Its been a while since my last blog but in my defence Ive been busy and its been a bit of a career landmark.
In my previous life I was a software engineer and I studied at Queens University Belfast for four years, first doing a BEng (batchelor of engineering) degree and then an MSc (Master of Science) degree.
My first job was in a local software company and I then went on to work in 2 more software companies before a change in circumstances brought about a change in Career after 9 years as an Engineer. In 2001 I took my first photography job working for a local photographer before going it alone a year or so later.
So in late September 2010 I am now a photographer longer than I ever was a Software Engineer yet I have just completed part of a commission for companies involved in Software Engineering. Not quite poacher turned gamekeeper and yet not quite a busmans holiday either. It was good to catch up with old colleagues and catch up quickly, far too quickly, with the old profession and its current issues.
Deep down Im still an engineer, I’ve always been an engineer which is a strange thing to say in this profession, but Ive always had an artistic side as well. That was never able to manifest itself fully in my previous career yet the era of digital photography, website generation, online marketing, email, ftp, image editing and distribution and all those good things keep the engineer in me happy.
Ive always been a problem solver and one of my first jobs in software was in a team tasked with ‘firefighting’ the ‘hot issues’ of the day. Now I dont miss the management speak, particularly as since then I’ve taken photos of real firefighters and whilst Im not wishing to denigrate my previous profession, the words used are incongruous with the job.
Through my later jobs I got involved in recruitment, customer bids and processes, corporate training, writing specifications, interpreting client briefs, investigating client issues and dealing with clients across the globe. I cant really say my job as a photographer is any different to that with all those skills being very portable indeed and just applied to different areas.
Perhaps thats why I have grown and progressed the business, because I brought those skills with me and adapted them. Maybe its just coincidence but either way it didnt do me any harm.
The access all areas press, red carpet and general swanning around with the gorgeous people isnt really the image you think of sitting outside a hotel in dublin in the snow at 1am as you try to wire your photos into an office on the west coast of the states.
Bit like my last couple of software jobs were we had US offices and you were on call until 2am in case any problems arose. Of course in one job we also had offices in the Phillipines and Australia. What do you mean you arent available 24/7? No different to now when people from all across the globe who are on deadlines and who want photos asap dont really care what timezone you are in. ‘Im just ringing to see if you are in?’ ‘yes its 4am, where else would I be’. ‘Can you email me this photo?’, ‘Yes, as soon as I get my eyes open I’ll be on to it – oh and you will need to pay in advance by paypal’. Sounds very glamourous indeed
When I tell people what I do, particularly those in IT professions they say they long for a job where they arent sitting in front of a computer all day and dont have to pull all nighters. Wishing away the long winter nights sitting at 2am trying to find a pizza place open in Belfast…
Well sorry folks I have news for you, I was up at 8am and its 12am now and Im still at the computer, writing a blog no less
During that time I had to run to the doctors as I did ankle ligaments in at the weekend. Sorry, no sick leave or sick pay here its put up or shut up.
One of the biggest wrenches for me was the leaving a very well paid, stable job with holidays, and sick pay and healthcare and overtime and… …and then I remember being paid to take photos of naked women on a beach in Tenerife mid January…. …money isnt everything.
I love my job and I hope that shows. I loved being an engineer, I just didnt particularly enjoy the environment but looking back on it I had had my time and it was time for something different. Im now at the same stage in my photography career but I dont have the same urges. Maybe its got to do with reinvention and changing business approach every few years.
Some photographers try to blame the GWC idea – guy with camera. It appears that anyone with a camera can call themselves a professional photographer, couple of hundred quid on a camera, 6 quid for printable business cards and 30 quid for a cheap website and away you go, you are doing weddings but I remember people who had a home computer calling themselves computer programmers and asking if I could sort them out with a job. No different and that doesnt give any credit to clients who should be able to look at a photographers website, look at the images, the craft in the photos and the message behind the photography to differentiate between the chancers and the people who will build a relationship.
I learned that in my IT days when dealing with clients, it was about building relationships, getting a bond of mutual trust instead of trying to sell them something. Yes you are still selling but you are selling them something that will benefit them, which in turn will benefit you, everyones happy. I try to do that with the photography and that has been borne out by the number of long term clients I have and equally the long term relationship they have with me. They know they can ring me at 11pm and that I will take their calls because its probably important, important to them, their business and ultimately their families and lifestyle. You do go the extra mile for people you have a relationship with and its that closer bond I like with being self employed rather than working for a large corporation. Of course I could have got that within the IT industry by setting up myself there, but then again Ive seen people in tears holding their daughters wedding photos or getting their baby to smile on camera or a public relations person ringing me to thank me for getting their company in the paper with a good photo. No-one ever congratulated me on a line of C code, or a good subroutine in COBOL or sorting out a java error.
I started radharcimages because it interested me, right at the start of a recession when the market for the type of photos I was producing for it had started drying up, so its on hold, not cancelled. It will be resurrected occasionally although if climate change has its way all the pictures will have to be retaken to reflect our monsoon seasons.
Ive no idea what the next 9 weeks will bring never mind the next 9 years. In 9 years time if Im still here I’ll be approaching 50 and who knows I might have bought myself a pair of braces, grown a big belly and taken up wedding photography full time. Maybe I’ll actually buy a euro millions rollover ticket next week, win it and then head off round the world in a very big boat.
It really is up to me, its about trying to predict the future, I will live or die by my own decisions and I have no-one to blame but myself. Perhaps thats the key, thats the reason why Im still up writing a blog at 12am, or maybe Im just nuts.
