“The appeal is down to aspiration: many enthusiast photographers aspire to be working professionals in the same way 12-year old boys want to be James Bond. A fantasy career where fashionable creatives get to shoot beautiful people for glossy mags and get paid handsomely for it. Well you know what, Mr Bond, it’s time to bust a few myths…”
Image ⓒ Ian Farrell
ⓒ Ian Farrell
This week’s Guest Blogger is Mr Ian Farrell, a person who I enjoy spending time with, inspired by his ability to create beautiful images, but most of all, he’s an all round decent chap. Intellectual, scientific mind, handsome and very rarely has a bad word to say about anyone. Owner of a Leica S2 and currently resides in Cambridge.
He also has a book coming out soon, so keep an eye out for my constant plugging later this year. So kindly read on and let me know your thoughts.
In photography the term ‘professional’ carries much kudos. ‘Pro’ is applied as a label to everything from tripods to software, and magazines fawn over those who make a living from photography to the point where you’d think it was a teenage crush.
The appeal is down to aspiration: many enthusiast photographers aspire to be working professionals in the same way 12-year old boys want to be James Bond. A fantasy a career where fashionable creatives get to shoot beautiful people for glossy mags and get paid handsomely for it. Well you know what, Mr Bond, it’s time to bust a few myths.
According to one recent survey, the majority of working photographers in the UK shooting weddings and social portraiture. Wedding photography is a hellish occupation: the pressure is on to make ordinary people appear beautiful when you only have 10 per cent of their attention, they are drunk and their family are watching like hawks from the side lines. Then there is industrial photography, in which you must make the interior of a rubber and plastics factory in Northampton look impossibly glamourous. And press photography (cold, rain, unfriendly people), sports photography (cold, rain, division-three football matches) and wildlife photography (cold, rain, and all for a picture of a blue tit that someone has taken before). I’m not painting a good picture of professional snappery am I? But fear not, for there is something else to aspire to.
In the same way that professionals are championed, the term ‘amateur’ is not. In fact it’s derided. Anything described as ‘amaturish’ is not good. You don’t find tripods labelled as ‘Am’ and, to my knowledge, no software manufacturer has released the ‘amateur edition’ of one of their applications, preferring the somewhat elaborate term ‘classic’ instead. But this is all wrong: the word ‘amateur’ is derived from the latin word ‘amator’, meaning ‘lover’. An amateur is someone who does what they do because they love it, and not because they get paid for it. Being an amateur is all about passion, zeal and fascination. It’s about motives, not ability. In fact I put it to you that amateurism is the thing to aspire to – not the cynical, money-grabbing professional lifestyle.
What if you are already a professional? Well, always stay in touch with your amateur side. The moment you stop loving photography is the moment you stop being a creative person. And that should set alarm bells ringing. Shoot personal work always. Try to make it different in some way from what you do for a living (I shoot most of my personal work on film) and above all, enjoy shooting it.
Be an amateur. Aspire to amateurism. Love photography.
Ian Farrell, 2011
A fashion shoot for French Elle, 1975 Photo: Brian Duffy
Me? Well I though him to be a lot of both.
When the photographer Brian Duffy died in May 2010 he was widely acclaimed as the driving force behind what has become known as the English avant-garde of young streetwise photographers who helped to define the visual style of the Swinging Sixties.
It was he, together with Terence Donovan and David Bailey, who fearlessly pushed aside the conservatism of the 1950s, rejecting studio portraiture for innovative and dynamic fashion shots. Nicknamed the Terrible Trio by the newspapers, and the Black Trinity by Norman Parkinson, these men were on a mission to break down existing photographic conventions and create a revolution in British photography.
Known only by their surnames, the trio became more famous than the people they photographed, and though competitively creative at work, outside the studio they became fierce friends with an enduring loyalty to each other. Duffy, who was always considered to be the most intellectual photographer, worked relentlessly for more than 20 years, and covered every genre.
During the 1960s and 1970s he caught the mood and ever-changing cast of rock stars, actors, models, writers and politicians of the day in a way that was visually memorable.
