The new Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies on Marston Road, Oxford.

Just seen the designer, Steve Legge’s post on Facebook about a client’s website he’s been working on. Steve is the brains behind One Hat Design: http://onehatdesign.com

This page: http://rosedalebrickwork.com/project/third-project/ shows my photographs of brickwork detail and an exterior of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, which Steve commissioned me to photograph for his client Rosedale Brickwork, during construction, to capture the incredible craftsmanship of the bricklaying. There was a certain urgency about the shoot because it was just a matter of time before the bricks were hidden by decoration. It’s really hard to gauge the epic scale of this dome, unless you happen to be driving along Marston Road in Oxford. I don’t think you’ll need to have the new Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies pointed out.  I took the shot lying on my back in the dust of a typical construction site – nothing if not determined.

Islamic CenOxf_HDP5938 copy

By sheer coincidence, I was back at the new Centre a few days ago, while covering a conference: the OCIS Roundtable 2015, at Ditchley for the Centre themselves. The delegates took the opportunity to have a tour of the building, which is finally due to be commissioned in the Autumn of 2015. I took a snapshot during the walkabout, of the dome as it is now. The comparison is interesting and I’m sure Rosedale are delighted that not all their workmanship is hidden.  Be sure to click on the photos to see ‘the bigger picture’, if you like that sort of thing.

OCIS_HDP6311

‘Behind every great man is a great woman’: ManBuysPresent.com

They was a saying ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ long before that Eurythmics track was a hit and the same seems to be true of a certain web-site aimed at men and launched this month by two dynamic, successful young business women.Image

I was very fortunate to be asked to become involved with ManBuysPresent.com almost from it’s inception and to prove it here are a couple of shots from a studio shoot of the founders:  Rachael Ogilvie Robertson and Kate          .

As the site is aimed squarely at helping men negotiate the minefield of present buying and emerge looking a hero, they had enlisted the help of a local fireman to put his point of view.Lee, the fireman & client of ManBuysPresent.comMy brief was to portray Lee looking as heroic as possible.  To say he’d never been in a studio in his life before, I’d say he did pretty well but I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to have the last word on that.

As the shots will be used world-wide, we were after a range of moods and styles.Kate & Rachael, ManBuysPresent.com foundersThe web-site is pretty intuitive – a result of hours of research and planning –  including quizzing me for my personal disaster story and that’s all you’ll hear about the tumble-dryer the lady in my life got for Christmas some years ago.

Let there be light – please. A location photographer’s prayer.

I’m just back in.  It’s a beautiful crisp January afternoon in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds.  Despite the clear blue sky, not a day to dawdle on the location shoot, thanks to the cutting wind.

Location photography in Britain is such a testing discipline.  I am often racing storm-clouds to a location across the country, despite the weatherman’s assurances that the day will be fine.

I had just that problem with the weather on a shoot last summer.  I was booked to cover an Open Day at a huge grain store a few miles from the studio. The agency added that throwaway remark that will be familiar to any pro: “See if you can get some nice exteriors while you’re there.”  It seems such a reasonable request….. but architectural photography, (which I better make clear I love shooting) is unsurprisingly, all about the light.  Only when the light is where you want it, can you begin to think about framing your shots and responding to the building aesthetically, as the architects will expect of you, since they sweated blood to achieve it.   Surprisingly, this rarely seems to fall into line with a day photographing visitors, enjoying guided tours of a facility for the purposes of PR.

DuctingThere will be moments when you see a shot and have just enough time to set it up.  Factories often have areas painted different colours to identify them.  Powerful lighting and an interesting angle can make a dramatic shot that is almost unnoticed by the naked eye.  A pleasantly surprised client is usually a happy one.

Interior grain store yellow hoppers
Interior grain store: yellow hoppers

As for the exteriors, it was hopeless – grey skies, overcast and drizzling.  I knew I had nothing for the client.

Watching the weatherman that evening I realised I had a lucky break, should I choose to take it.   He was describing a change in the weather and a great day to come.  I knew I had to go back and get my exteriors.  I also knew that there was no budget for a second visit, so the shots would have to be good enough to earn their keep, but it was close enough to be feasible.  Back at the site, as and when they pulled into the yard, I commandeered lorries, begging the goodwill of the drivers.  Each time, I had to work fast, delaying their work schedules as little as possible.

By the time the lorry shots had been taken, the sun had moved around the building and I was able to start shooting my exteriors.  I think I will be forgiven for saying the building is no beauty.  It was an instance where colour really adds nothing, but in black and white there can be great drama.

