Cairncross Review Review (Probably part 1)

I’ve been trying to wade through the results from the Cairncross Review into the future of high quality journalism in the UK. I’m not very good at analysing dense, copious amounts of data, but I care and want to try to see where local and regional newspapers are headed (apart from down the plughole). 

What is striking is the content of some of the submissions to the call for evidence which are interesting (ish) reads, especially in the sense that they are a weird mix of kernels of truth and self-deceiving, massive pants-on-fire lies. 

Check out this particular example from the now defunct Johnston Press, written by the then CEO David King: 

“Legacy print publishers have struggled to adapt to the structural changes in the way content is consumed, limited by their geographic publishing models, falling ad revenues, circulation volumes and the need to increase cover prices. In some cases, constraints on investment have been exacerbated by the need to service legacy debt and closed defined benefit pension liabilities, as is the case at Johnston Press.

Yet despite this, to date the traditional publishers have sought to continue to invest in journalism, and remain by far the greatest investors in quality content creation, despite the need to reduce costs. The tech giants, who are the facilitators between audience and content, enjoy the revenue from surfacing this content while not contributing to its cost. These tech giants also control which content the audience sees and which audience a publisher can access. Moreover, they are largely unregulated.” 

There’s so much to unpick on so many levels, all packed into just two paragraphs. Bear in mind also that within JP’s submission, their “facts and figures” don’t examine anything earlier than 2008, handily side-stepping the fact that it was their greed and incompetence since the early 1990s which crippled the pension scheme and ultimately led to the collapse of the entire business in 2018. As for “sought to continue to invest in journalism,” in all known universes, this stretches credulity far beyond snapping point. 

Beyond JP’s corporate culpability it is too easy to dismiss the ‘traditional’ press as just a victim of progress, but whatever the causes, that which is displacing it does not have the same accountability, nor does it have any pretence to uphold democracy. All this is very dangerous indeed. 

Also, these changes in local and regional papers is already affecting the nationals who traditionally relied on a steady flow of fresh, diverse talent from the news rooms and photography pools of the local/regional press. We are now well beyond the point where people without independent means could afford to work for national papers given the collapse in wages and freelance shift rates. The majority of voices we hear are those who can afford to work for the fun of it and their viewpoints largely reflect their relatively privileged positions.

I fear with the likes of Newsquest using the same insane business model as JP, this review and its conclusions have come too late to do anything meaningful beyond arranging the funeral for an industry which has no reason (beyond mis-management) to be a victim of progress or change. The Government is supposed to make some kind of response later this year. Who’s going to put money on that response being anything more than laying on some warm sausage rolls and cheap wine for the wake?

2019?

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a peaceful Christmas and an enjoyable New Year.

I’m starting 2019 with an apology; normally by mid December I’d have posted a round-up of my year, but between shooting and delivering pictures for clients, getting my quarterly VAT return finalised (an annual Christmas joy for me) and having to lose my laptop for a week while a replacement battery was fitted, I just ran out of time. So yes, sorry about that. I know you were all looking forward to that.

To make up for this I’m going to post some thoughts on the year just gone and the year to come, because while I’m looking forward to some interesting commissions and new personal projects, I’m also raring to get going on the next stage of the Saxonvale project on its journey to becoming a book. Heaven knows if that will get finished this year, but I’m determined to make serious headway.

2018 got off to a pretty exciting start. I posted an article on Petapixel about my motivation for shooting film again. The response to that was pretty astonishing and led to me being interviewed by Bill Manning for the Studio C-41 podcast; the first time I’ve been cast in a pod! That generated further interest and I’ve been following the podcast ever since.

If you’re not already aware, Studio C-41 is a podcast (now also a vlog on YouTube) all about film, its resurgence, the cameras, film manufacturers and so on. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, this podcast has gone from strength to strength and has interviewed some of the most important names in film photography today (yours truly excepted). If you’re into C-41 (or E6 or black and white), check out C-41 on any of the links above.