His archive includes many iconic images, from the pre-punk lightning slash image on the cover of David Bowie’s 1973 album ‘Aladdin Sane’, to the surreal, award-winning advertising campaigns for Benson & Hedges.
He was one of the few photographers asked to shoot the Pirelli calendar twice. But by 1979 he had had enough. In a moment of madness he decided to quit, and burned bundles of negatives in the garden behind his studio.
Fortunately, not all his negatives were destroyed. After months of painstaking searching, many have been rescued from vaults and studios around the world and gathered in a book to provide a visual record of the genius that was Duffy. Here, in an extract from a series of interviews he gave before his death, he tells his story in his own words.
DUFFY ON DUFFY (Article from an interview Duffy on Duffy, by E. Baxter-Wright.)
‘I grew up in east London in part. I popped out at St Mary’s Paddington in 1933 – I was there but I don’t remember it too well. I tell everyone I had the most wonderful war – really. I suppose from about the age of eight I remember breaking into houses – you could nick anything you liked – running wild like a thug. It was terrific.
As soon as a house was doodlebugged we’d get there straight away and nick everything we could get our hands on, and that went on till 1945, just having this wonderful time. When I look back on it now I think, ‘Good God! I could hardly read or write.’
I went to a school that had difficult boys in it, where they did ‘social engineering’, in South Kensington, and then another one for more difficult boys – different levels of difficult people – up in Kentish Town. I hated school, but I liked all the boys. There were all these very tough children and we moved in vast gangs of boys, everyone out for themselves.
Somebody in the London County Council as it was then called, probably some old pre-war communists who were running certain departments in the education authority, made sure that we were taken to the ballet and the opera and the National Gallery. They thought, ‘Oh, give these poor deprived oiks a bit of culture,’ and of course it worked wonders. We all became super enthusiasts, crazy for ballet and opera.
I remember I did a Christmas card for them, which they were very impressed with, and I think some teacher suggested I went to art school. So I went to St Martins School of Art in 1950 to do painting.
I could paint and draw, but in my group were artists like Frank Auerbach, Joe Tilson, Bernard Cohen and Len Deighton – they were all my contemporaries and I realised that all these bloody people were geniuses. So I thought I’d knock that on the head. And the most attractive girls were doing dress design, so I moved to the fashion department, which had some lovely girls in it. You had to do fashion drawing, design dresses and make them, and it turned out I was an absolute bloody genius!
When I left I worked for Victor Stiebel in Bruton Street, who was Princess Margaret’s dress designer at the time. But I didn’t think he could really design; he just seemed to be poncing about with bits of fabric making pretty dresses, all boring high-camp theatrical nonsense.
A French guy came over and took some of my work to show at Balenciaga, and they asked me to go and work for them in Paris, which I did, but I came back because I couldn’t afford to be in Paris.
I was doing fashion drawings for Harper’s Bazaar , and I was in the office of the art director, a woman called Gill Varney, and I saw sheets of contact photographs that all looked alike to me. I asked Gill why the photos were all the same, and she explained they were all slightly different.
I thought, ‘Gawd this looks dead easy compared to the drawing lark. I’ll give this a whiz. Take up photography as an easy way to make money. Just my sort of thing – women, gadgets, clothes – I must have a go at it.’
Most of the photographers of that period [the late 1950s] – Parkinson, John French, Dickie Dormer – had a slightly effeminate approach, and that was the way they got through. The way to be a successful photographer was to be tall, thin and camp – you were seen to be inside the tent, and we [Duffy, Terence Donovan, David Bailey] were not. I’m not saying they were all homosexuals but a lot of them were. I can never remember Terry calling someone darling, it might have been ‘Oi, you, missus!’
Bailey, Donovan and other photographers just didn’t have that slightly feminised view; we would just talk to the girls and make them laugh. We probably said, ‘Would you mind moving your hair back off your face?’ or, ‘All right love, hold your Bristols up more. That looks good.’ Before that it would all have been obsequious toadyism, but our way seemed to work, and we were backed up by people who liked it.
