Goldfish Ate My Cat

How’s this for a blast from the past? A project from my college days, February 1991 to be precise, which involved mocking up a newspaper front page using pictures and stories I’d covered during the course. Well, two real stories at least; read carefully and you’ll notice some fake news too.

I stumbled across this while having an office clear-out. It’s pasted into the back of my first ever cuttings book, so it’s not been shredded or binned along with the eight-year-old bank statements, receipts, accounts and long-defunct business cards from long-defunct businesses.

The purpose of the exercise was to think about page layout and to get to grips with the newly-emerging technology of desktop publishing. In fact I recall this was done on something like a Mac 1 (or thereabouts). Looking at the caption for Norma Major’s photo you can tell I wasn’t all that impressed with the image quality available at the time.

The lead story about Don McCullin was clearly the one item I was taking seriously in this exercise, given the rather pretentious journalism I employed when writing it. But I still have a proper silver print of that photo I made at the time. It sits inside the cover of my signed copy of McCullin’s Unreasonable Behaviour.

Luckily no one came forward to claim the space shuttle prize and I’m afraid the competition closed in March 1991.

2017 In Review

In keeping with a tradition which stretches back oh, at least some years now, it’s time for me to review my year in pictures. I hope you enjoy the brief selection of photos in the gallery below.

Actually, what an incredible year it’s been! I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a busy year since I went freelance 19 years ago, so I’m looking forward to 2018 more in anticipation than trepidation.

January was a total whirlwind as the Faces of Routes project went from conception to launch in less than five weeks. The reaction from Frome people and beyond was stunning (and I don’t often use that word) and the Routes service was saved for another few years. In an ideal world, this service would be centrally funded, but for now it relies on donations and grants.

The Routes project largely came about because I was itching to do a personal project with a bigger purpose, but it also gave me the boot up the backside I needed to spur me on to undertake more personal projects generally. So it was good timing when a neighbour offered me his old medium format camera and lenses at a very reasonable price.

I’d been meddling with film again in a lighthearted way, but finding myself well-equipped with a solid film camera, and having dusted off my old 35mm film equipment, something was starting to take shape.

After a couple of false starts, out of some random whim that I can’t now remember having, I acquired a freezer drawer full of expired film of varying types and formats and the Saxonvale project was born. It doesn’t yet have its own gallery in my portfolio, but you can spot some examples in my Personal Favourites section.

So far Saxonvale has largely been an Instagram project, but I’ll add more to my website in time.

Through all this, the paid work has just kept coming; January turned out to be much busier than I would normally have expected. In fact that pattern repeated through the year, including August when my diary would normally have tumbleweed blowing across it.

Now it’s mid December and things are definitely winding down a bit for Christmas, but it’s been another good month. So I’ll leave you with some highlights from the year and take this opportunity to thank you all, clients and casual visitors alike, for all your support through 2017.

I wish everyone a merry Christmas, happy New Year and all the very best for 2018. Oh and this will be my last post this year, see you all in January!


Two Decades and a World Away

Yes, I was there too. Another press photographer who covered Diana’s funeral and because my words will be lost in the blizzard of articles and analysis on this the 20th anniversary of her death, I’ll point you towards this excellent article by Fleet Street photographer Brian Harris before offering a few brief thoughts of my own.

For myself, I was a lowly local news photographer at the time and was astonished to be assigned an official pass to cover the funeral from a position directly opposite the main door of Westminster Abbey.

Like Brian, I remember being hissed at by the crowd as I made my way to the position. I remember the weird atmosphere as people cheered the stars of music, TV and film as they arrived for the service. I also remember seeing the shot of the card on the coffin which just read “Mummy” and yes it was a cracking shot, but Brian’s was more graceful.

As for my effort, well it wasn’t the strongest image of the day, but I found myself focusing on the expressions of the pallbearers, members of the Welsh Guards who were clearly struggling to hold their emotions together. The shot summed up the occasion and emotions of the day in a fairly tight frame.

