Sunday 29 December 2013

The Largest, Fastest, most Luxurious Ship Afloat

This wonderful photograph of the RMS Empress of Britain, being completed in 1930 by the John Brown shipyard in Glasgow, was found via Twitter - a great resource for finding new and old photography. 

The image itself is impressive and was featured on the historical pics twitter feed, but the photo just had a short caption without revealing the ship's amazing history, for the Empress of Britain holds a unique record.

In 1930, the ship was launched and went to work on the busy Trans-Atlantic shipping routes, running from Europe to Canada during 1931 to 1939. At the time, she was the largest, fastest and most luxurious ship afloat nicknamed 'The World’s Wondership'. Probably the ultimate example of the 1930's liner reflecting the romanticism of the era, the Empress' real footnote in history however would occur during World War II.

The Empress of Britain was requisitioned as a troop carrier by the British government. Her time in service as part of the war effort was short. On 26th October 1940, the ship was attacked by Luftwaffe aircraft and set on fire. With most of the crew and passengers picked up by the Royal Navy, tugs attempted to tow the badly damaged ship back to harbour but a German U-boat, U-32 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Hans Jenisch, saw her and fired three torpedoes finally dooming the rescue effort. 

The Empress of Britain finally sank just after 02:00hrs off the coast of Ireland and after nine years of service at sea, entered the history books as the largest liner (42,348 gross tons) sunk by a U-Boat during World War II. She sits, upside down, in 500 feet of water with most of her deck missing due to the fire.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Photography on BBC2 WWI Documentary

Sometimes a photography commission comes in that really makes you think. A recent one blended two passions of mine together - history and photography.

At the end of November i supplied a couple of images for a documentary about World War I due to go out on BBC 2 next year to mark the hundredth anniversary of the conflict.

The programme called Long Shadow looks at the legacy of World War I and the far reaching consequences that have carried on through the generations. We continue to be haunted by it.

ClearStory who are making the TV documentary state on their website :-

'Tracing the legacy of the Great War through a hundred years and eleven different countries, historian David Reynolds explores how the war haunted the generation who lived through it and builds a powerful new argument that the conflict unleashed forces we still grapple with today.’
It certainly sounds like a fascinating watch. More details will follow nearer the broadcast time.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Another England

Another England is a series of four excellent documentary films made by Maxy Bianco and set around the town of Hartlepool located in the north east of England.

Viewing these films, lots of memories came flooding back. Hartlepool was where my grandparents lived so i got to know the place very well. The industrial landscape were always fascinating to me as a child, especially at night when Seal Sands would be lit up like something from a science fiction film. Only later did i discover that Ridley Scott had used that very same landscape as inspiration when he was making Blade Runner.

Each of the beautifully shot films takes a look at the people and landscape of the town. I especially loved the third film Black Beach  that looks at the “Tantobies” and their horses and carts, working hard to make a living from a coal-covered beach. Twenty years after the pits closed, the coal still appears on the beach. It reminded me of the great Seacoal photography work by Chris Killip shot over thirty years ago. I didn't realise that the 'tantobies' still existed or could still exist after the closure of the mines, but they do.

The superb Another England series can be found on Maxy's Vimeo page HERE

Thursday 24 October 2013

The Voice of Robert Capa

You don't have to go far on the internet to find a well known photographer talking about his work these days, but this week a terrific find was released onto the web - the voice of Robert Capa.

Found on eBay, the recording, a radio interview made in October 1947, was quickly purchased by the International Center for Photography who have now released the full 23:40 audio recording on their website. Robert Capa talks about his work, about the reviews of his book 'Slightly out of Focus' and more, but it is the insights into a couple of iconic Capa photographs that really makes the interview an insightful listen.

One fascinating aspect of the recording dealt with the image of the death of a loyalist soldier (seen above) during the Spanish Civil War. To say that Capa's story about that photo has a interesting revelation would be somewhat of an understatement. The recording, with details coming directly from the photographer, certainly does provide some good evidence that the falling loyalist soldier image is not a fake as some often allege.

The audio recording of Robert Capa talking about his work, photography and more can be found HERE

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Pulling the Wool...