Either way its going to be interesting…
…and isnt that what its all about.
more County Antrim stock photos here
more Belfast stock photos here
more daily life stock photos here
more Ireland stock photos here
…Belfast is a bit of a shithole….
…or is it?
I was listening to the radio the other day when they were discussing the British Governments plan to boost tourism to the UK. The presenter was from Belfast and he said that we have lovely countryside, areas of outstanding natural beauty, areas of special scientific interest and you are positively falling over ancient and modern heritage. Yet the tourists want to see the areas of the troubles, where so and so was shot, which areas were blown up etc etc.
To emphasise the point I have an image published in the current edition of the Sunday Times travel magazine special on Ireland. Is it a photo of the sun rising over Belfast, No. Is it a photo of the sun setting on the Giants causeway, No. Is it the food, the people, any number of ancient monuments, castles, valleys, countryside… No. Its a photo of a loyalist wall mural.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board and associated city organisations spend a fortune promoting ‘Luxury Belfast’ or come and get engaged in Northern Ireland. Im from here and I didnt get engaged in Northern Ireland. All this is dreamed up by marketing gurus and people getting ‘on message.’ Im sure there are focus groups and people just wanting junkets in the luxury hotels around Belfast. They spend a fortune producing glitzy ads try to attract different demographics whilst ignoring the vast majority of things going on here and what the local people are actually trying to promote.
Im all for marketing and having a message, I preach it to clients often enough but somewhere when promoting tourism you should have people who have actually travelled, and not just a fortnight in Ibiza, Blackpool or Portrush.
Ive travelled on all 5 continents, Ive flown from bucket seat 3rd World airlines where landing was usually considered optional to First Class inter continental British Airways. Ive stayed in all ranges from the ‘Places to stay – top end’ to campsites and youth hostels with fresh blood on the walls. Ive sat on dirty ground eating food from street vendors to silver service personal waiter service in what looked liked a remnant of old collonialism (with the price to match). Ive enjoyed watching puppet street theatre in Prague to candlelit opera in the Tsars summer palace in Moscow.
All a slightly exaggerated way of saying, Ive got about a bit.
In every single place, in every single language, every single person has asked me about ‘the war’.
Thats what Belfast is known for. Whether we like it or not, thats what we should be selling. You cant go to Berlin and not go to the Wall, you cant go to Cyprus and not overlook no mans land, Krakow and not go to Auschwitz. Maybe its because Im from here but I go to every conflict area and hole in the hedge when travelling.
It pishes down here most of the time so I do feel like I should be prosecuted under the trades description act for some of my photos so sell people what they are going to get.
As for the luxury end of the market, I dont know who does their research but when Ive booked luxury Ive done it from home, Ive been picked up at the airport, looked after until Ive went home. Not once have I went from my youth hostel or campsite and picked up a luxury brochure by accident when looking for my best fry in Belfast deal and decided to go to the Merchant or Four Square on the strength of it. Madness.
Last week I went for a walk along the Lagan at night to do some photos, it was a poor night photographically and in the 2 hours I was out I spotted 4 lost looking tourists, wandering around looking, well lost. Any other city in the world with a riverside similar to ours would have a bit of life, street entertainment, stalls, people walking up and down and you could get a fecking cup of coffee after 9pm!
Maybe thats all the tourists we have on a wet thursday night in August in Belfast, maybe they are all at the Giants Causeway, lapping up the Luxury hotels, popping the question down in Fermanagh or helping the locals beat the living shit out of each other in Ardoyne. Maybe they dont want to walk along a still river at night, soak up the maritime heritage, buy a cuppa and a a bit of tat that will sit on the foreign equivalent of a fireplace for years to say ‘Ive been to Belfast’.
I once drove 17 hours straight to get a signed piece of paper to say Id crossed the arctic circle. I was in Bergen with a few mates and it rains there 360 days a year (bit like here) so after 3 days of rain we hired a car and drove north at speed. Thats what tourists do.
Sell them the war tours, sell them the murals, its what we have thats unique in the world. When we have them here sell them Belfast waterfront, Bangor, Newry, Armagh, Derry, Omagh, Fermanagh. Give them the option of going on a tour to the ancient monuments, christian heritage, world heritage sites, inland waterways, surfing holidays, walking holidays, boating holidays, whiskey and drink tours, etc etc, you might even sell the odd engagement ring or persuade people to upgrade hotel for one night. Who knows they may even come back after we have sold them a poncho with the giants causeway on the back of it.
As for the waterfront, well there is a recession on but when the titanic quarter is built, and it is already showing signs of life with luxury car makers moving in, then it will be a thoroughfare and with people will come the need for stalls, street entertainment, nightlife etc.
Possibly one of the worlds future ‘best kept secrets’…
Until then, keep selling the troubles, whilst people here still remember what it was.
more Belfast photos here
more Ireland photos here
…well lough really.
As Ive mentioned before Ive recently bought a boat. Ive always wanted a boat, primarily to go sea fishing in so this year I got the opportunity and went for it. The boat itself is almost as old as me but with a bit of elbow grease, some rewiring and tinkering about with the engine Ive a quite usable speedboat….
…well if it didnt bloody rain all the time I might have, so next week its going in to get a custom all over cover fitted. Maybe then I’ll get to take it out more than 4 times in 6 weeks.
The last good opportunity to take the boat out was on the 12th July when my fellow countrymen made a liar out of me with my last posts. Good to see that recreational rioting is getting full media recognition and maybe it will be Northern Irelands gold medal sport in the 2012 olympics.