It’s also going to be an interesting year for photography in other ways. I see Matt Smith (the actor formerly known as Dr Who) is playing Robert Mapplethorpe in a new film which I believe is being released in the USA this year. That should be interesting and probably eye-boggling, but I’m also wondering what’s happening with the biopic of Don McCullin, reported to be played by Tom Hardy, which was press-released in 2016. Hopefully we’ll hear more on that this year.

In January 2018 I was pleased to be able to make the launch of Niall McDiarmid’s Town to Town exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol. I’m slightly in awe of Niall’s street portraits, and really thrilled that the MPF has been set up in Bristol, so finally there is a quality gallery and photographic resource not based in London.

This year I’m really hoping I can get along to a few more exhibitions at the Martin Parr Foundation and further afield. There really is nothing like getting to see photographs in the real world as opposed to online.

And in between all my corporate communications work, I’ll be beavering away on those personal projects which you’ll see slowly revealing (unraveling?) on Instagram. I’ve started Unsigned (see my Instagram), a series of images of torn-off posters, stickers and street signage which creates inadvertent art. I have no idea how long or big this project will get, but I feel it’s only just started. Rather like 2019, except I have a fair idea how long that will be, just no idea how big.

Get Shorty

Even this short blog post is longer than the super small Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 lens, my absolutely favourite lens. It’s tiny, sometimes referred to as a pancake lens, but so sharp you could cut your thumb on the images it produces, yet costs just £200.00 new. I got mine for £90.00 secondhand.

It’s been the most-used lens through my Saxonvale project, but whenever I get the opportunity I use it for corporate photo sessions too, including portraits as well as for fly-on-the-wall work.

And in my experience it’s tough! I once slipped and fell and landed with my camera (40mm mounted) between me and a mud bank. I heard a click which I thought was the lens mechanism breaking. It wasn’t, it was the sound of one of my ribs fracturing! That hurt for a few weeks, but the lens was fine.

I wanted to write this post after seeing Neil Turner’s post about his favourite lens. Go here to find out which one he reaches for most.

So if I’m ever on a job for you and I put this dinky lens on my camera, check out the smile on my face.

 

A Welcome Review

A new review into the future of UK press journalism was announced today and although I fear it may be too late, it’s welcome to finally see the issue being tackled at government level.

The independent review into the future of high-quality journalism in the UK, chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross, has issued a call for evidence from organisations and individuals and will look at the causes of the startling decline hitting the industry.

The review will look at issues such as the decline in advertising revenue, the effect of social media, the consequences for the press from a national to a local level and what might be done to ensure a vibrant press for the future.

I happen to believe, and have said for many years, that what has happened to the press (in particular the regional and local newspapers) over the last two decades has become a threat to open justice and democracy, with court proceedings and local government council meetings being seen as too expensive to cover.

The subject is huge and the solutions not entirely clear. Of course I would love to see a return to high-quality local and regional journalism, with good quality news photography being part of that mix.

I may sound like a broken record when I talk about photography again, but it’s incredible that in an age where images (and especially high quality pictures) are the bedrock of the popularity of some of the biggest social media platforms, local news outlets have forsaken the model of using creative, informative (but paid-for) photography in favour of boring, badly executed free content.

On the odd occasion I find myself in Germany or Austria I make a point of picking up the local papers and am astonished at the difference. Beautifully-produced broadsheets on high-quality paper with professional photography appear to be doing just fine and they’re packed with classified ads too! This may be because the internet is English, or perhaps it’s a cultural pride thing. Perhaps this review will look at Europe for ideas.

Of course the internet has had a massive impact on journalism in this country, but the foundations of this decline were put firmly in place by the short-sighted and often greedy management teams which bought up smaller publishers like they were on a supermarket trolley-dash, then asset-stripped stripped them to make their money back. I won’t bang on, it’s a subject I’ve tackled before and I won’t bore you with it again today.

Hopefully, as readers of my blog (isn’t blogging part of the problem?), you’ll be keen to put your own views to the committee via their call for evidence. I certainly shall because I think it’s high time this issue was tackled seriously and not just treated as a victim of “progress”.

