Friday, 12 June 2020

The Lonka Project

“We were watching TV, December 2018, there was a report on American news channel CNN. They’d done a survey in France and found that around 15% of French people had no idea what the Holocaust was, which was very shocking to both of us. We watched this and thought how can this be? France was occupied by the Nazis for four years during the war and split the country up, so we just started thinking what can we do as photographers to remedy this as a way of Holocaust commemoration and remembrance, to increase awareness in an educational capacity?” explains Jim Hollander speaking on the phone from his home on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Israel. Equally astounding, in a recent report by Claims Conference: ‘While there were over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, almost half of Americans (45 percent) cannot name a single one – and this percentage is even higher amongst Millennials.’

Jim and his wife, Rina Castelnuovo, are both professional photographers. Jim, now 70 has worked for United Press International, European Press Agency and Reuters. Rina has photographed for The New York Times in Israel since the mid-nineties, as well as Time magazine, Stern, and the Associated Press previously. As well as general news, both have covered Holocaust survivors and associated events in Israel. They hit upon the idea of reaching out to the community they knew, at first photojournalists, asking them if they could volunteer to do a portrait of an Holocaust survivor. The response was overwhelming. No direct guidance was given except to avoid a simple headshot. “What struck us is the survivors have a powerful will to live that many people don’t have. They survived such horrendous years of torture and suffering and they’re powered to get on with life and to live and enjoy life - we expressed that to the photographers - we’d like a portrait of their power to live.”

The number of portraits received is heading towards 250, taken by some of the world’s leading photographers including Roger Ballen, Stuart Franklin, Steve McCurry, Gilles Peress, Alec Soth, Peter Turnley, Heidi Levine, Jane Evelyn Atwood, I could go on. The collection is called The Lonka Project, a tribute to Rina's mother, Dr. Eleonora ‘Lonka’ Nass (1926-2018). It’s a compelling testament to the power of living. Attara and Yosef Dekel, photographed in Hadera, Israel, touch hands sat on a bed surrounded by stuffed soft toys. Adam Han-Górski poses wearing sports kit at an outdoor gym in Plymouth, Minnesota, USA. Hungarian Olympic gymnastics champion, Agnes Keleti, stretches on her bed at home in Budapest, Hungary, her legs as wide as her grin. Anne Frank’s stepsister, Eva Schloss, is photographed in London stood by a string of 90th birthday cards. The Lonka Project isn’t trying to photograph Holocaust survivors across the globe but a few key countries remain important and elusive; a survivor can’t be located in Spain, a few survivors live in Portugal but a photographer has not been assigned.

Has Jim a favourite portrait? “There’s one I thought very lovely I would consider for the cover of the book [there are plans for a book, hopefully by the end of 2020, a German publisher Jim met at Paris Photo has expressed an interest]. It’s by Marissa Roth, who photographed Dorothy Bohm in London, the mistress of photojournalism photography in England. Bohm, who is in her late 90s, was friends with Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Magnum crowd in the late 1940s. She was a survivor, her parents were able to get her out of Europe and bring her to London. She became a very well known photographer in the UK.” Bohm was closely involved in founding The Photographers’ Gallery, London and has published over a dozen books. In 2009 she was appointed Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. Her portrait has her stood stoically behind her Rolleiflex camera.

Alongside each portrait is an accompanying story. Some are vague in detail, others are devastatingly poignant. Ralph Hakman photographed by Barbara Davidson: ‘Ralph regularly observed his SS supervisor driving to the crematoria in a Red Cross van, donning a mask and emptying three canisters of Zyklon B crystal pellets into designated ports. Ralph heard the screams of the dying Jews, and then 15 minutes later, when the doors were opened, he saw the bodies tumbling out.’ Miriam Ziegler photographed by Moe Doiron: ‘When Miriam was nine, all prisoners were put on cattle cars and deported to Auschwitz where Miriam was separated from her parents. Her father was killed in the gas chambers. Miriam was tattooed with the number A16891, shaved and was kept in the barracks where experiments were performed on the children. Miriam managed to survive until Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945.’ Film director, Roman Polanski, is casually snapped by Franck Leclerc, a jacket hooked over his shoulder. ‘ Roman’s mother, Bula, expecting a child, was taken from her family and sent to death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.’ The stories are distilled horrors of man.

Many of the portraits show the survivor with their identification tattoo but not every survivor portrait is from the death camps. Photographers can interpret holocaust survivor as they like. The Lonka project includes people who were hidden underground, in forests, homes, monasteries, nunneries, and fled to other countries. Ben Frenecz, photographed by Andy Anderson, is not a Holocaust survivor but he is responsible for hundreds of thousands of survivors. Born in Hungary on March 11, 1920, Frenecz was an investigator of Nazi war crimes after World War II, becoming Chief Prosecutor for the United States at the Einsatzgruppen Trial, one of the twelve military trials held by the U.S. at Nuremberg, Germany. All of the 22 men on trial were convicted: 13 received the death sentence, four were implemented. This wider range of stories increases the educational value of the project.

Photographers contributing to The Lonka Project have clearly been affected as Marty Umans recounts in her experience photographing Samuel Beller, aged 94, at his home in New York: ‘I had a very emotional shoot yesterday. In working through the weeks and process of setting up this portrait session I had not given much thought to what to expect emotionally when talking and spending time with our subject. I have traveled the world and photographed children in Africa for Operation Smile, Ethiopian Jews being resettled in Israel for Hadassah, teens in NYC for Avenues for Justice for over 20 years but never a 94-year-old in Brooklyn who still lives his past like it is today. It was a rewarding two hours spent with an amazing survivor and example of the unsung heroes of the Holocaust. Samuel is open and willing to share his experiences which are horrendous. He lives them every day without the ability to block them out. I did not expect that. It took him decades before he was able to share his experiences but I don’t think it has been a healing, more of a cause, and at 94 he doesn’t have the same energy to share his story. I am grateful for his two hours and cherish my time.’

93 portraits were exhibited in 100ft of space at the United Nations in New York on the 27th January, National Holocaust Day. More exhibitions are scheduled at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre, Moscow, in Berlin, maybe South Africa and other venues around New York. There will be a month long outdoor show in Jerusalem.