When I arrived at Vogue [in the late 1950s] it was virtually full of non-talented people, right the way through from top to bottom. These were people with s – taste; they were all phonies. You have to remember in those days it was very class-ridden. The girls on reception nearly always had double-barrelled names. It was very elitist – Lady Jemima Fawcett-Green, -Blue or -Pink – girls with fruitcake voices and thick legs, quite sweet, but not very bright, girls with pin-sized brains.
Most of the dresses they featured were for upper-middle-class women, people going to balls and being presented at court. British frock-makers were making this awful fifth-rate clothing, lampshade dresses, they were so out of touch with what was happening. A little later by the end of 1959/60 there was a changeover.
I went over to Paris and worked for Elle in 1961, while I was still at Vogue , and I fell in love with them, hatefully of course. The French are the most dreadful people on earth – well, the Parisians – and I must have had some masochistic attraction to them. They were like a drug to me, and I just adored working for them. You never got anything right as far as they were concerned.
As soon as you did something, there was a dreadful, long, intellectual discussion, always a long pause, and a scratching of the head. They were never negative to the point of putting you down – some people look for negativity, but the Frogs always looked for the positive.
If all the photographs were out of focus the Brits would think, ‘Oh God, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,’ whereas the Frogs would think, ‘Mmm, that’s interesting. I wonder if this is an attempt to express visual perception in a different way?’ And then of course they’d say, ‘Well, it could be a broken camera!’ But that’s the difference.
[Unlike me] Bailey never did commercial work; he didn’t have to because he was only interested in himself. The girls he lived with earned their own money, and so it was a totally different situation [Duffy had a wife and four children].
In the end I guess I was the ultimate prostitute. It felt like I was on the game, because I had no respect for the people who were giving me work. If you don’t have any respect for them and you think they’re a bunch of toerags, you’d hardly have any respect for yourself, so it’s cyclical in the way that you think about yourself.
If I start thinking about the fire in my garden I’ll go berserk and have a nervous breakdown. Now, this story might be an absolute crock of shit and lies, but it’s the way I’ve been able to put it together in my cranium.
I came into work, and an assistant said, ‘We haven’t got any lavatory paper, bog paper – you know, toilet paper,’ and I said, ‘Oh yeah,’ and he said, ‘We haven’t got any.’ I thought, ‘I am either going to kill this bloke or I am going to kill somebody.’ I realised in a flash that I’d ended up commander-in-chief, managing director, senior partner in charge of the toilet bloody paper.
And that’s when I decided to knock it on the head, and that I would never take another picture. During the course of the morning I decided to burn all my negatives in the garden. Bailey happened to come round and could see what I was doing, and he stood there like a spare dick at an Italian wedding and said, ‘I could look after those for you,’ but I said, ‘Don’t bother,’ and he went.
I felt everything I had to do and say in photography had been done. Later I wished I’d kept some negs. Looking back on odd things we’ve found, I’d love to have known the sequence of prints, only from an historical point of view.
You make decisions in one period that you wouldn’t necessarily make in another. But it’s stimulating to try something new, it’s interesting to be crazy. The one thing I’ve never done is make a wrong decision as a single entity. They’ve all been wrong.’
Duffy (ACC Editions, £45) available from Telegraph Books
An exhibition of Duffy’s work is at Idea Generation Gallery, London E2 (www.ideageneration.co.uk), from Friday 8th July – Sunday 28th August 2011.
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The words “photography” and “publishing” are natural bedfellows, intertwined for as long as anyone can remember. Historically speaking, the printed page was the ultimate venue for viewing a photographer’s work but in recent years the internet has profoundly changed the way we look at and think about photography. So who’s hogging the duvet now?
In a recent interview, Graeme Vaughan, publisher of this own book programme, exploring the cities he has visited over recent years, ventured “it is no mystery to me is that the photo book audience has become more educated, more interested, more connected to the idea of the photo book – people are becoming dissatisfied about the lack of hanging space in the UK, being able to bring in other artists work into your home and display them horizontally and much more accessible than gallery hangings. The choice of content is reliant on the producer of the images, not the curator, with limitation only on the number of pages in the book.” Yet for the most part, sales are nothing to shout about.