For more information, take a look at the announcement page, but it’s all summarised on the call for evidence page too.

 

Get Some Gander and Pig In Your Ears

That’s probably the skinniest picture I’ve ever posted on my blog, but if you dare to click the play button you’ll get to hear my voice via the miracle of the internet.

Artist David Chandler interviews local artists and creative people for his Seeing Things programme on Frome FM, but he decided to interview me during the Faces of Routes exhibition. Sadly, due to a backlog of interviews, it couldn’t go up before the exhibition closed, but it’s an interesting interview in any event. Especially during the bits where I’m not talking.

Do listen to the end or you’ll miss the interview with printmaker Chris Pig. That’s two farmyard animals for the price of one!

Case Study: Local NHS photography project

Sometimes I get a brief which sets a tone and style, but still leaves me plenty of room for creativity. This is always very rewarding work, but carries with it that extra frisson of responsibility – what if my pictures aren’t what the client envisaged? What if I stray off-piste? And in today’s example, working with NHS Bath And North East Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (NHS BANES CCG for short) I knew I had to get each shoot right first time as public money has to be spent very wisely.

NHS BANES CCG needed fresh images for their annual review and new website. In the past they’d used stock imagery quite heavily, but there was a recognition that people engage better with pictures which are clearly not posed by stock models. Also, as useful as stock images can be for some applications, they can’t reflect all the subtle uniqueness of a local health service, and so I was approached with a view to getting the ball rolling on a new image library which their designers and PR managers could draw on as required.

I was sent to cover various events and illustrate different services within the CCG, but apart from an expressed wish to see light, engaging images with backgrounds knocked out of focus to emphasise the people, I was pretty much left to cover these sessions using a combination of set-up poses and fly-on-the-wall techniques.

Probably my favourite of all the photo sessions was the morning I spent with the Singing for the Brain group, who meet weekly and give those with dementia and their carers a chance to socialise and stimulate their memories through singing and fun activities. Capturing the pleasure on the faces of people as they met for tea and cake, and then when they got into the singing session, was really up-lifting.

The team I worked with were very pleased with what I turned in and I’ll be gradually adding to their library in the year ahead, so I’m looking forward to finding out even more about what the CCG does, meeting the people who run the services, the people who benefit from them and creating pictures which encapsulate the whole story.

New Reviews News

It’s been a bit of a shame that lately I’ve been so busy taking pictures I’ve barely had time to blog, yet I have so few photos I can post here from these crazy times as I’m bound by client exclusivity. Hopefully there will be some interesting case studies I can post as the brochures, banners and web publications I’ve been shooting for come to be published.

One thing I can tell you about actually consists of three things, that is to say three other articles I’ve recently written over on my PhotoEspresso blog.

SanDisk memory card and Hähnel battery arrive from Clifton Cameras in Bristol for review

A memory card and a very orange camera battery were included in my review

The articles came about as a result of an approach from Clifton Cameras in Bristol asking if I’d be interested in reviewing their website in return for a couple of items I could purchase and have refunded, thereby gaining the user’s experience of the site. A sort of sponsored post if you like.

In the event I turned it into three posts because the items I received are worth reviewing and discussing on a photography help site and because it’s always useful to have fresh things to write about for that blog, which has a different purpose to my main one here.

Anyway, I ordered the items – a memory card and a camera battery, wrote a review for each and I’ve just published the Clifton Cameras website review. The whole exercise has been useful and enjoyable. It would be good to build up the paid blogging part of what I do, so if anyone out there knows anyone looking for someone to write honest reviews, critiques or general photography-related articles, send them my way!

In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on which assignments I can feature here as they become available. Stay tuned!

Fool On The Hill

In July this year I undertook a review of a tripod and part of the exercise required me to take photos of myself using it. I decided the best location for this would be Cley Hill near Frome (very close to Longleat) which would allow me to get dramatic skies in the background.

