Last Saturday above Loch Loyne I sat in my van in the stiff cold wind, spits of rain hitting the windscreen. The view, even with the somewhat ‘moist’ westerly airstream, was pretty sublime. Car after car passed by, none stopped.
I waited a while longer. More cars passed. None stopped.
I got out, pulled out my camera with conspicuous white Canon zoom lens on it, and started taking photos of the myriad small towers of stones erected over the last few years by visitors. Someone had at some point built the first one, then someone else copied it, then another, and soon the hillside began to resemble a builders yard. These things fascinate me, and more so the motivation of the builders. They annoy a lot of people and similar constructions on Ben Nevis have received a fair bit of publicity this week, here.
As I focused, another car passed, the driver staring intently at me. And stopped. Pulling over sharply. A family piled out, speaking German, took in the scene, scratched their heads, then wandered over and began to build. Then another car stopped and a couple got out. Then a third car, and a fourth.
I got back in the van and watched. Some folks built, some photographed. All looked bemused. Then all left except the Germans who braved the rain and continued to build. And as they finished up, straightened their backs and wandered back to their car, their brightly coloured jackets attracted another passing car, and a driver who wandered into the fray, looked puzzled, but recorded the scene for posterity.
Eventually all returned to their vehicles and departed. I sat in the van and waited.
The next car approached and passed. Then another, not stopping either. Then a third and a fourth, a fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth. None stopped. So I left.
Fly-on-the-wall documentary photography? Never ever kid yourself that your presence has no influence on the behaviour of your subjects.
I have a few ‘clootie’ (cloth) wells near me. These are ‘healing wells’ and the tradition is to dip a piece of rag in the water and wipe the afflicted part of your body with it, then hang it in a tree beside the well. As the rag rots the illness subsides. I made a short video about one such well which is across the Firth from my house, which you can view here.
Earlier this evening I took my son and his pal for a cycle through the woods behind our house to see another, much less visited well concealed in the forest. It was growing dark with the shorter days, so I thought I’d try some flash, with my compact camera. It was ‘atmospheric’.
The children (7 year olds with heads full of Halloween) were suitably ‘spooked’ but quickly got distracted by a small stream and a bunch of tossing sticks and then playing ‘searchlights’ with their bike lights.
Whatever you think of it, it’s a remarkable display of faith and trust in the power of nature to heal.
(Click images to view larger)
Interesting post on Salon that caught my attention ‘Will Wheaton is right: Stop expecting artists to work for free – or worse. for “exposure”
Basically wealthy publisher Huffington Post asked the actor for permission to republish his 3500 word blog piece on their site, he asks what they pay, they say we don’t pay but “you’ll get exposure”.
“Unfortunately, we’re unable to financially compensate our bloggers at this time. Most bloggers find value in the unique platform and reach our site provides, but we completely understand if that makes blogging with us impossible.”
He refused. Went public on Twitter, somewhat angry at their attitude, and gets a lot of support, but also a fair amount of ‘criticism’ in the comments on Salon with remarks like
“Exposure in HuffPo is worth something to some and those people are wise to let HuffPo carry their pieces. But if it’s not worth something to you, say no. Where is the controversy here?”
“….It’s true that their business model is to secure content without paying for it (or more precisely, paying for it in free publicity). But there’s nothing wrong with that model as long as the content providers understand that and freely agree to those terms.”
My take? It’s not an either/or argument. Yes maybe it is worth allowing your work to be used for free sometimes, I do when I think it is worth it to me and the user. But, truth is you should be able to have your cake and eat it as a creative; the publishers who use your work are certainly having two slices of the large rich gateau.
If HuffPo REALLY REALLY wanted to ‘offer’ something as recompense – they could easily agree to take the same ‘gamble’ of “exposure” they offer as a carrot to contributors and offer this deal:
“Hey creative person – whose work we’d like to reprint, let us use your work for ‘free’ and we’ll split the advertising revenue with you 50/50. If we make very little from carrying your piece on our site then we both lose out. If we make a real killing in ad revenue, then we both win! What do you say?”
Even I’d take a punt on that offer.
The fact that they don’t, and won’t probably even consider that idea (maybe I’m wrong?), in my opinion makes them exploitative.
When financially secure companies whose worth is measured in the tens of millions of dollars seeks to extract creative’s work on the promise of nothing except the fresh air of publicity, they are exploiting their position. And I’m not buying the red herring argument that creatives at the start of their career need to consider working for free because of the exposure it will get them.
The reality, the harsh reality is that it’s precisely THAT time in their career when they need to be paid. Even modest trickles of income can make the difference between people making their creativity a career, or giving up.
And if they give up, we ALL lose. We need to invest in creativity for it to flourish.
If you’ve been considering attending our three-day digital storytelling course this winter, don’t delay signing up: December will be the final time that we run this much-loved course.
“I left the duckrabbit course full of enthusiasm and confidence. It must have worked because only my second attempt at gathering material for a photofilm made the front page of the Guardian website.”
Emma Wigley, Interactive Media Officer, Christian Aid
Message from Benjamin.
Before I explain why we’re moving on from this course, here’s a bit of background: I started the training way back in 2010 after leaving the BBC. Back then, we were a company of two, struggling to work out if there was a living to be made from still photographs and documentary audio.
At the time, many photographers were grappling with the possibilities of the web and increasing demand on them to work with sound. Having spent fifteen years making radio documentaries and teaching, I started our course in an attempt to fill that gap.