If you are allergic to sheep, Skye may be the last place you'd want to visit. They seem to be everywhere, little white slow moving blobs moving around on the side of cliffs, hills and mountains. Go for a walk and you are bound to find one, two or a whole flock.

Yet the sheep also act as a subtle reminder of the highland clearances where people were forced off the land in large numbers -2000 families in one day were not uncommon - the tenants shipped off to America, Canada or Australia to be replaced by the more profitable large intensive scale sheep farming. 

The very croft ruins that the sheep wander by and take shelter in, are a monument to the largely absentee highland lairds deciding to go with profit at the expense of the lives and culture of very own people. Sheep had a massive effect on the landscape and culture of the highlands of Scotland.

These days the sheep are part of the highland culture. Tweed, tartan scarves made of wool, blankets, sheepskin rugs are big business and popular with tourists.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Experiences in Colour

This short film caught my attention recently, not only for the great photography but also the insights from Bruce Davidson himself. Listening to a photographer of this calibre, you are always going to learn something.

How often do you 'misrepresent and misunderstand what you are looking at'? I know i do but it seems to be a common human trait that not many photographers are willing to admit to. We tend to jump to conclusions far too easily from behind the camera just because of what we see.

My favourite shot has to be the subway mugging photo... because it isn't a mugging. It's an arrest.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Flickr Free

This week i finally made a decision about Flickr and my Flickr Pro account. I cancelled it. Sometimes you just have to work through the details and come to a decision. So back to a free account i went.

I like Flickr and I'll continue to use the service but paying for it makes little sense now. I mentioned in a post back in May about how i thought the new business plan made no sense. Where was the money to come from if the free deal was so great?  For a number of years i had a Flickr Pro account with the benefits that came with it. The changes that took place at Flickr a few months ago mean that there really is no incentive to pay for the service. It's as simple as that.

In the list of new pro benefits, Flickr note that users have 'unlimited uploads'. To me that term is pretty much meaningless. The free account offers one terrabyte of storage that will be more than enough for me and probably most people too. To be honest i wouldn't really like the idea of storing one terrabyte of my hard earned images on Flickr anyway. It leaves far too much on the online system to loose. 

No adverts was another noted plus, but again the adverts aren't intrusive and it is certainly not worth paying the $50, or even $25 pro subscription, just to remove them. Even the ad free blurb has to refer to 'All the benefits of a free account' when listing benefits. It is hardly inviting people to pay! Back to the benefits of the free account many people will go just like i did.

So where will my money be going? Flickr's loss will be 500px's gain. I will upgrade my account there and upload more photography over the autumn and winter. A 500px paid account actually gives useful extra bits and pieces. As for Flickr, I really do wonder at the business thinking at Yahoo. One photographer going looses them $25 but how many others have done the same? Magnify that by a factor of ten, a hundred, or a thousand and the business income model starts to look rather sick. Or maybe they have a cunning plan!

Thursday 11 July 2013

One Ocean, One Breath

Ever fancied exploring the ocean on a single breath? No, me neither, but a series of beautiful images by free diving photographers Christina and Eusebio Saenz de Santamaria really do show the magic and freedom of diving up to 82 metres on just a single breath.

The free diving duo have a great website packed with remarkable underwater photography that can be found HERE

Thursday 20 June 2013

The Instagram Ethos

There's nothing like an interview with the boss of a company to help reveal the thought processes behind a business. I'd imagine that if you asked the average Instagram user to name the boss of the very service they were using, many wouldn't be able to. I didn't! The Instagram CEO is actually called Kevin Systrom.

In an interview for the business magazine Fast Company, Systrom reveals quite a lot about how he feels about photographs and the people who take them. It doesn't make comfortable reading. Systrom mentions using Instagram to find beautiful things which for him means 'rare top-shelf bourbons, aviator sunglasses, and celebrity selfies'. Who says the man has no soul? I just wonder if they actually value high quality content from professional photographers?  They appear to want to encourage users like the rich Russian teenagers who seem to infest the service and love to flaunt mum and dad's wealth via their iPhone photos.