Photo books are generally bought by other photographers, they are resources, inspiration, a tome to cherish or lambast. Mainly a trophy, effected by hyper inflation and proof that most artists are just inherently lazy and would prefer to do things that gave them applause for their efforts, just as long as they did not have to attend. Most enjoy the isolation designing, creating and editing a book offers, rather than creating a fragmented overview of your life’s work.
Printing photo books can be very expensive, meaning that print runs are usually small. Publishing online on the other hand is fast, fluid and flexible, costs a fraction of the price but offers an audience infinitely larger choice to boot. Yes, I understand the arguments; Photo books are collectable. Photo books offer an intimate and tactile viewing experience. Photo books are the perfect “coffee table porn” as the great chattering classes are so happy to pay for, twitter about etc. And yes I am also fully aware that there is a certain stigma attached to the broad access to photography online from some fraternities of the photo world, although thankfully this is gradually fading. Image overload, viewing images on screen and the many things that can pop up at you at once are just some of the common gripes from the digital naysayers. But I’m not arguing for one or the other. Frankly, I’m tired of the great analogue versus digital debate. It is as inevitable as it relentlessly tedious. I prefer to think that we are constantly moving, and that photographic debates and wider creative concerns provide opportunities for us to think on lateral terms, in other words, how can we arrive at a certain point from a different perspective.
What is true is that the sheer volume of images we digest on a daily basis not just on the internet but in the world around us is staggering, something that will only increase at exponential speeds as the developments in technology increase. Camera phones, social media platforms and the Flickr ecosystem have in effect created a vast sprawling suburb of mediocrity.
So what to make of this slew of imagery? Now, more than ever, when instead of maybe going to galleries and museums we are finding ourselves more frequently viewing websites of photographers as way of discovering new work, there exists a very strong need to expose the meaningful images, promote, curate, share, and, most crucially, review and critique them intelectually.
Tiny Vices, an online gallery and image archive founded in 2005 by one time photo editor at Vice-cum-independent curator and photographer, Tim Barber, was probably the first to do its level best to respond to this challenge, and consequently helped to firmly establish the internet as a legitimate platform for disseminating photography. Offering an eclectic dip into hundreds of portfolios from artists such as Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow to Gus Powell and Craig Mammano, the website quickly become a wildly popular and accessible showcase with its well defined sensibility and thoughtful selection of work. Hundreds of new images were sent in for consideration every month in response to a continuous open call for submissions. By virtue of being web-based, Tiny Vices removed hurdles and facilitated genuine global dialogue and exchange of ideas for people who would never normally have the opportunity to interact in such a way. It fostered a great community. Such was its influence and reach that Barber was invited by Spencer Brownstone Gallery, New York to put on a physical exhibition during March, 2006. Reflecting the DIY, punk ethic of the website, it comprised a complex installation of photographs, drawings, and paintings by over sixty of the artists, well known and hitherto unknown, that had been featured online. Tiny Vices is a shining example of how two complimentary modes of production can be incorporated in an interesting and innovative way, whilst at the same time ushering in a radical rethinking of what constitutes a curator. Much could be said, much doubtless will be said about whether bloggers are the curators of the 21st Century.
Much can be said and debated about the importance of offering platforms and opportunities to the creative force in the UK too, this is where organisations like Rhubarb-Rhubarb come into their own.
Rhubarb-Rhubarb (RR) is an internationally recognised Photographic Development Agency, based in the West Midlands, it works with artists that produce images through traditional and new technological methods. RR works to build the confidence of photographers facing the rapidly changing fine art image world and marketplace – both real world and virtual.
They offer to nurture talent, inspire growth, create opportunities, bring photographers together with international experts who then influence and advise on current market matters and share image world knowledge.
RR also curates, organises events with support from ACE and is developing its approaches to selling fine art and working with some of the finest galleries, publishers, collectors and agents.
