Occasionally I think back over my life and like to plot significant moments, like a path, leading to where I am at present. With a pinch of sceptical fatalism, I find it enjoyable reversing through choices and events however small that had an effect on where I’m at now. Recently I have been thinking about a coffee I had with Benjamin (duckrabbit founder) who for the last 18 months has been my boss and my mentor.
Trudging out on a snowy day in March from Coventry to a small café just south of Birmingham I made the meet, set up by my University Tutor (thanks JW!), to show Benjamin some work I had been doing up on the Isle of Mull. What followed was brutal!
The work I had put so much time and effort into was, over the top of a cappuccino, being picked apart before me, as Benjamin found flaw and error and sometimes plain rubbish within it. I sat there not disheartened (well maybe a little) but encouraged. I took in everything, the good (it wasn’t all terrible), the bad, the ugly. Surprisingly, at the end Benjamin offered me a couple of months work.
Fast forward almost 2 years and I have now been a full time duckrabbit for 18 months and very recently just finished my directing début for the company (see film above). To say that the learning curve has been steep would be an understatement! The sheer level of detail and pride in quality, paired with the transition from photography to film production had me at times in the foetal position. There have been really hard and trying times and getting up to speed on editing skills, production needs and the general day in day out of things not being good enough was hard to bear sometimes.
I once forgot a vital bit of equipment on a shoot rendering our camera near useless, I remember thinking ‘this is the end!’ But through determination, a lot of hard work, hand holding, and encouragement I did get better. And it’s not all been a struggle…waking up early to film the sun rise in Nothern Ethiopia was pretty amazing!
I feel like an integral part of the team now and I am still learning. I play a big part in all our productions but to be able to direct and produce my first duckrabbit film was for me a culmination of all the hard work I have put in and all the help and faith my colleagues have given me along the way. I am proud to share with you where I have got to since that coffee a relatively short time ago.
There is a very high standard at duckrabbit, it is because we care about what we do. I can honestly say I love my job, and yes sometimes it’s stressful but the moments of satisfaction are just as numerous. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Thanks to Alice and her family for making the film with us.
Here are some tips for anyone leaving Uni and looking for a job in production (they benefited me anyway):
1. Work hard
If you seem lazy why would someone hire you! Making an effort to visit someone (don’t expect that because they are hiring they should come see you) and working hard when given a chance shows that you are worth hiring. My commute was over two hours each way 5 days a week while I was still studying… the effort was noted!
2. Make stuff
Always be making something. It makes you look passionate about film making (which you should be if you want a job in it) and also keeps you developing as a maker. If you have a bunch of recent films to show someone it’s a good look. What helped my case was that the work I was producing was always short – 5min films shot over 2 or 3 days. This fit with the way duckrabbit work. If you want to work for a company that makes short documentaries… get out and make some short documentaries! Also, and this is a preference thing with dr, but showreels aren’t always a good choice… a well produced film on its own can speak louder (something to think about).
A lot of work that goes into a film should be done before you pick up the camera. Planning is key to production and means you use your time more efficiently. Don’t just go and shoot a bunch of stuff and try to throw something together in the edit. It doesn’t have to be shot for shot but have a good plan and try to stick to it. If you can show evidence of these production skills you’ll stand out and seem competent.
4. Be nice to people
The reason I got that first coffee with Benjamin was because of a shared acquaintance. If I was unpleasant to work with or to others he would not have recommended that Benjamin meet me. Simple! This goes for online as well… If your being rude on twitter you are not helping yourself. You don’t have to kiss ass, just don’t be a dick!
5. Take criticism
If someone is critical of your work don’t immediately go on the defensive. Try and take it on board as constructive and where possible take peoples advice (some people are just being mean). Be confident to argue your point but be open to suggestion on all things and if someone doesn’t like something try and get them to tell you why, get details. Also it’s better to have someone look before you publish something, better to hear it before it goes public. Don’t get disheartened by harsh criticism, try and take something from it.
We are now running fast paced one day training workshops for anyone interested: an introduction to mini-docs click here to find out more
A mini documentary is a great way to tell your story to an audience that is ever short of time. With the explosion of the internet and popularity of sites such as YouTube, the demand for short videos has never been greater.
We’ve designed a fast paced, practical led one-day workshop which will introduce you to making short documentaries. Drawing heavily on duckrabbit’s own experience of producing mini-docs for some of the world’s leading institutions, you will gain technical direction and the production knowledge and skills that you need to get a fast start in producing your own work.
And what’s more, anyone who wishes to book onto our Coventry workshop will recieve a generous discount! Places are limited so find out more by visiting our training pageand book your place soon.
“It’s a real testimony to the quality of the training that I’m able to produce something to BBC standard only a few months after attending a duckrabbit workshop” Ralph Hodgson, photographer.