To be fair, Systrom does briefly mention the app's 'untapped gold mine' ability to discover new content creators only for the journalist Austin Car to make the barbed retort in his article ' The first example he cites is a curious and slightly naive one: a behind-the-curtain peek at life inside North Korea'. Oops. Obviously the journalist hadn't heard about or seen any of David Guttenfelder's excellent work from North Korea. As far as the rich vein of photojournalism on Instagram was concerned though, that was about as near as it got.

A telling and also rather worrying paragraph refers to the terms of service issue of December 2012 which angered users and led to many closing accounts. Described in terms like 'a minor media freak-out' and 'the changes were revoked and the fire-storm quickly passed' by Austin Carr, the difficulties of late 2012 were swept under the carpet and under-estimated the damage inflicted on Instagram. Maybe they don't care. The issue has certainly not vanished, with many users, myself included, keeping a watchful eye for further attempts at abusing the terms. Some have even gone as far as building their own alternative app.

Trust is a very fragile thing and photographers always like to keep their options open. Instagram isn't the only photo sharing service. There are alternatives such as Flickr, EyeEm app and the impressive looking Pressgram app due in August, that enable photographers to keep control and rest easier. But then if the interview with Kevin Systrom is to be believed, Instagram isn't really about photography or even aimed at photographers. It's about lifestyle, brands and celebrities. No wonder the rich Russian kids love it!

The Fast Company Article about Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom can be read HERE

Sunday 9 June 2013

Street Retouch

Rather a fun little video this. If you have a PhotoShop wizard, a bus stop and a bunch of hidden cameras, you get an advertising board featuring adverts with YOUR face on it. The reactions are brilliant.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

A Photograph's Worth

Photography+talent = Money. It's a tough equation at the best of times. The value of good photography is a common theme when I'm talking to clients and often it doesn't get anywhere near the high priority that it should. It usually comes down to cost. I regularly see local adverts where the image, if I can even call it that,  for a large advert has been taken by someone with.. er.. let us say... limited skill. The irony is, of course, that after handing over a lot of cash to get the advert done in the first place, it ends up ruined because they didn't want to pay for a decent photograph.

The steady changing pace of professional photography broke the surface in a variety of ways over the last few days. The first was the tale of the Chicago Sun laying off its entire photography staff. Twenty eight photographers, some of whom had worked for the paper for decades, lost their jobs in what was described as 'a tough decision'. For a well established media organisation to get rid a key elements in communicating a story seems extremely desperate. Tragic even. All that expertise, experience and talent gone in a flash to be replaced by, at best by a freelance photographer, or worst of all, and more likely, a reporter with an iPhone.

A recent event nearer to home underlined the problem and it involved my local paper. A truck going along the nearby dual carriageway caught on fire after a tyre blew. The fire was so intense, due to the truck's extremely flammable cargo of tyres, paint and rolls of tape, that the road surface had to be replaced. For most of the day the road was closed. The story got the headlines it deserved and with the text was an small photograph of the truck ablaze shot by a local resident on a smart phone. Just ten years ago, the paper would have dispatched a photographer to capture the flames engulfing truck. Today a member of the public does it for them for free - the reward is not financial but to have your glorious name alongside the image.

You might think that this practice is just restricted to local newspapers after a cheap story, but recently The Guardian newspaper launched an iPhone app called Guardianwitness which they cheerfully describe as 'GuardianWitness: our new home for content you've created'. Well that's big of them isn't it. The benefits speak for themselves for a newspaper in an era of dropping circulation, lower revenues and changing business models. You get the public to create the content, give them a credit and NO money has to change hands. Who needs journalists or photographers when the costs can be reduced to virtually nothing.

Yesterday morning, the excellent Who Pays Photographers? Tumblr blog posted about a band offering a potential photographer access to the band for one day during their tour for $150. Yes, the photographer would have to pay the band to photograph them and not the other way around. After receiving a massive amount of flak on their Facebook page from pro photographers, the band eventually pulled the offer claiming that they meant a fan with a camera. It certainly didn't come across like that in the text.

“Are you an aspiring photographer? Come take pictures of us all day at Warped Tour! We will provide you with the access, and experience you need. We will also take your pictures and put them on our Instagram page, and give you full credit for it. This is a great package for anyone who loves taking pictures, whether its for a hobby or professionally.”

