Slave to the Algorithm

Photographing events doesn’t get more funner (new word) than when I’m left to get on and be a fly on the wall, and the NWERC is a fine example of an event packed with opportunities for any keen-eyed, camera-toting fly.

Now, rather than me trying to specify the essence of the event, and getting it horribly mangled, how about I let the event speak for itself. From the NWERC website,

“The Northwestern Europe Regional Contest (NWERC) is a contest in which teams from universities all over the Northwestern part of Europe are served a series of algorithmic problems. The goal of each team is to solve as many problems as possible within the 5 hour time limit.”

Got it? Good, but what’s my role in the event? Well obviously to generate photos which can be used by the event organisers, host and participating universities in order to generate publicity for future years’ events.

My main task is to capture the runners-up and winning team as they take to the stage once all the scores are in, which is all good fun in and of itself, but the bit I really enjoy is when I’m roaming the hall during the last hour or so of the coding time.

That’s when the teams are either at their most ecstatic or at their wits end. Last November’s event was the second year running I got the commission, so I knew what to expect and where to go for the best images.

Starting with a fairly spectacular scene showing the sports hall packed with aching brains, I then made my way to ground level to get in amongst the coders and record the triumphs and tragedies as they waged war with algorithmic problems.

And if you’re wondering what’s with all the balloons, a team would receive one each time the automated scoring system detected they’d cracked a problem. You can imagine the pressure of seeing other teams amassing more balloonage (another new word) than yours. I thought some of the teams were ready to float off!

Sadly for me the event isn’t happening in Bath this year, but it may return another year. If it does, I’ll be ready and waiting to get my wings buzzing and my segmented eyes trained back on the subject. As long as I don’t go completely Geoff Golblum, I’ll enjoy being a fly on the wall once again.

So… 2018

Having looked back at 2017 in my previous blog post, it’s time to gaze into the crystal ball, check the tea leaves and the alignment of the planets and hazard a guess at what this, my 20th year as a freelance photographer, will bring.

It’s always hard to predict. Each year brings surprises, both good and bad – mainly good thankfully, and if the last couple of years are anything to go by, I will continue to find new clients while work from others will go quieter. It’s the natural cycle of business and no longer terrifies me the way it used to.

I look forward to working with new people just as much as I enjoy undertaking repeat work for established clients and I know there will be a similar mix this year as ever.

2017 was incredibly busy, and it’ll be interesting to see if 2018 can match it, but even if the shape of the year is different I’m sure it’ll be just as much fun.

What will make 2018 quite different from previous years will be the level of personal work I hope to undertake. The Saxonvale project continues to grow and there’s a possibility it will come to fruition this year, though I have a funny feeling it will continue into next year. It partly depends on how much longer my stock of expired film will last.

In addition to Saxonvale I have ideas for other, possibly smaller, self-contained mini projects which I would like to pursue. One thing is certain, my personal projects will be shot on film. Getting back into shooting film has transformed my approach to personal work and I find it a great way to separate the personal from the commercial. It also informs my commercial work and keeps me fresh, so there’s no going back to digital-only now.

Whatever 2018 brings for me, I hope it brings my loyal readers, clients and friends every success in whatever they set out to achieve and I look forward to hearing from some of you over the coming months.

Inspired By Inertia

Having no scheduled shoots this morning I decided to process the two films I shot yesterday evening for my Saxonvale project (it’s a long term project which I’ve been posting on Instagram as @takeagander).

So there I was, up to my elbows in my dark bag, wrestling (circa 30-year-old East German black and white) ORWO 120 films onto processing reels when I heard a knock at the front door. I knew exactly who and what it was, but couldn’t risk fogging my film to go and answer the door.

Thankfully our post lady didn’t just push a “we tried to deliver” card through the door, instead she found a safe place to stow the package and told me on the card where it was.

I was also grateful that the films loaded remarkably easily (very old 120 film tends to resist being unfurled), so as soon as they were safely in the developing tank I retrieved the package.

It was a book I’d been looking forward to receiving for some months, J.A (Jim) Mortram’s Small Town Inertia.

The book is a searingly poignant collection of black and white images and testimonies detailing the daily struggles of people in the small Norfolk town where Jim lives.