“The guys at duckrabbit not only helped me gain skills in audio capture, interviewing and photofilm production, but also increased my confidence in getting closer to people, and hearing their stories. I recommend this training to anybody with an interest in people, their stories and how they are represented.” Phil Lang, photographer.
“Thanks for a wonderful course. I feel re-energised, re-enthused and raring to go. The MSF digital storytelling team is going to take Clerkenwell by storm and tell their stories – no one will be safe from our enquiring microphones.” Natasha Lewer, Editor, Medecins Sans Frontieres
I walked along the beach, it was the 7th December. Cold. Sleet showers stung my face. I saw a branch, cast ashore on the tide. It was shapely and elegant, and rocking to and fro with the rhythm of the sea.
I walked along the beach again on the 11th January. The same branch was there, cast above the tide line, partly sand-covered and still shapely. The light was glorious. Looking south the squall that had just battered its way through, shedding seahissing hail, faded into the distance.
But looking north a little while later as I returned from my walk, the sky had darkened as more ‘weather’ hustled down the coast. The last rays of low winter sun picking up a rainbow that had its moment of brilliance before being swallowed.
I walked along the beach again, on the 25th of January. ‘My’ branch was still there. Like some old friend it ‘waved’ to me, bobbing back and forwards with the tide. A light flurry of snow drifted down. It was still cold. My hands were frozen in the stiff northerly breeze, nowt between me and the Arctic but sea.
But I was smiling. Smiling that this one branch was still here. Still bobbing to and fro, saluting the sea that had cast it here.
I’d decided to ignore it this year. Certainly I’d admire the winners, marvel at their abilities to wrestle an eloquent visual moment from the continuum of stuff that has hustled past them. But I’d resolved to ignore the annual World Press Photo-bashing and likely indignation expressed over whether some image or other was too over-manipulated.
Then I noted that 20% of the potential winners in the semi final round had been eliminated for contravening the rules, specifically Rule 12.
20% eliminated? That’s a lot. And crucially it’s not 20% of the whole broad cohort of entrants, it’s 20% of the penultimate selection, from which we may conclude that this number represents the absolute cream of the crop of photojournalists from around the globe. And we can therefore be sure it represents also a selection of their best work, images that have made significant impact in the media recently. Their photographs were deemed visually compelling and accomplished enough to make it through the WPP judging process and be selected as potential finalists, but then ‘disqualified’ when compared to the RAW file demanded for their consideration for a chance in the final awards.
Let me digress for a moment, so you can view my observations here in some context. I like photo competitions. I may not often enter them, but I like them. At a local level I act as a judge of amateur’s work at least once a year, and do so willingly and enthusiastically. I’ve done that for 20 or so years. Competitions are good fun, and the participants really enjoy them. For photographers at an amateur level they provide guidance, encouragement and status. In the realm of the ‘professional’ practitioner they serve an equally useful purpose, allowing individuals to be judged against, and by, their peers. The cash prizes that often result are valuable, and award status can be a definite career enhancer. And for consumers (the public) it’s a good way to gain a glimpse behind the headlines and learn who took what, and what it is that motivates them. It would be fair to say, that in competitions done correctly everyone is a winner.
What I dislike are competitions that in some way deceive, perhaps ask for an entry fee and award some nominal award, when all they really want is to rights-grab images and accumulate cash (this is NOT what WPP does). Or competitions that set out the rules and then ignore them, using the platform offered by judge status for courting controversy and self-glorification and the crass click-bait that ensues (this is NOT what WPP does). If you search duckrabbit you’ll find plenty of examples of competitions that have done that, and which I’ve poked a sharp stick at, that are way off the mark ethically and fiscally.
What WPP does do is celebrate the best work out there, pushing forwards the profile of photojournalism and celebrates (and rightly so) the committed women and men who bear witness on our behalf.
And this places upon WPP a significant responsibility.
So they have rules. They’re a key part of all of this. The organizers set them out, the participants contract themselves (by entering) to obey them, and be strictly bound by them.
So here’s what WPP states regarding who is eligible for entry:
So that’s the standard of entrant the competition is aimed at, a high professional standard.
And the rules are clear about what is, or is not permitted in the images submitted:
And in attracting this high standard of entrant it places upon them the obligation to abide by the Declaration of Principles of conduct as laid down by the IFJ:
The IFJ has 600,000 members in 134 countries. That’s a lot of people, so it would be reasonable to assume that a high proportion of entrants are IFJ members, and are morally obliged to adhere to its guidelines of professional conduct. And certainly if not currently IFJ members, entrants are contractually agreeing to adhere to these rules as a condition of WPP entry. Either way, the IFJ guidelines apply to entrants.
