Friday, October 31, 2008

Finding Delight in the Little Things

Friday Fun

I have just been editing more than 1000 images that had to be whittled down to 300 and couriered to a publisher, in London, by 4pm this afternoon. I was in a bit of flap, because I started work on them late (and far too late altogether) last night - and by the time my drooping eyelids finally gave up the ghost at 2am, I was still only halfway through the job. I started again at 8am and by 3pm, I was getting close to finishing - and mental exhaustion - but still needed to burn 6 more disks, and print a batch of contact sheets.

As I was browsing the finished shots, I noticed a photograph of the front wall of the famous "Johnny Fox's Pub" in Glencullen, County Dublin, Ireland. High up on the building was a stone, suspended by a chain, in front of white sign with red lettering. It was the first time I'd noticed that sign or the stone (I certainly don't remember seeing it when I took the shot), so I zoomed in for a closer look.

What I saw gave me a moment of pure joy, in the middle of a stressful Friday afternoon. It was Johnny Fox's Weather Forecasting Stone sign, that can be used - in correlation with the suspended stone - to predict the weather in the vicinity of the pub. It reads like this:

Condition / Forecast

Stone is wet - Rain

Stone is Dry - Not Raining

Shadow on Ground - Sunny

White on Top - Snowing

Can't See Stone - Foggy

Swinging Stone - Windy

Stone Jumping Up and Down - Earthquake

Stone Gone - Tornado

All very silly, but great Irish humour that gave me a good laugh in the middle of a stressful day. I got my package to the courier, and had a smile at the same time. Life can be good when we stop to notice the little things!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

End of the line for Digital Railroad

Earlier this year, I got a telephone call from a very "enthusiastic marketing executive" representing the photo-hosting website Digital Railroad, who was offering me an online image archive and marketplace, and a photographic agency service. He asked if I would like to avail of a trial membership - at a reduced start-up fee of $195 and a monthly subscription of $45 - but I said no thank you.

He asked me again, in another call the following week and in four emails in subsequent weeks. I still said no, because I couldn't see why I needed a photo-archiving and marketing service (I have my own website, and all my work is archived on my own external hard drives and CD disks) and I already have two photography agents neither of whom charge a fee for their services. But, by the time I'd received the fourth email, I was also saying no because the words "enthusiastic marketing executive" had morphed into "pushy salesman", in my head - and I was beginning to wonder just why I was being pushed so hard.

Yesterday (Tuesday 28th October 2008) the management of Digital Railroad issued the following press statement:

To our valued Members and Partners:

We deeply regret to inform you that Digital Railroad (DRR) has shut down.

On October 15th we reported that the company had reduced its staff and was aggressively pursuing additional financing and/or a strategic partner. Unfortunately, those efforts were unsuccessful. Therefore Digital Railroad has been forced to close all operations.

Digital Railroad has attracted a loyal set of customers and partners, and we regret this unfortunate outcome. Without sufficient long-term financial support, the business had become unsustainable.

Thank you for allowing us to serve the photographic community these past few years...

It's still not clear if subscribers will be reimbursed the fees that have been paid in advance or whether fees accrued from sales of photographs via the agency side of the business will be passed on to the photographers concerned.

There is a lot of gossip and speculation, on the internet, about why DRR has gone bust. But for me, it's a fairly simple puzzle to solve.

I learned, many years ago, that there is only so much sugar that you can put in a cup of coffee. After a certain number of spoonfuls, it reaches the "saturation point" and stops tasting any sweeter.

The online photography archiving market is far too overcrowded already (Photobucket, Flickr, Photoshelter, ad naseum) and the prices that many giants in the stock agency world (Getty, Corbis, Alamy) are being lowered on an almost daily basis to meet the competiton from the "micro-stock" agencies who can sell your best shot for99 cents a time.

I think that the photo archiving/agency market may be getting dangerously close to its saturation point.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When Not to Photograph in a Public Place

or...Pap is a four-letter Word

World-renowned digital imaging Guru and best selling author Scott Kelby has been talking, on his Blog, about being prevented from photographing in the street, by a security guard working for the building he was snapping. Scott stood his ground (there’s a pun in there, somewhere) and told the security officer that he was within his rights to keep photographing, and if the security officer had a problem with that, she should go and call the cops (which didn’t happen). See my previous post on problems the UK press have faced from the UK Police.

Generally speaking, I think the biggest obstacles that photographers working in public places face are from lower-level security personnel, who don’t necessarily understand the laws that apply – and (more importantly) also feel that they are protecting the buildings and areas in their charge from unwanted attention. In certain cases, too, if those buildings or areas - shopping centres (malls), stately homes, sports complexes, for instance – are privately owned then the security personnel are within their rights to ask the photographer to stop taking pictures.

