Not soon coming to a bookshop near you……….

Not soon coming to a bookshop near you……avocets at Goldcliffe, Gwent

Earlier this year I wrote about a number of disappointments I had had as a photographer during the previous twelve months (see this post). At the time I wasn’t sure if I should be blogging about my failures but they are part and parcel of the life of the freelance and it felt like a reasonable response. Unfortunately there is more disappointment to recount.

Following the sudden rejection of In Search of Wild Wales by the publisher in January, Jon Gower and I discussed finding another outlet for it. After a while he suggested a little known specialist publisher from south Wales, who had put together a very high quality book on the Welsh artist John Selway.  Jon had provided the text. They were keen to go ahead with In Search of Wild Wales. Things were looking up! Jon sent the final version of his text through to me in the middle of October and I read it avidly. Most (about two-thirds) was intelligent, invigorating writing. He had written a beautiful essay – at my request – about avocets, to accompany the above photograph. But the remainder ………. hmmm…….. it just seemed rather flat, somehow, as if someone else had written it.

I think I had better just say at this point that several chapters of the book needed re-writing.  At first he agreed to do it over the winter, but then there was a second email. He had changed his mind overnight and despite profuse apologies, was now withdrawing from the project altogether. “Your very fine images”  he said, “should not be coupled to shoddy, lazy writing”.

Strangely enough I don’t feel angry. I just can’t get my head around it. I still wake up and think “Did that really happen?”

So that’s five publishers and three authors I’ve exhausted trying to get this book off the ground.  A very good friend assured me that I was good enough to write the text myself, or that he could write it for me, but working with a friend on anything can ruin a good relationship. There comes a time when you have to accept that something is just never going to happen.

As a photographer I believe that a book can be image-led but images do have their limitations, no matter how good they are. I’ve always felt that a good text can take a book way beyond the photographs that accompany it. To that end I’ve worked with different authors on five books but in almost every case it wasn’t the real collaboration that I had been hoping for. Ironically the most satisfying in that sense was Wales at Waters Edge  :  author –  Jon Gower!  With that one exception I’ve had a series of bad experiences with authors over the last decade. In some cases they seem to have such sense of superiority over the photographer that the latter is only worthy of illustrating their magnificent, all-knowing and world-shattering text.

One could argue that I should never have worked on this project without having a contract in place. However, there is no chance that the photographs could have been produced within the time frame of a normal book production schedule. Nature is seasonal for one thing. The photographer has to fit in with its rhythms. If you miss a subject one spring, for example, you just have to wait twelve months for another opportunity. And did I mention that I was a perfectionist?

There is no doubt that this has been the most difficult blog post I have ever written. I would love to recount exactly why Jon withdrew from the project, but I have taken the advice of others not to be too specific. In the meantime, I have dragged myself out of the hole that I found myself in and sent a new proposal to Gomer Press for consideration. If successful, it will use some of the images from the book which has finally now bitten the dust. Other than the publisher, no-one else will be involved.

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More on Wales at Waters Edge…..

Beach detail, Anglesey, from Wales at Waters Edge
Beach detail, Anglesey, from Wales at Waters Edge

Last autumn I was contacted by a writer and photographer called Charles Hawes who was in the process of walking the Wales Coastal Path, and blogging about his experiences. He had seen my most recent book – Wales at Waters Edge – and was planning to review it. Would I allow him to use some of the photographs? Under copyright legislation the use of photographs for review purposes is permissible without the copyright holder’s agreement. However, as the book had been published two and a half years earlier, I did have doubts in my mind about the validity of a review. Did the reviewer really just want some nice photographs free of charge to pad out his blog? I took a look at the blog. He had also reviewed Peter Watson’s photographic book  on the Welsh Coast (published about  a year before my own), and, quite frankly, it is unlikely that Hawes would be on Watson’s Christmas card list!

I had an interesting exchange of emails with Charles Hawes. While I largely shared his opinion of Watson’s book, I felt that it was unusual, to say the least, to put such a critical review into the public domain. I suspected that my own book might come in for similar treatment, and if that might be the case, why should I allow him the benefit of using the photographs? In the end, he suggested a compromise; he would allow me the right to a reply, which he would then publish verbatim on his blog. Having by that time seen a copy of the review, I felt that – on balance – this was a solution I could live with.

I think it would be fair to say that the review was mixed. Walking the entire coastal path, Charles Hawes has probably seen more of the Welsh coastline than I did. But quantity is not necessarily more valid than quality. He has only only visited one Welsh island, Anglesey, which one could argue is hardly an island at all.  As a result, he’s missed out on some of our most special places, many of which I have had the pleasure of visiting.  On some occasions he enjoys the wildlife that he encounters, but in general his attention is far more frequently drawn to the towns, villages and man-made structures he comes across. So there was a very clear disconnect between the two of us in this respect and it is not surprising that we see the coastline so differently. What I don’t accept is his opinion that the photographs almost completely avoided its built-up aspect.

Charles has kindly allowed me to add a link to his blog (below) for those of you who would like to further explore the content of the book, and the interesting difference of opinion that it has spawned. Following on from the review you will find my response, and some further comments from his readers. In particular, close to the end is a post from “John” (December 18th) with a further link to his own review of Wales at Waters Edge, which is rather more favourable than the original!

NB. Both reviewers are critical of the text by Jon Gower, and I would like to make it clear that I don’t agree with them………

Click here for Charles Hawes blog 

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