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Category Archives: Media
McCullin the man is a real, live, photographic legend, best known for portraits of war. McCullin the film is a documentary that presents the man and his work and so doing attempts to throw some light on the shaping of a photographer whose images can credibly claim to have altered the thinking of a generation. Don McCullin brought the stories of the real victims of war onto the front pages in graphic and unflinching detail.
By its very nature, this is a disturbing film. McCullin has survived in more war zones than could possibly be considered healthy and the pictures he brought back graphically expose the madness, the savagery and the undiluted greed of the exponents. There are a number of very disturbing themes running through this film – not least the one that suggests we’re never that far away from a war, there’s always one just around the corner. We’d like to think that’s no longer true, but Iraq and Afghanistan suggest powerfully that nothing has changed.
McCullin the man comes across as articulate, erudite, modest and thoughtful. A man of profound integrity who his editor, Harold Evans memorably describes as “a conscience with a camera”. What separates him from other war photographers appears to be a combination of two things – a mastery of composition and anticipation verging on genius and a level of empathy that was never truly crushed by his experiences. That in itself is remarkable when you consider he shared those experiences with men whose psyches were damaged permanently by those same visions.
The film covers the early years and the viewer gets a real glimpse of a man for whom doors opened in a sequence that propelled him into some of the most horrific and hellish experiences the human race has to offer. Where others took their shots and fled, McCullin exploited the opportunities and became by his own admission something of a “War Junkie”. Extracts from the Parkinson show in the seventies, are fascinating, displaying a man grappling with his reality, with reconciling those things he has seen and done with celebrity and normal life.
It does not surprise me that in his later years, McCullin has devoted himself to landscape photography, documenting his Somerset home in his book “Open Skies”. That they are Monochromes possessed of a brooding sense of impermanence seems inevitable. He talks of fearing that England is dying every time he hears the buzz of a developer’s saw or the crack of a sportsman’s gun. It seems as though he has come full circle, seen the horror of man at war and made the connection with the havoc we wreak in our own backyard.
I left the cinema feeling very humble. Not just because my own photography seems so trivial in comparison, but because here is a man who perhaps more than anyone else on the planet is the living embodiment of the Rutger Hauer monologue from Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”
There were four reasons why. Firstly, I wanted to provide digital downloads and secondly, in terms of actual prints, I wanted somebody else to do the printing. I love printing photographs, but doing all of my printing myself is time consuming and it takes me away from what I like doing best, which is taking photographs and processing them! The other factor is that according to my calculations, printing with a very high quality Epson R3000 inkjet printer is simply not cost effective. I will continue to produce my own prints for exhibition as I want to have total control over the look of the print and that will require me to make some adjustments to the image in the processing stage, but once that is done it is done and can be seamlessly passed on to the SmugMug gallery. From that point on, printing extra copies simply uses up my time and my ink.
The third reason was that I wanted a more professional looking service around collecting payment. PayPal is a very reliable and trustworthy service, but the commerce function on this website was clunky, tortuous and frankly off-putting. I wanted something slicker and easier to use. SmugMug provides this in spades. The E-Commerce offering allows me to create special offers, bulk discounts, coupons etc, none of which I have been able to do until now because the time taken to monitor these things outweighs any small advantage they might bring.
The fourth reason was to do with the quality of prints. SmugMug allows me to specify the lab that I want to use for printing. They outsource fulfilment to a number of labs in a number of geographies and one of those, based in the UK is Loxley Colour. Loxley have built an excellent reputation for producing high quality prints in a variety of sizes on a variety of media. I can now offer a much greater variety of size and media than I was able to realistically offer before. Since most of my sales are in the UK it makes sense to use a UK supplier. It will be quicker, cheaper and easier to deal with any problems.
The bad news is that it is expensive. I’m not raising my prices and SmugMug recently raised theirs. At present, I don’t expect anything more than to break even over the year. This represents an expansion of sorts; I’m hoping that by offloading the printing and payment process there will be less administration for me and that I will be able to take more photographs and gradually increase the numbers of images available through the site.
Integrating the site with SmugMug really couldn’t be easier. I set up the SmugMug site to match the look and feel of this site and provided the same branding and menus on the SmugMug site, pointing back to this site. Here, I created custom menus so that I could include an external link to SmugMug. It took all of thirty minutes and involved no coding whatsoever.
So far, I’m very happy with the results. It’s not a shortcut to more sales, SmugMug don’t have that magic wand, it’s still down to me to promote the site effectively and increase the traffic through the usual social media channels but I’m confident that at the very least, I’m providing a more professional service and freeing up some of my time. Result!