With an attitude like that, it's no wonder that they ended up feeling the wrath of pro photographers on Facebook. Sadly a few comments showed support for the band and ignored the fact that the band were potentially going to exploit someone for their own gain. Was it down to ignorance or was it knowingly going to exploit some poor photographer? The band seemed genuinely surprised by the bad response and they did quickly remove the offending offer, but only because they were exposed to a intense barrage of criticism.

The last few days has seen all sorts of accusations hit the web about the Chicago Sun decision. The internet is killing photojournalism being the over simplistic, headline grabbing war cry of some. The discussion has centred on photojournalism but the core issues around of the devaluing of photography affect the whole of the photography industry and not just certain sectors. Technology brings solutions and problems. The impact of digital cameras, the internet and software that simplifies processes will continue to have unforeseen good and bad consequences. The key issue behind the loss of jobs at the Chicago Sun comes back to money and the newspaper's lack of it. Technology provides another solution. The photographer is replaced by iPhone.

Are we really that surprised? Some people see taking a photograph as the mere pushing of a button, ignorant of the skill and talent involved. No doubt some newspaper board members think this way too. I could say that this attitude is all down to Instagram, the internet or digital cameras but it's always been there. I'd be lying if I said that people never quibbled about the cost of photography back in 2001 when I first started out. They undervalued it then and they still do undervalue and quibble about cost now. They always will.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Backwards going forwards

It has been quite a week for Yahoo. In a fevered burst of activity this week, they purchased Tumblr for just over $1 billion to inherit the younger audience that apparently congregates there. Then, to top it all off, they decide, after years of neglect, to revamp Flickr which Yahoo themselves modestly state is 'almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world.' Well maybe.

The Tumblr purchase annoyed quite a few people who hadn't forgotten Yahoo's lackadaisical attitude to appropriating new website services. Just like a young child given a new pet, Yahoo do have a reputation for being very enthusiastic towards their new 'pets' only to loose interest later. I rather like Tumblr and was relieved to hear that the service will remain independent of Yahoo. How long that promise will last though is anyone's guess. I expect that adverts and maybe even a paid Tumblr Plus account may appear in time.

The real story of the week, however, was the Flickr upgrade that was spectacular in a number of  ways by wowing and horrifying photographers in equal measure. I've started to get used to the new design but the business model does leave me wondering how Flickr will make money for Yahoo. The old model had the Flickr Pro account that delivered a few extra perks for those who signed up to it. There was an incentive to pay for a Pro account but not now. All the great bits are now free including the one full terabyte of storage, full resolution images and many of the old Flickr Pro perks. Great... but what about upgrading revenues?

The old Flickr Pro users have been looked after... well at least most of them have. Those lucky enough to have an eligible pro account keep the current $25 rate of renewal. Newcomers to Flickr will have to pay more and here is where Yahoo's upgrade model looks weird. The paid format in place is not at all appealing. Fifty dollars gets you no adverts. That's it! No extra space or cool features. With a significant jump from $25 to $50 it's hardly a compelling deal! Why upgrade? Most people will just choose to stick with the generous free options and live with the adverts that, to be honest, are barely noticeable.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Chris Killip Interview

As you may have gathered from my posts a couple of weeks ago, i do adore the photography of Chris Killip enormously. Killip really should be a far bigger figure in UK photography but he isn't and its difficult to work out why. Maybe, as the photographer himself states in the video, the photography from the north east of England during the 1980's has too much baggage when viewed in Britain. 

On the other hand Chris Killip has never been the showman that Martin Parr has been. I tend to think of these two photographers, both of whom were in the limelight when i took up photography in the late 1980's as the opposing ends of the documentary photography spectrum. I've always liked Chris Killips's warmth towards his subject matter opposed to Martin Parr's cold and critical eye.

Whatever the outcome of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize this year, it's just great to see this important work from the north east being shown and discussed. Killip's work had political overtones when it was first shown and its relevance to current UK economic and political events still makes it essential viewing.

Saturday 20 April 2013

The Better Camera

The Thatcher post from earlier this week provided me with a reason to smile. It wasn't anything to do with the iron lady herself but one of the photographs i had used in the post. A memory came to mind.

