8 June 2011 – The impending collapse of it all

The word UNSEEN can be added to the dictionary, the thesaurus  and the philosophical statement of “The impending collapse of it all”

The impending collapse of it all – I do not take credit for this amazing title, that goes to a fellow photographer, if he wants to be named I shall put his name up in lights and honour hm – but his words ring true in many ways.

With fellow picture agency bosses commenting on LinkedIn with regards to the hypermarket style approach that seems to echo high street issues faced by the corner shops, those who seek new paths, new openings and still continue to make an honest living are still alive and kicking. The rest are suffering. Some badly.

My current anger is focussed on lazy picture research and my growing frustration at failing to discover new willing picture buyers to do business with who are excited by new material.

The photographic industry in general is going down hill in my opinion with a lack of young talent threatening the existence of established individuals.

Video killed the radio star. Has digital photography killed off the film photographer star?

There is a cancer of laziness – one client purchased an image that I contributed to another picture library as a small exercise regarding another theory that I had. Quite simply the picture buyer had a grossly inferior picture which would be classed as a reject to what AMA have available in the picture library.

When I became aware of this I simply offered to swap the image for a higher quality image but just got a frivolous reply that seemed to sum up the lack of values and standards adopted by some nonchalant and the unconcerned who spectacularly contribute the downfall of some publications because they are too bland. He couldn’t be bothered. They needed a picture of a particular stadium and the one would “DO”. My cries of, “But I have a far better one” remained unheard.

For all the photographer greats in the newspaper world like Chris Smith etc there were amazing picture editors working behind them.

Industry names that echoed greats like Bill Shankley or Sir Matt Busby in football.

These names are a dying breed and are sadly being replaced by the contract workers who flirt from post to post, day-to-day collating material for PR projects, newspapers, books and magazines.

There is one newspaper in particular who I can tell when the chief sports picture editor is on a day off as he is not responsible for his pages.

The big guns at Reuters, the contract workers at Getty, the talented freelancers who have to sell images to survive, all have a place in our industry and they all contribute to this Sunday newspaper in particular.

If AMA loose trade with this newspaper because a Getty photographer has produced a piece of magic then I’ll be the first to congratulate them. The best picture should always win the day. He who dares wins and all that.

I totally accept that the bean counters at some publishing houses agree contracts with other agencies. I have contracts with some clients and I guess others on the outside moan at the way AMA may conduct business. However with regards to the conspiracy theories that such business models drive away fierce competition is not relevant to this particular issue.

My point is this…

Young in experienced picture editors are choosing bland images resulting in bad editions of newspapers, magazines and books. Photographers still know best but our voices are seemingly silent.

Young, cheap and inexperienced picture editors are selecting the work taken by esteemed professionals in some picture agencies. Censored work should be exciting, but not when picture awareness skills are sadly lacking.

Although I naturally get jealous sometimes by other photographers work, I was genuinely pleased that some of my friends and colleagues finally got the recognition that they deserved for producing such fine work from the UEFA Champions League Final at Wembley recently.

I had the pleasure of being presented with slide show galleries by enthused photographers from both newspapers and rival agencies after the game. Let me assure you that we very rarely back slap each other, but everyone sat in all four corners of the pitch came away with material that made them smile.

However, as agreed by others, what the public saw the next day was in my view, nothing short of piss poor.

Again it was a question of not only the actual picture selection, the process of others choosing our work. Not only magazine and newspaper editors but editors in agencies who have the big cog in the wheel task of filtering and selecting images that are then presented to clients.

The understanding of the editorially relevant image selected for publication and choosing something that sparkled off the page and enthused the reader was not evident.

Strong images taken by agency photographers under contracted to national newspapers were spectacularly missed.

This boils back down to my point about my friend being away from his desk and the role and the art of the picture editor.

In the good old days the picture editor would argue his case with the editor if it meant producing a stronger looking page. A great picture editor would ring around all of his contacts trying to find the best suitable image possible.

Said person on more than one occasion last football season went into his bosses office and got clarification that he could pay AMA a handsome fee in return for splashing our art across eight columns of the newspaper. The guy has balls. He still fights against the constraints of budgets to make the newspaper look as great as he can. A fantastically laid out page nulls any argument of going with contracted agencies when better pictures are out there but have a price. That price is worth paying for.

They guy is still considered old school – his paper still raises the bar in many ways.

The day he goes is the day the picture quality dies for ever more.

Bland picture selection makes a bland newspaper.

You are not going to get 20,000 angry readers writing in to the editor complaining that they should have used another picture or questioning why a great picture used in edition two was replaced by something bizarre in edition three are you!?