Manufactured Landscapes is a film by Jennifer Baichwal following photographer Edward Burtynsky as he documents the effects of China’s industrial revolution on the planet. Sites such as the Three Gorges Dam, which is bigger by 50% than any other dam in the world and displaced over a million people, factory floors over a kilometre long, and the breathtaking scale of Shanghai’s urban renewal are the subjects and the work creates a cognitive dissonance between the appreciation of the pictures themselves and disgust at the scale of the disruption to the planet.
Burtynsky has been described as political and an activist but he is neither of these things. He is not a polemical artist in the truest sense of the word, rather he puts these things out into the world so that the viewer might make up his or her own mind. As he put it himself during the Q & A session that followed the screening, the viewer is being invited to consider the possibility that the luxuries we take for granted, produced by the oil age have another side to them, that we are wrecking the planet in merely maintaining a standard of living that we have come to expect. This is a tough message and Burtynsky draws a parallel to the research that suggested a causal link between cigarettes and cancer in the 1960′s – people chose to ignore it because it was easier and more comfortable to pretend it was untrue.
One point Burtynsky made during the Q&A session resonated particularly with me. Many of my peers in the IT industry subscribe to the prevailing neo-liberal, libertarian school of thought on the basis that there is no problem because as was demonstrated by the Information Age, our capacity to dream up newer, faster and better solutions will keep us one jump ahead of the game. This is a dangerous fallacy. As Burtynsky pointed out, the Information Age and the oncoming Biotechnology age depend on the continuation of the preceding Industrial age to provide components. The wreckage continues, illustrated in photographs of computer components piled higher than houses being picked over by peasants for any recyclable metals. all the while, degrading slowly and leaking their poisons into the earth to the extent that on this particular site the water table is contaminated.
The photographs are often breathtakingly gorgeous, even though they describe the toxic effects that mankind has visited upon the planet. I will be visiting his exhibition OIL at the Photographer’s Gallery which is running until July 1st and if you are even slightly interested I suggest you do too!
Thanks to the London Festival of Photography for organising this screening, and thanks too to Edward Burtynsky for taking the time to participate in the Q&A session. It was an excellent and stimulating evening and time very well spent.
Update: 22 June
I visited the OIL exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery yesterday and I really can’t recommend it enough (exhibition and venue both!). Seen as full size prints, these photographs are absolutely outstanding. I may very well go back…
The news that Instagram has been acquired by Facebook leaves me with mixed feelings I’m afraid. I’m pleased for the guys at Instagram obviously, their hard work over the last few years has given them prime position in the iPhoneography space and now they are getting the tangible rewards. Long may they party…
As a user however, I must admit to being profoundly disappointed. I liked Instagram a lot, preferring it to Hipstamatic and as a compulsive iPhoneographer I found it more convenient, more user friendly and more fun. I liked it just the way it was. As a Facebook user, I rarely use the photosharing capabilities. I don’t like the way it randomly clips the picture to shoehorn it into your stream and I’m not overly keen on the terms and conditions that suggest my pictures may not be entirely under my control.
Displaying photographs on a website is very different to displaying them on a mobile phone and as a photographer I want to exercise some control over the look and presentation of my photographs. I don’t get that from Facebook, which is why I use 500px, this website and Flickr.
I’m also having misgivings about the lack of choice that corporatism is beginning to inflict on us. The tendency is to consolidate, which means less competition and often, since corporates are driven entirely by the need to satisfy shareholders, a reduction in quality as costs are rationalised. And, being a gentleman of a certain age, I prefer my outsiders. I was always a Rolling Stones fan rather than a Beatle!
So this is why I’m cancelling my Instagram account. I’m not convinced that the mobile phone only model is sustainable as the tablet market expands. I don’t necessarily want to share my mobile phone pictures with an internet audience, but when I do, I will send them to EyeEm, the increasingly popular German start up. They have good presentation, a more vibrant community than Instagram (in my opinion) and a nice user friendly way of categorising and tagging pictures. I can share the pictures I want to share with my Facebook friends by linking, without handing the pictures over to Facebook.
Plus, I like to think that I’m doing my bit for the independents, the mavericks, the square pegs. That’s just me I’m afraid.
Pinterest, in case you hadn’t heard, is a new, fast growing, image-centric community that encourages users to curate their own collections of pictures. Its taken off like wildfire and in the manner of most overnight successes has attracted a shit load of criticism.
There are two issues that keep rearing their heads. The first is the terms and conditions of the site, particularly around copyright. Pinterest delegate the responsibility for clearing permission to use photographs to the user, whilst simultaneously asserting that any picture uploaded to their site may be resold by Pinterest. Not surprisingly this has wound people up in a way not seen since Facebook tried to assert ownership of all pictures uploaded to their site.