Student life had many fun moments but one aspect that isn't often talked about is the boredom. During the week you would have course work and other distractions to entertain you, yet i found filling the time over the weekends could be tricky. You can only read so much. To counter this, I created a circular walking route that I would do most weekends. During my years as a student I had routes in each of the towns I lived in but the Middlesbrough walk always remained my favourite. It was dark, gritty and industrial but beautiful too.

The River Tees runs past Middlesbrough and I had a walk that went through the centre of town, followed the river from the iconic Transporter bridge to the Newport bridge, and then cut through the terraced streets back to my house. I imagine that the walk must have been around three miles in length (note: just measured it using Google Earth - it was five miles so I was well off with my estimate). Often the route was quiet apart from the occasional dog walker or runner, but one hot June day i came across the family seen in the photo above.

The photo was taken just off the rather glamorously titled Depot road that I had to follow between the two bridges. The location hasn't changed very much at all in twenty years, but the once open space now has a security fence that makes access near impossible. The rail track itself ran down to the dockside, although by the look of it, a train hadn't run along those tracks in years. Making their way along this overgrown bit of railway line came a man with his young son and daughter.

"Look Dad, he has a camera" remarked the young girl pointing to the Pentax Program A i was carrying. "Yeah" replied the Dad in a rather confident tone of voice "but my camera is better than his!" I just smiled and carried on walking my route. What camera he had I don't know. Unlike me, he didn't have it with him.

Friday 19 April 2013

Change of Face

This is a great video showing how lighting dramatically alters the face. It's a simple enough idea, and certainly not a new one, to have a revolving light going around the subject but the results are quite brilliant nonetheless. The music is pretty darn good too.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Winners and Losers: The Thatcher Years

Thatcher. One name that conjures up love or loathing. Her recent death has whipped up many of the old emotions about her. Those people outside of the UK have been surprised to find out how hated she was. No other British politician has ever really inspired these emotions as much as Margaret Hilda Thatcher does.

I've always had a fascination with dereliction. It stems from my childhood and the visits to my grandparents in the north east town of Hartlepool during the 1970's and 1980's. For years we used to pass the shipyard at Haverton Hill where huge ships towered above. It seemed biblical in scale to me as a six year old boy. Then one day the yard was quiet. Empty. Barren. The shipyard site was so huge that it didn't really fit any other purpose so it stayed quiet and empty until 2008. It could be said that I was politicised from then on. I saw the consequences to the actions. Thatcher didn't close the yard  - it closed in February 1979 - but the damage done through a lack of investment and re-development during her time in office haunts the area to this day. During my early student years I was able to see more of this derelict industrial sites around the north east town of Middlesbrough. I even got a pass from the harbour authority to photograph sites. These places and their workers had powered the empire, supported the country through wars and done exactly what had been asked of them. All it earned them was a quick, but totally painful end.  The workers, their families and the communities, like the derelict work places, were left to rot and decay after the industries were finally closed. No help. No investment. No compassion. No hope. No wonder there is still anger.

If you really want to see monuments to Margaret Thatcher's time in office then I would recommend having a wander around certain former industrial areas of the UK. The Midlands, South Wales, Scotland and the North East were just some of the places that found themselves in the firing line. All was definitely not equal in Thatcher's Britain. Far from it. A series of tough monetarist economic polices took an immense toll on many industries and their communities. Some areas like Hartlepool only started to recover after receiving serious investment from the European Union re-development fund starting in the early 1990's. It was true that the industrial decline had been going on for some time and that it was inevitable that many industries would close, but the real bitterness and hatred aimed towards Mrs Thatcher stems from how the closures were done. The fact that some militant unions had caused havoc in Britain shortly before Thatcher's rise didn't help matters. Maybe she saw the closures as dealing with two problems at the same time - killing two birds with one stone as it were. The end certainly came quickly for many industries but the communities ended up facing a damned existence. As a child growing up in Thatcher's Britain during the 1980's,  I saw the effects first hand as a wave of decay and disintegration set in. Chris Killip's images, featured the books 'In Flagrante' and 'Seacoal', look very familiar to me and reflect many of my childhood memories.