Having bought the boat and spent a couple of weeks redoing wiring, replacing all the safety gear, polishing and cleaning the boat up Ive been taking a pragmatic approach to taking the boat out on the water. My nephews enthusiasm to see its maiden voyage cross one of the most dangerous stretches of water on this island to Rathlin Island has had to be tempered though. A couple of hours out on Lough Neagh will suffice. Having said that though the first day I took it out I did enough miles to go to Scotland and back and realised that Lough Neagh is more like an inland sea than a peaceful lough. Its the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles and that doesnt say much when you are reading it but out in the middle when the wind picks up you realise what that actually means.
The Lough was said to be formed when Irish Giant Finn McCool took a dislike to his Scottish Giant neighbour and scooped out a large load of soil and stones and threw it at the theiving git as he made off home. Finn missed by a large margin and the large lump of soil landed in the Irish sea and became the Isle of Man. Always a better story than the actual geological history of the lough.
Its hard to get tourist information about the lough itself and Ive recently found out that is because it is owned by the Shaftesbury family. Apparently back in the dim and distant past some English King gave it to another English lord and it has been passed down through their family. Most of the people here thought it was owned by the State including northern Ireland water who take about 40% of the countries freshwater supply from the lough and thats thrown a spanner in the works for privatisation. Hence all the islands are private as Shaftesbury estates own the lake bed and some of the surrounds. One of the islands, Coney Island was purchased and then donated to the National Trust and now Craigavon Council.
So you can get loads of information on the bike circuit of the lough, the canoe trail but very little else about the inside of the lough.
The Lough itself has a lot of interesting features including Coney Island and Rams island with its round tower. Theres also an old World War 2 torpedo testing station which is now crumbling and a nature reserve full of nesting terns and other birds. Seemed a reasonable enough place to test torpedos from the nearby factory in antrim. Just load them up and let them fly across the lough!
Theres a couple of marinas as well, mainly Ballyronan and Kinnego marina and the Shaftesbury connection is probably the reason why a body of water that large is so under utilised compared to other lakes in other countries, certainly the Fermanagh Lakelands have more tourist facilities and information in a much smaller area.
More photo trips will follow now that Ive started to get the handle on this powerboating lark and will start to risk more than a floating compact in an underwater housing
I have to say though that although the idea for the boat was to go sea fishing and to give different photographic perspectives to local landmarks from the sea/water, the idea of just going out into the lough and sitting when the sun shines is definitely appealing.
more Belfast photos here
more Ireland photos here
more transport photos here
more Lough Neagh related photos here
…Orange? Red, Blue and Yellow?
Who knows Ive always liked Dutch football and to be honest the Spanish tippy tappy football is ok to watch but boring 1-0s doesnt make great World Cup football.
Still, fair play to both teams, both massive underachievers in the past and generally teams who implode due to various factions in their squads long before the final stages. Both camps in the past have been rife with national tensions (spain and catalonia, holland and their players from colonial backgrounds) which leads nicely into Northern Ireland in July.
The 12th of July is known as Orangemans Day. There are very few more divisive days in the Northern Ireland calendar than 12th of July.
For some its a day when they have the opportunity to put on show their religious and political history and affiliations, for others is a mass display of triumphalism. For some its a colourful religious ceremony, for others its just a lot of drunks getting drenched/sunburnt (usually both).
In most other areas of the world any historical parades or festivals are scenes of celebrations and huge draws for tourists. You might not know the significance or indeed what goes on but everyone is heading into town for a party so you go along.
Its probably too early in our movement away from recent history for this to be the case here at home. Despite the local tourist board trying to fund the events and rebrand them ‘Orangefest’. It still doesnt stop the majority of the minority population getting on boats, planes or getting in the car and not stopping until they are 10 feet across the border.
And thats a great shame.
Along with St Patricks Day its one of the unique bank holidays we have here and everyone knows how much we like a holiday (and a chance to get a drink). I think the Orangefest is still on the right lines and hopefully for future generations and future tourists it will become a festival and with time the riots/disturbances/sectarianism will all be lost in time and people will just go and watch old men wearing bowler hats and as much orange as you would normally see at a Dutch international match.
Ive photographed both sides of the events, you have to in this country.
To give a simplistic explanation Orangemans day celebrates the Orange Order which was an organisation formed after the Battle of the Diamond in 1795 in or near Dan Winters home in Loughgall. The Orange side came from Dutch King William of Orange after his defeat of the mainly Catholic armies of King James in Ireland primarily at the Battle of the Boyne. A battle commemorated today between a half French, half english catholic king (James) and a half dutch quarter english quarter french king (William) which had very little bearing on this island except for the fact the main decisive battles were here. The fact that William was also James’ nephew and son-in-law just adds creedence to idea that we shouldnt really get involved in domestic squabbles. Families eh?
The Orange Order is often portrayed as an anti-catholic organisation. Perhaps that might be a bit strong or maybe its not but you cannot be a member if you are Catholic and in the past the order has expelled members from attending Catholic church ceremonies such as weddings and funerals and the like. Which certainly hasnt helped Northern Irelands fractuous sectarian relationships.
Its close association with the previous one party state government in Northern Ireland led it to be seen as part of the state.
