Category: Exposure

Not very green at all, it would seem.

By , April 2, 2013 10:01 am

It’s taken a couple of weeks, but I have finally had a reply from the Executive Assistant to the MD of Samsung UK. It reads:

Dear Mr Cockerham,

Thank you for your email addressed to our Managing Director, which you forwarded on to me.

We have considered your communication and will not be commenting further.

Well, I’m glad that’s sorted out then. Clearly any pretence that Samsung might make towards being ethically driven and environmentally conscious can be seen to be just that: a pretence.

I have to be fair to Samsung, because contrary to what they might think I like to be balanced and objective. So in the interests of balance what are the possible reasons for them declining the invitation to comment?

Firstly they might think I am not serious and therefore they wish to call my bluff. I’d porbably do the same. In the meantime they will be drawing up a formal response just in case the story/question actually does make it to the mainstream media. In effect, this is the keeping your powder dry approach, and by asking the question they are now forewarned. I hope this is the case.

Second option is that they hadn’t thought of this problem of perception, they are crapping themselves that the story will break as they have no proper response and know that they will come in for a storm of damaging criticism to which they have no real reply.

Third option: they are a huge company making products that well-off people and companies buy, and they don’t really care.

My own feeling is that if there is a good reason for this practice they should have just come clean with it now, as that will be less damaging in the long term, but I suspect that it is driven by nothing more than greed.

I wonder what else is not quite what they would like it to appear?

What a difference a day makes.

By , November 20, 2012 11:44 pm

Taking beautiful pictures is all very well, but creating images which make a difference has always been my motivation. It sounds rather highfalutin, but it can be as simple as producing a set of wedding photographs that are prized and treasured by the subjects. Knowing that they will be cherished and examined for generations to come is hugely pleasing.

At a more profound level is the the thought that images might inform and consequently change behaviour, affecting people’s lives for the better. This kind of ambition is most often heard from photojournalists. Some of them manage to make that difference, but to be frank the only way to achieve it is to pitch the stories in the right way to the right audience. Too often a good story is presented to an audience which either already knows the subject or is unlikely to be affected and react to it.

As I have mentioned previously on Blue Filter, I created the story Phineas’ Friends to do two things: raise the profile of the Evelina Children’s Hospital, and educate people about the huge teams of specialists which are the reality of 21st Century hospital-based health care.

Initially the aim was to shoot the story and get it published in a weekend colour supplement, which was achieved in the Guardian Weekend magazine.

Phineas' Friends in the Guardian Weekend magazine

Phineas’ Friends in the Guardian Weekend magazine

Following that publication I was contacted by many people who had been affected by the article, and there was a surge in sales of the book both as paperback and iBook. It would have been easy to let it drop at that point and move on to other things, but I was conscious that only a small fraction of the country reads the Guardian, and I wanted to push on for publication in more widely read periodicals.

On the back of the Guardian publication I was approached by a freelance journalist who wanted to do a completely different treatment of the story for a cheap women’s weekly called Pick Me Up. In essence I was told that they weren’t interested in my story as such because I was a man (interestingly Marie Claire had very nearly taken the story instead of the Guardian but didn’t because it was felt that their readers wouldn’t connect with a story created by a man – nice to see sexism is still alive and well), but that they would like to do something from my wife’s point of view. We – my wife and I – agonised over this for months before coming to the conclusion that if my ambition really was to raise the profile of the hospital we should let it go ahead. We pushed to make sure that Phineas’ Friends got a good mention, and that links to this blog were included to boost sales of the book. Having seen the Guardian Big Picture run in October of 2011, Pick Me Up ran their story in March of 2012.

If I am honest the writing in Pick Me Up made me cringe, but I let it wash over me, reminding myself why I had done it. As it happens, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. Within a couple of days I took a call from another journalist saying she had seen the story in Pick Me Up, and that the Daily Mail was interested in running my story over half a page. That subsequently became a page, then two pages, and finally three full pages. To get three full pages in a national daily on a piece that doesn’t involve a terrorist attack or some major scandal is almost unheard of, and from the perspective of broadening the base of people who would see my story I could not possibly have asked for anything better.

