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It’s been suggested to me that I should put more of my personality into my social media posts. I think I have always deliberately posted in quite a detached way because it reflects the way I work - when shooting news and events my instinct is often to stand back and take in the wider picture, rather than get in close to the action.

Of course there is no real detachment. In photography we not only make decisions about what to include from the world but also what to exclude, to hide by omission. These choices are made on many levels - while shooting I decide where to stand, how close, what to focus on, when to press the shutter. When editing I decide which frames to bin, which to keep and which to send to my agency. I decide which to post on social media, and the order that they are posted. It’s no coincidence that my work is used more often by liberal, left wing publications that it is by more right wing ones, as my politics are proudly left wing and will always inform what I do.

With this in mind I’m going to try to post more about the choices that I make.

 

 

 

3rd July 2020 - March for Trans Lives, Manchester

 

 

This post on Instagram

 

 

This photograph was published in a national newspaper and in several online news outlets and was taken at March for Trans Lives in Manchester. Demonstrators listened to speeches in torrential rain, then marched down Market Street towards St Peter’s Square to join up with another demonstration calling for justice for Shukri Abdi. This shot was taken when the rain was at its worst, battering Trans rights activists and turning parts of the street into a river.
 
I got ahead of the march and stood on the covered platform of a tram stop. This provided shelter and a high vantage point to shoot over the crowd, making the most of a sea of umbrellas and protest signs. I wanted to use the scene as a metaphor for the bravery of many of the demonstrators.

Anyway, this shot didn’t get published in an article about gender identity politics or the momentum of civil rights movements - it was used in articles about the end of the June heatwave as an illustration that it was hot, but it’s raining now.

 

 

 

 

 

29th June 2020 - National Camera Day (part 2)

 

 

This post on Instagram

 

 

Today is still National Camera Day. The cameras I use now are a million miles away from my Grandad’s Olympus OM-10 on which I leaned the basics by trial and error (and many rolls of film). I use Canon 1 series bodies, specifically the 1Ds iii. It’s a 21MP 5fps weather sealed beast, capable of producing significant spinal compression when paired with a big piece of glass. It’s also capable of producing stunning images. Compared to a lot of modern bodies, 21MP isn’t very much but as I shoot mostly news it’s more than enough, and I’d take tough and reliable over big megapixels any day. I’ve also still got a nearly 20 year old 8MP 8fps Canon 1D mark ii which I love to bits, and do use sometimes if I think there’s a chance the camera might end up getting destroyed or going on fire or something. 8MP is easily enough to make big prints from, and still more than enough for online or newspaper use, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I had a few shots taken with this published in a national newspaper as recently as last year.

I’ve dropped my Canons, left them outside on a timer all night, banged them through crowds and drenched them in the rain and (touch wood) they’ve never missed a beat. I’m pretty sure I could use them as a makeshift hammer at a pinch.

90% of the time I shoot on AV (aperture priority) mode so I can control my depth of field without having to constantly adjust my shutter speed, I really only use manual with strobes or for long exposures. I’ve recently become a convert to back button focus which has changed my life.

Despite how much online ‘pixel peepers’ go on about gear it is just that - a tool to use. A newer, higher MP camera will not make anyone a better photographer, neither does it matter if it’s Canon, Nikon, Fuji or whatever. What is important is using equipment that is appropriate for your needs, that feels comfortable and intuitive. For me that means tough gear that I don’t have to fret about, I really don’t care about having the most pixels or the sharpest lenses as they will never make me a better photographer, just a poorer one.

 

 

 

 

 

29th June 2020 - National Camera Day (part 1)

 

 

This post on Instagram 1/2

This post on Instagram 2/2

 

 

Today is National Camera Day. This is my grandad's Olympus OM-10 35mm camera with a 50mm lens and skylight filter. It has no fancy motor drive, AV/TV exposure modes or auto-focus. It is dirty, dented and the lens has fungus etched into it. I inherited this from him just after I had finished my A Levels and had no idea what to do with my life.

Playing with this camera I learned about exposure, aperture and ISO settings. I learned you can't photograph distant birds in flights with a 50mm manual focus lens. I learned you can't reel off 20fps action shots with a manual film advance, and that sticking a white piece of card behind objects with no additional lighting doesn't result in advertising quality product shots. I learned you can't expect crisp shots hand-holding 1 second exposures at F/22. I also learned that photography is completely and utterly magical.

18 years, an art foundation course and a 3 year degree later I now work as a freelance press photographer covering breaking news and current affairs, and my work is regularly published around the world. I count myself lucky that I learned the ropes by trial and error on such a simple, manual camera, and had the chance to work in darkrooms before they all disappeared and traditional printing techniques were replaced with Photoshop.