If you are ever in the OX7 region, driving on the B4030 between a little hamlet called Gagingwell and Enstone, look to your right (watch the winding road) into the old airfield.  You can’t miss the grain store, but I rather hope you won’t recognise it from my photography.  Without wishing to be unkind, let’s just say my job is usually to portray the world in the best light possible.

Three Royal encounters in one day – business as usual in Oxford.

Royal rota pass

I was lucky enough recently to be booked to act as Host camera during the visit of HRH Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall to one of the Oxford colleges.  Since my NUJ Freelance days, I’ve frequently photographed members of the royal family including a young, shy Diana, but the importance of these events to all involved does crank up the pressure and the kit gets checked pretty thoroughly before the off.

I was amazed (and a bit delighted, if I’m honest) to discover at the press briefing that photographic royalty was also covering the visit, in the form of Arthur Edwards MBE, Royal Photographer for The Sun.  Arthur is a bit of a celeb in his own right these days.

Royal photographer Arthur Edwards
Royal photographer Arthur Edwards chats with the Duchess of Cornwall

It was a hoot watching his charming tussle with the Clarence House press officer, as Arthur ducked and dived to get his shots, whilst never quite overstepping the mark.  We all know that a Rota pass is worth it’s weight and is easily lost.  So direct interaction – “Over here, Camilla, love” –  will not go down well.  You observe and take photographs from an agreed ‘safe’ working distance, only during designated activities and never whilst a Royal is eating or drinking.  Please don’t expect to pose or set up your shots. If you miss it, it stays missed and woe betide you if it was the shot your picture editor was expecting to drop onto his front page.

That day we were all allowed a fair amount of leeway about changing position, with a beautiful college backdrop.  What more could you hope for?Well, Mr Bean for a start, an alumnus of the college and for many, the right Royal icing on the cake that day.

Duchess of Cornwell and Rowan Atkinson
Duchess of Cornwall and Rowan Atkinson

The river don’t flow this way no more.

Without doubt in these Days of Digital, there has never been a better era to be interested in photography and to want to take photographs. We have the tools at hand to enable us to produce the finest images that have ever been possible almost effortlessly and with diminishing costs.  I have been a commercial photographer for thirty years and I honestly believe that my current work is technically the most accomplished I have ever produced.

How ironic that at this very moment in the evolution of photography, I have watched in horror as commercial photography hurtled towards and ultimately tumbled over a cliff within the last eight or nine years. It has come as such a surprise that many businesses and colleagues have been unable to recover. At the very least, to survive, professionals have all had to adapt to an uncomfortable new life. Yes, I know I am generalising, so there will be exceptions, but I see a sea-change in the business I have loved and lived for half a lifetime.

I did not set out to be a commercial photographer. After college – a degree  involving Photography, Film & Television, I worked as a Theatre Manager.  I saw that there was the possibility to specialise as a Theatre photographer and eventually jumped (before I was pushed – another story).  I soon found it was tough going because theatres’ budgets for photography turned out to be pretty-well non-existent.   It was only when my friendly local theatre critic rescued me by suggesting freelancing for his newspaper and introduced me to a very professional and ambitious Picture Editor, that a way forward emerged.

I was lucky. My picture editor was a tough, decent Geordie but a huge influence.  His advice was my real training after college. He once stopped me in mid-moan about an assignment by saying ”only dull photographers take dull pictures – get on with it” – or words to that effect…. It also proved my great good fortune that he heartily disliked responding to requests from PR agencies to cover their PR events for free.  His staff photographers were not to be distracted from putting good newsworthy shots into the paper.

It was an era when big-budget agencies streamed these requests out to picture-desks nationwide. So once I was deemed a safe pair of hands, who would not disgrace the recommendation, those leads to cover PR photo-ops were passed my way, but as a freelance I was expected to charge.  By now I was working night and day on the newspaper’s weekly free paper that had four editions in the county and depended on photos of every tiny event in the area to bulk out the ads. I was paid only for the repro fee but it was a volume exercise.  Pitching up at a fete or award ceremony, I had to create an arresting picture from any opportunity however mundane. I became pretty good at it. It was great incentive to make every shot good enough to get published and make my living. A double-page spread of a big event eg nine shots of a vintage car rally made quite a handsome return.  I also soon noticed that the income from invoicing big, busy PR agencies was beginning to dwarf the repro fees for the press work.  A growing number of major agencies now knew me, trusted me and contacted me directly – I would love to say it was mutual, but I also discovered getting paid took some doing.