So what precisely are these IFJ Principles? Or more relevant to this debate, what aspect of these Principles might those disqualified 20% have transgressed? I mean, these ARE the rules, and to be disqualified it follows that an entrant must have broken them.
Well here’s the list (link) and this excerpt below, Point 8 has to be the relevant section because none of the other parts are really applicable in the context of a photo competition:
None of the entrants were guilty of plagiarism, nor of calumny, slander etc, nor even bribery, only (according to WPP) of having failed to submit images that were accurate representations of the scene they encountered, which only leaves ‘malicious misrepresentation’. This is clearly deemed to be a “grave professional offence”. These are WPP’s rules of engagement, so there can be no other reason, nor interpretation.
That’s a pretty serious offence. So it would appear that 20% of the cream of the crop of the world’s photojournalists who made it through to the finals of the WPP are in serious breach of their code of professional ethics as a consequence of entering, and being ‘found out’. Breaching their ‘hippocratic oath’ for want of a better description.
Really, let me repeat that: Wow.
Which of course begs the question, what happens to them now? It would appear they’ve been ‘caught red-handed’ in blatant breach of “the currently accepted standards in the industry” (quote from the comp rules Sec. 12 see above).
Are they reprimanded? (If so, how, and by whom?)
Are they sacked from their jobs? (On what grounds?)
Is their IFJ membership terminated? (Again, using what provision?)
Are they pilloried and shamed in the court of Twitter? (Not a subject to joke about).
Or none of the above?
The latter of course: None of the above. And why not? Because there’s a rider tucked into the WPP rules above – the simple little line:
“The jury is the ultimate arbiter of these standards.”
What that means in effect is that although there are all these contractual obligations on everyone, entrants and organizers, the jury may as ‘arbiters’ ultimately decide what work stays in, or goes out. And it may in fact be the case that an image is rejected from WPP where it does NOT transgress the IFJ guidelines, falling (far) short of being “a grave professional offence” because WPP might consider it not to have been done with ‘malicious’ intent. But how will anyone, either entrant or audience, know that?
The unpalatable fact is that by the letter of the rules as they currently stand, to be disqualified from WPP implies a serious breach of the IFJ’s Ethical Code.
If I was one of the 20% who were disqualified, and assuming I’d entered my work in observance of the spirit of the rules, and meeting to the best of my ability “the currently accepted standards in the industry” (I mean, my work had previously been published without query or censure after all) I’d really object to the inference cast upon me by WPP disqualification that I’d committed ‘malicious misrepresentation’.
But wait. David Campbell Secretary to the General jury of the WPP stated this yesterday:
Note this is NOT the IFJ Code, but the NPPA Code. I had a look at the NPPA Code, and it’s an interesting read. It clearly states what standards it expects:
That seems pretty clear. However it actually exhorts members to “…as a student of….and art…develop a unique vision and presentation. Work…..with an appetite…..for…..contemporary visual media”.
To “[…as a student of….and art]…develop a unique vision and presentation”. I might be reading that incorrectly but it seems to imply that there’s an interpretative ‘artistic’ freedom allowed within the constraints of ethical integrity (the ‘Respect the integrity of the photographic moment’ in Point 6).
Crucially this ‘freedom’ is not given equal weight in the IFJ guidelines, which seem rather more restrictive, or perhaps it’s fairer to say, ‘allow less creative freedom’. So we’ve got the IFJ code as the ‘terms of reference’ for the competition, which is pretty tight, and the NPPA code with its apparently greater artistic freedom as informing the overall standards expected within WPP.
I think it should be obvious the point I’m teasing out here – there are varying layers of ‘ethical’ expectation at work here, ‘guidelines’ which may be interpreted in a variety of ways. And at the end of the day it all comes down to the WPP jury’s final interpretation in the context of the WPP competition.
The reason for competition success should, of course, be excellence. Failure however, as defined by the ‘arbiters’ of these rules as they currently stand, has left a significant number of entrants potentially guilty of a “grave professional offence”.
It’s one thing to enter a competition with the aspiration of winning, and being lauded. But for that simple action to potentially ruin a career due to inadvertent ‘accusations’ of ethical failure is something else entirely.
WPP – I value what you do, and wholeheartedly support what you stand for. But I do think you have to find some way to do it better, and with greater transparency. There’s a whole generation of aspiring professionals depending on you to do so. Not to mention those disqualified this year, and now subject to ill-informed speculation about their integrity as an unintended consequence.*
(* and for the record, maybe their disqualification was wholly justified – both Melissa Lyttle, POYI judge and Michele McNally, WPP Jury Chairwoman, use the word ‘lying’ in their comments on the situation here in the NYT . I don’t know for sure whether they did or not, and I refuse to speculate, but I’ll admit I’m not at all comfortable with naming the disqualified 20%, as I believe there is no moral nor ethical reason for doing so, as it will only confuse an already difficult situation, and provide ‘sport’ for the feckless who have nothing better to do than create mischief.