Two photojournalists working in stressful circumstances, I had to ask Jim how they have stayed married for 35 years.? “We’re both photographers covering the news, we used to work quite a lot together during the First Intifada (Palestinian protests and violent riots against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza), and some of the wars, the Scud war in the 1990s. Rina works with The New York Times and I work with Reuters and EPA, so we’re both out covering the story of the day. Israel being a very small country, you can be a conflict photographer on the front line all day long, then an hour and a half later your back at home with the kids, you have dinner and forget all about what you saw during the day and you become a family. It’s easy to get back home, so its not like you’re away on assignment for months and months at a time.”

Rina’s polish parents were both survivors. It was something that was never spoken about. They used code words when speaking about it with their survivor friends. They never sat Rina and her sister down and explained what they went through, only opening up a little more when Rina was much older on a trip to Poland, visiting family homes and concentration camps, five of which her mother survived including Auschwitz and Belsen.

On the 20th March, 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even, became the first Israeli to die of coronavirus. The Lonka Project has never been more relevant and urgent.

A version of this article first appeared in the 9 May 2020 Issue of Amateur Photographer magazine

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

The Longest Week

Hello dear reader. I’m writing this during a week when 20,000 troops are on standby to help deal with the coronavirus crisis. Schools have shut down and exams cancelled. Social distancing has been implemented; cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs, gyms and bingo halls ordered to close. Supermarket shelves are being stripped clean. The worst in society are doing bad, the best are stepping up. Lockdown seems imminent. The Queen released a statement reminding us that ‘our nation’s history has been forged by people and communities coming together’ (as long as it’s no closer than two meters). Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ‘absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country.’ The situation is serious, the situation is changing rapidly. It will have changed again by the time you read this.

The photo-industry is being decimated. It will recover but associated businesses and individuals might not. Photography shows, events and exhibitions have closed, cancelled or postponed. Camera manufacturers expect to take a big hit. Work has flatlined. The world has been reset. BC will come to mean something different. I am living my story, you have yours, I hope it’s not too terrifying. I reached out to a few to hear theirs.

“I’ve never know anything like it, the work has just dropped off, it’s like shaking a dead Christmas tree. A month of work gone in four days, upward of 15 jobs. One morning, in the space of 25 minutes, four jobs cancelled,” explains freelance photographer, Matthew Horwood from his home in Cardiff. “I’m just getting used to not having jobs to do, not having to be somewhere at 9 O’Clock - not having any work is really strange.” Matthew was staff photographer at the The Western Mail before being made redundant in 2014 and thrown into the world of PR and event photography. With no PR or event photography to do, he’s being proactive shooting news stock for Getty Images. “It’s a bit bleak to be honest, going out and shooting the same thing over and over again and having the same conversations. I am at least free to do what I want want.” He says with a chink of optimism.“I don’t think every photographer’s going to get through it without doing other jobs. It’s very bleak,” he adds. Does he expect to be able to photograph himself out of adversity? “I don’t know how long it’s going to go on for. Depends whether there’s new opportunities for pictures every day. Every photographer’s going to be doing this, there’s probably more competition than before, people who did PR and news are now just doing news. It does make it difficult.”

Fashion and celebrity photographer Jay McLaughlin has a strategy. “Everything is postponed until further notice. I had enough to pay all my bills. Now it’s like, what can I sell?” What he can sell are his books: Bailey’s Stardust, Vanity Fair 100 Years: From the Jazz Age to Our Age, his Peter Lindbergh and Mario Testino’s. “Do I need books when I have an internet of pictures, sure they’re nice to have but are they necessary?”

©Peter Dench

If Jay, is selling photo books, is anyone buying them? “Sales are going through the floor. In the last five days I haven’t sold a book online. On a normal week, 5 or 6 books a day this time of year,” says Colin Wilkinson, who founded Bluecoat Press in 1992. “2008 was the first shake up of the book publishing industry, the financial crisis along with the growth of the internet meant traditional bookshops and outlets vanished very quickly, publishers had to find new ways of selling and develop an internet presence. The problem now is people have got other priorities. He has one book potentially funded and the book, Juvenile Jazz Bands by Tish Murtha, is funded. “We hit the £10K crowdfunding target in two days, since then, in two weeks around another £1.5K, normally it would be treble. It’s quite obvious people are not spending. If in a years time we’re in a world recession, I would probably think there’s no point in continuing which is a great shame as I have six brilliant projects lined up which I really want to do.” These include books by Jim Mortram, Margaret Mitchell and Carolyn Mendelsohn.

I talk to Carolyn just after she’s rescued her eldest son from the University of Manchester party scene and is understanding about the situation at Bluecoat Press. With her three children safely back home, she’s being creative in the circumstances, making formal portraits of her daughter Poppy on the eve of her fourteenth birthday and snapping her as they walk around Asda supermarket. “My son Sam, who’s 15, is writing a journal and I’m taking simple domestic photographs. We’re going to put them together and make some kind of blog. It’s really for ourselves and I’m sure lots of people will be doing similar things.”  I hope they are and in time, can make a small but significant contribution to this extraordinary chapter of history.

Bluecoat Press

Also this week (it’s been a long week), The Church of England has restricted wedding ceremonies to five people. Does this include a photographer? I ask Lee Glasgow. “I’ve a wedding tomorrow and the registrar has said I’m not allowed in the room, only close family. I’m planning to set the camera up on a tripod and take pictures remotely from the room next door. It’s not ideal but a solution. I’ve advised the couple to hold the kiss for a second longer as the remote app is a lot slower.” Lee photographed over 50 weddings in 2019, 38 are booked for 2020 but is likely to reduce, he has taken £20K of deposits. “In the wedding industry we call them booking fees - apparently, legally, you don’t have to pay booking fees back because you’ve done an amount of work.” He’s not money grabbing, just being sensible. Lee is advising clients to call him for a conversation, keep things verbal, on a case by case basis, see what can be worked out amicably. He’s stepped in and volunteered a few hours of his time to photograph a wedding at short notice. “In wedding world, I think we’re up against it anyway because everyone’s a photographer, do weddings need a photographer, do they see the value a photographer brings? The price of quality cameras is coming down, picture quality of mobile phones is going up so the market has been shrinking for a long long time.” Lee is savvy and established and expects to be in business next year, weddings will still go ahead, just not now. Other photographers may not be so fortunate. “I know a number of photographers that want to work one day a week and left good jobs to become a wedding photographer and now realise the industry might be disappearing, they’re going to be buggered.”

