A Welcome Comparison

The inspiration for this week’s blog comes courtesy of my good twitter friend Lau Merritt (@lau_merritt) who happened to mention she thought I looked rather like the late Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. I note two things in Lau’s comparison. Firstly that it is my looks and not my style which is reminiscent of the father of Mexican photography, and secondly that having been born in 1902 most portraits of the artist himself are of a much older man. I’ll not take it personally because if I have such an incredible face by the time I’m into my 80s I’ll be happy and when it comes to my work, I know I move in more prosaic circles. Besides which I know Lau well enough to know she only means it in the kindest sense.

I’m grateful that she mentioned this chap because I hadn’t come across Álvarez Bravo’s work before, and I’ve not had time to research it much beyond his official website, but I highly recommend a look and I’ll be seeking out more of his work in due course because it really is fascinating.

Álvarez Bravo’s archive stretches from the 1920s to as recently as the 1990s and what strikes me is how broad his themes are and yet how little they change over time. His work encompasses landscapes, still-life, portraits, nudes, photojournalism, portraiture, from the political to the fanciful, but always with a style which might remind you of Cartier-Bresson or Werner Bischof, but which is definitely his own voice.

I’m not much cop at talking artsy fartsy stuff about photography, but I’ll happily share some impressions here. Álvarez Bravo’s work is of a very particular type; some simple studies of light and shape, the use of lines, shapes and motion to draw attention to whatever it is we’re meant to take note of in a photo and expansive landscapes designed to make us realise our own insignificance and mortality.

Pub skittle score board hangs on the wall above a chair, music speaker above that

“Take Courage” The closest I get to Álvares Bravo’s style

Like Bresson, Álvarez Bravo’s archive includes photos we would find difficult to take and distasteful in today’s society (see Boy Urinating, 1927 in the 1920’s archive). He deals a lot with death through depictions of the dead and the paraphernalia of death, even symbolic representations of death in the shape of subjects unrelated to death itself. His nudes rarely show the model’s face, also suggesting the the body as separate from the being and therefore subject to ageing and decay.

I’m really glad Lau brought my attention to Álvarez Bravo, and I’ll take any comparison as a compliment. In the meantime I’m going to have to get cracking if I want to leave such a powerful photographic legacy as his.


A little while back I told you about the zip wire challenge that I and some of my office colleagues were to undertake in aid of SOS Africa, a Somerset-based charity which helps children in African townships get a proper education. Well we did it! And in the process we raised (as of writing this post) £645, which beats our group target by £45. And if you feel inclined, you can still donate here: SOS Africa

As to doing the challenge itself, it really was good fun. The wire wasn’t as high up as we’d hoped due to insurance/practical considerations, but plenty high enough for most people. Climbing over the balcony rail was a little dicey, but once settled onto the other side and ready to go, the actual zip run was over all to quickly. I squealed a little at the start I must confess, but a couple of “WOOHOOs” later and I was at the end of the line being unbuckled. Quite an adrenaline rush and I would have done it again had the opportunity arisen.

My son Joe even took part, taking advantage of a spare slot which became available, and his run was a little more fraught as his line went too fast and he overshot the end and kind of bounced off the tree to which the line was secured. He’s ok though, but he might not do another challenge like that for a while…

Everyone who took part seemed to enjoy themselves, and given the opportunity to do another zip wire challenge I’d take it. And of course, I took a few photos which I hope convey some of the fun of the day.

I leave the tower, screaming and sobbing for my mum

I leave the tower, screaming and sobbing for my mum

I arrive at ground level, hero-like n'all

I arrive at ground level, hero-like n’all

Gavin Eddie says it tickles

Gavin Eddy says it tickles

A wave of support from TOCS folk

A wave of support from TOCS folk

Joe sets off on his crash horror run, as the papers would have called it

Joe sets off on his crash horror run, as the papers would have called it

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…

When you’ve nothing else to do

Occasionally I’m asked to work for a fee the client sets, a fee far below what it costs me to do the work and certainly far less than the benefit the client would get from the images I would make for them.

The client will try to justify this by arguing that the work is flexible and I can do it “when you’ve nothing else on” as if when I’m not shooting pictures I must be sitting around, twiddling my thumbs waiting for the phone to ring or desperately wishing I was working for less than it costs me to do the job.

Tim Gander sits before a strobe softbox looking into the lit panel

Spare time to take selfies? No, testing a new lightbox before a big assignment.

In practice, the work isn’t always that flexible either. It might be weather dependent, or rely on the availability of other people, or it might even be on a set date. This kind of “opportunity” also ignores the after-shoot processing and administration which is attendant to doing any assignment at all, regardless of the fee involved.

In any event, if a client requires photography, booking a date when I haven’t anything else on is kind of how my business works. There isn’t a single assignment I do that gets booked into a slot when I’m already working, being that I am not omnipresent or master of quantum physics and thereby able to occupy two dimensions at once.

If I happen to have assignments which will clash I let the client know and offer to take on the administration of the job but pass the work to one of a network of trusted colleagues. That way the client gets to deal with me, the job gets covered by a trusted photographer and everyone is happy.

Conversely to being double-booked, what happens on days when I’m not shooting? Surely that’s a day off isn’t it? No. Anyone who runs a proper, grown-up business will know the astounding amount of administration which is attendant with keeping things running smoothly, or in my case just keeping them running.

I’ve spent much of August doing my end-of-year accounts. When I’m not keeping on top of the books, I’m backing up work, archiving it to my searchable database, updating my website, improving my SEO, making contact with clients to keep in touch, setting up meetings, shooting test images to try out new techniques, writing blog articles… I’m just scratching the surface here, and all this happens around assignments which are booked by clients willing to pay my fees.

Every day of every week I’m putting in the hours. Sometimes I’ll scale back the time I work in order to remain sane; I might even take a day off, but this year I haven’t managed a proper holiday. I haven’t been away anywhere, because so far it’s been my busiest year since I left the Portsmouth News to go freelance 15 years ago. And after the struggles I experienced at the start of the credit crunch (one day I’m going to invent a biscuit with that name) I’m determined to make the most of the resurrection I’ve experienced over the last two years.

That has been and will continue to be a lot of hard work; work I’ll be doing when I’ve nothing else to do.