So until recently we have the diametrically opposed views of ‘walking the queens highway’ and a ‘show of triumphalism’. This has often been exacerbated by demographic changes where ‘traditional routes’ used for years by Orangemen during their annual parades are now along main thoroughfares through majority Catholic areas. The new politics here in Northern Ireland means that protests against this are now allowed by the state and so people do protest, the most noticeable being the Drumcree dispute which is still not solved and used to bring the country to a standstill, usually in flames and caused a boon for the car park at Dublin airport who regularly overspilled by a factor of almost 10 into nearby areas to accommodate the Northern refugees flying off to the sun.
The 11th night is one communities ‘bonfire night’ with wood being collected and stacked very high for months. In recent years the size of these bonfires have been curbed and the burning of rubbish, tyres and other things that produce toxic chemicals has been banned. In a lot of cases there are now street parties and its more of a family event. The irish tricolour is still burned at the top though, I doubt that will ever change. Oh and for balance the catholic bonfire night is the 9th of August to celebrate the introduction of Internment without trial. One side celebrates the family squabbles between the dutch/french/english and the other side celebrates a night of getting banged up in jail for months on end without trial. Come on guys!
Things have noticeable calmed in recent years but there are still a few flashpoints, but mainly well away from the city centre and in outlying areas of the city or other areas. Disputes that will only be solved by talking and by time.
Drumcree Church and the Garvaghy Road.
Part of the problem is the language used (as ever). The parades arent parades, they are demonstrations. That is a negative word. Its like when a good photographer friend of mine asked why we native English speakers say ‘take pictures’ instead of ‘make pictures’. He said as a non-native speaker the act of making pictures was better as take implied something negative. He has a very good point. The issue should be what we can do to make the parades more accessible to most and yet allow those who dont want to attend to go about their daily business. I remember as a kid being ‘sealed in’ by the Army on the 12th. Early in the am the army would set up cordons around our area and put up big screens, imprisoning us for the day. It will be a number of years yet before people my generation stop thinking like that, but it will come.
At some point maybe it will be a festival and before I sat down to write this I was going to extol the virtues of the opportunity we have for exploiting the tourism aspect…
…that was until I saw the weather and Monday (the twelfth) is the only good weather day to get my boat out and Ive no chance as most of the areas within driving (towing) distance all have parades and have traffic disruption. Thats the worst thing, the place just closes down, and that definitely has to change.
So come on the Orangemen (in the World Cup final of course).
Orangemans day photos here
more Belfast photos here
more Ireland photos here
I havent been fishing in years… Or should I say hadnt.
Back in my late teens/early twenties I used to go fishing quite a lot. It started when a schoolmate’s dad took us up to the Toome canal for a days coarse fishing and I was hooked (sorry I just had to get that in somewhere). I then got myself and my wee brother a fishing license for trout fishing and we used to get the bus up to Stoneyford reservoir and fish there for trout. Well fishing is stretching it a bit, we used to sit by the side of the reservoir and either get sunburnt or get wet waiting for the one bus home. I can only remember fish putting in an appearance once and lets just say it wouldnt have fed a family of one, never mind 5 and a dog.
When I turned 18 I needed an adult fishing license so started going sea fishing instead (which was free) and Ive sort of been at that ever since (well maybe with an almost 20 year break).
Last week I took it upon myself to take a day off (sort of) and get the fishing rods and equipment out of the loft, clean them up and go fishing. I always look after my stuff so most of the equipment was still in as good a condition as the last time I packed it away so other than some bait and a new small tackle box I was ready to go.
One of my favourite fishing spots was on the rocks at Limerick Point in Cushendall. Having travelled the world I still have to say that you will struggle to find a more beautiful spot on this earth than the north east antrim coast when the sun is shining. And today the sun was shining.
Once again I spent a lot of time drowning ragworms and scaring the life out of seaweed but with the sun shining and the small waves lapping over the rocks there really was a ‘this is the best place in the world to be right now’ moment. Yes I had to stand on the end of the pier as my gammy leg wasnt up to crawling across the rocks or it was but I know it wouldnt be coming back in the dark and despite the possibility of dying a cold lonely death on the rocks in one of my favourite places in the world, the fear of not dying and having to be rescued by lifeboat and maybe ending up on the news on a slow news day was definitely a fate worse than death.
A lot of things have changed in the 20 years I was a regular here. There are more people walking past, more houses, more lights on the horizon. Alongside the smell of seaweed, that ozoney smell of the ocean there was always the smell of the turf fires drifting down over the rocks when the wind changed to offshore. Now most houses have oil fired central heating yet one or two still lit up their fires and wafted their smell my way. I was also a regular here during the troubles which always meant packing and unpacking the car at least 4 times (leaving home, police/army checkpoint on the way up, at the spot, checkpoint on the way home, arriving home), now not so much. I used to dig my own bait, back in the days when I was young, fit, healthy and skint. Now Im neither young nor fit nor healthy and at 9 quid for a 4-5 hours worth of ragworm, I might be skint again sooner than expected.
Id forgotten so many things, was fishing better at low tide, high tide or on the flood? It didnt seem to matter I was getting small bites all day so there was still a bit of the old magic there. Lots of small fish that I was giving a good expensive meal to. Id forgotten how to strike a bite, how to wait for the right moment then bang, then reel tomorrows supper in. At this point in time tomorrows supper was going to be kelp and partial ragworm.
Technology has moved on although my 20 year old equipment was working well (I shall refrain from making comments about my 40 year old tackle working well too – that would be just wrong). But 20 years ago I wouldnt have understood facebook, never mind provide status updates from the rocks. Last time I was here it was pre mobile phone (well for me anyway). I lit up my chinese anchor lamp. Id always wanted a proper tilley lamp which was belfast made, ever since I was in the cubs back in the mid to late 70s and our scout group had one. So on to ebay and I purchased one – sad I know. Nostalgia can be expensive with a smart phone with ebay and paypal bookmarked.