Unapologetically political, very anti-Tory, anti-globalisation and definitely anti-austerity, Jim’s book documents his subjects in a way which brings home in the starkest possible terms the effects of unemployment, mental and physical illness and addiction under successive governments which have sought to sideline these issues in favour of a market economy unfettered by the constraints of conscience.

It is to some extent due to my awareness of Jim’s work that I have sought to spend more of my time on documentary and working in traditional film. The Faces of Routes project, though shot digitally, would almost certainly not have happened if I hadn’t had my social conscience re-awakened by seeing images from the Small Town Inertia project a year or two ago.

Of course my work is very different to Jim’s and nowhere near as comprehensive (or, of course, as good). Jim has been deeply involved in the lives of his subjects, often helping them with bureaucratic paperwork or just daily tasks, and this shows in the photos.

However, even though my projects tend to be more random, less overtly political and involve being less embedded with my subjects, I will continue to be inspired by the work of J.A Mortram and others like him.

To which end, I’d better get this morning’s negatives scanned and added to my own personal project. It’s all very well to be moved and inspired, but if I’m to genuinely honour the work of others, there is no better way than to keep on pursuing my own.

If you would like your own copy of Small Town Inertia you can buy it here. Visit Jim Mortram’s website here.

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!

Faces of Routes Launches!

Wow, what a rollercoaster ride that was. From concept to completion, a photographic exhibition launched in less that five weeks and that includes shooting the photos! I may have to give the Guinness Book of World Records a call.

You can now see the Faces of Routes pictures in all their glory at Cafe La Strada in Cheap Street, Frome, until the end of March and I’m hoping many of you will take the opportunity to take a look around the gallery areas and read the quotes before enjoying some quality refreshments.

06/02/2017 Faces of Frome exhibition at Cafe La Strada, Frome, Somerset. Photographer Tim Gander (back) launches his Faces of Routes exhibition at Cafe La Strada in Cheap Street, Frome, with (left to right) cafe owner Jude Kelly, Routes service users Laura Davies and Kieran Wason and Routes centre manager Sarah Stobbart. The exhibition features 18 portraits and quotes from those who use and run the Routes service.

(L-r) Jude of Cafe La Strada, Laura and Kieran with Routes manager Sarah and me at back

This really has been a Frome effort, obviously starting with the help and cooperation of Sarah at Routes and her colleague Silky, all the young people who so bravely sat for my camera and shared their very personal experiences for the case studies, right through Nik Jones who added the text to the images for the exhibition, Mount Art Studio who did such a fantastic job of printing them and Studio Prints who did the framing at breakneck speed so we could get the exhibition launched as soon as possible and of course thanks to Cafe La Strada for giving us exhibition space for two months for free!

Of course the whole point of this exercise has been to try to save Routes, and we’re not there yet. The hope is that the bodies which really should be funding this kind of service will understand how important Routes is to young, vulnerable people of Frome and that without it there will be barely any other resource to which they can turn when they’re in difficulty.

Fingers crossed then. In the meantime, if live in Frome and you want to help but haven’t the finances to do so, please consider writing to your local councillor or David Warburton MP. If the message is made clear that we don’t want Routes to close, we have to speak loudly.

 

 

Routes Update

The launch of the Routes exhibition inches nearer, slowly. We’ve been working hard to find sponsors for the printing and framing because even though we’ve been offered a fantastic deal on the printing by Mount Art in Frome, exhibitions aren’t cheap to do.

The exhibition is important because it will spread the message far and wide to those who need to consider funding for services such as Routes (the local MP, councillors and so on), so if you feel you’d like to donate to the costs of the exhibition or to help Routes continue its work, please text MEND41 £AMOUNT (between £1 and £10) to 70070, or donate via the website www.mendipymca.org.uk.

In the meantime I’ve launched the Faces of Routes portfolio page on my website which gives you a broad preview of the exhibition itself. There will be additional images on show at La Strada Cafe in Frome, so if you’re in the area, do pop in for a lovely coffee, a piece of cake or an ice cream and take the time to view the prints and read the stories of the youngsters featured.

I’ll update you all once the exhibition goes live!