©Peter Dench

It’s not just professional photographers who are in turmoil, amateur photographers and those studying it across the United Kingdom are being affected: projects have been suspended, some have collapsed. Camera clubs, many who have members in the vulnerable category for coronavirus, have temporarily closed. Harrogate Photographic Society cancelled a coach trip to Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. Open Eye won’t miss out out on 40 plus visitors because it closed their doors to protect staff, artists and clients. Likewise The Photographers Gallery London, Side Gallery Newcastle and Anne McNeill, Director and Curator at Impressions Gallery Bradford, made the decision to close the building. “It’s really important to stress how crucial the building is to us, it’s not just four white walls, it’s a community space as well. The reason I do it is for photographers and visitors to experience photography in real life and to have a meeting place, we wouldn’t want to lose that.” Enterprising Anne, gave an impassioned message to her staff as they left to work remotely from home. ““Use this time as thinking time, we might come up with a great new idea, we might not, that doesn’t matter - work out a strategy how we can build up our virtual community and reach out to all photographers, what learning advice we can offer for free, are there any paid opportunities we can do online for photographers. Even when the building opens again, hopefully this new way of working will stay with us.”

©Peter Dench

From the gloom there always springs hope and the photography industry has sprung high. There’s a Photographers Under Quarantine Facebook Group, group video chats, free expert advise across all social media or at a knock down price with the proceeds going to charity. “Every situation is neutral, nothing is good, nothing is bad, it’s only how you feel about it that makes it good or bad - you can choose. We have forced free time, if you cannot work what can photographers do?” Ponders Jay McLaughlin, a keen reader of philosophy and influenced by Marcus Aurelius. I ask on social media what photographers can do? ‘Review hard drives, memory cards, back up important images, update websites, improve SEO, make prints, write more blogs, record vlogs, keyword stock, be kind.’

Stay safe, sane and sanitised - thanks for reading and hope to see you smiling on the other side.

A version of this article first appeared in the 11 April 2020 issue of Amateur Photographer magazine

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

John Downing : Legacy

John Downing MBE, doesn’t look terminally ill. Pulling open the front door to his Henley on Thames home, the 79 year old Welshman and former Chief Photographer at the Daily Express newspaper, looks a rakish Sir Ian McKellen. His crisp white shirt is unbuttoned and wavy grey hair combed back behind the ears. “I’ve lost two stone and half a lung,” he says laughing and directs me into the kitchen. The lines around his pale blue eyes suggest he’s laughed a lot. His photographs often document the less hilarious parts of humanity.

At approximately 2.50am, after a long day covering the 1984 Tory Party conference, the type of assignment he says can be “mundane and hateful,” John heads to the bar of The Grand Hotel in Brighton, “as all good journalists would,” he grins.  Down on his haunches, talking to a husband and wife sat at a table, at 2.54am, the Irish Republican Army bomb goes off. A 5-tonne chimney stack comes crashing down through the floors into the basement tearing a hole in the Victorian hotel’s facade. The bar goes dark and fills with debris, dust and silence. An earlier briefing at Chelsea Police station and John’s own experience of bombs kick in. Fearing a shower of small sharp shards of glass will devastate the woman’s face, he pulls her to the floor and covers her head with his body, emasculating the husband. While others in the bar are being led to safety, John works his way to the front entrance to photograph what he assumes is a car bomb. The entrance is stacked with fallen chimney. Climbing through a window, he sees an injured policeman lying on the ground and takes a photo. Out of the corner of his eye, he recognizes the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher’s private detective running at full pelt. Charging after him, John asks if Thatcher is OK? The detective isn’t sure and endorses John to the gathered Police who allow him to stay. Coming down the fire escape, John spots a composed Thatcher. She calmly puts her attache case in the boot of a car and climbs in alongside her husband Denis and aide, Cynthia Crawford. The car takes off at speed. John instinctively jabs his pre-focused lens towards the car and depresses the shutter. One shot, one flash. He has the exclusive and knows what to do next. Covered in dust, he runs to the nearest hotel to use the phone, well aware that the deadline for closing the edition of the Daily Express is imminent. John pleads for it to be held. On Saturday the 13th October, under the front page headline ‘UNBOWED’ is John’s remarkable photograph of Thatcher, complete with pearls, earrings and handbag, looking stoically straight ahead.

The Brighton bombing cemented John’s name as one of Fleet Street’s finest. His earlier photographs from Uganda established it. A year after Idi ‘The Butcher of Uganda’ Amin seized power in a military coup, John was in the country covering the expulsion of Asians, many of whom were British passport holders. The assignment was going well until Amin declared that all Europeans were spies. John was arrested in his hotel room and taken for interrogation. In the frightening chaos that ensued, he had an army colonel press a gun to his ear before being tossed into the bowels of Kampala’s Central Police Station prison. They had forgotten to confiscate his camera. John did what he was paid to do. He took pictures of prisoners alongside him in the open sewer prison. He took pictures as they lined up to get food, the camera hidden under a towel, the shutter clicks masked by coordinated coughing. Once deported, on Friday 22nd September 1972, the Daily Express ran five and a half pages of his pictures. The set includes an exceptional photograph of British brothers, Andrew Stanley (4) and Robert (2), the tough and adaptable boys climbing the prison bars as if in a gym, staring into a ferocious sun at a world gone mad.

The Daily Express wasn’t the tabloid newspaper obsessed with royals and right wing political parties it is today. Launching as a broadsheet it 1900, by the time John arrived (after a five year internship at the Daily Mail he started aged just 15), it was a pioneering power with the largest newspaper picture team in the world, around 64 staff photographers and 14 freelancers, of which John was the lowliest. He worked his way up by being talented and smart. He recounts his first big break, an assignment to Eastern Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to document the Cholera outbreak rife among refugee camps. John was the only photographer to have an up to date Cholera inoculation, they had to send him. A photograph from the reportage, of a nurse trying to administer a vaccination to a terrified child, won 2nd prize, general news singles, at the 1972 World Press Photo contest. Not bad for a relative beginner. During a career that has spanned over five decades, 100 countries and all seven continents, John has witnessed wars in Vietnam, Rhodesia, Beirut, Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda, Croatia, and Bosnia. He’s reported on natural, man-made disasters and famine. He has covered royal tours, political events, photographed the famous, infamous and poor. His efforts have accumulated a cluster of awards including seven for British Press Photographer of the Year. He was appointed a judge on the competition panel so he couldn’t win an eighth.

