, I think, isn’t good enough so I’ve spent some time tackling that this week.

I know my clients are busy people, and a new client looking to find out more about me doesn’t have time to sit there waiting for the homepage to load. They may be looking for a photographer with my style, skills and qualities, but if they can’t get in to see the work, they may never find out what I can do for them.

So I’ve worked with a colleague to do some behind-the-scenes tidying up and optimisation, and I have to say the difference it’s made has been quite startling. It’s possible, depending on how you came to this blog article, that you will have noticed too.

There are still a few more tweaks I need to make; optimising key images is probably the main one, but also as I update and replace images I’ll be fixing those issues by default.

On which note, what I hope to do next is give the content a bit of a polish. Again, it’s been a little while since I updated the galleries with more recent work. I try to keep on top of this, but what with corporate jobs, admin and launching my fine art print site takeagander.co.uk I’ve had to prioritise tasks.

I’m always grateful for feedback, especially from business clients who are always my priority when it comes to setting out how the website works, so do feel free to throw bouquets or brickbats my way so I know how I can do things better.

After all, this website doesn’t exist to massage my ego; it’s there for you, the business client, to find out quickly, easily and with high quality presentation what my photography can do for your business.

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.

More New Plans!

As if the launch of takeagander.co.uk wasn’t exciting enough, I’m now also preparing for an exhibition!

On June 20th I’ll be launching a small show in the cafe space at Black Swan Arts in Frome. Rather excitingly, the exhibition will run for a month and will span the very busy Frome Festival period (5th – 14th July) and will feature a very select choice of prints from my Saxonvale (What Happened Here) project.

The prints will be certificated one-offs printed on fine art paper and simply framed, matted and ready to hang. I’ve yet to settle on final prices, but I’m hoping to keep them as accessible as possible.

At this stage I’m very keen to hear from local businesses or organisations interested in part-sponsoring the exhibition. It’s worth noting that the Black Swan cafe is extremely busy at any time of year, but come Frome Festival it is almost always full to capacity, so an excellent chance for some valuable exposure.

With or without sponsorship, the exhibition will be a really exciting first public outing for What Happened Here and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes down, especially from people who aren’t from this area or familiar with the Saxonvale story.

If you or anyone you know is looking for some additional publicity in conjunction with what I promise will be a beautiful and thought-provoking photographic exhibition, do drop me a line tim@timgander.co.uk. At the very least, let me know if you’re planning on coming down and perhaps I’ll see you there in June.

Tah Dah!

Well I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but I hope you’ll think it’s worth it. My new site takeagander.co.uk is now live!

The name comes from my Instagram handle, takeagander, and since that’s where I’ve been posting work from my personal projects it seemed fitting to create a website which tied in with that. I was also incredibly lucky that the business which was holding the URL takeagander.co.uk had let their subscription lapse and they didn’t renew it before it expired. Get in there!

So now I have a site where I can bring projects together and offer high-quality fine art prints of the images, which I hope will fund new projects in turn. Of course that’s the dream and it’s very early days, but with the site having been launched less than a week ago, I’m thrilled to have made sales already.

I’ve kept the offer simple for now, just two paper types and a range of sizes, but if there’s anything you’d like to see (framing options, canvas prints perhaps?) let me know and I’ll look into the possibilities.

The galleries are set to grow in size and increase in number as I add new images and entire new series, so I hope you’ll bookmark it for regular visits. You can even sign up for updates, which I promise will be kept infrequent.

Of course this is all in addition to my on-going corporate communications work, but I have found that personal projects have really helped keep me fresh and energised when tackling commissioned assignments. It’s great to have both sides of my career up and running.

Please do let me know what you think of the new site, or perhaps more importantly the photos on there. I have to say the quality of display is impressive compared to how images render pretty much anywhere else on the web.

Of course if you see something you’d like to hang on your home or office wall, I’d be thrilled to make your custom, but you’re welcome to just say hello.

Sound Move

In this post I’m back to talking personal photographic projects, this time with one of the quickest I’ve ever done!

A few weeks ago, the local record shop in Frome, Raves from the Grave, was preparing for a move to a new location within the town as they’d outgrown their current store.

In fact they were only moving a couple of streets away, but they’d been in the Cheap Street shop for 12 years (22 years on the same cobbled street and Catherine Hill even before that), so in all that time had become something of a local institution.

I remember my first trip to the Cheap Street store. It was astonishing, with CDs on shelves which extended right up to the ceiling, with more squidged in wherever there was a nook or cranny. The same with DVDs, though I was never a big purchaser of those. The real pleasure though was that they also specialised in vinyl, new and secondhand.

So when I heard about the impending move, I decided someone (me) ought to go in and capture the essence of the place – the heady mix of chaos and order, the colours, lines and hopefully some of the people too.

Of course being a personal project, it had to be shot on film, which also seems appropriate for a record shop (in particular, one selling vinyl).

I only had a two-hour gap in my day and three rolls of film with which to capture what I could, so there was a bit of a challenge, but as a series it sits together pretty well.

Of course Raves from the Grave and I were able to trickle the images out on social media over the course of a week and it was fun to see the reactions to the images. I even started meeting people in town who told me how much they enjoyed the series.

Now the move is pretty much complete and the old shop is soon to be taken over by a new business, a chocolatier I believe, so I’ve captured the end of an era. What with that and Saxonvale, I seem to have a knack of capturing era ends. Maybe I’ve found a new niche!