Just why we should be stopped is another matter entirely. Obviously, the climate of potential terrorist attack has heightened concerns about security – but it’s not enough to say “we have to make sure you’re not a potential terrorist, and we can’t be sure, so we stop everyone”. Personally, I think that reasoning is rash generalization in the extreme, and not necessarily a valid argument.

Maybe the issue is a lot simpler than that. Perhaps it’s got more to do with the overall bad name that photographers have in the mind of the general public?

Last week, I was photographing (with full permission of the management) inside the famous Curragh Race Course, in Kildare, Ireland. As two punters passed me, one said to the other “oh, there is a 'pap' here”. I could here the disdain in his voice, and I turned to them with a smile on my face and said “I doubt there’s a bigger insult you could pay me”. The man smiled back saying “yes, it’s a bit of dirty word, isn’t it?” I explained what I was doing there, that I had permission and that (unlike the true paparazzi) I do care if I tread on people’s toes. Actually, we ended up having a good old chinwag – but probably because I kept smiling as I made my points.

But it made me think. Does carrying a camera in the street say something to the public? And, is that something not necessarily a good message?

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Secret of Gaining Thousands of Blog Visitors

Given that my Blog is relatively new - this is my 53rd post since I began about 2 months ago - I was delighted to see my hit rate increase astronomically today. I had so many unique visitors, in one day, that my hit counter overheated and finally gave up the ghost, completely disappearing from the Blog. I'm hoping it will be fully recovered after a trip to the Health Spa, and a quick spray with WD40. I also got more comments on a single post than ever, and the most "followers" in one single day.

I am under no illusions that I managed to generate all those visitors through the power of positive thought and intensive visualization (but, I do have a copy of "The Secret" on my study shelf).

No, there is one single reason why I got many of those hits. I emailed someone I have met once, a year ago, and told him about my Blog and my latest post. That person was considerate enough - without actually emailing me back, so it was a great surprise when I saw it - to say something nice about my Blog and post a link to it. It just so happens that he has one of the most successful photography-related Blogs on the 'net. Hey presto, thousands of hits in one day! It was also very intriguing for me to see, on the same day, a comment from a major figure in an important email group, that I had mentioned in another post - although I hadn't told him about it.

I hope to try and keep some of those new visitors by making subsequent post interesting enough that my "bounce rate" won't be too high and my hit rate doesn't fall too far tomorrow.

So an important blogging lesson for me: make influential friends and influence them enough (but not too often) so they will introduce you to a few thousand of their friends.

The Problem with Photography Forums

I learned a great deal about Photoshop from joining a forum on it. Actually, I joined an association, the NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals) based, in the US. One of NAPP's leading lights is Scott Kelby, the worlds most successful author of computer-related books. Their forum, which is devoted to all things Photoshop, Lightroom and digital photography, generally, is full of people who are often working as professional graphic designers and photographers, and very skilled at using the tools of their trade. So, if you ask them a question - usually - those who know really know the answer will respond and those who don't will either not reply or say "I'm not the best one to ask about this - but you could try this or that".

I feel very safe in that forum, and my personal knowledge of Photoshop and especially Lightroom (my personal favourite digital photography software) has increased ten-fold in the few years I've been asking questions there (and now, I even offer advice - especially about digital photography).

Another excellent forum - technically speaking it's an email list - is Prodig. It was the brainchild of professional photographers Ed Horwich and Martin Evening (a hugely successful digital photographer and author) and is overseen by some of the most knowledgeable people in the digital imaging universe. Some big names in digial photography frequently respond to queries, and the amount of deadly accurate - and incredibly fast - help for a digital imaging problem, that can be gained from simply sending an email to that group is often nothing short of phenomenal. Although, I have to admit, a lot of the detailed technical information - and even the questions posed - can go right over my head.

One thing that those two groups have in common (and especially Prodig) is that subscribers generally use their own names to pose questions and offer solutions.

But there are other forums that are simply more trouble than they are worth. Too much of the time, the members hide behind psuedonyms like: "Flying Fish", "Mary's Dad", "ProPhotos" and "ShutterCrazy" - all meaningless but a false name allows those hiding behind it to say what they like, without taking responsibility or "ownership" of their words.

They offer opinion disguised as expert advice, that is often misinformed and frequently downright wrong. The forum then becomes a playground for the one-eyed "expert" to lead the partially sighted beginner. The problem with that, is there are people out there, who don't know any better being lead up the digital garden path by people who haven't got the intelligence to know that what they are spouting is gibberish - nor the good grace to know when to keep their mouths tightly zipped.