My anchor lamp was a source of pride, cheap chinese copy of things back in the day without ebay where cheap chinese tat can be bought in every supermarket. I had a nasty introduction to paraffin hurricane pressure lamps when I put my hand on the top of it and leaned down to make it steady for pumping. I swear the anchor trademark was burned into my palm for years. I could have just cried but had enough wit not to stick my hand in seawater but used one of natures own antiseptics…. turning the situation around the top of the lamp turned out to be a great place to heat sausage rolls, 5 years later I heard someone had developed an attachment to heat sausage rolls and cook bacon. Another fortune lost as I sat down to a cappuccino from a packet. 20 years ago if you wanted variety in coffee you could choose from Nescafe or Mellow Birds. Now heres me complaining about the quality of the cappuccino in a packet. Pass the prawn sandwiches.
At the time of all my fishing travels I was an engineering student so used off bits of material to make things for fishing. Buying the latest magazine 20 years on I see the idea of cutting diamonds of aluminium sheet and attaching them to weights to avoid snagging is now under patent, as is the wee strap to stop your line flying off, as is the…. well you get the message. Another fortune lost.
20 years on my new tackle box has a wee light in the lid. Now thats clever. Why didnt I think of that too?
I had bought a couple of the snap break chemical lights for my rod tips to see them in the dark basically because I’d left the load of them I have at home. The new ones were smaller and as I was running out of bait I stuck one on the hook, I was still getting bites. You know someone should adapt that idea and patent it….
I met two “young lads” fishing on the spot where I used to be one of the two “young lads”. Circle of life and all that. I remember the old guys who fished would talk to my dad. My dad never fished, he just liked the peace and quiet and to watch his sons getting on with it. I often wondered how he chatted to the other old fishing guys but I guess I know now, he probably just talked about football, dog and horse racing and other such things.
I used to go fishing with various male friends. You would grunt to each other when you met up, discussed a bit about football, bait, tactics, women then sat for 4 hours in complete silence and not once did the thought cross your mind that the other person had fallen out with you. I made the mistake of going fishing with a couple of different girlfriends once. Not at the same time I hasten to add but that would have been funny, probably ending in my drowning, either forced or deliberate. More than 90 seconds of silence was usually ended with the words ‘what are you thinking’, to which the correct answer never was ‘my boots must be leaking as my toes are cold’. ‘that bait might need changed’, ‘could I win if I fought a shark’ or finally ‘if you ask me that one more time you are going to need a lifejacket’.
20 years on and although much has changed, much has stayed the same. Its still the same man pitting wits against fish and losing. Although I have to say if it wasnt for the invention of camera phone techology I’d have no proof of my days catch, one single dogfish, and have to go on about the one that got away (fish, probably a conger bit clean through my line).
(excuse the crappy phone cam photo)
Ive missed fishing, Ive spent far too much time away from the peace, the quiet, the contemplative time and just sitting there smelling the sea and turf, listening to the waves lap in and just being at one with the world.
It wont be 20 years until the next time.
more fishing and angling photos here
..is a UK general election on May 6th.
Northern Ireland is in a unique position in the UK in that we still vote for MPs at Westminster but we cant vote for the three major parties that usually make up UK governments and official opposition. No we have our own groups of vagabonds and thieves to vote for.
Northern Ireland politics is still very much on tribal lines, you have the green shades (not the eco parties) and the orange shades and the various other small parties fighting out the middle ground.
When I was younger I lived in West Belfast which since I can remember has always been green, I bought my house outside Belfast and moved to the most Orange constituency in Northern Ireland. Go figure.
One of these days tribal politics will decrease here and people will be voting on real issues such as the environment minister deciding not to put a temporary bridge linking a thousand or so homes with the rest of the village for a year whilst the motorway was being widened. It would have cost too much apparently but they didnt think of the 1000 or so people who had a half hour each way extra travelling to do for a full year and the number of small businesses that exist on call in or drop past business that virtually disappeared overnight. Remember that at election time guys.
There have been recent boundary changes so now Im in a knife edge constituency where some of the parties have been canvassing since the start of the year. Both main protagonists wanting to get hold of all the new blood in advance.
Northern Ireland has tradionally the highest turnouts for any poll in the UK. I didnt vote once. It was for a european election where the three main incumbents were going to be returned anyway. I think the turnout was low for NI at 60%. When I told my parents I hadnt voted they almost went postal on me. I got the whole ‘people died to get you that vote’ and although thats bandied about quite a lot, here in Northern Ireland it was certainly true within the last generation. When I was born 40 years ago neither of my parents had a vote. Northern Ireland was still a corrupt one party state where election boundaries were redrawn regularly to ensure that one party stayed in power and where business owners (usually one side of the community) could vote on behalf of all their workers ratepayers had the vote rather than tenants. This wasnt just a sectarian thing, it was as much to stop working class protestants from getting a vote as catholics but in the main the Civil Rights Association represented Catholic/Nationalist concerns. Reforms came in in 1972 with direct government rule from Westminster.
Ive voted in every election no matter how small ever since and I encourage everyone to do the same. People complain about their governments and elected representatives and although the conspiracy theorists may have a point about no matter who we elect the result will be the same, unless we get off our arses and vote or protest vote then we may as well talk to the walls.