©Peter Dench

Moving into the showpiece lounge, I’m introduced to his third wife, Anita. When I telephoned to make the appointment with John, it was Anita who answered. From her articulated voice, I thought I’d dialled the 1950s: “Hello Henley on Thames 123.” Sitting on the sofa in white jeans, mustard coloured top and precise cut bobbed hair, she resembles a 1963 Una Stubbs - the Summer Holiday year. When Anita met John, she was 33 and-a-half years younger than him, she still is. She is younger than me and John’s two sons. The room is a forest of Get Well cards. Who sends Get Well cards to a terminally ill man? Anita, an established pianist and teacher at Eton College, explains they were sent after John’s lung removal operation. “Clinton Cards don’t really cater for the terminally ill market.” Perhaps they should do, ‘Oh Well’ or ‘Demise with Dignity’ cards? As we take a tour around the sun saturated apartment, the humour is often dark.

John’s MBE nestles among his awards in a glass display cabinet. “I felt a failure to my father, who was a teacher, not having got into Grammar school. The MBE and awards are a part way of resolving that.” Moving on, he locates the four toilets, the walk in shower he’s always wanted, a bedspread from India, mirror from Jordan, chest from Iran, stick from Burkina Faso and a Mosque themed clock that plays the Muslim call to prayer. John’s not particularly religious. “I’m not down on dying,” he says, entering the walk in wardrobe. A trumpet hangs silently in the centre, not the best instrument for a man with half a lung missing to learn. “I’ve lived a fulfilled and healthy life,” he adds, running a hand across the red members jacket of his beloved London Welsh Male Voice Choir. He last sang as a bass before Christmas 2018 and hopes to have the breath to rejoin the choir for rehearsals. “My only regrets are leaving Anita…” he sighs, plopping down on the music room seat next to her Austrian Bösendorfer piano, “…and not having had a book of my work published.” 

©Peter Dench

When news of John’s illness hit friend and renowned photojournalist, Tom Stoddart, Tom initiated a process to get a book of John’s work published before, well, you know. A crowdfunding campaign was launched and a day later, I’m here to talk to, and photograph John to help drive momentum. There is no need. Seven hours after the launch, the £8,000 funding target is breached. By the time I arrive in Henley, it’s doubled. My day with John and Anita has become a celebration. We head  across the road for a late lunch at Shaun Dickens at the Boathouse. Over plates of Porthilly oysters, tartare of salmon, pork tenderloin, skate and chilled glasses of Languedoc wine, we exchange stories as boats chunter merrily along the River Thames. John recounts dressing in a Burqa to enter Afghanistan; a shooting challenge with the son of a Mujahideen chief in which the loser would be shot dead (John won, no one was killed); starting the Press Photographers Association (now The British Press Photographers’ Association) as a response to the creeping trend in paparazzi photography and a way to preserve quality; mastering black and white photography, “I had a secret method for preserving detail in the blacks.” The challenges of shooting colour. “Only two things work better in colour, fire and blood, but I never felt so in control.” For a man rapidly losing weight, John can eat what he likes. When the waiter brings low in salt butter, we ask for more salt. When the Languedoc runs out, we ask for Sauterne.

John is not in pain. He is not bitter at the possible causes of his asbestos related cancer. He’ll refuse Chemotherapy as long as he can. We walk through Henley in the August warmth among men returning from Lord’s loosening their Marylebone Cricket Club ties. “I don’t feel like you’ve asked me anything important,” he says. I embrace the important and inspirational Press Photographer I’ve only just met and may never meet again. As the train pulls out of the station, I check the crowdfunding campaign - it says, 28 days to go.

John Downing: Legacy published by Bluecoat Press: hardback book with dust jacket, size 270 x 290mm (landscape) and 192 pages.

A version of this article first appeared in Amateur Photographer magazine UK 19/10/2019

©Peter Dench

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Raiders of the Lost Archives

Canning Town is the most depressing place I’ve been to in London and I’ve been to the Emirates Stadium to watch Arsenal play football. It’s a place you pass through not go to. There are bus depots and taxi ranks. Underground and overground trains. Subways and bridges. The whole area is on the move. The walk to my destination is brutal and bleak. Lorries pin me to razor-wired walls. Electricity cables crackle ferociously above. There are warning signs, police sirens, guard dogs, dirt-filled pot holes, dust, discarded laughing-gas canisters, CCTV cameras, tyres, hub caps and skips. The parrot in The Durham Arms swears at passing strangers. I have a clearly printed ‘how to get here’ sheet of paper and get lost twice. Stood among the industrial units of Toolstation, Edmundson Electrical and Screwfix, there’s a clue to my destination. A man smoking a roll-up cigarette wearing a brown apron sips hot tea from a mug. On the mug it says Getty Images.

Welcome to the Hulton Archive, a remarkable visual resource of over 80 million images contained within 1500 individual collections. At the turn of the 21st Century, Getty Images merged London based Hulton Picture Collection with Archive Film and Photos, New York creating Hulton Archive. The buzzer says press firmly and await response. I fluff the firmly bit and await response. This state-of-the-art facility was around two years in the making. I push open the state of the art door and breathe in.

Melanie Llwellyn (née Hough) in the Hulton Archive ©Peter Dench

The gigantic archive is overseen by one of the world’s smallest curators. Melanie Hough is ‘five foot nothing.’ Her jaw is strong, face freckled, grip firm and blue eyes imposing. Melanie is in her thirties and third year as curator of Hulton Archive. She has been in the photography and gallery business for over a decade, working her way up after graduating from Goldsmiths University, London, with a BA (Hons) History of Art and an MA Contemporary Art Theory. Stepping onto the temperature-and- humidity controlled level one (of two) of the Hulton Archive, the scale of her task is staggering. This is what The Cloud must look like. 13 kilometres of racks and rows of boxes, packages and files. That’s 8,530 head-to-toe Melanie’s.

