Entering The Press Photography Dark Ages

Bizarrely, having written in my last blog post about the Pine Range fire which I covered for The Bath Chronicle in 1991, I was heading back to my flat from a family gathering on Sunday evening to discover the sheltered housing complex on the opposite side of my building from where Pine Range once stood was surrounded by fire crews, engines and hoses. A fire had broken out in one of the flats and 11 residents had to be evacuated, with one resident being taken to hospital suffering smoke inhalation.

Aside from the obvious concern that everyone had been evacuated safely I couldn’t help feeling I should take a few photos, in spite of the fact I had a fair number of other commitments that evening, limited time and no obvious client for any photos I would take.

But the news photographer blood which still courses through me was buzzing and telling me to get on with it and at least take a few frames to offer up to the local paper. More in hope than expectation; time was a paper would have torn my arm off at the elbow for a set of pictures from an event they couldn’t get to and would happily have paid for them. Times have changed so very much though.

Fire crews attend a fire at Gorehedge residential home for the elderly in Keyford, Frome.

A general view gives some idea of the scale of the operation

I don’t often find myself covering this kind of story any more. Most of what I do for publications is press release work, which of course doesn’t include things like un-planned fires. I had to pause and ask myself if it was still valid for me to take pictures at an incident if I don’t have an immediate client for the shots. I don’t even carry a National Union of Journalists card any more, having let my membership lapse some years ago.

I honestly don’t think any of that matters though. Whether or not a newspaper wants to use my photos is entirely their call. As a trained, experienced news photographer I still feel I have a duty to record events if I am able. I can’t know at the time of taking a photo whether I will have captured something banal, tragic or incredibly newsworthy. All I can do is call on all my training and experience and get on with taking pictures.

Now that local newspapers no longer cover local stories and events with anything approaching enthusiasm perhaps it’s more important than ever that photographers with the right training and skills create quality visual records of what they witness.

Firefighters work through the building to ensure there are no pockets of fire left

Firefighters work through the building to ensure there are no pockets of fire left

Looking at the paltry photographic coverage the Bath Chronicle gave the Tour of Britain last week, and The Frome Standard’s belated attempt at photographing a major news event on their own doorstep (their photos were taken over three hours after the event), it’s possible that historians of the future will look back on the stories of our time and wonder why the photos from the early 2000s are worse than the ones taken a century before on far more primitive equipment.

Crews start to wind-down as the incident de-escalates

Crews start to wind-down as the incident de-escalates



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  • Bob Bowen September 16, 2014  

    And there will be no archive of pictures that can be tapped in to. The hoards of citizen snappers will mostly have no interest in storing what becomes part of history. Your last post mentioned that negs may have been destroyed. I recall when a bean counter at the Clevedon Mercury looked at the archive going back to the start of the last century he just saw it as something taking costly space so ditched it all.

    • Tim Gander September 16, 2014  

      Bob, this is also true. Imagine also the task of trying to track down images of historical events, hunting for the owners of images, asking if they have high-res files and can they find them in their systems. I don’t envy future historians!

      I suspect the only findable images will be those held by the likes of Getty, and these will only refer to certain events and sectors of life and society.

  • Bob Bowen September 17, 2014  

    Must get myself motivated to share the 30 years of negative and digital news pics I have in my care.

    • Tim Gander September 17, 2014  

      Best get cracking! 🙂

    • Tim Gander September 17, 2014  

      Hi Robert, nice to hear from you.

      While covering call-outs for a local station is an excellent subject for a personal project, it really is incumbent on a local paper to cover local stories and to cover them with a professional approach. It shouldn’t be for the fire service to supply images of incidents, or for photographers to necessarily cover incidents when the local paper is unwilling to.

      I took photos because it was right next door and because news photography is in my blood. I published them here because there is no other outlet for these photos, but all this indicates a very broken editorial landscape.

  • robertday154 September 17, 2014  

    I’ve just finished a spell where I acted as a volunteer photographer for a major metropolitan fire brigade. I only finished because I had to move out of the area for the Day Job. (Normally, I wouldn’t do free gigs, but in this case, it was a matter of opportunities for access – they were potentially too good to miss – and good expenses were paid.)

    The thing was that they weren’t going to do callouts for photographers for domestic fires or road accidents, only major incidents with five pumps or more. In fact, I never got to do any incidents because for the one I was going to get a callout on, the control centre had the wrong phone number for me, despite having been told not to use the mobile for first contact….

    Most of the gigs I did for them were training exercises, awards ceremonies and educational events, but at least I was fed, got expenses and at least my pictures were by-lined correctly!

    My point is that the fire you covered almost certainly wouldn’t otherwise have been photographed. So the moral to all serious photographers is to never be without a camera…