A spread from the Daily Mail

A spread from the Daily Mail

To put this in context, the Daily Mail is the second highest circulation daily in the UK, with figures for June of this year of 1.93 million. Only The Sun manages higher figures with 2.58 million, and the third placed Mirror sold nearly a million less than the Mail per day. Add to that the fact that the Mail Online overtook the New York Times earlier this year to become the most widely read online English language news website in the world with nearly 60 million distinct readers a month, and Phineas’ Friends (and by extension, the Evelina) was going to get huge exposure in front of a massive audience.

Working with the editors and journalists at The Mail was a pleasure, if somewhat intense. I think in the final few days prior to publication I must have been on the phone either to them or people at the Evelina every five minutes checking facts or getting quotes.

What a difference a day makes.

Within an hour of waking up on that Tuesday morning in April when the Mail was published, my phone started to ring off the hook. First the local BBC news wanted to know if they could come out to do a piece on me that day for the evening news, then the local newspaper group asked for interviews. Then ITV rang to ask if I would go on Daybreak. Then I was asked to do a radio interview. It went on like that all day.

I had mistakenly thought that it would be a normal day, and had a commercial shoot scheduled in Whitstable. But by the time I finished that shoot at 1pm my day had changed beyond recognition. A journalist met me in the car park in Whitstable to record an interview for the local radio. I had answered questions for a paper on the drive back to my office, and taken calls to agree to the story running in the Daily Mirror and the Daily Record, and agreed syndication on the story.

During all this I arranged to go into the BBC South East Today studio to do a live interview on the evening news, and also agreed to an early wake-up to go into the Daybreak studios in central London on Wednesday morning. As a result I was also giving details to the researchers for the BBC and ITV, and making arrangements to get the pictures to both for the video walls they had in mind for the interviews.

Michael Cockerham on BBC South East

Michael Cockerham on BBC South East

Me and Phineas on local BBC news

At least they got my name right on the caption – the presenter called me Michael Cockerman three times, although I didn’t notice at the time.

It was a fraught and chaotic period, especially the appearance on Daybreak since the taxi they sent for us got caught in traffic and we ended up arriving at the studio less than five minutes before we were due on air. Walking through the empty sound-stages with people doing our make up as we went was surreal. We sat on the couch opposite the presenters and went on air almost immediately with no time for preparation of any kind.

Within a couple of days I had given an extended live interview on BBC Radio, and started to see references to the story on the international newswires as far afield as Russia and Malaysia. And you really know that the story is big when you get your own tabloid moniker: I had become “Grateful Dad”.

As welcome as all this was it would be disingenuous to suggest that I expected all of it, because I didn’t. But none of it has surprised me as much as the quieter things that have happened and continued to happen since. It was when I began getting messages from doctors who said even they had no idea how many people were involved in treating a single patient that I started to realise the effect Phineas’ Friends was having on people.

With Phineas and my wife, Laura, on ITV's national Daybreak programme.

With Phineas and my wife, Laura, on ITV’s national Daybreak programme.

Of course the book sold in all three forms, and more money was raised for the Evelina. But then I started getting messages from other parents who were going through the same experience with parechovirus. This blog and my contact with them has helped them to get a better handle on their situation. I suppose it was obvious it might happen, but it genuinely never occurred to me beforehand.

People around me have have also started to change their behaviour. The lady who runs my sons’ kindergarten has taken on the chairmanship of an organisation for the coming year and chosen the Evelina as the preferred charity of the group. Local businesses that I work with have seen fit to have fundraisers for the Evelina, and have arranged for a very clever flyer to go in all their postal correspondence which encourages people to buy the iBook. Most have added a link to the iBook store in their email signature panels to encourage yet more sales. Friends and colleagues have chosen to support the Evelina in their various ways, whether running the marathon, or taking part in the Triathlon event next summer.