The second issue is perhaps more interesting. The user experience at Pinterest does not impose any checks and balances on the pinning of a picture. The user can add a “Pin it” widget to their browser and just “pin” at will, any picture from any web page they like. How many of these users have even read the terms and conditions is a moot point, by using the site, users agree to the terms and conditions. Ignorance is no defence. It can be argued that by making the experience so simple, Pinterest are encouraging the magpies amongst us to steal material to which we are not entitled. Certainly, most of the images on the site today were not created by their curators.
This second issue taps into one of the enduring features of the internet. The world wide web facilitates and encourages a rapid exchange of data. Journalists can research from their desks. The PC has become the Library of Alexandria in that aided and abetted by Google it opens the door to all human knowledge. It has become a hot house for innovation, never has the saying “standing on the shoulders of giants” rung more true. Of course where there are giants, as every follower of the brothers Grimm will know, there are also goblins. For every researcher investigating the tangled web of intrigue that surrounds News International, there is somebody downloading one of my pictures from Pinterest without asking permission or giving credit, never mind a fee.
This is where I stand on the issue. I take photographs with the intention of showing them to other people. This should not come as a surprise! I also create photographs for sale as high quality prints or for editorial use. I need as much exposure as I can get in order to be successful. I have had enquiries and sales through Deviant Art, Flickr, Eye Em and this web site in the last few months. The traffic to my web site has increased due to people following the links from Pinterest. Its another shop window. The internet has provided a fantastic boost to photography – as a result there is both opportunity and competition. I don’t care if a few people copy my low res prints from the web site, its a small price to pay for the increased exposure.
And Pinterest? They are a business and in order to be successful need to find a balance between exploiting their audience and providing a service. A good deal is one in which both sides walk away satisfied. If I felt I was being exploited than I would not be satisfied. If Pinterest were unable to make a living they would not be satisfied. At the moment, I’m a supporter.
check me out at http://pinterest.com/electricalimage/
Superficially, this is about Silicon Valley disrupting the media industry. We’ve seen the effect of downloads on the Music industry and the Film and Television industries don’t want any repeat of that scenario thank you very much!
The case of the start up band who have to pay for their rehearsal space, pay to print up CDs and Publicity material, hoping to make at least some money back through sales, only to have their hopes dashed by cynical downloaders purloining their content for free is also well heard. I am a photographer and have found my photographs on Google, adorning sites I’ve never heard of. A magazine recently offered me the princely sum of £2 for one picture – an improvement on last year when two magazines with high street distribution deals printed photographs of mine for no fee! At first glance, this embattled artist is tempted to agree that SOPA is not a bad thing.
But of course embattled artists are not the only losers, and if any government is passing legislation solely to protect the rights of struggling artists, frankly I’ll eat my hat. There are other players with much more to lose and this is why there is such a fuss about SOPA.
This debate is about control. Control over the internet. Or to put it crudely, delivery of the internet into the hands of the vested interests providing content through established channels like print, film and CD. The proposed legislation allows a body that alleges copyright theft to have a web site closed down without due process and without evidence. ie. Guilty until proved innocent.
Secondary liability ensures that link sharing sites such as Reddit, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg etc will be liable for prosecution if they are found to be distributing links to copied or pirated material. In this scenario even Facebook and Google+ would be threatened. In effect, this makes any company hosting pirated or copied material or links to that material vulnerable to frivolous litigation like never before. Big companies have very deep pockets and will have no qualms about disrupting the pretenders to their throne by forcing expensive lawsuits to be defended.
What has this to do with the US Government bill? The sponsorship of government advising think tanks by corporate interests has been extensively documented as has the use of lobbyists by various industries to influence government thinking. In the UK, where I live, the extent to which media corporation News International influenced successive General Elections can only be guessed at, but it is well documented that Rebekah Wade was a regular guest at the homes and offices of successive wannabe prime ministers. No coincidence when the Murdoch owned Sun, News of the World and Times all backed the same horse.
Furthermore, the subsequent appointment of Murdoch fan Jeremy Hunt to the Ministry of Culture and the decision to allow Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB to be waved through could be interpreted as payback for the press support for the Tories before the election. It was only stopped by furious protests from the public and one newspaper’s, The Guardian, tireless quest to expose the illegal activities taking place in the News of the World under the auspices of Rebekah Wade. Nobody should remain in any doubt that corporate interests influence and in some cases dictate government policy.
Back in the US, SOPA and its little brother PIPA are merely the instruments by which the corporate interests that control the old media, hope to wrest control of the new away from Silicon Valley. It should be resisted at all costs, not because we prefer anarchy, but because democracy is founded on freedom of choice and if there is no freedom of information then there is no freedom of choice. I don’t mind sacrificing a few photographs to uphold that principle.