In the UK, the Conservative party is sometimes referred to as 'the nasty party'. They are often seen as cruel, harsh and lacking compassion. It is a reputation they are still trying, rather unconvincingly I might add, to shake off.  Much of this feeling stems from the Thatcher era and the political attitudes many Conservatives had during the 1980's. This radical thinking took its clearest form with the ruthless de-industrialisation of areas around Britain, a process that had been slowly happening for a number of years before the conservative victory of 1979. The new Tory government stopped the subsidies to certain industries and sped up the closure process. The idea was that the free market would fill the void left by ship building, steel works and other industries. To a certain extent this did happen but it took a generation or more for many towns to even start the slow process of recovery. Regeneration of an area is an extremely slow and costly process that can take decades to complete. The town of Consett in County Durham still clearly visibly bears the scars of the closure of the steel plant back in 1980 - even after years of  regeneration via Project Genesis. The heart was just ripped out of the town in one knock-out punch. Workers went onto the benefit system and mostly stayed there. Unemployment in Consett during 1981 peaked at 36%. It is still higher than the national average in the town over thirty years later.

The title 'winners and losers' for this post seems apt. There were plenty of winners in Thatcher's Britain. Many of those who venerate her, gained either socially, economically or both. She gave hope to some and snatched hope away from others. Those who lost out through no fault of their own  - through having the wrong job or living in wrong part of the country - understandably have a different view of the 'iron lady'. A great leader is someone who unifies a country rather than divides it - especially during a time of national crisis. Mrs Thatcher was certainly no Churchill. The North/South divide widened during her reign and still remains a major problem that modern politicians just don't want to be bothered with. When Mrs Thatcher was entering Downing Street after her 1979 general election win she said 'Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope'. Many would say that she failed on all counts; especially the last one. A friend of mine, at college with me in the mid 1990's, utterly despised Mrs Thatcher because of the experiences he'd had as a young man. His unemployment, and that of many of his generation, were seen as a sacrifice worth paying for the smooth implementation of various monetarist economic policies. Three million unemployed. My friend never forgave her for it. Hope? What hope???

Today the funeral, which is a state one in all but name, took place and there will be plenty of people praising the politics and vision of the late Prime Minster of Britain from 1979-1990. I won't be among them. I will be thinking of certain images created by Chris Killip and the Amber collective in Newcastle upon Tyne documenting the other side of Maggie's Britain. Martin Parr photographed the Britain Maggie wanted to see - Chris Killip did not. With the request to be respectful towards Margaret Hilda Thatcher often mentioned, it would seem that many journalists and politicians have forgotten that the Iron Lady had very little respect for large parts of Britain. Many parts of Britain certainly haven't forgotten her. They still bear the scars.


  • Top: Wallsend, Tyneside - Chris Killip
  • Top left: Ship Launch at Haverton Hill 1972
  • Middle Right: Haverton Hill shipyard 1992
  • Middle Left: Disused Railhead - Middlebrough 1992
  • Bottom Right: Political posters - Middlebrough 1992

Wednesday 10 April 2013

The Magnificent One

It's not often that we get an great insight into a photographer but this superb film 'The Magnificent One: Philip Jones Griffiths' does just that detailing the man and photographer that was Philip Jones Griffiths.

This moving documentary features great interviews with photographers like Elliott Erwitt, Eugene Richards and Gilles Peress that reveal Philip Jones Griffiths passionate attitudes to photography and life. The section covering the Vietnam Inc work is especially fascinating.

There are plenty of wonderful moments such as the poem about welsh rugby and i especially liked Philip's rather clever, if not extremely powerful, use of a Boeing 707 landing light. Its definitely recommended viewing. So grab a brew and watch this great film about a truly great photographer.

Friday 29 March 2013

The Rising of Jessops

Zombies. Walkers. Rotters. The dead coming back to life have been rather popular of late with TV shows like 'The Walking Dead' even appealing to those who aren't fans of the zombie genre. Just like those TV shows where a character dies and comes back, the photo retail chain Jessops has returned from the dead; thankfully looking in a leaner and fitter shape than it did before it passed away.