Since then, we’ve had the privilege of sharing our knowledge with hundreds of people. We’ve trained people in as far-flung places as Canada, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Bangladesh. We’ve had journalists come from Reuters, the BBC, both the New York and London Times, along with more NGOs than I can remember. Increasingly, we’re asked to give in-house training. Before Christmas, we’ll be training WWF and MSF and next week I’ll be training World Nomads in Australia. It feels like we’ve come a long way from that first training course, which I ran in my living room in Birmingham…
We take pride in the fact that the large majority of people on our courses go away feeling encouraged, enthused and re-energised. Most importantly, they go away with a clear understanding of what it takes to create deeper, more meaningful, and more authentic work.
So why are we advertising this as our last three-day photofilm workshop?
As a company, we stopped producing photofilms three years ago. Although nobody at duckrabbit fell out of love with the product, the numbers just didn’t add up. On average, we’d bill three times as much for a film as we would for a photofilm.
I’d like to think that, even in the move away from stills, the aesthetic of our work hasn’t changed. We get close to people. We collaborate with them to tell their stories as honestly and as authentically as our skills will allow. But what we’re not doing is working with stills. Does that mean that photographers should abandon photofilms, or that they can’t make money out of them? Absolutely not. We were never paid less than £4500 to make a photofilm – and that was in 2009! If you’re a freelance photographer, that kind of money isn’t to be sniffed at. But I want our training to reflect a little more of our work as it is right now.
I still think that the vast majority of photographers would benefit massively from making photofilms, rather than jumping straight into video. If you need proof of why, just take a look at our portfolio page – you can see how we’ve developed over time.
For a photographer, I believe that working with the medium that you are most comfortable with – pictures – is the best place to start when making films. That’s why this course is still for you, but if you wait until January to find out, it’ll be too late.
Our final three-day photofilm workshop takes place in London on 9th – 11th December. If you’re interested, then please take a look at our training page for more detail. Places are limited, so be sure to book your place soon if you don’t want to miss out.
Drop us a line at [email protected] to book or if you have any queries.
If you’ve read this blog on and off over the last year or so you’ll perhaps recall my partner’s brush with death. If you’ve not, I’ve written about it here, and of particular relevance to this post, a follow up here, where I showed this simple image.
I recently wrote in praise of the vernacular, having read a rather narrow-minded ‘art critic’ who suggested that it simply required some form of ‘curation by the cultured’ to elevate an ordinary image to the extraordinary:
“The use of vernacular images runs throughout the festival and reflects the fact that, of the billions of photos we snap each day, the majority depict banal and everyday things, pictures made to be forgotten. Amsterdam-based Erik Kessels recontextualises cast-off images by resituating them within a book, which gives them a significance beyond their creator’s intention.”
The inherent flaw in this idea is its assumption that because an image seems ‘banal’ it has no significance. I think the opposite. I’ve learned the hard way that images don’t just have ‘width’ and ‘height’ as these pundits would have us believe. They have ‘depth’ too, often many layers, unseen, unknown, and unguessed at by a casual viewer. But NOT unimportant, certainly not to the authors.
The “everyday thing” pictured at top, a simple Lego fire engine made by my son is perhaps one such image, on the web now and likely off on a digital ramble to who-knows-where. It was created in response to an event that shook William’s life fairly profoundly. As a 5 year old he’s had limited experience of life, but knew he needed to do something for the firemen who’d battled to save his mum. So he made a fire engine. He showed it to them when we visited the Fire Station to thank them, they smiled and struggled to keep their emotions under control. And then it came home and gradually got absorbed back into his Lego box and emerged in a different guise as something else, as many things in fact in the intervening year: as a fort, a dragon, a space station, and currently a ninja castle. But the picture of it hasn’t changed. It still is what it is, and represents what it was created to portray, simple but important.
…the layers of meaning I mentioned previously…well even we are discovering that the ‘depth’ of this image is even greater than we know.
Melanie met one of the firemen last week, at her work, when the fire alarm went off in error and summonsed the Fire Brigade. The fire engine arrived and one officer quickly entered to establish the situation, and by chance met Melanie in the foyer. They recognized each other immediately. He was one of the small group who’d rushed to her aid when her heart stopped, and he’d performed CPR (heart massage) on her vigorously as she lay dying.
Once he’d established all was ok and there was no fire to fight, they had a jovial chat and he said with great delight how well she looked, and asked how she was. “I’m fine, thanks! No problems at all. Well…a few things to work through but basically I’m doing ok.” she said.
He paused, smiled again and replied “That’s so good to hear…” and then went quiet, pensive, then continued “…you know, I’ve given CPR to quite a few people in the course of my job over the years, and…..well….you’re the only one who’s actually lived.”
And they both went quiet. And then parted. Connected by a shared experience that few people will ever know or fully comprehend. An experience encapsulated, in part, in a simple image of some red Lego blocks held by the hands of a child.
All you ‘post photographic’ curators out there, yes by all means “re-contextualize” these banal cast-off images in any way you wish. And do so with my blessing. But don’t ever presume to invest any more valuable meaning in them than was invested by their creators.
A poem that continues to move me, puzzle me, and make me wary with its mix of optimism and disquiet.
The Reason Why I Am Afraid Even Though I Am A Fisherman
Who is there
to witness the ice
as it gradually forms itself
from the cold rock-hard banks
to the middle of the river?
Is the wind chill a factor?
Does the water at some point
negotiate and agree to stop
moving and become frozen?
When you do not know the answers
to these immediately you are afraid
and to even think in this inquisitive
manner is contrary to the precept
that life is in everything.
Me, I am not a man;
I respect the river
for not knowing its secret,
for answers have nothing
to do with cause and occurrence.
It doesn’t matter how early
I wake to see the sun shine
through the ice-hole;
only the ice along
with my foolishness
Copyright © Ray A. Young Bear
North American writer and poet