Of course photography is a subject of great conjecture. However, alas, one can argue that is it refereed, filtered and censored by inexperienced and flippant picture editors and researchers – leaving the poor photographer getting the name for being not as good as he could be.

Of course you find people at the top of their game and those facing relegation in any walk of life but going full circle this week it was very interesting hear the views of people who run wildlife picture libraries and other specialist collections commenting on the poor methods of picture research.

A photographer can only take a great picture. And it stops right there unless it is published by someone who recognises the greatness of it and can find a use for it.

Regardless of accountancy business decisions which dictate our industry more and more, the lack of picture awareness and bland picture editing throughout all markets is affecting what the public are seeing in books, magazines and newspapers.

Once again I am getting plagued by wannabe photographers, students and pitiful freelancers scraping around for a chance to get a foot in the door. However unlike the likes of Robert Plant, Lou Reed and say Peter Gabriel who must constantly be looking over their shoulder and quaking in their boots at the amazing musical talent threatening their existence, a fellow professional this week commented that he could not remember the last time he felt threatened by new talent.

Judging by what AMA receives in terrible portfolios, the impending collapse of it all is contributed by youngsters simply not probably studying art history and appreciating shape, form and the construction of a painting to assuming that their work is on the same level required to be even assessed in the professional market.

Do we blame education? Do we blame the universities or is it that The impending collapse of it all contributes to a poorer standard of photography seen by the masses?

The photographers are doing the work. They are doing it really well. Others who have the responsibility of filtering the great work and then editing it to choosing if it will be published censor the work from the public.

Just to clarify, I am not slaughtering the tactics of the Tesco’s of the photographic stock industry. Far from it. I shop at Tesco lots at 3am.

To quote Liz Eddison of who runs, The Garden Collection, “…researchers want one stop shops and what they find on there will do as they can’t be bothered to find the best image…only an image that will suffice. There are still some great picture editors and researchers out there, but sadly they are diminishing.”

The only benefit to this are the growing number of books entitled UNSEEN – in my opinion no wonder.

The FC Barcelona v Manchester Untied match was my 15th UEFA Champions League Final. I am certainly not tired and bored of it all. No way. But myself and others enthuse more about the music I write and playing about with time lapses outside of the stadium, before we going inside to do our day job of stills work… In keeping with this theme,  thus, like many others who attended the final, the best pictures will remain unpublished and unseen.

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5 responses to “8 June 2011 – The impending collapse of it all

  1. wannabe photog

    sometimes this it is mighty frustrating!

    for example:

    A goal picture from Npower this season:
    A photographer is blocked to clean shot resulted in goal scorer hidden behind other player .
    Paper descriptions under the image : INVISIBLE MAN SCORES …

    or one more, recent from Molinenux.

    Blackburn Rover’s Salgado attempt converted by his team mate.
    Picture published in one of the Dailys day after the match:
    Salgado kicking, no ball in picture and above all picture is not straight horizontally! very not straight!
    how the photographer could sent that and how somebody put that in to paper?!

    I have been covering matches 4 years only. Yet it was enough for me to understand what a good picture is.
    Somehow papers are paying for images lacking of quality and that decisive moments we all want to see or capture!
    For a freelance photog like me it is demotivating and unacceptable but is there anything what I can do more
    then doing my best at every game ?

  2. Well said. I hate it when I see a v.poor pic used in the papers when I know there are better ones out there (especially if they are mine!). For the man-in-the-street, it’s one of those frog-boiling things where they wont realise how poor things have got as it creeps up gradually. For those of us out there taking the pictures though, its far more obvious.

    What to do about it though? No answer to that one I’m afraid.

    Interesting time lapse ;-). I recommend using a compact (you can get one with a time lapse function built in for £100 or so) and a gorillapod so you can move location a lot and tuck it up & out of the way. 3-5 mins in each location at a frame every 3 seconds works very nicely, using low res so you can store lots of pics.

  3. since writing this post, I have been telephoned by 2 national newspapers, emailed by one of the best Proressional Picture Researchers around and gained some amazing information

    … the conclusion so far – the industry is obviously run by men in suits with simply dollar signs in the eyes, sadly no one cares about art – no one complains and these little things all add up to the “impending collapse of it all.”

  4. wannabe photog

    regarding to your point about teaching photography at universities;
    these are also run by men in suits or lazy/frustrated tutors/photographers
    with as you said dollar signs in the eyes…

    once someone at Uni asked me;
    why you are here if you like shooting sport?

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