Friday, December 30, 2011

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Street pictures offer many possibilities, providing background for a story, as well as opportunities for comment, irony or humour. Like other photographs, taken out of context, they can also be quite ambiguous. I suspect this one, taken last week in Oxford Street during the post-Christmas sales, may be read quite differently by different viewers. For me, it expresses everything I feel about shopping. And tax evasion. More pictures here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The End of History?

In 30 years as a freelance photojournalist I have never hidden behind a hedge with a long lens, or importuned anyone on a doorstep. I have no interest in celebrities. Nevertheless, some of the suggestions being bandied about inside and outside the Leveson phone-hacking inquiry, if implemented, could stop me in my tracks.

Much of my time is spent documenting the society I live in. To do that I often photograph in the street and other public places, and my focus is almost always on people. A privacy law that required me to ask for permission from anyone who enters my frame would make that impossible.

In France. which already has legislation that includes a right to privacy, even when ‘in public’, street photography is still permitted – but publish and you may well be damned. In recent years a couple of court rulings have gone in favour of the photographer’s right to freedom of expression, but earlier ones have gone the other way – prioritising the subject’s ‘image rights’. Initiating legal action depends on the resources of the litigant; the outcome on the whim of a judge. Who wants to make that calculation before pressing the shutter release?

Were similar privacy legislation to be introduced here, many aspects of the social history of this country would no longer be legitimate subjects for the camera. An important element of the free public discourse that is an essential feature of an open society would be lost, and the damage would be felt by everyone – from professional photojournalists, to kids posting their smartphone snaps on Facebook.

Almost all the obnoxious behaviour that is being crawled over by Leveson is already illegal. Harassment is illegal. Phone-hacking is illegal. Bribing a police officer is illegal. They are offences that can be dealt with by enforcing existing law. The rest is the result of a profit-driven debasement of popular culture that goes way beyond Leveson’s remit. The NUJ has an excellent Code of Conduct which all of its members are obliged to abide by. Why not apply the same code to the publications for whom we work?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

The picture above, of Kids Inspire Director Sue Jochim, was taken for Community Care a while ago, but there won’t be any more commissions or repro fees coming my way from that source. The current print issue will be the last - the next will appear online only. The award-winning weekly for care professionals is the fifth of my long-standing magazine clients to close this year.

Print is dying, slowly strangled by the move to the web of both advertisers and readers. Figures for the first six months of 2011 showed a decline in the magazine’s circulation of 21% year on year, to 32,568. Even that is deceptive: all but 4000 were distributed free. The free-to-view online version gets 300,000 visitors a month, carries classified ads and a subscription-based reference service.

Community Care’s difficulties were compounded by its being so firmly rooted in the public sector, heavily affected by government spending cuts. The closure means publishers RBI will make savings on printing costs and the net loss of seven jobs. The photography budget has been in noticeable decline for some time, and will no doubt diminish further. Not that long ago NUJ recommended rates were the norm: £70 for a quarter page, £100 for a half, etc.. These have already been replaced by cut-price agency deals, with payments commonly at a flat rate of £15 or £20. That may work for the big picture libraries, but not many photographers will find such rates viable. Even on the web serious photography needs to be adequately rewarded if it is to survive.