For me, it's one of the major failings of the internet - and some would say one of it's major advantages. Anyone can say whatever they like about whatever they want. But, please, if you're doing it on a forum where others might actually action your ideas - at least have the guts to sign your name to it. At least then, you might start to take some responsibility for what you write.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Develop A Photography Business (1)

Break The "Glass Ceiling"**

I'm currently embarking on a campaign to further promote myself as a photographer and to develop a number of important income streams for my business. I invite you to come along on the ride, as I approach each avenue on the journey and meet the obstacles that may appear.

After a hugely enlightening discussion, about where I wanted to be in 10 years time, with a good friend of mine who spent 25 years in the commercial banking sector - and who took 10 minutes to draw up a comprehensive business plan - I realized that I might be setting my sights way too low.

So, before addressing the specific areas that I want to develop in my photography business, I decided that it would be best to have a good look at why I was saying (for example) that I wanted to earn €20 000 a year from developing and teaching photography workshops - and not €200 000 p.a. The figures are irrelevant, really, but my friend did point out that I was possibly devaluing myself by 10 times as much as I should.

Why wasn't it possible, he asked me, not to make €200 000 a year from teaching? After all,
I have a Masters degree in education, I have been teaching adults up to degree level and beyond for 20 years (usually for a third-party employer on a fixed wage), I know the subject (photography) backwards and there is an eager and willing audience out there waiting to to be taught. That last point was brought home in spades, less than an hour after leaving his house - when I visited a local community centre to discuss the possibilty of running a 6 week beginners photography workshop there - if they agreed it would be my second course running in that area I had set up this month.

They not only agreed, but told me that since the meeting had been arranged, members of the committee and other locals had put themselves on a waiting list for the course, and I would probably need to diary-in a second day each week, to accommodate everyone.

The point I'm making is that, sometimes, when it comes to business we can be our won worst enemies. We can set ourselves unreasonably low goals, and then try to meet them, and probably fail because we don't believe that even those meager targets are attainable. So wouldn't it be better to set higher targets, and if we miss those, we might still hit something higher than the ridiculously low ones we first shot at?

**The term "glass ceiling" refers to an organizational barrier that prevents certain members of that organization from advancing as far up the corporate ladder as they might if their success was determined solely by their abilities. Originally, it was coined to refer to discrimination against women in certain organizations, and has recently been extended to include the limited advancement prospects of the disabled, deaf, blind and cultural and sexual minorities.

But I think that there is a potential for the individual to carry around his or her internal glass ceiling. It shows itself (is reflected, I suppose) in thoughts like "who would want me to do that?", "I don't feel good enough", "I doubt anyone would take me seriously" and so on.

So, my first job, before I can put a zero onto any of my financial expectations is to get a big mental hammer and smash that damn ceiling into tiny pieces.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Email from Bruce Gilden - Street Photographer

I sent a long, detailed email to Bruce Gilden, asking if he would consider being interviewed about street photography for my Blog. I also sent the questions in advance - basically asking about how he got interested in street photography, what excites him about it, and what he thinks his subjects feel about his style of photography (see here for a video of him at work).

I got a reply, today, from his wife, Sophie...

Dear Stephen,

My husband is away but he asked me to answer you this:

First of all when he read your first email in a hurry, he thought you were another Stephen that he knows from Ireland.

Then, when he read what you are asking him, he was a bit shocked by these nosy income questions, wondering what they have to do with his photography?

Third, he says that he doesn't see the need of these answers on a blog, especially someone's else's. Last, he is afraid that he will, like his friend Martin ****, "gracefully decline" answering any of them.

No hard feelings, Thank you.

Bruce/Sophie Gilden

There are absolutely NO questions in my questionnaire that relate to income, at all. I did not ask about Mr Gilden's income and I am not interested in it. All of the questions relate to his practice as a street photographer, why he started, what motivates him, and what his subjects feel about it.

Question 2, though, does have the word income in it...

2. Please give details of your main professional photographic specialisms (i.e. from what type(s) of photography do you earn most of your income).

This is not a question about how much money he earns. It is a question about the sort of work that he does. It's a given that Bruce Gilden (and anyone else I sent this to) makes money from photography. I was just asking HOW, not HOW MUCH. I merely wanted to know if the street photographer does other work to make a living.

As someone with a background in academic research, I am always careful to ask only relevant questions - and ones that are pertinent to the study. I had sent Mr Gilden a 16 point questionnaire that had a full page of explanation at the start. Maybe it was just too much for him to spend time on as a busy man. I have, though, invited other street photographers to help with my study. So, I'm hopeful that others maybe able to assist.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Choosing Photographs for an Exhibition

My second photography exhibition, this year, will run for a week in the Library, Newcastle West, County Limerick, Ireland - from Wednesday October 29th 2008. I will be showing 20 framed prints, of varying sizes - and my friend and fellow John Meighan, from the pretty village of Adare, County Limerick, will be showing a similar number.