Originally the comeback, only made possible by the efforts of entrepreneur and businessman Peter Jones, was to be an online only operation, but it has now been revealed that 40 stores, possibly rising to 48 at a later date, will be opened around the UK. One store will open every day during April. An order online and collect in store service appears to be one key area that the new Jessops company are keen to promote so the location of the stores will be key to the use of the order and collect service.

The new stores opening is great news but they do need to be relevant to the broad demands of the modern day photographer. Whether it be digital, video or film, the stores should reflect the diverse nature of 21st century photography. One reason for the death of the old Jessops brand was it focused on a very narrow market - a market that quickly moved onto using smart phones for their photography! The retail needs of other photographers tended to be ignored. Hopefully this new Jessops enterprise will be a true photographic retailer where digital, video AND analogue photographers can shop in the same retail space.

So will i use it? Well yes, in fact i will be placing my first order next week using the website, buying photographic chemicals and a few other bits and bobs. What the future has in store for this new enterprise is another matter, but with reduced costs and a better business plan it could have a bright future. Maybe.

The new Jessops website can be found at

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Tumblring Onward

Over the past weeks or so, I've been watching with some interest the Tumblr activity connected to the photograph above. The photo was taken last year at Strome Castle in the Highlands of Scotland and posted onto Tumblr later that day - so it has been on my blog for around seven months. Over that time the image has been liked and re-blogged nearly 150 times. The other Strome castle image has managed just 10.

OK, so 149 isn't a very high number, but the interesting factor has been the whom behind the re-blogging of the image. Virtually all of the affection has come from what i respectfully call the 'Tolkien brigade'. These are individuals with an interest or passion for the 'olde' world that ranges from Celtic and viking culture through to Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones fans. Is the general subject matter of the castle, lochs and old stone walls the appeal or is it the actual photograph and an almost timeless view through an old castle wall? It's probably a combination of both. Whatever the appeal, the image seems to capture people's imagination.

The likes and re-blogs also have another interesting trait. They tend to come in waves usually starting with an individual finding the photo, liking or re-blogging it and the cycle starts again as their followers do the same. It's like the photo is caught and blown along by the wind. How long this will continue is anyone's guess but if the photo can still be found seven months on then i see no reason why it can't keep tumblring onward.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Astro Nighttime

Have you ever looked up into the clear night sky, stared at the stars and thought how insignificantly small we are as a planet? We are just a fleck of dust in the cosmos compared to the majestic star fields that stretch out across the dark sky. As you watch this great video you get the same sort of  feeling.

If your internet connection is up to the task then i'd recommend viewing in HD and full screen. I especially love the movement of the stars as the night progresses. It gives a rather intense visual feeling of the speed of 'our' little planet as it spins and moves its way through space.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Raising the Colours

Reenactment at Gettysburg, PA. 2012 | Photo by Michael Falco

There are a few photographers covering the current anniversaries of the American Civil war but the superb colour images by Michael Falco especially stand out by having quite a unique haunting quality.

Michael has been using his own large format pin hole cameras to capture the action at various civil war reenactment events that will be going on until 2015. The resulting images have quite an authentic feel to them but i especially like the blurred movement contained within the images. The flags on the battlefield take on a life of their own, often looking tattered and worn from intense battlefield wear and tear.

We tend to want everything sharp and clear in this digital photography world. Usually that's OK, but modern images can sometimes be seen as rather too clean as other photographers have mentioned. Falco's work has character, feel and most of all atmosphere. You can almost hear the flags fluttering in the wind.

It would be interesting to do some English Civil war reenactment images in a similar style, even if it was historically totally inaccurate. Photography in the England of 1644 would probably be regarded as witchcraft so you'd have to be careful.

Michael Falco's excellent pinhole colour photography can be found on his website HERE

Monday 25 February 2013

From the Eyes

The eyes say all you need to know in this image of the chaining of a young pig-tailed macaque as it is displayed for sale in Padang Pariaman, West Sumatra, Indonesia.  Fear, uncertainty and even a sense of 'please help me' can be seen in those eyes. Of course if it were a cobra being chained up the image would lose all of its power. Cobras don't have that awww factor about them.