As a press photographer in Northern Ireland, election time regardless of local council, local assembly, westminster or european is a busy time. Its an endless round of press calls and press conferences, of attending every one under the sun to give balance and meeting lots of politicians and wannabe politicians you thought had died since you hadnt seen them since the last election. People seem to crawl out of the wordwork only to disappear, even if they had been elected. Here in Northern Ireland we have the triple jobbers, those who are an MP and an MLA in the local assembly and who are also local councillors.
Now to be fair the Northern Ireland Assembly has been doing very little as they ignore the water charges, increases in rates, ruining of the economy, strikes, oversupply of empty housing developments, failure to tackle any real eco policies all because they didnt want the other side to control policing. Lets be honest about it, policing would get done regardless of who is in charge. Even if Sinn Fein got policing the first day the minister responsible walked into their new office and got a whole pile of ‘oh shit’ paperwork piled on their desk or email inbox any of the previous arguments would go out the window. Maybe that job sacking council refuse workers wasnt so bad after all.
Yes lads and lasses, welcome to the real world. Its amazing how quickly the fact that we arent concentrating on fighting each other that real politics takes over. The backhanders for land deals, the having affairs with lads young enough to be your son, the dodge land deals and going off to the carribean to see how they deal with wheelie bins rather than going to Dublin or Sheffield all comes to light. To be fair on the Carribean thing, which one of us wouldnt have done it. Its like the expenses scandals, ok I dont have a moat and Id like to think I’d be squeeky clean but if I had a majority of 60k I might just forget my working class routes and socialist ethos and sell myself a plot of land for a tenner, get it through planning permission and build a moat that pirates of the caribbean could be filmed in, plus go to the Caribbean to see if they would film it on the edges of Lough Neagh.
So which bunch of lying, thieving, inconsiderate, money grabbing, self indulgent morons will we vote in next….
Over the last couple of weeks there has been a concerted effort from photographers across the board in the UK to object to the Prince of Darkness (the unelected lord voldemort, sorry mandelson) Digital Economy Bill. A poorly thought out, rushed bill which is supposed to address some of the piracy issues blighting the film and music industry. What this bill proposed amongst other things was to set up a register for photographs which were ‘orphans’ i.e. photographs where the owner could not be traced where after a search was performed, the government would license you this image at ‘market rate’ and then if the photographer was ever revealed (or they found out) they would pass a section of this license fee on. Now this all sounds great but how was the search to be performed was a google search enough, would we have to register every image weve ever taken with a new agency which I assume would charge a fee. What is market rate? Is it microstock rates or what I would charge and how can they license my copyright? In addition to breaching the berne copyright convention this had massive ramifications for overseas photographers who could find their images being licensed legitimately by the British Government. It would have virtually killed the stock photography market overnight (ok maybe not overnight) but it meant you couldnt supply a client with an image without plastering it with watermarks (as on this site). Even then you arent assured that they wont be cut out. Its already a crime to strip out the embedded information in an image for your own commercial gain
, something which a couple of companies have found out to their cost when they thought they were getting ‘free’ images from the internet or stealing them off my clients sites.
A herculean effort was put in by members of the Editorial Photographers in the UK (EPUK)
who set up the stop43
website. MPs were lobbied, met, facebooked, tweeted, called and snail mailed. The Lords were contacted for the first readings and every step of the way, press photographers did what they do best, use their contacts and made things simple for MPs. Examples of what could happen were mocked up and put on the stop43 website
and they were even quoted during the parliamentary debates. With the help of the opposition parties the government finally admitted they werent going to get the bill through and to placate the music and film industry lobbyists they dropped the photography clause and got the bill passed.
During this I actually did some research on my local MP, I just thought he was one of the ones who disappeared between elections. Hes a triple jobber and I dont like his politics and I’ve never voted for him. My research showed he was above average for attendance, above average for speeches and amendments and on all the measure available for MPs he was above average. Hes even sorted out his expenses claims. Overall he appears to be a very good MP and I’ve changed my view on him, even with tribal party politics involved Id say that I could do worse than to re-elect him. I cant say the same about the incumbent MP (from the same party) in the new constituency as hes below average and probably spent too much time chasing the leadership of his party. He may be a good MLA or he may be a good belfast city councillor but hes not a good MP.
I also watched the BBC Parliament channel for the first time ever, watching the readings of the bill. A year or so ago I had a market research person at the house going through TV viewing habits and she asked me if I’d ever watched that channel. I said no and she laughed and said no-one she had ever spoken to had. Well come round next time and I’ll be the first.
As with Dance Photography
Music photography is another passion of mine.
Its very similar to dance photographically technically, you have a few people on a stage moving at times quite quickly under mixed lighting with no scope to say ‘here hold on a minute, can you go back a sec and repeat those lines’.
With larger bands/acts you tend to get better lighting but not always the case and in recent years the move towards led lighting which seems to be just above candle power in output has meant that gig and band photography remains technically challenging. Saying that of course the latest range of digital cameras almost turn nighttime into day and if they have a live view mode you could almost use them as night vision cameras. It makes sure that any student with a half decent camera and half decent lens will get a useable concert photo. Saying that at todays current prices for gig photos, even students with high street off the shelf equipment would still find the prices too low.
So you have two options, get smarter and shoot better pics, or give up. Well I have sort of done both. The market isnt enough now to sustain top of the range kit, ability to wire in onsite within seconds etc etc. Occasionally you do get ‘big’ events (Id the first UK pictures of the Arctic Monkeys after they hit it big and Id shots of Boyzones first night comeback) but in general theres someone beside you who will be happy to see their name in print and a willingness with most mags to be happy to accept a straight up and down shot because they dont have to pay a penny (or very little in subscription).