I see the whole process of exhibiting quite daunting. How many prints should I show? What size(s) should they be? Who do I invite to the opening night? How do I publicize it? Will anyone turn up? And, most daunting of all - out of the many thousands of digital images on my computer hard drives, which 20 should I show? I suppose that these are all questions that the serious exhibitionist (I chose that word very carefully) should ask.

But, I think that there is another, and probably more important question: " Why I am exhibiting my work at all?" Answering that question, first, may make it easier to answer all (or most of) the others.

In my case I am exhibiting my photography in order in increase my workload. Simply put, to get more work. So, that goes someway to answering the who to invite? Question. Anyone I see as a potential buyer of my work - and in this case I mean anyone who will commission the work that I want to do. In my case, I want to work, primarily, as an editorial and PR photographer, so the guest list should include editors, publishers, PR agents, captains of industry etc. How many is easy - at least 50% more than I expect to turn up.

Publicizing the exhibition is limited by my budget. So, I have used my contacts in the local press to arrange articles that will work as free publicity, I went on local radio, sent text messages to all my friends, colleagues and photography class students, and handed out special 8x6 comp cards, advertising the event to a chosen 50 or so.

Which images to choose for the show remains a dilemma. I have about half of the collection from the last exhibition still framed, so they will go up, with another 10 or so new prints. But Which ones?

A wise photographer with a business head once said (referring to selecting images for a portfolio) show the work that you want to do. So, if you want to be a wedding photographer, show your wedding work, or if you want to be a food photographer, show only food shots. So, because I am an editorial photographer, specialising in travel, environmental portraiture and music all I have to do now is choose another 10 shots from the images of those subjects on my hard drive - which, basically, is all of them!

Oh. For a minute or two there - I thought I was getting close to a decision!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My 15 Minutes of Fame**

Not long after hearing about interview fatigue from a famous photographer, I was invited to be interviewed on video by students on a Media Studies course at Limerick Senior College. I'm actually hoping that it will the first of many such experiences, because I think that the first-hand experience of a new phenomenon far outweighs simply being told about it.

Anyway, I had a very pleasant "15 minutes" in the company of my young interviewer, Thomas Keane and his sound and vision crew, over at the college's recording studio. I was told we would make two takes of the questions - Tom explained that this was in case HE made any mistakes, and they could cut the better take into the recording. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that the real reason was to allow for MY mistakes, because when we finished the first take, no one seemed interested in doing take 2, and I insisted on it (well, no, I asked nicely - because I had enjoyed the first one so much).

Interestingly, I had watched the excellent movie "Factory Girl", only a few days before, and when they sat me on a chair with a powerful light aimed straight at me, and the crew all stood up behind the camera, with Tom talking, I was instantly reminded of the scenes of Andy Warhol filming Edie Sedgwick in his "Factory" studio. So much so, in fact that I asked Tom to interview me sitting down.

That said, everyone was extremely polite and I felt very welcomed. It's a long time since I have been treated with such deference, to be honest. Well, that was until I handed out an 8"x6" comp card of one of my award winning shots, and the camera guy asked if I would sign it. I was very flattered, and said I would when I got back from the loo.

On my return, still flushed with my own self-importance, I hunted for a pen, and offered to sign the card. "Oh,", he grinned "I was only joking!" "Well, I'll sign it anyway" I offered - which I did, and he put it in his bag without reading it. As he's only a slip of a lad, when he does get round to looking at it, he might wonder who the hell David Bailey is!

**"In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes" Andy Warhol

Photo shows interviewer Thomas Keane (right, seated) and his crew at Limerick Senior College, Media Studies Course.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Stolen Moments - Inappropriate Photography

Growing up in the north of England, it was just a matter of semantics that I came to think of, and talk about, a photograph as being "taken". It was part of my everyday speech to say "I took a picture of my son...that mountain...those flowers", etc. I really didn't give the matter anymore thought than that, for a long time. It was just the language that we all used.

When I came to think more, and understand more, about the process of photography, the notion of the image being 'taken' - as in concepts such as: "freezing the moment"; "the decisive image"; "capturing the scene" - was consolidated in my mind.

Many years later, particularly after having become familiar with digital image manipulation, the concept of "making a photograph" became familiar. I also noticed on my travels to the USA (and in talking with American friends) that the phrase "making a photograph" was frequently used. I still have trouble with that concept - because for me it gets away from the idea of "capturing the moment", and taints what was always the essence of photography, for me - namely the pure and "unretouched" state of the captured image.