The heart of the Hulton collections is the seminal British weekly Picture Post magazine and it’s one of the first things you see. Melanie snaps on pair of latex gloves. “I find cotton gloves clumsy, these more dextrous,” she says, and flips to a spread by photographer Bert Hardy of 'Firefighters during the London Blitz, 1941'. From the accompanying contact sheets you can track the picture editors forensic eye and process. Another latex flip and there’s a lay out of Hardy's iconic images from the Korean War Battle of Incheon, which James Cameron wrote the article for. Between 1938 and 1957, over 9,000 articles were commissioned for Picture Post. Only 2,000 of these actually ran in the magazine and the other 7,000 were filed away. Around half a dozen photographs accompanied each published article, from the hundreds, sometimes thousands of negatives the photographers delivered, creating a colossal archive of unpublished and often unprinted images. Readership in Britain during the second world war reportedly peaked at over 80% of the population.

©Peter Dench

“There are probably 200 negatives to one print in the Hulton Archive” says Melanie. “Less than 1% is online. Around 30,000 images are digitised a year with more coming in all the time.” She adds, pushing her tawny hair behind a pierced ear without an earring. It’s a job for life and the challenges are daily: researching; identifying and documenting; devising strategies for library care, accessibility and conservation; acting as spokesperson; leading tours of the archive; assisting external researchers, scholars and curators find what they didn’t know they were looking for. She even handles the Instagram account @Gettyarchive. Melanie is always busy during the day and often kept awake at night. Terrors include: reticulated negatives (the distortion of the emulsion layer of a film); indecipherable index codes; problems with original and now inappropriate captions and the most horrifying of all, off-gassing, film that is actively decaying, often known as vinegar syndrome as the film begins to release acetic acid, as you’d find in the vinegar doused over chips. The process cannot be recovered, only stabilised. We both rapidly sniff the room. My stomach starts to rumble.

©Peter Dench

During my tour of the archive, one of Meanie’s two curatorial assistants ghosts past, triggering on the strip lights. A herculean librarian who has been working at the archive for 20 years and spends their entire time meticulously patrolling the racks, rewriting faded labels and refiling requested material - requests that often mirror what is happening in the modern world. Demands this month are for women playing football (the FIFA Women’s World Cup is currently under way) and images of D-Day in this 75th anniversary year. Images of royals and British royals in particular are among the most popular genre.

Melanie has a shifting top 10 of her favourite photographs. Among them an image by renowned photojournalist, Terry Fincher (pretty much every photographer in here is renowned): a scene of Carravaggion-quality captured on 35mm film of Marine chaplain Eli Tavesian giving communion to marine Louis A Loya, at Forward Command Post in Hue, Vietnam, 1968. It’s also a favourite of the Archive Vice President and Melanie’s boss, Matthew Butson. It was to Matt that Fincher (one of the many photographers he knew personally), confessed to shooting the image from the hip - it still didn’t need cropping. A John Chillingworth image is another of Melanie’s favourites: a controlled test reveals the frightening speed with which clothes can catch fire, published in Picture Post alongside the article, 10 Seconds Can Mar A Life, 1953. 

Opening the boxes and peeling back the beaten wrappers of parcels, I realise everything I thought contemporary has been done deep in photography’s past. There’s macro photography of insect tongues; erotic photography featuring tongues and food photography to make your mouth water. There are drawers full of political cartoons and maps charting new territories a century before Google. 5% of the Hulton Archive is estimated to be non-photographic: etchings, lithographs, postcards, letters and valentines cards among others.

©Peter Dench

History is democratic: boxes of prints of comedian and actor Benny Hill alphabetically align alongside those of Adolf Hitler. History is also fluid, a tide. No ones place in it is guaranteed. There are gatekeepers, authors, editors and curators who prioritise what’s important and champion some photographers over others. Melanie understands and welcomes that the findings and decisions of the team of ‘Hultonites’ at the London facility (including five editors, four in scanning and an on-site conservator whose job is to stabilise and repair) can be challenged or changed as new, old archives are opened and verified.

©Peter Dench

The doyens of photography at Hulton Archive are resident in Melanie’s favourite room, the Vintage Room. One of only five people with access, she fobs us into the windowless space, the walls lined with Brassaï, Bill Brandt and Lewis Carroll. She delivers to the viewing table the book: Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and Other Poems by Julia Margaret Cameron, one of only eight known copies in the world. Other lifted lids reveal hermetically sealed stereo Daguerrotypes (a photograph taken by an early photographic process employing an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapour), Ambrotypes (a positive photograph on glass made by a variant of the wet plate collodion process) and Calotypes (an early photographic process introduced in 1841 by William Henry Fox Talbot, using paper coated with silver iodide). There’s an order of service from Ronald Kray’s funeral; a 1738 letter from Louis XV of France (the most beloved Louis); a 3-D stereoscopic of the moon and marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria, one of the latest discoveries from the archive files. Believed to be the earliest image of any British monarch by a woman photographer, the portrait was captured by Frances Sally Day (c1816-92), possibly on 26th July 1859, according to Victoria’s own journals. We respectfully whisper our conversation across her royal highness.

©Peter Dench

Melanie ends by showing an image by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-19040, the English-American photographer important for his pioneering work in photographic studies of motion. He’s arguably best known for shooting and killing his wife's lover, a crime for which he was acquitted in a jury trial on the grounds of justifiable homicide. It’s been an overwhelming and dramatic three hours. I feel guilty for only glimpsing a fraction on offer at this analogue centre of excellence. Melanie half-jokingly suggests checking my bag on the way out. I suppress my inner Indian Jones (Raiders of the Lost Archive?). In truth, I don’t want to steal anything, I want to leave something and consider slipping a folio of my images onto the shelf.

The Wiltshire-born, Devon raised lass, who hates being photographed and is driven by what she is yet to see, has to go. She softly guides me back into the open and I stride deeper into the drizzle. “We didn’t even make it to the Man Ray’s!” She shouts.

A version of this feature first appeared in Amateur Photographer magazine 24th August 2019

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Viewpoint : Imposter Syndrome

When do you become a photographer? When you receive your first camera? When you graduate from college or university? When you receive your first professional commission, sell your first print, publish your first photo-book, reach a 1000 YouTube subscribers or decide to watermark your Instagram posts?

©Peter Denc'

On a recent visit to the hairdressers, to have what hair I have left cut, I was asked by Kostas, my assigned barber, what I did for a living? I hesitated. Assignments had been a bit sparse, my photo-mojo a bit dulled. The words, 'I’m a photographer' lodged in my throat. I felt a fraud. The weight of photographic history pounded in my mind. Images by James Nachtwey, Tom Stoddart, Don McCullin, Robert Capa, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Walker Evans, Paul Strand and Edward Weston trampled across my retina. “This and that.” I finally squeaked. “Bits and bobs.” I added. Kostas finished the cut in silence.

