What the duck

By , February 24, 2010 7:39 am

I have been aware of the satirical cartoon What The Duck for some time, as it makes its pointed comments about photography. These things, though, have a habit of getting lost in your consciousness, so I am grateful to my Canadian correspondent, Kevin Argue for reminding me about the strip earlier.

I figured it might be nice, from time to time, to embed strips that have a relevance to the preceding posts. If you love photography and have a keen sense of humour, click on the strip to be taken to the What The Duck site and sign up to receive the newsletters and strips.

Here’s the first:

What The Duck strip by Aaron Johnson

The Audacity of Hope © Aaron Johnson 2010

The threat to our living – update 1

By , February 19, 2010 12:21 pm

I have received a reply from Derek Conway to my letter regarding the Digital Economy Bill. It has all the passion of a man on his way out of politics and probably couldn’t care less:

Dear Mr Cockerham,

The reality is that the government will get its way on the Bill unless the Opposition manages to block it during the winding up of the present Parliament.

As an individual MP there is no way I can prevent this measure making progress so I hope your professional association has made the points you have given me to the Conservative and LibDem spokesmen.

Kindest regards,

Derek Conway TD MP

So much for representing the interests of your constituents! I never thought for a minute that he personally could stop it. But surely it is incumbent on him, however long he remains in the House, to hold the Executive to account? He could reassure me that he would ask probing questions and make a valid contribution to any debate. But apparently his attitude is, “what’s the point”?

It occurs to me, that with so many MPs declared to be standing down, that many, if not all, will be taking a similar approach. If so, we – the people – are no longer being represented at all, and there can be no greater justification for a call that Parliament be dissolved and a general election called immediately.

I await Michael Fallon’s response. In the meantime, this has been published today by the British Journal of Photography.

Watching a master II

By , February 18, 2010 3:52 pm

Over the years I have collected some informative documentaries exploring the work of great photographers. One of my favourites is called Frames from the Edge and concerns the work of the late, great Helmut Newton. Newton was a master of fashion photography with an erotic twist, and his work was always very clearly his. His life makes for interesting reading too, and I can recommend his autobiography published shortly before his death in 2004.

Anyway, someone has seen fit to publish the documentary on YouTube, so I am delighted to bring it to the attention of my readers. Enjoy.

PS   I know that Part 7 appears to be missing – I shall keep a look out for it.

The threat to our living

By , February 17, 2010 3:44 pm

The government’s drive to enact the Digital Economy Bill before the general election poses, potentially, a far greater risk to professional photography as we know it than the digital revolution itself.

Much has been written on this quite eloquently already for example here, so rather than rehash, it makes more sense to take the problem up directly with our MPs. One wonders exactly how that will pan out given the numbers who have nothing to fight for, but I feel it is worth at least stating a case rather than lying down without a fight. On that basis I have written the following letter to two MPs – Derek Conway (Independent) who is the MP for the constituency in which I have my office, and Michael Fallon (Cons) who represents the constituency where I have my home.

I will post the responses when and if I get them. In the meantime I strongly urge you to do the same where ever you are. And by the way, if you are reading this as an amateur photographer, don’t be fooled into thinking this does not affect you. If you take pictures and post them on the internet, it probably affects you more than it does the pros.

Dear Derek Conway/Michael Fallon,

I should like to ask how you stand on the proposed Digital Economy Bill.

As a professional photographer of over 15 years based/living in your constituency, I am extremely concerned about the elements of the proposed legislation surrounding “orphan works”, and indeed anything that undermines my right as the author of creative works to be the sole controller of how and if such works are used. That right of control has been the mainstay of my living throughout my adult life. When on occasion I have discovered that my work has been used without my consent I have had the right in law to be recompensed and demand that the illegal use be stopped.

The proposed legislation will in effect remove that right, since there is no balancing item in the bill that requires publishers of such works to maintain a link between the works and their authors. Neither does the bill specify what would constitute a “diligent search” for the author of a given work. Once a work has been deemed to be “orphan” it can be used subject to a nominal payment to a government organisation. If the author subsequently comes forward, he or she gets a percentage of what was probably already a derisory sum, with the rest going to cover administrative costs and no doubt the government.

But how are such fees to be determined? A couple of years ago an editor approached me to use an image of mine she had come across, on the cover of her magazine. I rejected the request because I did not want to be associated with that publication, but had I agreed, the appropriate fee would have been nearly a thousand pounds. If this bill is enacted, a similar editor could find such an image, not be able to “discern” that it was mine, and pay a nominal fee for its use. What then? My work is used in a way I find objectionable, and on discovering its use, my recompense is a percentage of a figure that we all know is going to be significantly lower than it should have been.