Julia George looks through Phineas' Friends while interviewing me for her show on BBC Radio Kent

Julia George looks through Phineas’ Friends while interviewing me for her show on BBC Radio Kent. Photo: © Michael Cockerham 2012

A few months ago I was contacted by a clinical scientist from Edinburgh, a man who has been honoured for his work in transplant science. He told me he had spent three decades trying to persuade managers and politicians that health care is not just doctors and nurses. His assessment was that Phineas’ Friends had done more to address this knowledge gap in one hit than all his efforts and those of his colleagues combined.

As a result of that conversation I received an invitation to give a keynote speech at an annual NHS conference, and will be flying up to Edinburgh on the 29th of November to deliver a 25 minute address to scientists and technicians, and to coincide with this, Phineas’ Friends will be displayed as a temporary exhibition at the Royal Society of Scotland.

In effect they want me to help NHS scientists see themselves not as support staff, but front line clinicians. Are they? Well consider this: if a scientist makes a mistake in the lab it can be as catastrophic for a patient’s treatment as a mistake made by a doctor or nurse. Moreover, the reality is that modern medical practice is becoming ever more specialised, and increasingly scientists are moving to the centre of medical care.

I had thought this might be a strange aberration, but last week I was invited to go to Aberdeen in March to give another address to a different group of medical scientists. It has yet to be confirmed, but the early indications are that I will be doing that too. My impression is that these groups are keen to keep the momentum going, and change the perceptions of the decision-makers and public at large.

But perhaps the most humbling response came at a meeting with people from the Evelina itself a few weeks ago. I had gone to the meeting to discuss various things and to hand over a cheque. What I hadn’t expected was to be asked if I would make a speech at a gala ball and fundraiser for the Evelina to be held in December at Old Billingsgate. They said they wanted me to entertain, inform, and enthuse the guests to give generously. This is a function at which they hope to raise a million pounds; at which the “price” of dinner is £500; at which some six hundred wealthy and philanthropic people will bid on all sorts of fabulous items which have been kindly donated for the purpose.

I was told that a significant part of the reason that the gala is being held is to do with the publication of Phineas’ Friends. I am not sure that I believe that, but it is fair to say the story has had a far greater reach and impact than I could have hoped for in my wildest dreams. If my speech at the gala has the desired effect, then I might be able to say that my work has engendered political progress for health care scientists and raised a million pounds for sick children. Now that really would be a beautiful picture.

Back to the epicentre

By , May 18, 2011 1:33 pm

In the aftermath of 9/11 Joel Meyerowitz produced a powerful body of work that examined the clearup of the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Exhibited around the world and reproduced in a large format book published by Phaidon, it was a poignant examination of the work that went on at Ground Zero. Now, nearly ten years later, Time Magazine has commissioned Meyerowitz to go back and reexamine what’s changed and what will forever be the same:

Lines of Sight

By , November 24, 2010 9:26 pm

Well, I said that more information would be forthcoming, and true to my word here it is. Blue Filter’s first foray into publishing has gone to press with Blurb. A sneak preview below to whet your appetite:

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.

Making sure you look at the whole picture.

By , December 14, 2009 5:58 pm

Kevin Argue, a photographer and friend in Toronto, Canada, brought this amusing story to my attention. It just goes to show that cutting staff may save money, but at what expense?

The annual Kinsmen Santa Claus  parade in Peterborough, Ontario is a regular if unremarkable event with over 80 floats and various marching bands. This year, a seasoned staffer from the Peterborough Examiner was on hand to photograph the parade, and produced amongst many shots one of the float from a local Catholic High School. This particular float was replete with hot tub and students. As said float approached the photographer, one of the students wearing brightly coloured sports top and checked boxer shorts jumped high with his arms in the air, sending sprays of water in all directions. It made for a lively image, and a definite candiate for publication. And published it was, on the front page, on the Canadian wires, and in a Toronto commuter morning paper. Unfortunately the high school concerned were not best pleased:

The newspaper prior to be pulled.