I was a Judas to my my craft! The denial of photography felt biblical. Was I still a photographer if I hadn’t taken a photograph for a few weeks? Would I become one again if I went home and grabbed one of my three Olympus cameras and went out to photograph for the day - was it that simple?

I’d always believed I’d been a photographer since the age of 14, when I took myself away from the distractions of the amusement arcades and flirty girls to patrol the local nature reserve snapping herons, coots and butterflies with my second hand Pentax ME Super.

It’s not the first wobble I’ve had and won’t be the last. I’ve had my photography career interrupted by necessary stints working in a canteen, as a builders mate and jet-washing patios (a word of advice, don’t wear flip-flops when jet washing patios or try to clean your feet with the high pressure jet wash).

In a time when everyone’s supposed to be a photographer, I don’t see a deluge of outstanding new photographers. Great photographs have to be grafted for and photography has it’s own unique attributes that have to be mastered: composition, content, colour (or lack of), lighting and perspective. It’s a ridiculous way to live, trying to make sense of the world and how you feel about it, through a rectangle or square. 

Photography can be a deeply unsatisfying pursuit and profession but a compulsive and all-consuming one. Renowned photographers, often without question, spend days away from their loved ones, spending money they may not have, in situations they may not like, hunting that moment when everything, for a fraction of a second, makes sense - when all problems and doubts are blown away and the only thing that matters, is they got the shot.

If you don’t understand that, then you’re probably not a photographer, no matter how many social networking followers you have or how many expensive cameras and gadgets are hanging around your neck. It’s a state of mind, you just know.

This article was first published in Amatuer Photographe magazine March 2019.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Documenting The Fallout

In 1984, anxiety over nuclear war was at it peak. American President Ronald Regan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars), intended to protect the United States from attack by ballistic strategic nuclear weapons, was in development. The landmark television film Threads, about the effects of a nuclear holocaust on the working class in the British city of Sheffield and the eventual long-term effects of nuclear war on civilisation, disturbed the nation. The British New Wave band, Ultravox, released Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, their second single from their seventh studio album Lament. The music video depicts band frontman, Midge Ure, driving home after discovering that a nuclear explosion is imminent. The video ends with the power plant exploding. I was twelve years old and I was terrified.

And then in happened. At 1:23:58 AM (Moscow time) on 26th April 1986, a catastrophic nuclear accident occurred at the No. 4 nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in northern Ukraine. The reactor exploded and burned, spewing radioactive material into the atmosphere. It was the worst nuclear accident in history. My family and I would gather round the television to watch the news and progress reports of the radioactive cloud. I would sit at the front so no one would see the tears in my eyes.

The first photograph to be taken of the reactor 14 hours after the explosion is accredited to Igor Kostin. Shot from the first helicopter to fly over the disaster zone to evaluate radiation levels, the view is fuzzy due to radiation, which may explain why the photograph wasn’t taken too close to the window. Radiation experts later learnt that at 200 metres above the reactor, levels reached 1500 rems (a measurement of the biological effect of absorbed radiation), despite the fact that their counters did not exceed 500 rems. Working for the Novosti Press Agency, Kostin was one of only a handful of photographers in the world to take pictures of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (he died in a car crash in 2015 aged 78). In subsequent years there would be many more photographers. The area has an undeniable lure.

In 2002, a week before my wedding, I was on assignment for Men’s Health magazine in Minsk, the capital city of Belarus. I was shooting a reportage on male life expectancy - the men die nearly 12 years before the women. About 70% of the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl disaster landed in Belarus, heavily contaminating a quarter of the country, a fifth of its agricultural land and affecting at least 7 million (of around 10 million) people. Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant lay less than 4 miles from the border of Belarus. The journalist and I locked eyes, we both agreed we had to go and scrambled on to a train heading 300 kilometres south.

©Peter Dench

The town we alighted at was primitive. Patched-up cars were filled with fuel from plastic containers. Home made alcohol was swigged from plastic containers. Plates of mushroom stroganoff were devoured feverishly from plastic plates (in an area where radiation was prevalent, it seemed absurd to eat a soil based fungus, however delicious a food source). We hired a local to drive us to the edge of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), an area of approximately 2,600 km2 immediately surrounding the nuclear power plant where radioactive contamination from nuclear fallout is highest and public access and inhabitation are restricted. Belarus has more territory classed as a ‘dead zone’ as a result of the catastrophe than Ukraine. The country has two exclusion zones: one in the south near the Ukrainian border, and one in the east near the Russian border. The drive took us through a damp flatland of marshes, meadows, forest, abandoned farms and the occasional horse drawn cart. The soldiers at the red fence that marked the edge of the CEZ, posed for the camera with guard dogs and smiles. If we’d felt inclined to pass through, for a few rubles, we think they’d have let us. 

©Peter Dench

There were less than twenty people on the flight home. Myself, the journalist and a dozen ‘children of Chernobyl’ with their carers. The children had suffered terribly, their bodies evidently handicapped. The air stewards had to lift the drinks trolley over giant rucks in the airplane carpet. Faded wallpaper peeled from around the windows. 'What type of aircraft is this?' we asked. 'Second hand Aeroflot,' was the reply. Aeroflot didn’t have the best safety reputation; a second-hand Aeroflot jangled our nerves. 'What have you to drink?' we asked. 'One bottle of red wine. One bottle of white wine.' The journalist grabbed the bottle of red. I grabbed the bottle of white. Neither of us grabbed a glass. Landing in London, I didn’t feel the immediate urge to photograph in the CEZ.

Photographer David McMillan felt the urge. He first photographed in the CEZ in 1994. His 22nd visit was in November 2018 and he’s not finished. "I’m still intrigued by the place and I’ll go as long as I feel I’m still getting new photographs. If I can’t add anything to what I’ve done, it will be time to stop." says David. "The scope of Chernobyl is broad enough to make me want to return. I haven’t found an alternative as compelling." he adds. 200 photographs are published across 262 pages in his poignant hardback book, Growth and Decay: Pripyat and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, (Steidl 2019). "Until relatively recently, when I started using a digital camera, I used 6x7 cm and 4x5 inch film cameras. There were no precautions taken to protect the film from radiation and no consequences from my lack of precautions." The images are mostly devoid of people but full of presence. They’re poetic, have beauty and depth and light. Perhaps an echo of his early training as a painter? "I trained as a painter but I think it’s all about a person’s sensibility - how one reacts to the world and what one finds significant. But then there’s also one’s colour sense and use of the frame and all the formal choices that transforms the world into a picture. It’s probably small, incremental things that makes a photograph resonate."