So considering it’s not a shot I had never wanted to have to take, I’ll live with it and leave it here as part of a much larger record of a sad day which changed all who were involved at least a little and for ever.


2016, a personal review

Normally I’d post a “year in pictures” round-up just about now, but I’ve decided to do something a little different this time just because.

Instead I’m going to focus on the more off-beat, off-diary photos I’ve taken. You’ll have seen most of them, but not all, in various blog posts through the year, but it’s fun to pull them together into a single gallery to enjoy again.

So sit back with your cuppa and your mince pie and enjoy…



Film vs Digital

This isn’t another article about whether film is better than digital. There are plenty of those out there and I’ve never read one which came to any kind of concrete conclusion. No, this is about the realisation that I’ve now been shooting digital for more than half my professional career. In fact I crossed the 50/50 threshold a couple of years ago and didn’t even realise it.

Let’s chart my film/digital timeline then. I started freelancing in 1988, went digital in November 2000, and pretty much committed myself to digital ever since.

With film I’d started with developing and printing black and white in the darkroom at the Bath Chronicle. When I became a staff photographer on The Portsmouth News I had to switch to colour, processing using a minilab in the office and having my work printed by darkroom technicians. Then with the march of progress, newspaper production got computerised and the photo department lost its print technicians.

Photographers then had to process their films in the usual way, but we then scanned the negatives on a Kodak scanner, captioned them on a Mac and stored the images on Zip drives, which were slow, unreliable and couldn’t store many photos. I remember the digital archive getting very quickly out of hand.

I left The News in 1998 before they went fully digital, but while I was there I did get to try a Canon EOS1 with a Kodak digital back at Wimbledon one year, so that really was my first experience with digital SLR photography. But digital SLRs back then ran to something like £15,000 just for the body, so I couldn’t afford one as a freelance.

At first I was shooting film and scanning using a portable Canon scanner and wiring pictures via my Nokia 6310 mobile phone connected to my Apple 1400c Powerbook. It was slow and unreliable to send data back then, but it mostly worked ok. I even got the odd scoop with that setup.

Then in 2000 the Canon D30 was released. A 3.4 megapixel SLR which could just about do a news job, but which cost a mere £1,600 for the body. It wasn’t really up to the task of fast news, but it was fine for features and objects that didn’t move, like the exterior of a country house I shot for a News of the World story. Thankfully my current digital SLRs are far better, far more responsive and the images produced are a world away from the early models and the price, while not cheap, is far more accessible.

I’m glad I started my career with processing film and printing in a darkroom. It taught me so much that you can’t learn if you start with digital. I still carry the lessons I learned back in the late 1980’s and it often helps me work faster by knowing what’s going to result from a particular set up even before I put the camera to my eye. I do sometimes use digital like a polaroid to check settings and lighting, but I’m usually pretty close to what I want before I even do that.

I’m keen to get back to shooting more film though. It does remind you of certain fundamentals and makes you work in a different way so I’m going to look for clients or projects which will allow me to get back to film once in a while.

Whether that will actually happen depends on many factors, time being a critical one, but I know the vast bulk of my work will be digital for the foreseeable future. As ever, watch this space because you’ll be the first to see if I shoot film for anything serious again.

Cold, wet and Poldark

Filming for the TV series Poldark is due to start in Frome this week and since yesterday was an admin day (boo hiss paperwork) I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and take a couple of shots in the street where crews are currently at work making sure all signs of modern life are removed or obscured.

The weather was pretty dire with high winds and plenty of rain and I didn’t have a great deal of time to work up a broad selection of photos, but it got me thinking about all the times I’ve ventured out with my camera when the weather is bad – mostly in the past in order to get extreme weather photos for national newspapers.

I still enjoy the challenge of getting pictures in adverse conditions, even if I’m not venturing into the world’s extreme regions. Seeing how people interact and cope with the weather is often interesting in itself. Sometimes the weather is just a distraction, as in the Poldark pictures. Other times it becomes the focus of the story (the 2001 Trooping the Colour is a fine example). More often now the weather is the story, as when there is flooding or gale damage.