Now, photographer and stage magician David Thiel has introduced another concept into the mix - that of photographs being "stolen". David, owner of the excellent Blog "Photoshop Basics in 6 Hours" has been in contact with me about his experiences and thoughts since photographing a street person in New York, called "Red". (You can read the full article HERE).

David has this to say about it...

"I find my feelings about the whole notion of "stealing" pictures have changed significantly since the whole "Red" thing. I've taken TONS of images with my telephoto and have gone through my library and deleted the vast majority that show faces, or where the subject I stole the image from can be recognized. Walking down the street and sticking my camera in the faces of strangers is, to my mind, unforgivable. Simply because these people are living their lives doesn't give anyone the right to take their pictures. While I admit that the images certain street photographers get are outstanding, they are stolen nonetheless."

Strong views, and held with a conviction and sense of integrity that is hard to ignore.

But, is he right? When we do not seek permission to take (or make) a photograph - or are not granted permission - are we "stealing" those images?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Photographer

There is a section in the excellent book 'Travel Photography' by Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz (first published in 1998) that addresses the issue of "Loneliness & Worse" for the dedicated Travel Photographer.

They write: The majority of travel photographers are either single, or have very understanding partners who are willing to put up with prolonged and erratic absences. Many relationships fail under the strain, the more so when the photographer comes home full of anecdotes and excitement, and the partner has been slaving away at a nine-to-five job.
(Hicks, R & Schultz, F, 1998: 4)

My own continuing travels for the sake of snapping have brought home to me (especially when I am away from home) just how isolating and lonely the business of travel photography can be. Walking into a hotel and reserving a room "for one", standing at the bar on my own while all round me are chatting away to each other, and (for me worst, of all) eating alone in a crowded restaurant all serve to emphasise the point that I am well and truly by myself.

At this time of year, when the nights are drawing in earlier, and I am away, the point is driven home even harder, as I don't have the opportunity (and evasive tactic) of shooting until late in the evening. It means that I have have more time to sit by myself and wallow in the misery of being the lonely long-distance snapper.

The real irony, is that I have always thought that one of the main benefits of travel is to share the excitement with someone else. But, unlike Hicks and Schultz, I don't have a "partner" either in the field or at home, at the moment.

So, there is an an opportunity, here, for a travel and photography orientated person who wants to see some of the world to team up with a travel photographer who wants to share the world that he is seeing. My email address is in the right hand column!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Interview Fatigue - Blight of the Famous

I sent a long, detailed, carefully crafted and pathetically sycophantic email to a famous British photographer, asking if he would be interviewed about street photography for my blog and a possible magazine article and got this reply:

Dear Stephen
Apologies for slow response. I am suffering from interview fatigue and will therefore decline this invitation. Martin

It came shortly after I had watched a video of John Cleese describing Sarah Palin as being funnier than Michael Palin, and I was reminded of the Monty Python sketch, with Four Yorkshiremen out-doing each other about their poor upbringings....

Third Yorkshireman: "eh, you were lucky to have a room! We used to have to live in t'corridor!"

First Yorkshireman: "Oh, we used dream of living in a corridor - it would have been like a palace to us! We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woke up ever morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us. House? Huh!"

Well, I still dream of getting "Interview fatigue". It would be like "arriving" and gaining success, to me.

And, surely there must be worse things than being successful, to suffer from?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Shooting without Permission - An Agent's View

I got an email, today, from Colin Finlay of "World Illustrated" owners of Photoshot Photographic Library (to which I have contributed images) and Publishers of Hotshoe International Magazine (for whom I have reviewed photographic equipment).

Colin offers me his views on photographing people - from the perspective of a Photographic Agent:

Hi Stephen
I read your blog. Interesting points about when you can and can not shoot people. For your interest, our policy at Photoshot is to always ask permission, irrespective of whether people are famous or not. However, I suspect that some of our overseas suppliers do not always adhere to this. We are not a pap agency, although we do not have a problem with famous people doing ordinary things as long as they are aware that they are being photographed and that the photographer is not being intrusive or prurient.
Best wishes,

More views from those with a professional interest in photographing people with or without permission are welcomed - and will be published without editing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Street Photographers - Born Pachyderms?

My continuing obsession with whether I should ask or not ask to take a photograph (SEE HERE) was piqued again today, when I saw a post on the Alamy forum from a fairly inexperienced non-professional photographer, who was despondent because his chosen subjects were refusing him permission to photograph them. He writes (all spelling is per original text):

"I'm getting tired of rejection and considering more desperate measures. Anyone would think that having your picture taken captures your sole**. I was in the local library and thought it would be good to get a picture of someone actually browsing a few books on the selves. I approached five people and they all refused to let me photograph them....In future, I'm not going to ask. I'll just start snapping away regardless."