The image also ran in the Toronto Metro

Some very red faced people in the newsroom explained that staffing cuts had been to blame for the fact that “Peterborough Pete’s” penis had not been spotted by the photographer or any of the editors on duty, but they tried to pull all the copies from the news stand as soon as it was brought to their attention.

Hmmm. Personally I think it is highly unlikely that a “seasoned” photographer would have missed this when editing his images. Perhaps he was trying to make a point about how bad the staffing issues are in Canada. I know that Kevin would be the first to agree with him if that were the case.

Anyway, thanks Kevin for the pointer. And the moral of the story is: always check your copy, whether written or image, before putting it to bed.

Still looking good naked

By , November 4, 2009 2:33 pm

Having watched the show last night I thought some people might be interested to see again the wedding photos that the production team used. I think they used five in total but they had options on a further two. So for the benefit of all the Gok fans that think Kelly is amazing, here she is on her wedding day:

The moment Kelly and Toby said "I do".

The moment Kelly and Toby said "I do".

Kelly shows off the full dress she chose - not Gok's Amanda Wakely number!

Kelly shows off the full dress she chose - not Gok's Amanda Wakely number!

Kelly shows her figure to its best.

Kelly shows her figure to its best.

Kelly was able to wear a wedding dress she would never have dreamed of before she was Goked!

Kelly was able to wear a wedding dress she would never have dreamed of before she was Goked!

Full of joy as Kelly and Toby cut their wedding cake.

Full of joy as Kelly and Toby cut their wedding cake.

Kelly has an intimate moment with husband Toby

Kelly has an intimate moment with husband Toby

A wonderful wedding full of confident smiles.

A wonderful wedding full of confident smiles.

Don’t forget, there is still time to put in a bid on the original Gok dress! See my previous post for details of other links. I forgot to add that Kelly has her own site too.

Television exposure

By , November 3, 2009 12:33 pm

You’ll have to excuse the dreadful pun in the title for this news item – all will become clear.

Popular Channel 4 show hosted by Gok Wan

Popular Channel 4 show hosted by Gok Wan

Last year I was commissioned to photograph the wedding of Kelly and Toby – nothing unusual in that. But it was brought to my attention that the bride to be, Kelly, had recently recovered from breast cancer, and following a mastectomy had had her confidence shot to pieces and her life – and wedding – put on hold.

Then along came the inimitable Gok Wan, and the television show How To Look Good Naked. Kelly says that participation in the show changed her life, gave her back her self esteem and confidence, and enabled her to get married.

Despite Channel 4’s offer to film her wedding, Kelly wanted to keep it a personal family and friends affair, and she and her betrothed employed me to do the official photography.

The Gok Wan addicts among you will know that the series is on again, and tonight they are airing a “revisit” show of Kelly that will see where her life has gone since Gok swept his broom through her wardrobe. In particular he is going to rib her for not wearing the wedding dress he bought her as part of the original show, and several of my photographs showing how she actually looked on her wedding day will be aired (apparently I will get a credit at the end of the programme).

Kelly Short on her wedding day.

Kelly Short on her wedding day.

Anyway, Kelly has become something of an ambassador for a leading breast cancer charity and is keen to raise awareness and support in equal measure. The dress she was given by Gok is to be auctioned off on eBay immediately after the show airs and you can find it at: eBay Gok’s Dress. Alternatively, if you are interested in making a simple donation you can visit Kelly’s special donations site.

For my own part, I took the decision that the programme credit and a link from the How To Look Good Naked website to my official site is reward enough, and I am donating the reproduction fees from the use of the images to a breast cancer charity.

Don’t forget to watch!!! Channel 4, 8pm, November 3rd, 2009

EDIT: If you missed the show you can watch it online and find out more here.

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