Luke Massey’s main reason to photograph the CEZ was to see how nature is reclaiming it. The naturalist, conservationist, educator, film maker and photographer spent 12 days in 2016 laying camera traps and searching for wildlife. He didn’t fail, witnessing among others: hares, moose, mice, red deer, bees, black grouse, black woodpeckers, great white egrets, raccoon dogs, beavers, cranes, ospreys, kestrels and most unexpectedly, a wolf. "I didn't get to photograph it as I was clambering across some very uneven ground on the edge of one of Chernobyl's cooling ponds when I looked up to see my first ever wolf exploding from the reeds below me and running in to the forest. Pretty epic to not only see a wolf, but in the CEZ too!" You could edit Luke’s photographs to make the CEZ appear a wild Eden. His images of the rare and endangered Przewalski’s horse, now thriving in the CEZ, are divine. "My work in the CEZ was to show it for what it is, not what has been written about it in the past, of mutant animals, where wildlife is thriving without the interference of humans."

It was human error that contributed to the disaster and human interference is returning. Ukrainian photographer Andrey Lomakin was born in 1974 and raised in Pripyat. On April 26 1986 he went to school as usual. "My family survived but it affected our health. My mum, sister and I were evacuated on April 27th. Dad stayed in Pripyat - he worked at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant as shift manager of one of the reactors. We were reunited in October 1986 in Kiev." For Andrey, the CEZ is all about the people. "I cannot imagine Pripyat without people. On the first trip I could not take pictures at all. Just watched. I wanted to see at least some life. Even if it was just tourists." Andrey, who can assemble an AK-47 with his eyes closed, a legacy of the Communist regime he hates has returned home five or six times to shoot his reportage, 'Visitors'. He only travels for a day or so at a time as health doesn’t allow any longer. The sharp, crisp black and white photographs show people taking pictures and posing for pictures and looking at pictures on their phone next to a statue of Lenin. "This is normal. That's the way people are. But it’s still hard for me to accept. Tourists will never understand the pain of the inhabitants of Pripyat. As a child, I could not imagine that this ordinary city would become famous to the whole world this way.”

If you’re planning a trip to photograph the CEZ, here’s some advice about what you need and need to do:

“Good shoes with thick soles. There’s a lot of broken glass and debris on the floors.” David

“Do it properly, get a good guide and the correct permits.” Luke

“You need to plan a story that you will shoot, not a visit. There is a huge amount of photos from the Chernobyl zone. And they are all the same. Do not be afraid of radiation, you will not be taken to dangerous places. But stay away from large metal structures. And take some batteries for the camera.” Andrey

As I flick back through the work of David, Luke and Andrey, I’m reminded of the impactful words of Gerd Ludwig, photographer of the book, The Long Shadow of Chernobyl: (Edition Lammerhuber, 2014). “As engaged photographers, we often report about human tragedies in the face of disaster, and take our cameras to uncharted areas with the understanding that our explorations are not without personal risk. We do this out of a deep commitment to important stories told on behalf of otherwise voiceless victims.”
A version of this feature first appeared in Amateur Photographer magazine 3rd August 2019

Monday, 10 June 2019

In Conversation With John Bulmer

Don McCullin is running, running as fast as he can. His mouth is open, hair neat and jacket crumpled. In his arms is an elderly woman, her thickset legs bent over McCullin’s left arm. Her gnarled right fist clenches two long sticks; wire and trees blur in the background. This unlikely couple are fleeing missiles fired into Turkish territory by the Greek army during the 1964 conflict in Cyprus. It’s McCullin’s first conflict and the now-famous war photographer is captured in action in an extraordinary black and white photograph. The previous evening, McCullin had crashed on the spare bed in the hotel room of the photograph’s author, who then drove them both into battle the following morning: “If I was going to get killed, I thought I might as well take some photographs.” The photographer is John Bulmer

 ©John Bulmer

Strolling past the lake populated by pike and stopping to pull cobwebs from the bronze busts cast by his wife, the sculptor Angela Conner, on display in the grounds of his Herefordshire home (a house he bought on the telephone for £5,000 in 1965), Bulmer seems far removed from the front line. It’s 49 years since he captured that moment on an assignment for the Sunday Times (McCullin was shooting for the Observer).

Bulmer was one of the first photographers to adapt to the sudden change to using colour photography for editorial photojournalism and one of the first to be employed by the Sunday Times Magazine (STM) when it launched in 1962. The professional relationship secured him a 60-page-a-year contract and had him travel to around 100 different countries in more than a decade on the newspaper’s behalf. The magazine’s first cover featured a footballer photographed by Bulmer surrounded by pictures of Jean Shrimpton’s armpit, photographed by David Bailey, who Bulmer initially thought “a bit of a shitbag,” before swiftly mellowing his opinion of him.

This credible Doctor Who doppelgänger (more Jon Pertwee than Peter Davidson) with his ebullient frame, pince-nez spectacles and thick white hair, has the knack of being a master manipulator of time. The 75-year-old was a pioneer of colour photography ten years before Martin Parr, deliberately stalking his subjects through rain and fog with slow-responding Kodachrome and Ektachrome, well before the publication of Parr’s Bad Weather. 

©John bulmer

When Hunter Davies took over editorship of the STM and explained to Bulmer a change in direction of the content of the magazine to “crime, middle-class living and fashion”, he diversified into film-making where he remained embedded for the next 35 years, making documentary films for the BBC, Discovery and National Geographic television channels among others. Bulmer photographed and directed the films Fat Fiancees; Planes, Pigs, and the Price of Brides; The Witchdoctor’s New Bride and other films not featuring brides. In the film Beehives and Runaway Brides, written, photographed and directed by Bulmer for Essential TV Discovery Channel, husbands talk about the price of brides, brides gone AWOL, having several brides, forcing brides to marry and brides marrying cousins. Women with ferocious facial piercings talk about being beaten. It could be a script live and direct from the studio with Jeremy Kyle but is a matter-of-fact tale of the Sheko people living their real-life soap in the far western highlands of Ethiopia.

