14 July 2009

UK Border Angst

I had the dubious pleasure of returning to the UK last weekend through East Midlands Airport and had my first taste of the new border security measures which this government belatedly seems to think are necessary (in their words), "to ensure only those eligible to enter the UK do so". On entering the terminal building we were confronted with a long snaking queue of slow moving humanity which was going nowhere fast. I was shocked, dismayed and angry in equal measure. It appeared that this was an exercise in control rather than one of ensuring the integrity of our borders; our passports were scanned and the immigration officer looked at her screen (not so much at me interestingly) to make sure a) I wasn't a wanted criminal, or b) a terrorist, and c) I was a British citizen (entering my own country BTW) and lord knows whatever other information the computer spewed on to its screen. This was Big Brother in action. It seems we are the only nation in the European Union which has such stringent measures in place at their border-last week we crossed between EU countries unchecked, unprocessed, unmolested.

I later read the words on the inside front cover of my passport. It read,
"Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty, all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary".

How ironic then that the only "hindrance" I discovered on my trip was when I wanted to re-enter my own country! Perhaps the Secretary of State should read his own blurb.

It took over 30 minutes to get through immigration at East Midlands Airport simply because there are not enough desks to process people quickly and efficiently. Perhaps if the government, who seem to be proud of their record on border security (see here) need to spend a bit more money on the infrastructure.

3 July 2009

The National Truss

The National Trust certainly knows how to court controversy. The NT does some great work, and although I rarely if ever pay to enter any of their properties, I am like many others a beneficiary as I walk the well maintained coastal paths, explore the managed woodlands and marsh habitats or wander around the free to enter properties. I always had the impression that the NT was a rather old fashioned organisation, as much preserved in aspic as many of it’s properties, smelling musty like your grandma’s living room and policed by elderly white haired volunteers doing their bit for charity. And yes, let’s not forget the National Trust is a charity. Recently, however, the NT has bared its teeth and begun looking more like a ruthless commercial bank than a charity, and not overly bothered about the ruckus it has caused among the photographic community.

To kick off with, NT Northern Ireland announced a photographic competition and was immediately condemned for including an over-riding rights grabbing clause in the Terms and Conditions; it read,

“If you submit any material to us, you agree to grant The National Trust a perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide, non-exclusive licence to use your contribution in all media. This includes the right to copy, edit, publish, grant sub-licences and exercise all other copyright and publicity rights over the material. If you do not want to grant these rights, please do not submit your contribution to us.”
It seems this has now been amended (see here ) , but not before one of the competition’s high profile judges, Simon Norfolk, pulled out after reportedly being “furious” about the National Trusts actions.

Then in April this year the National Trust approached Alamy to request that
all photographs of National Trust properties on the site be removed (except of course those belonging to the National Trust Picture Library-NTPL) siting a bylaw of 1965 which prohibits the taking of photographs for reward. Alamy photographers were contacted by Alan Capel, Head of Content, requesting that photographs of NT properties be reviewed to ensure they were within the “rules”; i.e. full property releases available or taken from public land. My not very extensive portfolio of NT properties (2 to be exact, one reproduced here) took 10 seconds to review and I replied by email that these two were taken from outside the gates at Charlecote Park so were “legal”. It seems this process is now complete and my two images are still there, but it has been reported by Amateur Photographer that 8,000 images have been pulled from the catalogue as a result of the NT’s action.

This is a monumental own goal in my opinion. The NT, although a charity, has to pay its way to be able to continue to do the fine work of preserving and maintaining the fabric of the British countryside and historic properties. But this action is seen by many as greedy, especially given the charitable status of the organisation. The action against Alamy was also seen by some as a protectionist measure to ensure the images in the NT’s own library were protected. It is a shame that the NTPL itself does not play by the rules; the great majority of NTPL’s images on Alamy are shown as “Model Released”, including this one of an “unknown man”. Quite how they managed to get a MR from an unknown man, and one who looks like he may have been dead for quite some time is beyond me.

21 June 2009

Taxes; and Death by Paperwork

There’s been a heated debate recently between the Government and the Opposition parties about who is going to be cutting spending and who isn’t. For some reason both parties seem to think we, the people, are pretty thick and cannot see through the spin, massaging of figures and fibs being told. Well, some breaking news for the Gordon and Dave Show; we know exactly what is going on, we know exactly what is going to happen soon (cut, cut, cut) and we know exactly who is going to get the sh*t end of the stick (we, the people). But here’s the rub; are cuts always a bad thing? No, is the answer. There are doubtless vast areas of government ripe for efficiency savings and this week I have yet again been the debatable beneficiary of government waste. I refer to the Child Tax Credit System of Wasting Tax Payers' Money. This week my wife and I independently, but on the same day received a large bulky envelope through the door, marked with the foreboding HM Revenues and Customs logo. Each envelope contained yet another letter from the Child Tax Credit people telling each of us, individually, we were no longer entitled to child tax credits. Not surprising really as our “children” are now 23 and 19 years old and should be standing on their own two feet. Accompanying each letter was a thirty page A4 booklet explaining everything one needs to know about the child tax credit system, a tome of such soporific intensity it would cure the most chronic insomniac of their malady. “So what?”, you say, “HMRC has kindly explained you are no longer entitled”. Well, the problem here is that this is at least the third time HMRC have told us we are no longer entitled to CTCs, and each time we are told another tree dies to supply us with an information booklet we don’t read. So this time, I thought a letter was required, and it has been sent with the faintest glimmer of hope that it will be read by a human being of sufficient intelligence to note its contents and pass it on to another human being who has the power and authority to initiate change to this astonishingly complex, expensive and wasteful system:

Dear Sir

Re: Tax Credits – Annual Review for year ending 05/04/2009

You wrote to us on 6th June 2009 (with 30 page notes pack-in duplicate) regarding the annual review for year ended 5 Apr 09. You have correctly stated in Step A that we are not responsible for any qualifying children or young people.

You wrote to us on 6th August 2007 correctly stating that the tax credit award for period to 5th April 08 was zero.

You wrote to us on 11 October 2007 correctly stating that the tax credit award for period to 5th April 08 was zero.

Thank you. We get the message.

Should our situation change we will notify you. However, you may assume, with certainty nearing 100% that our situation is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. You may therefore safely stop telling us we are no longer eligible for tax credits and save the tax payer a bit of money.

Yours faithfully...

I live in hope….

4 June 2009

Slow News Stories for Stock Photographers

Events worthy of exposure in major periodicals have a very short half life. A few days to a week is the rule of thumb and stock photographers relying on agencies to market their work generally cannot respond quickly enough to fulfill the media's need for current news images. It is also unlikely to be economically viable to get to a breaking news event when the resulting pictures, which have a short life span, have been taken on a purely speculative basis.

However, there are plenty of opportunities for stock photographers serving the secondary editorial market to supply topical news images but this requires a bit of creative thinking. There are some stories which come around every so often; history does repeat itself and not just over a generational time scale, but every year or every few months. These are the slow news stories which lend themselves to a more relaxed approach from the illustrative photographer, and I find all it takes is a little anticipation or identification of the repetitive events. In the current recession the economy, business and personal finance is particularly high on my agenda. As a stock photographer one could do worse than having one good image of every FTSE 100 company logo; sooner or later every company
will hit the headlines for good or bad reasons and newspapers and periodicals will need an image to illustrate their news story.

Recently I read a story on the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) web site about pub closures. This isn't a new story, it's ongoing; in May 2008 the British Beer and Pub Association reported in a news release that pub closures had increased to 27 per week, seven times faster than in 2006. CAMRA's story reported in Jan 2009 that pub closures were at a record of 39 per week. This is one of those slow news stories ripe for stock photography.

So when I saw a local pub
which had been boarded up and with a large "for sale" sign on the old sign post, all I needed was a sunny day, a blue sky and a bit of imaginative composition. The result (left) taken in January 2009 says it all, was used last month in a national newspaper.

31 May 2009

European Parliament Elections

The UK MP's expenses saga rumbles on - I think we're into the 900th day of revelations (or so it feels) - and this Thursday, 4th June we get the chance to vote in the European Parliament elections and have our say. But I wonder how many people will actually exercise their one opportunity to send a message. Frankly the turnout at European elections is lamentable. According to the EU Parliament the best turnout was in 2004 at 38% and the chances are that many young people will simply not bother to go to the immense trouble of dropping into the polling station and putting an X in the box. But that is not universally true and the picture below illustrates the point.

This fully model released image of a young, first time voter outside a polling station proudly holding her voting card has been sold a number of times and used on the cover of the AQA Government and Politics AS level textbook and is available for licensing through Alamy (click on photo or here to license).

Dog's Dinner is Rather Tasty

So, the government's Car Scrappage Scheme is being hailed a success despite Ford and Honda initially describing it as a "dog's dinner". Hopefully there will be fewer of these languishing in back yards in future...

...well at least until March 2010 when the scheme ends (sooner if the money runs out). One would have thought that a scheme like this would stand on its own merits as a benefit to the environment and not just be wheeled out to boost an ailing industry. Click on the image to license at Alamy.com

26 May 2009

Race For Life NEC Birmingham 2009

Every year thousands of women of all ages and abilities do something amazing for charity. They run, jog or walk a 5km course to raise money for Cancer Research UK, the world leading charity dedicated to cancer research. Learn more at http://www.raceforlife.org/about-us.aspx. To date more than four million women have raised over £240 million for Cancer Research UK's life saving work. This year the inaugural event took place at the NEC in Birmingham on 24th May on a glorious sunny day. As you can see it was a fantastic fun and colourful day. Well done to all who gave so much to help a fantastic cause. The smiles say it all.

Pink Ladies Warming Up: Click to license from Alamy.com

Age is no barrier!: Click to license from Alamy.com

Warming Up: Click to license from Alamy.com

Start: Click to license from Alamy.com

Tweety & Bugs:

Pink Ladies Do It Better:

Sprint to the Finish Line:

Telly Tubbies:

Click to license from Alamy.com

Medal Wearers: Click to license from Alamy.com

Race for Life Stock Photos by Alan Spencer at Alamy.com
View stock images by Alan Spencer at Alamy.com