Well, that disillusioned snapper could take a leaf out of the book (several published books, actually) of renowned New York street photographer Bruce Gilden. Not only does Mr Gilden - a full member of the highly prestigious and world famous Magnum Photo Agency - not ask for permission to photograph his subjects, he sticks not only his camera, but also his flash gun as close to their noses without literally getting up them as possible. Although, he does manage to get up a few people's noses metaphorically, now and then.

I'd welcome the chance to ask Bruce - and other photographers with similar modus operandus - how they think their subjects feel about this seemingly intrusive style of photography.

Bruce Gilden's photography is, to me, is reminiscent of the work of his fellow Magnum associate, British photographer Martin Parr. I have, for a very long time, looked at Parr's work with awe, fascination and dread, feeling almost sick at the thought of getting so close to another person and doing something of which they might not approve. I would certainly welcome the chance to ask if they mind if the subject doesn't like being photographed. And, did they have to grow a thick skin (that is; become a pachyderm) or were they born that way?

In the meantime, and while I'm still pondering where I stand on this issue, you might enjoy the You Tube video of Bruce Gilden in action - just click the start arrow, below.

** At this point, I was tempted to add - only if you lie on your back and stick your feet in the air.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Turning the Tables - Human Nature

(see: "Relax - The Cheque is in the Post" and "Recovering Bad Debt in Ireland" for background)

I wrote to the music management company that hasn't yet paid me - Milestone Management in Dublin - telling them that I was about to contact my union because the promised cheque failed to arrive. I got this reply from the Director Ciaran Conroy:

Hi Stephen,

The payment went out to you on Wednesday as confirmed.

If you haven’t received it yet it should be there by tomorrow. The normal way of approaching business is to pick up the phone in a circumstance like this before threatening to go down a legal route for an invoice that is not even two months overdue. Your photography is very good but we will certainly not be doing business or recommending the purchase of your photographs to any of the other main promoters or management companies in the country in the future.

Apologies again.

My reply:

Dear Ciaran

Thank you for the email. It’s always interesting to me how, as human beings, we can ignore our failings – you failed to act on your promise three times in my case - and turn the tables against others who have done nothing more than ask for what is due to them.

Although I can’t threaten to blacken your name within the music promotion circles, I can certainly put it on my blog.

Best wishes,


Recovering Bad Debt in Ireland

Well, the postman came but didn't bring my overdue cheque (see: "Relax - The Cheque is in the Post", below) which put me on another learning curve: namely, how do I make a claim for a small debt - in my case €250 - in Ireland?

I discovered, via the Citizens Information website that the Irish Small Claims system (which allows for recovery of debt up to €2000) is only available for Consumer Claims. That is: debt occurring from the purchase of goods and services, such as for faulty goods or bad workmanship. The goods or services must have been bought for private use, from someone selling them in the course of business. Claims cannot be made in the small claims court for debt, personal injuries or breach of leasing, or hire-purchase agreements.

And, most significantly for me: The procedure is not available for use by one business person against another.

Further inquiries, with the Citizens Information Service and the Small Claims Court, left me with the impression that recovering the €250 owed to me would involve the services of a solicitor (Lawyer, for my American readers) or a debt recovery service. Both of these options would be costly, for me, and time consuming, and in the case of the debt recovery agency, I doubt that anyone would take it on for 25% of €250 - and, as the nice woman at the Citizen's Information Service pointed out - even then there would be no guarantee of getting the debtor to pay up, and court action may have to ensue.

So, this has got me thinking, what does the small business person in Ireland do to recover small amounts of bad debt? Is there anything worth doing for such a small amount? In my case, I can't afford to write-off every debt under say €1000, but the cost of recovering it (in time and money) seems to render the effort pointless.

In my own case, there may be some good news. While I was pondering this conundrum, I remembered that I was a member of a Union (NUJ - National Union of Journalists) and I had a vague idea that they could offer assistance with debt recovery. I telephoned the Irish office (link in line above) and was told by Helen that indeed they could help with recovering bad debt - and all I had to do with email her with details and an officer of the union would look into it for me.

So, I'm going to email the Management Company again, and tell them the cheque did not arrive and tell them "you can't touch me, I'm part of the union" (they might know the song).

Watch this space.

Relax - The Cheque is in the Post

Two months ago I emailed a client (a music management company) with my invoice for a photograph of one of their artists performing live on stage. The shot was to be used in Newspapers and magazines in the USA, where the artist was performing a few days after the photograph was ordered.

