Swings and roundabouts

Fish farm, Penmon: Purchased by National Library of Wales

Over a period of many years the National Library of Wales bought complete sets of prints from each of my books as it was published, or as they were exhibited. They currently have a total of 371 Cibachromes purchased in this way. This came to a sudden end about ten years ago when they took on a new member of staff whose task it was to raise income from items in its Collection. I’m not sure what her background was but this bright spark decided it would be a good idea to sell copies of photographs bought from photographers or donated by them. She obviously had no idea about copyright. I was asked to sign a statement approving this and I refused. I found it astonishing that an institution whose readers had to sign a “personal use only” statement every time they photocopied a page of one of its books should believe it could appropriate photographers work in this way.  It may have been a coincidence but no more of my work was purchased for the following decade. It was just one of the ways in which my income declined over that time.

I’m glad to say the situation seems to have changed. That particular member of staff has apparently retired and I’m now in the process of selling a set of prints from “Wales at Waters Edge” to the Library. Not the whole lot (there are over a hundred) but a selection of twenty made by their Curator of Photography Will Troughton. He has described me as “Wales’ leading environmental photographer” and goes on to say that “his meticulous work has received extensive praise from many quarters”. For months on end it feels as if one is working in a vacuum, so this came as a very pleasant surprise. Environmental photography might sound a bit of a niche but it does suit my work quite well. I’ll quite happily use a building – a castle, lighthouse or cottage – as an aid to composition in my more commercial landscapes (the postcards, for example). But in my personal work I’m usually careful to use human elements within the landscape only when I’m tring to say something about that landscape.  I’m not always sure what exactly I’m trying to say but photographs do not always provide answers; sometimes they can pose questions. In my case the question is often “What exactly is our place within the landscape?” That is also why I have always been so keen on Fay Godwin’s work. It was very pleasing to see from his choice of prints that Will understands what I am trying to do.

Life is full of ups and downs and I have also suffered a major setback recently – although hopefully only a temporary one. Most of my books have been published by Gomer Press, arguably Wales’ premier publisher. However they are clearly now downgrading their publications department and in an attempt at “restructuring” are replacing the number of posts by 50%. All eight current members of staff were asked to re-apply for the four posts now envisaged. All refused and took redundancy payments. Gomer currently thus has no publications department, and any books “in development” but not contracted have been shelved.  However I am still hoping that either Gomer Press or another publisher will take my new book up before too long. Both Jon Gower (the author) and I are well-known and respected in Wales in our respective fields so they should be leaping at the chance!

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Private garden, Corris
Private garden, Corris

A couple of months ago I was asked to tender for a job photographing views of and from the routes of a number of public footpaths in the Machynlleth area. As part of the Dyfi Biosphere project the paths are being cleared, waymarked, and promoted as circular routes  – with a series of leaflets being produced to assist walkers. The photographs are for the leaflets.

My first problem was that the client required “joint copyright” with me. I had an idea this was meaningless, and on investigation it turned out that joint copyright can only exist if there are joint creators. Both creators would be required to give permission for the use of an “artwork” outside any original agreement. So this was clearly not the case. After a series of phone calls and emails it became clear that the client required use of the images on a long-term basis within the organisation, and no more. So they didn’t need copyright at all! Just a licence to use the images as and when required.

Then pricing. I had a fairly good idea who the other photographers might be so I knew that I would have to price myself low to counter their bids. I imagined I could walk each path once and take photographs on the walk. Add on travel expenses, a nominal amount for subsistence and Bob’s your uncle!

I got the job.  I started work on the first day of the hot spell which lasted for three weeks in July. It immediately became apparent that  cloudless skies were quite unsuited to landscape photography, but I knew that anyway.  More to the point, there was no way that I could produce decent work on one walk around the route. The first visit would only serve as a recce for a later visit (or visits) once I knew where the views were and what time of day would give best results. It was a silly and foolish mistake to make, and I’m surely regretting it now. My best estimate is that the job will probably take twice as long as I had allowed for, and the travelling expenses will probably be double too.

Day rates had, I believed, plummeted in recent years along with all other sources of income for photographers. The price I quoted was less than that I charged about fifteen years ago when I did a lot of work for the Wales Tourist Board. It did not take into account the half a lifetime of experience I now have in landscape photography, and the quality of the images that I produce. But I believed that I would need to price myself low to get the work. The particularly frustrating thing is that no-one else had actually tendered. I was competing only against myself.

Well, such is life. There have been a few decent half-days since the end of July so I’m making some slow progress. Several of the routes are in the Corris area which, given its long history of slate mining, is a fascinating place to take photographs. Undoubtedly the most extraordinary place I have found is a private garden clinging to hillside which is crammed with scale models of Italian palaces, cathedrals and monuments. Not at all what one expects to find in a damp and claustrophobic Welsh mountain village!



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