It means that the majority of shots arent by specialists any more and those that do submit have little or no imagination compared to those shooting every day. It was always going to be a hard sell anyway in Ireland because you can spend your life shooting every upcoming band for none of them to ever make it or get that middle of the tour shots, which unless stand way out from the crowd wont be much different from the 20 photographers in 10 countries before you.
Thats not to say there isnt merit in it or indeed money to be made but promoters dont really want photographers to cherry pick who they will shoot and theres always some give and take to help promote new acts in return for inclusion on the wish list for lady gaga or whoever is hot at the minute.
Add into that the current recession in the UK and theres less gigs about, people cant afford the 50-70 quid for a concert ticket that they used to spend only 2 years ago maybe once a month or in concert season, once a week.
People also have this glamourous idea that gig and concert photography is one of the best jobs in the world. Well the realities are somewhat different. The three songs and you are out rule applies. In some cases you dont get three songs, you might get 2 or one. One group came out recently to a video as their first song. So that leaves about 6 minutes to get the banker shots and try to get a good folio of shots that will spread across a range of publications. Quite tight going. Then after that theres the mad dash to get 3G or wifi connection to get your edits into the agency before everyone else does. Thats a lot of adrenaline and quite often it can be totally exhausting.
Try shooting a festival where its shoot, edit, wire, shoot, edit, wire, etc etc for maybe 6 or 8 hours. Add that over 2 days and just give me a sleeping bag in the corner.
Having said that some of my most loved shots come from this type of environment. Often you are in a pit of 4 maybe up to 10 or 20 photographers and in order to eat the following month you have to make sure every single shot counts. Trying to get interesting angles, tell the story, show the emotion and tie the images together really gets the cold sweat down your back going. I remember one act who I wont name was slightly under the weather coming out on stage and out of 400 shots of one band member I got 2 with their eyes open, and thats with them using a prop to keep them vertical during the show.
Another one I distinctly remember was lit by one single red spotlight, which by itself was enough to give a half decent exposure. Thats assuming they werent swaying backwards out of the light most of the time. Looking at the photos it reminded me of those old kids tv programmes where the clown with the big shoes was nailed to the floor and swayed backwards and forwards because of it.
With some groups they seem to go out of their way to make things difficult for you. One group who are notorious with photographers deliberately keep most of the stage lights off for the first three songs and once the lead singer said to us ‘right thats the freeloaders gone, we can get on with the show’. Charming. Hope you dont do anything stupid in your private life in the future… Another keeps the photographers at a huge distance away, takes your kit bags off you and has one security person for each photographer who ‘escort’ you ‘quickly’ out of the arena…. yes…. Particularly galling as you sit on the cold stone ground wiring pics in to see people with cellphones and compact cameras in the crowd uploading to flickr with impunity. Again the old maxim of being nice to people on your way up as you may need them on your way down.
I’ll not even give credence to the travelling pr company who thought it would be a good idea to put us in the crowd with all our equipment at a rappers concert. I have to say Ive never laughed as much as at the skinny white boys from belfast with their calvin kleins falling down round their arses getting down with the boyz in the hood. No seriously lads, take a long hard look at yourselves.
Then theres the concerts where you pray that the golden liquid flying towards you from the crowd is cheap lager beer and not the end product of an afternoon spent drinking that beer. Newcomers often ask why some of us at festivals shoot with our hoods up on sunny days.
Compare that with the hard working PR companies who get you spots in the press room, sort out wifi, keep you fed and watered and see if theres anything you need. Ive even had Louis Walsh sitting over my shoulder helping with photo selection. Normally something you try to avoid when you are sitting wiring away and someone over your shoulder is saying ‘oh thats a nice pic’, ‘ I like that’, ‘lovely’. I was just about to turn round and tell them to foxtrot oscar when I saw it was Louis so told him to pull up a chair.
As you can probably tell I wouldnt classify the most of it as fun so when a friend of mine Stephen Maguire
mentioned to me that he was doing a gig in Belfast in support of Nanci Griffith I jumped at the chance to photograph it. I’ve known Stephen for a number of years now and we have become friends. Ive done a lot of static work with him for posters, album covers general PR, headshots etc but as most of his concert touring is in Canada I rarely get the chance to see him live never mind photograph him. In fact I’d never seen him live and was worried that I’d be too busy looking through the lens that I wouldnt even hear the gig. Its one thing that people ask after a gig, ‘what did they play’. ‘I dunno’ is invariably the answer as you are too busy concentrating on the job in hand then you are out.
Stephen was playing in quite an unusual and intimate venue, the May Street Church
. I’d photographed it a few years earlier for the local press as it was rumoured it was closing due to dwindling attendances due to population movement out of the city centre. Its trying to regenerate as a venue and coffee shop downstairs as well as the church. Stephen was supporting Nanci Griffith as part of the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival
I have to say Ive never been as nervous photographing a gig in my life. Id never done it for a friend before and chatting over a coffee minutes before the gig I dont know who was talking the bigger pile of shite, me or Stephen. I stuck to my 3 songs rule and then slid up the aisle into the gloom to enjoy the rest of the show. I know Im biased but you know the way it is with friends, you will give support regardless of how you think they did. Well I thought Stephen was superb, great audience interaction and a great buzz during the set. I hate the phrase but its probably the one time you will hear me say it, Stephen, you rocked! (invoice is in the post).