I immediately got a warm and friendly response from the director of the company: "thanks for the shot, I will organize to get payment out to you today." That was on the 14th August. Time passed. No payment arrived. I waited a full month, and sent another invoice, this time by post. No payment arrived.

On 29th September, I emailed another invoice and got the reply: "Apologies for the delay, we have been away a lot in the last month. I will make sure a cheque goes out to you by the end of this week" (which would have been 3rd October at the latest). No cheque arrived.

On 7th October I emailed again, sending an "overdue" invoice and the following email message:

"My invoice for a photograph of **** ******* is, once again, attached. The payment of this invoice is now almost two months overdue, despite several assurances from you that payment was imminent (of which I have kept copies).Should the payment remain due for a further 7 days, I will have no option other than to, reluctantly, pursue a more formal course of action in order to secure payment."

I got this reply:

Relax. I’ll actually post it myself in the morning once back in office. Sorry it hasn’t gone out. Just manic here a lot of the time.You’ll have it on Thursday. Cheers. ******

Personally, I think it's a bit much being told to "relax" when a payment is not only 2 months late, but I have also been given the "cheque is in the post" routine 3 times! If it's OK with you, Mr Director, I'll relax when the cheque is in my bank.

Well, it's Thursday....and I'm waiting for the postman....

Monday, October 6, 2008

Office of Public (spanner in the) Works

I was in Clonmel, County Tipperary today, still on the travel book shoot, and I went into the impressive "Main Guard" building, which was constructed in 1675, as a jail house. The building, like so many Heritage Sites in Ireland, is under the auspices of The Office of Public Works (OPW).

The OPW's own website explains that "On 1st January 2004 the operational functions of Ireland’ built heritage functions transferred to the Office of Public Works (OPW). In essence, the OPW now has responsibility for the day-to-day running of all National Monuments and Historic Properties. Many millions of Irish people and foreign visitors visit the heritage sites each year to learn something of Ireland’s history and heritage...With regard to Heritage Services, the primary concern of the OPW is to protect and maintain Ireland’s heritage for future generations."

For the 5th time in succession, on this travel book commission, and after explaining myself to the very polite gentleman behind the desk in the Main Guard, and showing him my press pass (which he asked to see) - I was refused permission to to take photographs inside the building itself. I was told that I needed to make prior arrangements to take the photographs, show my insurance certificate indemnifying the OPW against "public liability" damage, and confirm that I would not be using the photographs for commercial purposes (which was difficult as a travel book is a commercial purpose), and especially not making postcards out of the shots!

What makes it more galling for me is that I did contact the OPW right at the start of this project, over two months ago, but I was unable to give precise details of what I wanted to shoot and when. But, I did offer to send my insurance details. Another annoying facet is that I'm photographing for one of the world's leading travel guide book publishers - and it puzzles me as to why the OPW would not jump at the chance to see their Heritage Sites in those books.

Add to that the fact that several tourists with cameras passed me in the building - and many of the other OPW Heritage sites (such as Newgrange) that I was refused permission to photograph - and snapped away to their hearts content, and you might appreciate my sense of frustration.

Other important Irish national monuments and landmark sites - notably Powerscourt House and Gardens in County Wicklow - who welcomed me with open arms, last week, when I turned up unannounced and simply showed the staff a letter from the publisher. I was given free information leaflets - and postcards - and a member of the team spent ten minutes outlining the history of the house to me, and pointed out all the best vantage points from which to take photographs. They were warm, welcoming, open, friendly and not at all suspicious of my motives nor precious of the fact that photographs of their magnificent building and gardens may be used in a commercial venture (or at least, a world-class travel guide book).

My experience of the OPW, sadly, is quite the reverse. I have found them to be suspicious, unwelcoming and unnecessarily officious. Why, I have absolutely no idea. But if anyone from the OPW should see this: rest assured that you are losing important opportunities to promote your Heritage Sites - and the officiousness is very 1970's.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Déjà Vu in Tacumshin, County Wexford

Yesterday, I was trying to find the tiny hamlet of Tacumshin, in County Wexford, to photograph the old windmill there. It is the oldest surviving windmill in Ireland, and only one of two still intact. Built in 1846, the thatched windmill was used until 1936 and later renovated, in the 1950's, by the Office of Public Works, who keep it in good repair.

My GPS (or Sat. Nav., christened by a friend of mine as "Monica", for reasons best known to himself) took me from Wexford Town to Tacumshin village, with no problems. But once there, I had trouble finding the Windmill itself, because it is slightly hidden from the road, in a field behind the car park of the Millhouse Pub, and I drove past it at least three times. But, eventually, I drove through the car park (unfortunately the pub was shut - otherwise I would have borrowed a key to look inside the windmill) onto a graveled area, and walked up a grassy bank, to the field where the windmill stands.