They would be well worth contacting, taking that you haven’t already if you see your work selling well in the UK.
Another website worthwhile bookmarking or better still saving as your home page is Jason Evans’ visual diary, The Daily Nice. Presenting one image per day, his lo-fi website which first went live in 2004 consists of just one page, with just one picture on it. Familiar and spontaneous yet strangely compelling, the images taken by Evans are snapshots of commonplace situations, people, animals, objects, landscapes and the urban environment that convey a fragile, transient beauty. Evans has himself described The Daily Nice as “a retreat – a sheltered harbour, where you can rest for a minute.”
Whether we like it or not we are moving in an age where we will always be connected to the internet, and where the smart phone will become someone’s digital identity. We are living in a time of accelerated consumption and shortened attention spans. In this information era we are allowed to – and even encouraged to – know very little but there has to be more to it than just an internet sugar rush.
Medium Rare abides by the philosophy of the “slow web movement” and therefore requires you to take your time and savour what you consume.
Graeme Vaughan – http://www.photogas.co.uk/
I don’t know if its because I am falling headlong into my 40’s or its because I am the proud Father of two delightful young children (2 yr, 11 mths & 8 mths respectfully), but it seems to me that I am taking on a much more caring and nurturing role in my business of late.
Many years of turning up at media heavy events, red carpeted film premiers, fashion weeks and the odd club launch may have allowed me to network and exploit the masses of PR Companies, Ad Agencies, TV, Film and Record Company Execs. however, it all pales into insignificance when more tangible importance arrives into one’s life, spinning one’s world and work on its head. Giving meaning to the importance of establishing my company, expanding the size and earning capabilities, and creating a business that becomes the default choice of the North West.
I speak to a regular flow of photographers and film makers at all levels of their chosen profession and they all enjoy their time here at the studio, but most of all they now see this place as a hub not just of creativity, excellent coffee and biscuits but support, adulation, shared experiences, networking and when needed, encouragement.
After last Sunday’s ‘Father’s Day’ (my 2nd), I noted in conversation that everything really does change when we are lucky enough to make babies. My life has recently changed for the better, busier and much more stressful than imagined, but better nonetheless. It only then dawned on me that more and more of my contemporaries, friends and peers are also recent Parents.
Every level of my business takes on more meaning when selfishness is squeezed out of us through pending parenthood. It focuses the mind on the future of the business and the future of the industry. Questions like: Why is HD Filming just as important as stills nowadays? Why is the technology encouraging all stills photographers to become film makers? Why do all Pro Photographers have to diversify to be successful? The answer is easy. We still hear people discussing the importance of analogue, and looking back to the “good old days” when Photographers held a place in society. They were seen as harbingers of a little known or understood craft, a skill that only a chosen few would have bestowed on them. Artists. Scientists. Creative Business Leaders. Rock Stars.
However, technology has made us all image makers, it allows us to record every day events to share with all who are interested, all who enjoy the more voyeuristic tendencies of the world wide web. Being ‘on line’ seems to be more important to most than actually getting paid for work.
Well, I have a slightly skewed view on this. Stop spending all your time thinking about everyone else and create something evocative, something meaningful, something commercial, something shocking, something beautiful…just something.
No better time of year than now could this be measured, as around the UK, Universities are exhibiting their final year student’s culmination of a three year degree. A three year degree that will eventually be costing upwards of £9,000 per year. The sole purpose of this – to expose the rare talent and present fresh ideas to the hoards of well wishers, family and friends, critics (both arm chair and professional), future employers, exploiters and plagiarists.
Well after recently supporting a small number of final year BA students from Manchester Metropolitan University I found that the nations Universities are generally not churning out the fiercely talented, passionate and committed; trustworthy and hard working people they profess to be.
Proving again that the only way of making your mark in this industry is to be seen, be available, be prepared and stop bloody moaning about how many people are much better than you, much more successful than you and how impossible it is to be the next big thing. Well news flash people, sometimes you just have to be the best at what you do. Not somebody else.
We all have something in us that makes a difference, makes society better, makes our time here on this planet fun and interesting.