I’ll let the photos tell the next 1000 words but dont forget to check out Stephens website and Irish Soul 2010 tour
Dance photography is one of my real passions in photography.
Im not a dancer, never was, never will be. I got into it by accident, a friend was dancing in a production and asked me to take a few shots, I got chatting to the artistic director and they gave me an opportunity to shoot their production and I’ve been with them 6 years now. Ive expanded to other forms of dance and other companies ranging from 6 year old kids up to people wayy past pension age (which I hope they dont mind me saying).
Theres something about it, its the movement, the flow, the telling of a story with just movement of the body. Its the only part of my job which has actually left me with a tear in my eye.
Its more than just art, to use a well worn quote, its poetry in motion and this production married dance with another art form that I am passionate about, football.
Technically its the most challenging photography I do, often you are shooting in conditions that a bat wouldnt be able to see in. Getting pin sharp images is normally what photography is all about, in this case as with other art forms its not about that, its about capturing the movement, the flow, the idea, the story.
Most press photographers are on a hiding to nothing doing this work, you cant encompass the mood and essence of a show in a 15 minute time slot. I spend time with the choreographer asking questions unrelated to photography or even dance, I watch the rehearsals, watch the pieces and get a feel for each of the dancers strengths. Then its a simple case of just tying them all together, sitting in a dark theatre where I cant see my shoelaces and ‘taking a few snaps’
I try to avoid setups, I see them too often and in most cases they are soulless. No motion, no lead into a piece and no lead out of a piece, just static. I’ve done them for poster and promo work and to be honest Id rather do a themed shot for a promo than mimic a movement from a piece.
For me, real dance photography can be a period of weeks, charting the progress, having it explained to me, having it explained to me again
leading up to the one chance in full dress rehearsals to get the photos that I hope do the piece justice. In many cases its then a quick selection and get the event printer cranked up to put a selection of shots which dont give away any twists and turns up on the entrance foyer walls. For professional productions this is icing on the cake, for productions involving kids who maybe have worked all year for this moment and are now performing in a concert hall they probably couldnt afford to buy the tickets for, its momentous. Many parents see their kids in a different light with those photos and for many its the start of something big, for more than that its the one day in their life they performed on the waterfront hall stage, equally momentous and equally life changing.
Its difficult, very difficult, both technically and for the production companies. Particularly in times of recession, the arts funding gets cut and people see it as an easy cut. In school curriculums theres little slack as it is so lets cut the art/dance/music budget.
I remember very little about passing my O levels, remember very little about my A levels or indeed getting each of my two degrees. I do remember taking part on stage of the rock nativity in the Lyric Theatre with my sister in 1977 when I was 7 and she was 5. In our wee aran jumpers which was our ‘dressed up’ clothes, doing a circle walk with other kids in front of a packed audience of hundreds.
If Id never done anything else remarkable in my life, I’d have done that.
So when I got a chance to do some promo photos for Maiden Voyage’s latest production of ‘Best’
I was all ears. A dance production representing the early days of George Best, up to the time of his testamonial at Windsor Park. I am too young to remember George Best, other than the latter years and the only real interaction was sadly photographing his funeral but I remember my dads face telling me about him and how gutted I was when I went to England for the summer to try and get a summer job before going to uni and missed the testamonial at home.
The middle of November isnt a great time to try and do outdoor football shoots and it was interesting, I went out to source the props and try and find some football gear (black boots, long shorts, plain green or red top) suitable for the promo material. If all else failed we could turn my 1977 replica liverpool football shirt back to front and make a 1977 man united one. I managed to track down some souvenir shirts that had been produced with Best 11 on the back of them in the old Northern Ireland style. I phoned the artistic director and she went down and bought the remainders. All odd sizes and none fitted so the costume designer would have their work cut out for them.
After a lot of kicking balls about an empty playing fields we had a shot and off we went. I disappeared off to Argentina with the return date booked to give me time to see some walkthroughs, rehearsals and then set up for the dress and production.
Im not going to tell the story, in fact its all out there. Theres only one night left and thats in Downpatrick this Friday night. I’ll be there for the closing show, if you google a maiden voyage best and bbc ni you should see the short interview piece with the choreographer Andy
. Why Andy labours on George Best eating muesli is anyones guess but it gives a view on the piece. Media interest has been worldwide with a correspondent from Brazil attending the opening night and a good review in the Irish Times
I think this is a show that could tour and certainly the interest in George Best himself could see the performance being taken to the likes of Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin etc.
So what did I think of it, well normally I dont get to see the pieces, I concentrate on little pieces, the poses and poise of the dancers, where they position themselves on the floor, where Im likely to get the best angles, trying not to end up in a heap on a dark floor or cause any distractions. I remember little snippets, little sections of dance, bits that stand out from a dance, choreographic or photographic point of view. Only when you sit back, put the cameras away and watch the show do you get the whole picture.
I did mention earlier that the show brought a tear to my eye, and it wasnt until they played the George Best interview with Gay Byrne on the late late show towards the end of the piece. (google it).
It goes something along the lines of ‘I hope at the end of the day, all the rubbish they have read about me, the women and the cars and the gambling, the booze, whatever, that thats the one thing they will always remember, they cant take that away from me.’
I came home, made a sandwich, and spent an hour on youtube watching all the tricks, all the dance pieces and choreography of someone with born natural talent, a dancer wearing football boots. And do you know what, they cant take that away from him.
The George Best Foundation website is here. They also have a facebook site.
Maiden Voyage Dance is here.