Indeed David Campbell himself is on the record as saying “the problems found are not attempts to deceive or mislead viewers” :
Edit: I wrongly attributed WPP judge status to Melissa Lyttle. She was not, it was POYI she was judge in, article amended accordingly).
Ordnance Survey are running a photographic ‘competition’. Hoorah! No wait, calm down don’t get too excited…….
Of course it’s not a proper competition, it’s a rights grab. Getting as much free imagery as it can for minimum outlay. (link)
Seems like OS management have got round the table and said “How can we generate more money?” And someone has said “Let’s be creative! Lets save money instead! We can try to get images for nothing and then we can keep all the cash we used to spend to buy images in from freelance sources and stock agencies! Genius!”
And that’s what they did. And in the longest set of Competition Rules I’ve ever seen (link) they’ve buried the key sections, 58 & 59:
Basically we can exploit the IP of images, in any way we want, for cash. And keep that revenue all to ourselves.
What do OS think of this brilliant wheeze? Their MD Nick Giles is on the record as saying this about their ‘competition':
” This is a ‘money can’t buy’ opportunity and a chance for our customers’ favourite photographs and beauty spots to feature on the shelves of high street retailers, local book shops, tourist information centres, as well as in homes and, most importantly, in the pockets and rucksacks of budding explorers.“
Note his use of the phrases “money can’t buy” and “in the pockets”. I think what he means is ‘we’ll not spend any of our money, we’ll exploit you, and any money we make off your IP we’ll pocket’.
And in a further flash of inspiration OS have done what NO other competition organizer has EVER done – they’re allowing their own staff and their families to enter too. Except. Except they can’t win a prize! But their work will still become a digital asset of OS and be exploited for profit. Marvelous idea.
In the not too distant past OS used to pay for imagery. Doing what their Corporate Responsibility statement promises (link), to “realise social, environmental and economic benefits for our staff, the local community, the nation and beyond.”
But wait, who’s first in that list of beneficiaries above – “our staff”. So where do you think this revenue is likely to go? Yep bonuses.
The Irish Examiner pointed out how keen OSI (that’s the Irish OS) have been to get bonuses into the hands of their key staff (link):
And if you have a poke around you’ll find that they’ve been getting nice bonus payments for quite a while now, exploiting their IP for profit, as this Freedom of Information Request reveals.
Now, OS operates on the basis of IP, they obviously know its value, here’s what their website says:
“IP rights are there to protect creators of this property (such as our mapping information) against theft or use in a way that would mean no return on their investment.
The level of legal protection offered to IP owners reflects the high priority given to encouraging creativity and investment within the European Union and internationally.”
OS have a ‘history’ of rigidly enforcing their own IP rights, and woe betide anyone who falls foul of them. Although I have to say that some of their activity can only be described as peculiar, and rather oddly implemented. Ask Andy Wightman, whose website ‘Who Owns Scotland’ fell foul of OS a few years ago. His is a strange tale that is worth considering (link) for it reveals, at best, a lack of joined-up thinking within OS:
There’s more and more of these ‘competitions’ appearing, but it fills me with dismay to see OS stooping to this level. I fail to see how this thinly disguised rights grab encourages anyone to be creative. Professional and amateur photographers across the UK are being ripped off to provide a cash surplus for OS that will simply be pocketed.
It’s immoral and its totally unacceptable. But, you may ask, why does this matter? And why do I care?
I work on a regular basis with photography students young and old, and with University students pursuing Degree courses in (natural history) image making. I meet many young people who are keen to make a career in photography and earn a living in the creative industries; these are committed individuals whose endeavours will contribute a great deal to the success of many UK businesses. They deserve the support of government, and government agencies such as OS. The small per-use payments hitherto made to licence individual map images from photographers might not seem like very much individually, but together they do matter, they trickle down through the economy, underpinning small businesses, and helping support communities.
OS has many intelligent people working for it. How difficult would it be to come up with some novel scheme that doesn’t financially penalise contributors but actually rewards them, doing precisely what its Corporate Responsibility statement promises, and which they acknowledge on their website:
We are in the information business, and our income mainly depends on the exploitation of our intellectual property (IP). By using IP law to protect our mapping and topographic information, we are able to provide you with the benefit of up-to-date and new products.
The level of legal protection offered to IP owners reflects the high priority given to encouraging creativity and investment within the European Union and internationally.
OS could easily be innovative, devise schemes that support photography students and young people interested in the arts through properly funded creative opportunities that both respects their intellectual property rights and at the same time provides them with valuable learning opportunities about the business of IP, the importance of licensing and the whole quickly-evolving digital rights landscape.
Is that too much to ask of intelligent highly paid people working for and on behalf of citizens?