This image by Rivo Andries of Associated Press was featured in last week's best images on the Time/Lightbox website. It can be tough going through the images each week but strangely this one stood out. Maybe it represents so acutely the darker side of human nature. Looking at this image i thought of Agent Smith's rather accurate appraisal of the human race. Maybe he has a very valid point.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Finding Vivian Maier

The photography of Vivian Maier has certainly received a lot of attention recently with books, exhibitions and now a film focusing in on the fascinating story of the quiet nanny whose discovered photographs make up one of the most amazing collections of street photography.

If the trailer is anything to go by then it looks like an interesting watch but i do wish that film makers would relent from using overpowering dramatic music to try and intensify the atmosphere. The film score should blend seamlessly into a movie and not overwhelm. Less is more.

So if you haven't heard the  fascianting story behind the Vivian Maier photography, check out the movie trailer.

Sunday 20 January 2013

River Nith Panoramic

The River Nith | Photograph by Richard Flint

A wide panoramic view featuring the River Nith with the harbour and trawlers moored at the small village of Glencaple (near Dumfries) on the far left hand side, and in the middle of the image is the 540m high Criffel which is the eighth most prominent hill in southern Scotland.

Click on the image above to get a bigger version. The new Scotland gallery that can be found here contains an even larger version of this panoramic photo.

Sunday 13 January 2013

The demise of Jessops

The mighty Jessops is no more. The UK camera retail chain that had been on the high street since 1935 finally closed its door on Friday ending quite suddenly after years of problems. At its peak the company was the main UK retailer for photographic material and equipment. During the late 1990's Jessops went through a rapid expansion taking on various independent camera shops before the photography retail business model changed and digital started to make its mark. At that point the slow decline of the Jessops brand set in, a decline that would build up gradually over a period of just under a decade.

Closure came quickly on Friday when it was announced that the remaining 187 Jessops stores would close, but the build up to that finale took the best part of four years. In 2009 it was announced that Jessops had problems with it suppliers. The company simply could not pay them. To avoid administration Jessops was allowed a debt for equity swap with HSBC who would receive a 49% share of the business. To cut costs shops closed in large numbers and staff were also reduced but the company never seemed to fully recover. Stock was often limited and the staff would advise you towards using the Jessops website. Hardly great customer service and certainly not much good if you needed the product or materials there and then.

A number of posts on my blog have mentioned experiences I've had with Jessops over the years. To be honest it was often the case that some stores were better than others, however, as the years progressed it became obvious that Jessops just mattered less and less in photography retail world. The company seemed to concentrate more on the amateur end of the market, who would later switch from the compact camera to the mobile phone camera, while blatantly ignoring the professional who might require materials regularly. Digital photography also reduced the need to visit the shop as no film materials needed to be replaced. Add to that the rise in competition from retailers on the internet, Jessops seemed to be fighting a losing battle on all fronts as it lost sizable elements of the business like secondhand sales to the likes of eBay.

So is this the writing on the wall for the independent camera stores left on the UK high street? Some may think this is so but i'm more optimistic. Most of the independent camera stores I've been to have always had a great service, a superb range of stock and a clear understanding of what the customer wants. Jessops simply lost their way due to changes in the retail business and the fast momentum of technological change. With mounting large debts, growing losses in sales and no real idea of what it represented anymore, it was just a matter of time to when the company would fold.

Monday 7 January 2013

Setting the Pace

Diving support ships in harbour at Kyle of Lochalsh, Highlands of Scotland

Being ravaged by the flu over Christmas gives you plenty of time to have a think about what changes you want to make for 2013. New Year resolutions always seem very easy to break. Many don't even last through January let alone the whole year. One promise i do aim to keep, however, regards this blog.

I want to write more about photography. Over the last couple of years the blog posts have gradually gone down. Last year i posted just 35 times, almost half the posts i did in 2011. Partially it is to do with distractions and other sites to place work, but fundamentally it is down to me not loving my blog as much as i should. After all it was among the first websites i set up back in 2007 and i'd be gutted if it vanished.

Quality, and not quantity, is important but i can certainly aim to do better than last year when it comes to adding content. I already have some ideas that include more photographer profile posts and other material. So here is to the next year. I wish everyone who reads this little blog a fabulous 2013.