If you wonder how likely this might be, consider that it is quite common when works are supplied to a client, for the layout process to strip (not necessarily deliberately) all the embedded IPTC data that indicates the provenance of the work, in effect orphaning work that had been carefully “marked” for ownership.

I accept that the issue of Intellectual Property in the digital age needs to be reexamined, but the bill as it stands while addressing key issues for the music and movie industries, is hammering a nail in the coffin of professional photography at a time when it was just starting to show a solid potential for growth following the digital revolution. When it is also dealing with the near collapse of traditional editorial markets, and the negative effects of a deep recession, the last thing we need is for our political representatives to hand over our near lifeless corpse to Mr Murdoch and his friends on a silver platter.

I hope I can rely on you to push for the bill to be reexamined paying particular attention to its effects on all forms of professional photography at its next reading in the House.

For further information on this pressing issue please read the following.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cockerham
Member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

We English continues to win accolades

By , February 12, 2010 1:30 pm

The World Press Photo awards 2009 have been announced, and Simon Roberts’ project has won third prize in the Daily Life: Stories category. Just one of the images is not from the book.

The recognition is well deserved, but somewhat curious as Roberts shoots less editorially now than he did 10 years ago. It is his first WPP win, although he was awarded a WPP Masterclass place back in 2003. Wonder what “Bollos” would make of it?

Watch this space

By , February 10, 2010 8:02 pm

The danger of entering photography as a profession in the 21st Century is that of being derivative. We are gradually drowning in an ocean of imagery swelling at an exponential rate as more and more people look to forge careers as photographers. The irony is that many established practioners openly question how much longer the traditional idea of photography might be commercially viable. In the meantime the wannabes churn out work that is little more than a pastiche of the work that inspired them to pick up a camera in the first place.

On the positive side, the more enured we become to seeing the same things endlessly repeated, the greater the satisfaction that arises from catching the glint of a gem in the sunlight. Today I have had one of those moments, and I am going to stick my neck out on the block.

Proof images from Carmel Walsch shoot.

Promotional images shot for Carmel Walsch, a Florence-based Irish shoe designer. © Leo Bieber 2010

While others his age were studying assiduously, a young British boy moved from his family home in Sussex to a flat in Florence in an effort to learn how to be a photographer by learing about life. To put it another way, he set out to become a photographer the old fashioned way. Driven by what is going on in his head and in front of his eyes, his creative sparkle has not been throttled by an over-emphasis on technique. While he is interested in many genres, he has determined that his own innate passions and creative bents should shoulder the burden of developing his eye.

Proof images from Carmel Walsch shoot.

Promotional images shot for Carmel Walsch, a Florence-based Irish shoe designer. © Leo Bieber 2010

I have been watching his work for a couple of years, and from what I have seen his sense of style is unique. Clearly I am not the only one to think so, as he has started to pick up some interesting and enjoyable commissions. Where others his age might be tempted to do the easy thing and make the money, he sees every job as an opportunity to push his creative envelope.

He still has a long way to go, but I think Leo Bieber is a name to watch.

Haiti – avoiding the disaster porn

By , February 3, 2010 10:33 am

Much has been written recently about the unseemliness of some of the journalism (of all types) that has been coming out of Haiti since the earthquake. Some of it has been branded a kind of pornography of despair that has had more to do with raising the currency of the news organisations and/or journalists than about objective news reporting. Indeed, Foto 8 has posted an insightful piece that considers if the experience of Haiti thus far should lead us to examine whether a new approach to reporting such events is overdue.

It has become commonplace whenever some major incident, particularly a natural disaster, hits some unsuspecting part of the world, for the fora of photojournalism in particular to crackle into life with every camera swinging wannabe trying to get snippets of info so they can insert themselves into “theatre” with the expectation that it is going to launch their careers. In all likelihood, it won’t.

There are, though, still some glowing examples of how it should be. Brussels-based photographer, Bruno Stevens, has published this powerful, poignant, but more importantly, balanced piece. It documents without being judgemental or overly visceral. All the issues that have been raised about Haiti are there, but the pictures do the talking by themselves. Perhaps most important of all the images are about the plight of the Haitians, not about Bruno Stevens.

To help Haiti, give here.

UPDATE: I have just listened to this, broadcast on Radio 4’s Today programme. It could not be more apposite. McCullin has a major retrospective of his career opening at the Imperial War Museum’s Manchester galleries on February 6th – it will move to London next year.

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