I invested in better equipment and a professional darkroom. On my travels, I had a natural introduction to a lot of businesses and I leveraged that at every opportunity to suggest shooting pictures for them. In turn the commercial clients began to require bigger and more lucrative photo-shoots and the importance of PR work began to diminish. I was able to stop renting kit and buy my own gear, lights, power-packs. I could commit to quite daunting large-scale projects.  I had become, to my surprise, a significant commercial photographer in the area.

Of course I have smoothed over a lot of bumps in my little road-trip.  I doubt you’d still be here, if I’d ground out every inch of the way.  What I have set out to describe is probably what many of my compatriot photographers would see as a common experience of getting into the business in the 80’s and later.  It might have much in common with many of you in your own lives and business start-ups. I would be interested to know.

We could not know it but we all were fortunate to be fishing on the edge of a well-stocked river bank.  Our lucrative pitches allotted to those with a blend of nerve, talent and well-earned luck. The water teemed with a strong healthy catch that was readily hooked and made a great living for a vibrant community. We in turn provided a living for another host of creative talents.  Who could guess that the river would one day be abruptly diverted?

Now photography has moved into that new digital world of wonderful devices and software, giving access to everyman to document our lives and businesses in ways once undreamt of.  Yet for a handful of professionals and an army of aspirants, I now see a vast open valley, where once a river flowed, trampled into dust by thousands of hopeful hunters, running blindly around, waving elaborate butter-fly nets at every fleeting flash of colour.  Whenever we stop to catch our breath, we all claim to be having fun and doing brilliantly.  I doubt we have much to put on the table when we get home.

From the hill-sides, watching ever-so-slightly cynically are the new beneficiaries of the digital revolution: a host of suppliers of butter-fly nets and those who readily train us in how to wave those pretty nets around. For them it matters not a jot what we catch, as long as we are having enough fun to keep coming back for more and we do. I have no fight to pick with these opportunists.  What they provide is first-class and meanwhile, charging down the hill are those crowds of new prospects, all eager to have their go and get in on the fun, so who could blame them.

We live in interesting times, which as the Chinese know, are never comfortable times to experience and these days we should all be taking note of what makes sense to China, shouldn’t we?

 

The improved National Health service

Unfortunately I am unable to credit the originator of this information about the improved National Health Service but please read & comment – your life might depend upon it.

The British Medical Association has weighed in on the new Prime Minister David Cameron’s health care proposals.
The Allergists voted to scratch it, but the Dermatologists advised not to make any rash moves.
The Gastroenterologists had a sort of a gut feeling about it, but the neurologists thought the Administration had a lot of nerve.
The Obstetricians felt they were all labouring under a misconception and the Ophthalmologists considered the idea short-sighted.
Pathologists yelled, “Over my dead body!” while the Paediatricians said, “Oh, Grow up!”
The Psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness, while the Radiologists could see right through it.
Surgeons decided to wash their hands of the whole thing. The ENT specialists wouldn’t hear of it.
The Internists thought it was a bitter pill to swallow, and the Plastic Surgeons said, “This puts a whole new face on the matter….”
The Podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but the Urologists were pissed off at the whole idea.
The Anaesthesiologists thought the whole idea was a gas, and the Cardiologists didn’t  have the heart to say no.
In the end, the Proctologists won out, leaving the entire decision up to the arseholes in London .

From a poacher turner gamekeeper……. Some advice about taking photographs for your own business.

IF THE ANSWER IS: THANK YOU, BUT WE DO OUR OWN PHOTOGRAPHY.  YOU MIGHT TAKE SOME GENTLE ADVICE FROM A HARDENED PRO:

More & more photography intended for ‘professional’ use is being taken by enthusiasts with a digital camera.  You would be forgiven for expecting that the photographs will be correctly-exposed and focused (more on that in a moment), but you might be less certain about composition or framing and you would be right.  So before you even pick up your camera:

THINK QUICKLY, SHOOT SLOWLY.

Successful photography does not depend on using the best equipment – although it certainly helps.  Like any business plan, you start with a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve and a conscious effort to achieve that aim.  Are you trying to make somebody look their best, sell a product, make your business look as good as you believe it is? Of course you are, so:

OPEN BOTH EYES.