I worry a lot about the future of photography as its ubiquity in mobile phones devalues the work of skilled professionals. Newspapers and magazines are happy to use phone snaps and videos from twitter for the cost of a credit (£0), and day rates and usage fees fall all the time. People think that digital photography is essentially free and that it costs nothing every time you press the shutter, but the reality is that I’ve invested tens of thousands of pounds in cameras, lenses, speedlights, flash heads, triggers, modifiers, stands and computers; not to mention the cost of a 3 year degree. Some of these items need replacing every few years as technology advances. Clients expect gigantic files despite the fact that they never intend to print them larger than an A5 flyer.

Despite years of education, training and professional experience I still don’t make enough money from photography to give up the non-photography work that I do, and I don’t know if I ever will. Maybe this is my fault for choosing to work in a specialism that appears to be becoming redundant, but I continue to believe that blurry mobile phone snaps can never replace high quality news photography. Megapixels and preset filters can never replace technical skill, experience and hard won photographic instinct.


 

 

 

 

25th June 2020 - Photographing people during Lockdown

 

 

This post on Instagram

 


I’m not the sort of photographer to get right in people’s faces without permission - I wouldn’t like that done to me, so I don’t do it to others. At the same time I don’t hide in shadows or around corners to get shots. People’s reaction to being photographed during lockdown has mostly been the usual display of indifference but there have been some outright displays of hostility, even when my lens has not even been aimed specifically at them.

This was very understandably at a time when it wasn’t clear for what reason you were allowed out at all - is this shopping trip essential? Have I been out selfishly buying frivolous items? Is my daily exercise walk longer than it should be?

In this unusual, slightly paranoid atmosphere  it has felt a lot harder to photograph people. I felt very conspicuous walking around empty streets with a camera on each shoulder, particularly with a chunky 200mm or 400mm on. This getup would normally mark you out as a press, sport or wildlife photographer but in the uneasy early days of lockdown it seemed to shout ‘Paparazzi - steer clear!’, I suppose people were worried they would end up in some newspaper gallery of ‘selfish people flaunting lockdown regulations’, or shamed on social media.

I often end up chatting with people whilst working, but my favourite comment by far was at an anti-racism protest when a counter-protester ‘defending’ a statue shouted to me ‘no photos of me please mate - I’m out on license!’.

Here are a few photographs that I took during lockdown that made me uncomfortable.

 

 

 

 

20th June 2020 - Anti-racism protests in Leeds and Manchester

 

This post on Instagram


These two shots where taken a week apart at anti-racism protests in Manchester and Leeds respectively. French critic and theorist Roland Barthes talked of ‘the death of the author’, whereby the intentions of an author (or photographer) become divorced from the meaning of their work as the reader (or viewer) imposes their own experience and worldview onto it.

I took these two photographs because they include the two biggest news stories of the year in a single frame - the global Coronavirus pandemic and the anti-racism movement sparked by the death of George Floyd. My intention was to comment on the tension between the two subjects - the government led lockdown attempting to control the spread of the virus by limiting human contact, and the anti-racism movement trying to make its point through visible support and force of numbers, eager to maintain momentum before the news cycle moves on to the next thing.

As Barthes describes, my intentions go out the window as soon as these photographs are out in the World. They could just as easily be read as a condemnation of the protesters as thousands of people gather in close proximity, unable to claim ignorance of the government guidelines displayed on giant electronic billboards. Equally they could condemn the government guidance as vague, ineffective and hypocritical in the wake of the Dominic Cummings scandal - a reminder that from global pandemics to equality in society, some really are more equal than others.

Or maybe they’re just shots of loads of people under a big shiny sign.

 

 

 

 

 

13th June 2020 - Anti-racism protests in Huddersfield

 

First posted on Instagram

 

These three shots where taken seconds apart at an anti-racism protest in Huddersfield. I posted the middle one, initially because of the awkward, zombie-like way the man is walking. Also, the way his white shirt and black trousers mirror the white veil and black clothes that the woman is wearing, and that those combinations of white and black have a resonance with the way this story is often over-simplified. I like the way that the man’s high-vis jacket (a shorthand for authority) plays against the woman’s sign ‘suffocated by white rules’, their height difference emphasising this point. This is the only frame I have in which she is looking directly at him.

I posted this because it has a number of details that say something about what is happening at the moment, but does so at the expense of the man in high-vis. He is included because of his chance proximity to a sign about white rules. In reality he was one of the most vocal people on an anti-racism protest and I have multiple shots of him passionately leading chants of ‘black lives matter’, taking the knee and applauding anti-racism speeches. I very deliberately made the choice to show a smartly dressed white man lurching towards an anti-racism protester rather than walking at the head of the march not because of who he is, but because they say very different things about the current political climate.