Here’s a quick gallery round-up of extreme (or sometimes just mildly difficult) weather photos I’ve done over the years, from Trooping the Colour to yesterday’s preparations for Poldark.

Please click to enlarge and scroll through the photos.

My First Digital Photos

I’d like to thank commercial photographer Chris Pearsall for the inspiration for this week’s article when he posted his very first digital image to a photographers’ forum on Facebook.

My first digital SLR was a Canon D30, a 3.1 megapixel camera which I bought at the tail end of 2000 for about £1,600. It was a pretty terrible camera, but I was shooting a lot of news at the time and it saved me a lot of rushing to 1-hour processing labs to get my images ready for scanning and sending to the picture desk. The next model up, the rather more capable 1D was I think about £3,500 at the time and on the shift rates I was on at the time would have taken forever to pay off.

Its main drawback was the slow, and not very reliable focusing. I could have my finger jammed down on the shutter button, desperately trying to get it to lock focus and take the photo of some celebrity or other rushing from their front door to a waiting taxi. If I was lucky I’d get a photo of the back of the taxi as it pulled away.

On slower-moving people and static objects it was fine, but not perfect. It’s fair to say that digital cameras have come a long way since 2000.

The earliest image I can find is a rather dull exterior of a house. It was to accompany a non-story about a gameshow contestant.

A big house at a distance... yawn

A big house at a distance… yawn

Another story I covered using the D30 (I wasn’t using it for everything at this stage) was something of a struggle, it being a nighttime air crash near Aldershot. Focus was difficult and the image noise further softened the images. Nothing I took that night made the paper.

Late in December 2000 I covered a visit by the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to the Millennium Dome before it closed and went on to become the O2 Arena. This shot of the director of the attraction, P Y Gerbeau, is a typical example of the struggles I had with that camera to get sensible colours and to get fill flash to work convincingly. I’m so glad things have improved since then, but it was interesting to go back to my very first CD of digital images. Another thing it showed me is just how much my photography has improved since then too!

firecrews examine the wreckage of an aircraft after it crashed into an industrial building near Aldershot.

It was a tragic accident on a dark, wet night and the D30 struggled to work reliably

P Y Gerbeau at the Millennium Dome, Greenwich, London

P Y Gerbeau at the Millennium Dome, Greenwich, London

Storming Good Coverage

Newspapers love a good “bad weather” story, and the St Jude storm this week was a gift to editors who could fill their print and web pages with a broad mix of images from agencies, readers and possibly one or two “courtesy of the internet” accidentally-stolen shots too.

Thankfully, rumours that Sir Paul McCartney is to re-write Hey Jude and perform it live on the roof of Buckingham Palace to raise money for those who lost patio chairs in the storm have proved to be unfounded.

Unfortunately for you, the storm does give me the opportunity to regurgitate some crusty old newspaper cuttings from my early career when I was part of The Bath Chronicle’s Storm Watch team in 1990. Indeed, everyone talks about the 1987 storm, but the 1990 storm also brought down trees and caused umbrellas to be inverted. Looking at these old pics, I realise I wasn’t exactly lead photographer being sent to cover the full devastation, but it’s still fun seeing some odd little scraps of time again. Enjoy!

Why wasn’t my Dad Vivian Maier!

Those of you who follow me on twitter (those of you who don’t, why don’t you?!) may have read my tweets over the past weekend that I am currently looking through a box full of old transparencies taken by my late father. Most appear to date from the very late 1950s and early 1960s, though not all are dated.

Of course I was hoping to stumble across a veritable Vivian Maier-style collection of emotive, historical images. Unfortunately for me, my Dad wasn’t the street-photographer type.

Many of the images were taken in Germany of the places my Mother and Father visited when making trips to see my maternal grandmother in Ludwigshafen am Rhein where she lived, but Dad always liked taking pictures of landscapes, old houses and castles. None of which change much even in 50 years.