We are so used to the infamous pot-plant, the fizzy drinks cans on the desks, those dodgy stairs, the skip beside the building, that we stopped seeing them years ago.  Unfortunately, the camera will not helpfully ignore so much as an empty crisp packet.  Are your workshop personnel wearing filthy overalls, when your advertising promotes your high standards?  You might even have to get quite personal and mention dirty fingernails – your boss might be quite put out.  Save yourself expensive hours of retouching later by looking really hard and critically at the person, product or scene you propose to associate with your business and then:

MOVE YOUR FEET.

You would not be the first person to take a shot from where you happen to be standing because it has never occurred to you to move.  Walk around the scene or subject for a few moments.  Does the view of your subject or background improve?  Move in closer for more dramatic effect or step back a few paces to include something that improves the shot that you have now just noticed for the first time.  Even with a bog-standard lens, you can still dramatically improve your composition. It’s not all about who has the biggest…lens but:

BEFORE YOU GO CLICK, SAY HELLO.

Speak to your subjects. Give them advance notice, amuse them if you can.  A dog looks alert if you whistle quietly to attract it’s attention, just before you go click.  Whistle too hard and you have only yourself to blame. Much the same applies in both instances to humans.  I don’t recommend wolf-whistling under any circumstances. To deal with the language barrier (mine), I have even ‘signed’ a smile at Finns and Latvians, which was so ridiculous, they fell about laughing and I got my shot.  Often with groups, be ready to take a final shot after the ‘last’ one.  It can be the best you take, as they relax and remember:

YOU’RE THE BOSS.

Yes, it’s scary but even with the boss, take charge.  You are the only person who can see your shot through the camera.  If the boss is wearing his tie at half-mast, he will appreciate a) you noticed  b) you made him sort it.  He will never approve a publicity shot that makes his wife wince.  Always have a cunning plan for a shoot so that you can be decisive and people will respond with confidence and now perhaps:

WE’RE READY TO GET TRICKY.

I really will not be impressed by that pro-DSLR around your neck, which set you back three grand, if it is permanently on Programme mode, shooting jpegs. It is time to move out of your comfort zone.  P is not for professional. Make a point of finding out why so much time, trouble and expense has gone into providing all those other modes and options.  Start at the simplest level by really getting to grips with your digital camera’s exposure compensation control and how that relates to the histogram function in your preview window.  As the acronym goes RTFM, where all will be explained.  Crack that and you are taking control of the beast.  Now you will you be confident that your snow scenes will come out with bright clean whites but your daughter’s face will not be too over-exposed to see her smile in the school play. You are home and dry. Well, almost.  By now you will be either:

FIRED-UP OR TERRIFIED.

My ragbag of generalizations only touches upon a vast and fascinating subject that I have spent a very enjoyable career attempting to master and to explain.  I do sincerely wish you every success.  If on the other hand you or your accountant would rather you use all that valuable energy and brain-power more cost-effectively building your business and making lots of lovely money, why not give me a call and make me the part of the team that supplies your images? For a modest price, I’ll even play poacher turned gamekeeper and train your people to take successful photographs that turbo-charge your sales figures.

Haddon Davies

© Haddon Davies Contemporary Photography 2010

A version of this article first appeared in Thames Valley News Sept/Oct 2010.

#theplumtable

The plum table - famous on Twitter!
The plum table - famous on Twitter!

Much as I love the digital darkroom aspect of being a twenty-first century photographer, it can become a slog to be staring at a monitor for a long stretch.

So to have found a temporary respite from working on images at my Mac is great fun. Now, every day, in all weathers, I have to take time off to pick fruit to set out on our road-side fruit table. This year has been a short season for our yellow plums, which ripen first. I so look forward to my first plum of the season because they are truly ambrosial. A perfect example is just about the most wonderful piece of fruit I have ever eaten. When the tree branches begin to hang low, laden with plums in mid-August, I am actually excited. The weight of the fruit gives rise to the charming and apt local name for this variety of plums: ‘Oxfordshire Droopers’. At some point each day, I test the yellowest fruit, until the day comes when a plum comes away easily in my hand. Warm from the sun, it will be heavenly. It also signals a couple of weeks of constant activity, as all the trees need to be picked of fruit together, before the plums drop and spoil.
This year has also seen a lot of fruit spoilt by wasps, now hungry for sugar for their grubs. It pays to pick carefully and eat cautiously while picking.

Over before you have had enough, the yellow plums are followed by the cooking fruit: delicious dark, purple plums,damsons and apples, all to be set out on the plumtable. The damsons take an age to pick but prove really popular with many experienced local cooks. I also seek out my favourite blackberry patches but never have quite enough to share.

All this happens near Charlbury on the B4026. Look out for the plumtable. It should be there until the apples are finished next month.