©John Bulmer

Malaria has weakened Bulmer twice and in 2005, after recovery from a tropical disease stole a year of his life, he decided it was time to hang his travel hat back on the rack and attend to his archive of stills photography. Sheltering from the afternoon rain, we each take a seat in his low-beamed office and nestle among myriad rosettes that Bulmer achieved in carriage driving, the sport that keeps him trim and his love of horses sated. The short-sighted Bulmer peers at his Apple Mac from inches away and presses a digit on the keyboard’s oversized bold black letters. The screen illuminates into life, showing life after life; more than 200 pictures from his in-progress new book were thrown down in a day into a Blurb layout. The provisional title is Other Places*, that’s places other than The North (of England), the title of his first solo monograph.

Published in 2012 by the local interest, Liverpool-based Bluecoat Press (Thames & Hudson didn’t reply to his book proposal, ditto Dewi Lewis) The North quickly sold out and it wasn’t even about the fun part of England (a 2nd edition has been published). Other publishers should have replied, the profit from the 2012 book was enough to buy a house over the telephone in 1965. The book put Bulmer firmly back on the photographic map; the north was part of the map this Herefordshire-born black sheep hadn’t witnessed before he first headed to the Lancashire town of Nelson. It’s the first town the viewer visits in the book, a town Bulmer thought as “exotic as darkest Africa.” Around 78 photographs in the 224-page book are in colour and 47 of those were shot in Manchester on commission for German Geo magazine, whose picture editor wanted him to capture the ‘swinging Manchester’ of 1976. Bulmer didn’t capture swinging Manchester; he captured empty canals and isolated pubs; cluttered corner shops; terraced houses being demolished and ravaged faces pulled taut against the elements by too-tight headscarves. When the Geo article was published, pictures from other sources had been used to complement Bulmer’s. Though annoyed at the time, he can now understand why. The quality of the printing of The North has had its critics and the criticism is valid but they miss the point. Bulmer is not a ‘look-at-me photographer’, he’s a ‘look at this’ photographer, bred from the mass circulation magazine market. All of the images have been scanned and cleaned by Bulmer and some scanned from prints when that’s all that remained.

Bulmer was sent down from Cambridge six weeks before the finals of his engineering degree, officially because “the University believed I wouldn’t pass my degree” (they would probably have been proved right, he spent more time focusing on photography) and unofficially because he had recently sold a set of pictures to Life magazine (under the alias, David Brinkman) depicting students climbing university buildings at night. The images were captured with an investigative style and starkness that Weegee would have been be proud of. The company of English photojournalist, Larry Burrows, (best known for his for his pictures of the American involvement in the Vietnam War) had already alerted Bulmer to a broader life beyond the roof of Senate House, where he had photographed a car positioned there by the prankish night climbers. Bulmer headed to London without a degree of regret and to the offices of the Daily Express where he quickly secured a job that gave him the confidence to set out and stride the globe.

©John Bulmer

Bulmer’s Other Places are other worldly and of another time: wide-grinned Cubans smoke long fat cigars; there are half-naked Romanians who welcomed him to photograph their picnic and completely naked Germans in Romania who flung mud at his lens; there’s a shot from a bathroom in North Korea, away from his watchful minder, and mindful shots in China where he spent five days photographing without restriction after defecting there when he missed a connecting flight in Moscow en route to North Korea. Figures stare out from across the landscape of Ethiopia, his fondest country to photograph from all of his travels and one where he had to run for a mile alongside a carriage in which Queen Elizabeth II sat, head cocked, flashing her pearly whites at Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Only when the crowds had fallen back did it allow Bulmer the opportunity to shoot a clean frame, this exertion achieved while carrying four cameras, usually two Nikon’s and two Leicas, loaded with a mix of colour transparency and black and white film.

The most recent photograph Bulmer took was on his phone three days before we meet for a chat; his last photographic assignment was three years before I could talk. He checks his digital watch for the time and it’s time for wine; it’s Chilean. “A New World wine,” I declare as I tsunami the welcome taste back over my tongue. Bulmer scoffs and winces at the memory, when, in 1965, a vessel he describes a “hog’s head” holding 144 bottles of Chilean wine that he had had shipped in from the New World was accidentally smashed on the road of Elgin Crescent near his home in Notting Hill. I make a mental note to pay my respects at the disaster spot on my return to London.

As the glasses of wine are vanquished, Bulmer tells tales of sharing a darkroom with Philip Jones Griffiths during the printing of the Welsh Magnum Photographer’s opus Vietnam Inc; of infuriating the captain of the QE2 on its maiden voyage after he climbed to the top of one of the ship’s funnels to photograph her arrival into New York; he talks of his disrespect for religion and disgust for the public school system to which his cider-making father decided to send him. He remembers Travellers Cheques; receiving free first-class flights around the world; 42-hour six-stop flights to Australia; flights with no security bag checks; meeting Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eugene Smith; of missing an historical photograph of Winston Churchill as the former Prime Minister was loaded into an ambulance (Bulmer had nipped away to make a call from a telephone box). He remembers a lot but regrets little and rarely looks back.

©John Bulmer

This ahead-of-his-time-traveller has always embraced change; he shot in colour when ‘traditionalists’ shied away; drank New World wine when wine was white, warm and meant for women; he used lightweight 35mm cameras while others persisted with the physically restricting Rolleiflex (with flash) and he wrote words to accompany some of his reportage features when words were meant to be the exclusive domain of writers.

We down glasses and jump into Bulmer’s TARDIS blue coloured, environmentally friendly car and smooth past the humdrum semi-detached homes of Hereford and back to the railway station where the next train home isn’t for an hour. That’s what happens when you visit the countryside. The only open and nearby place to grab a bite to eat is a fast food outlet. That’s what happens when you visit the countryside. Inside, families order their burger box and fries while a kid sweating out a viral infection cries for an overdose of Calpol. Fed, alone and thirsty, I seek the company of the Commercial pub across the road. “What would you like to drink?” asks the cherubic barmaid. There are bottles of Echo wine for £6.99 and another brand for a pound less but I ask for the only drink that can be drunk after a day like today: “I’ll have a pint of Bulmers cider, please.”

The North is published by Bluecoat Press

*Other Places was eventually titled Wind of Change published by Bluecoat Press