I’m still working my way through the slides though. There are maybe a couple of hundred in all. Again, not exactly Maier proportions, but some have caught some interesting fashion styles and cars and I need to look at them all before deciding if there is anything worth scanning.

One of the main problems I’m finding is the deterioration of the slides. Some have fungi growing on them. With some the slide mounts have sprung open, and others have lost all colour except magenta. Bit of a mixed bag of problems really.

Just out of curiosity, I’m posting a small selection of them here. These aren’t proper scans and I’ve left them deliberately messy – let’s call them instagrams that took a little longer to develop.

With all these issues though, it makes you wonder what state our digital files will be in 50 years from now. One solar flair and perhaps all digital photography will be wiped! Hmm, if only I could control the Sun, then I could control the digital photography market! MWAHAHAHAHA!!!

*Tim has gone for a lie down and nurse will be along shortly with fresh medication.

View of Pultney Bridge and Empire Hotel, Winter 1961

Taken circa 1961, of the Empire Hotel and Pultney Bridge, Bath

Magenta photo of large trees in a park

Trees in a park. All the colour dyes apart from magenta have disappeared.

My mum at Frankfurt Zoo, circa 1960.

In those days you dressed smart for holiday.

From sperm to commercial photographer. An incredible journey!

Many a photographer will tell you they knew their calling right from the age they could hold a camera. Some will boast that they were checking out the possibilities of light and shade even from inside their mother’s womb. Well I can beat that; I was getting ready for the press photographer’s scrum even as I approached my mother’s egg.

Ok, I exaggerate a little there. The truth is, and to cut a soul-crushingly long story short, I’d known since leaving school that I wanted to take pictures for a living, but had no idea how to proceed until someone introduced me to the picture editor at The Bath Chronicle.

school boy feeling sad at school party.

I may have been happiest at “The Chron”. Not all my subjects felt the same way.

From work experience at The Chron to trusted freelance happened pretty quickly, and hitting the FFW button again brings us to where I wanted to be – working for national titles, specifically and almost exclusively for the News of the World, where I spent the best part of two years shooting celebrity nonsense.

However, a fairly terminal disagreement with “The Screws” meant a very sudden exit from the stable of photographers there. Something to do with them owing me about £3,000 in unpaid expenses and them not wanting to pay, as I recall. Nothing important…

So there I was, having dedicated a couple of years of my career almost exclusively to them, to the exclusion of my previously regular clients, and not a lot on the diary. So I picked up my book and tear sheets and started to call in at the other news and magazine picture desks. Strangely enough though, a fistful of cuttings from The Screws doesn’t exactly open doors at The Sunday Times or The Guardian. And after the constant stress and under-payment of one national, my heart wasn’t really in it any more. I could see the industry was going down the pan, and decided to turn the break into an opportunity.

Which brings us neatly to where I am today. I’ve taken my press training and experience, adapted to commercial photography, and combined the two disciplines to give my clients something a bit unique. This isn’t a sales pitch though, so moving swiftly on…

Of course I’ve also had to work on my business skills and adjust to the fact that I won’t get a bollocking for doing everything right. I’ve had to break the instinct to shoot all my pictures from behind a bush in the car park (I’ve found that tends to unnerve some people). But I do enjoy being given some creative freedom, being asked for picture ideas and not having to pee into a bottle in the back of a surveillance van.

I do miss press work sometimes though. When I see a big story break, I might wish I was there to cover it, but apart from the occasional magazine commission, I don’t work directly for newspapers any more. Taking into account all the costs of being equipped to do the job and running a professional service, the fees offered by the press mean they’ll be drawing on an ever dwindling number of professionals who can still afford the cost of working for them. I’ve grown up and moved on to where I can be of most use, and still make a living.

This article is soon to be a film starring Jim Broadbent and Matt Damon. If Matt can fit into the sperm suit.