Something strange struck me, immediately. The Position of the windmill itself, standing alongside a large tree looked extremely familiar. I am certain that I have never been there before - in fact I'm sure it was my first time ever in County Wexford - but there was something about it that made me think it wasn't the first time I had witnessed that scene. Of course, there are lots of postcards of the famous structure, and so I could have easily remembered one of them, and made myself think that I had seen it in real life (that would be the psychological way of explaining it - and I have a Masters degree in the subject!) But, there was also something odd about the whole place, just driving into the area at the back of the car park had a familiar feel about it, too.

There were two men (presumably from the OPW) high up on a hoist, working on the sails when I got there, and my heart sank, thinking that they would be there for the day, or that the hoist contraption was a semi-permanent fixture.

I strode over to the windmill and shouted up to them, in a slow, deliberate voice, that must have made me sound like Dr Quatermass adressing the aliens in the crater: "Hello...I have come from Limerick...I need to photograph this windmill...will you be here long..." all I needed to add was "take me to your leader" for the full "Quatermass" effect! One of the engineers looked down, held up his hand - showing me all four fingers and a thumb (making the figure 5, and proving at the same time that he wasn't an alien being) and, in a perfectly normal speaking voice said "we'll be gone in five minutes". "Oh", I said, still half-shouting, "thanks, I'll wait".

I took some shots of them working, but missed a really good one of them, back on the ground, pulling the sails back into position - as I had wandered off to get my tripod. Let that be a lesson to you, never leave the scene while still there might be something of interest to snap!

I spent at least 15 minutes longer at the windmill than I had planned. There was something very captivating about it, and I wanted to make sure I got enough good shots. Maybe too, it was because of that Déjà Vu feeling. It was made stronger, I suppose by finding out, only in the last few months that my father's grandfather was from County Wexford. Perhaps I was just feeling at home.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Back Packing in Ireland

I was driving along the South East Coast, today, between Bray (in County Wicklow) and Enniscorthy (in County Wexford) when I passed two backpackers hitch-hiking. I'm not one for stopping for hitch hikers, usually. I don't regard it as safe - both for me and also for the hitcher, depending on who picks them up - and, if it's a single female, I generally want to be sure that they are old enough and strong enough to be out on their own, let alone getting in a car heading away from where they came from, with a complete stranger! So, I usually carry on down the road, on my own.

This time, there were two people, a man of about 20 something and his girlfriend. The young woman was carrying a cardboard sign saying 'Wicklow'. Which made it even stranger that I stopped, because I wasn't heading for Wicklow at all, although it was along the road to where I was going (Avoca - where they made the hit British TV show "Ballykissangel", some years ago). But I did stop, albeit 150 or so metres past them, because I was mulling it over before braking. I think (but I can't be sure) it was because they were both carrying enormous backpacks and they both looked very cold and miserable!

They both also had the look of "hippies" (or whatever the "naughties" - 00 - expression is for "hippy".) Plus, I noticed on closer inspection, they both had rings through their lips. That made me wonder if it was the naughties equivlent of a wedding ring - but I didn't have the nerve to ask them.

They turned out to be Jimmy and Emma, two Australians, back packing around Europe (they had flown in to Dublin from Spain the previous day) before going back to college. Jimmy was studying - and working as an instructor in - outdoor activities, canoeing, climbing, sailing, cycling, absailing and all the other stuff that can make me feel tired just hearing the words. Emma (much to my relief) had chosen a more sedentry subject to study - that of Visual Arts, which included photography, but she was particulary interested in sculture, and working clay. I told her that I was always impressed by anyone who could produce art with just their hands (and not with a machine like a camera or computer) and that if I tried prodding a lump of clay about with my hands, it would still look like a lump of clay when I stopped prodding it.

When I dropped them in Wicklow, the weather had turned, and the promising bright light had vanished leaving forboding grey skies, and a chilling wind. I took them down to the harbour, because they wanted to pitch their tent for the night. I raised the subject of youth hostels, only to be told that the more they camped, the more money they had left for the rest of the trip. And, anyway, they had very warm sleeping bags.

I went and took a few shots of the harbour and met up with them again, on the grassy headland, on the way back to the car. "We've found somewhere good to sleep tonight" Emma said, beaming at me. I was delighted, assuming they had located a youth hostel or somewhere else, with a roof. "Where?", I asked, shivering in the wintery wind.

Emma, beamed again, and pointed behind me. "There", she said, "it'll be cosy sheltered up against that wall".

I took them back into the town, so they could go shopping, and they thanked me and I drove off - looking for my 4 star hotel in Enniscorthy, thinking that I had probably never been that young and adventurous. Even when I was young, and a bit adventurous.