As anyone local knows, Cley Hill isn’t a huge mountain; it’s not even a huge hill, but it’s big enough and a very steep climb. Which is fine on an ordinary walk, but to get photos of myself using the tripod I had to take two cameras and an extra tripod so I could have a camera on the test tripod and one mounted and aimed at myself to get the self-portraits.

The plan was then to trigger the remote camera using my radio triggers. Which I forgot to take with me. This meant resorting to the self-timer function of the camera, which only gave me 10 seconds to get from the “taking” camera to the one on the test tripod. That’s not easy when you’re trying to line up a shot at the top of a very steep hill, the wind is blowing, and cows are starting to take a close interest in what you’re doing.

I wanted to use evening light to get the best drama from the sky, but what with having to get to the top of the hill and set up, time was ticking by and things weren’t helped by the fact that I had to keep changing my location due to one factor or another.

Once I’d finally found the spot that would work best I was able to get cracking, but 10 seconds isn’t that long when you have to dash up a last steep section to get to the location before the shutter clicked and as you can see from the photos below, I slightly mis-judged the timer…

Cley Hill cows on a path

Originally I’d wanted to use this hill crest, but the curious cows wouldn’t shift

View of Tim Gander's back as he fails to get into position before the camera fires

I didn’t quite get myself in place in time for this one

Photographer Tim Gander sits with his camera on a tripod on the side of a hill

Just made it, but if I look like I’m panting for breath, that’s because I am

Back view of Time Gander scrabbling into position for a photo on Cley Hill

The light worked better on this set up, but I missed the timer again!

silhouette of photographer Tim Gander atop Cley Hill in Somerset with his camera on a tripod.

Finally! I look like a heroic, adventurous travel photographer. Truth is, I can almost see my house from here

Missing My Baby

Slim, petite, cute and so nice to touch… but I miss my Fuji X20. She’s in New York as I write this, being shown the sights by another man and I’m jealous as hell.

In fact I miss her so much I was compelled to go back to the review I wrote in July for Wex Photographic just to have a look at photos of her pretty, sleek lines and see the pictures I’d taken with her back then. I’m glad I did because there was a new comment on the article I hadn’t seen before, and I do enjoy responding to the comments and helping where I can. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

It’s also interesting to see the different view statistics between the various articles I write; a camera review will get lots of views in a short time. Write a review about pretty much anything else and the numbers climb much more slowly.

Fuji X20 review photo

I enjoy using the X20 in black and white as a street camera

With the X20 in particular I have noticed that in addition to healthy numbers of clicks on the article, it’s probably had more comments than just about any other review I’ve written for Wex. People really engage with this camera, which is after all just a camera, but then people engage with cars, coffee machines, just about anything shiny really.

The difference with some of the things I’ve reviewed is that, unlike the X20, they are not usable in isolation. Let me explain that better; when I reviewed the Canon 16-35mm zoom lens, that’s a bit of a niche lens, very expensive, and requires a camera to make it do what it does. Design-wise it’s hard to make a lens beautiful because it has to perform certain functions well and within fairly standard design constraints.

When I reviewed the LowePro Transit Sling 250 camera bag, that was also destined not to get thousands of views because bags are a bit dull. They aren’t what takes the pictures, they’re not at the glamorous end of photographic kit, and like lenses they’re functional rather than aesthetic.

I think what the X20 has achieved though is something extra. Fuji have tapped into the retro trend in the design of this camera, but as I think I’ve said elsewhere it’s not retro for the sake of it. The design works as well as it is attractive. Design and function coming together in a dinky package that’s easy to engage with and love. I do miss her…

Xcellent20

Once again I’m too swamped with work to write a full blog article. Luckily for you, an article I wrote for Wex Photographic about the rather super Fuji X20 has just been published, which is also lucky for me as it gets me off the hook for another week. I’m away next week too, so I may have to give it a rest until the week after.

In the meantime, do please read and share the Wex article with all your best friends! They’ll thank you for it I’m sure. Thank you for your patience, here’s one of the photos from the review as a reward.

Photo taken in Bath using the Fuji X20 camera

I’ve enjoyed shooting in black and white with the X20