Are we the new history boys and gals ?

It seems to me that we merry band of photographers from the press, magazine, documentary or agency world are really the new history boys and gals…it is often said that ‘reporters’ draft the first version of history…but I maintain that it is us who have recorded up front and personal our view of history as it happened in the raw for future generations to enjoy and even maybe learn from.

I’ve been thinking this for some time and as publications and especially newspapers world wide cut back on their in house staff photographers and rely more and more on stock photo-agencies to supply illustrations to go with their stories. More and more of our ‘old’ pictures are coming to the fore on a daily basis in many newspapers. Images that we thought of as ‘just todays picture offering’ are now important visual history…and from our own very immediate past.

Photo by Alain Le Garsmeur / Getty Images in The Guardian review 8 Feb 2020 but made during the bad times of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland more than 40 years ago

Certainly this is not new. Newspapers have always had access to the ‘Morgue’, their own libraries to supply archive images for publication. But, with photographers being laid off and entire photo staffs including librarians who could often reference back to the beginning of time being tossed out with the garbage a new way of working for newspapers has had to be developed.

Photo by Philippe Achache/Gamma-Rapho/Getty shot in 1975 and published in the Guardian in February 2020

Step forward the stock photo agency. Never have there been so many images, so much history controlled by so few. Photo-agencies flourished in the austere post war period. Operating mainly out of Paris, London and New York but also running from bombed out Germany with agents flourishing in Munich and Hamburg. There were dozens, maybe hundreds in these five cities alone…but not anymore. Now there are but a few behemoths that hoover up the negatives and bromide prints from dusty shelves and damp basements across our industry…the latest being the biggest rodent on the block…the Disney Corporation who now have the entire National Geographic photo archive in their claws as part of the Disney / Murdoch / Fox Films sell off.

And as I write this on 11 February 2020, I have just heard that Alamy one of the largest stock photo agencies in the world with 192,141,550 images (yes, you read that correctly-nearly 200 million stock photos) in their collection has today been taken over by PA Media – to the uninitiated thats the Press Association Media operation. The PA was set up more than a century ago to supply images and copy to the regional and national press and is ‘owned’ by all the major newspaper groups up and down the land. So, another independent supplier has been swallowed whole. And as these media groups now own the entire Alamy cake it will surely be in their interest to reduce the amount they pay for each picture usage…further decreasing the share that the contributing photographer will make.

From the PA Media web site showing how quick they were to promote their acquisition of Alamy this afternoon…only a hour after informing contributors and customers

And so the world carries on turning and a thousand, a hundred thousand stock photos are supplied and used in the press world wide every day, every week. Far more now than ever before, after all, that newsprint has to be covered in something.

And this is my point…never before have so many stock archive images been used, been sold and reproduced…the ease now of electronic delivery makes things so very easy, a click of a mouse and your selection of maybe 100 or more images is before you on the computer screen.

But….but, If publications are contenting themselves with using stock which is plentiful and cheap, who is producing new work, who is recording todays history for future generations.

Photo by Peter King/Getty Images: Miss World in 1970 but published this week in The Guardian 50 years after being taken-truly historic…and as an assistant in 1970 I worked alongside the photographer Peter King when we both worked for Fox Photos Press Agency…since sold to Getty Images

It would be good to think that newspapers and magazines are investing their immediate savings back into producing work of quality for the future but I don’t see this being shown in most of the press. A saving is a saving and the bean counters rule.

My thoughts above were woken as in the past week I have seen a number of stock-archive-historically interesting images being used to illustrate various piece at home in the UK and even a picture of mine appearing in the NYT Review of Books which I was alerted to by my good friend Steve Raymer in the States. All these images are of ‘Historic’ value and wonderful to see them getting an airing, some more than 50 years after being made…but what of the future…if publishing groups who are reaping the fiscal benefit of buying in cheap stock and are not investing in intelligent mature photo-journalism then our future is pretty much finished…apart from getting a few pennies from a 50% cut of a 40% sub agent share via yet another sub agent…and that will be on a good day with a following wind.

Photo by Brian Harris of Radavan Karadzic/The Independent/Rex-Shutterstock…I made this picture when the war criminal to be was in London in 1993…Published last week in the NYT Review of Books.

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The Velvet Revolution – 30 years on 1989 – 2019

 

A photograph of Lenin and the battleship Aurora in a Bata shoe shop window in Prague November 1989

My account here of photographing and reporting the fall of communism in what was Czechoslovakia back in the winter of 1989 is based on a chapter in my book, ‘…and then the Prime Minister hit me…’ http://impress-publishing.com/and-then-the-prime-minister-hit-me.html

News reports from Czechoslovakia only a few hundred kilometres to the south of Berlin indicated rumblings of discontent following the great rush of events in the north which I had been covering for the previous couple of weeks.

I managed to secure an entry visa from the Czech Embassy in  East Berlin and hot footed to Schonefeld Airport en route to Prague.

I arrived in the early evening as one of the first mass protests in Wenceslas Square was just finishing. There was a carnival like atmosphere with happy Czechs milling around and students from the university using birch brooms to sweep the square of rubbish after the demonstration.

There didn’t appear to be any threat or menace.

The following day the demonstrators started to arrive in the middle of the afternoon. The crowd grew in size and the protesters became more confident and vociferous. The protesters started to ask the controlling Russian backed government to go. The last time this had happened was in 1968 and the Russians responded by putting 7000 tanks and 300,000 troops on the streets. Alexander Dubcek who served as the First Secretary of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) from January 1968 to April 1969 was deposed and was sent into exile to work as a labourer for the Czech forestry commission after attempting to reform the communist government during the ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968.

As the rhetorical temperature rose so did the worry that ‘something’ would happen to stop this new popular uprising.

Rumours started to spread.

A small group of photographers including myself had heard that Russian troops on manoeuvre in the countryside around Prague had been called upon to show the flag or maybe the sickle. We were told that they would send troop carriers or light tanks along the road that runs alongside the Vistula River before turning into the old town centre.

We decided to investigate.

November in central Europe is cold. A November night while crawling across the world famous Charles Bridge above the freezing Vistula with your nose pressed down hard onto the pavement is even colder. I seem to remember there were half a dozen of us brave foolhardy souls crawling very slowly forwards and keeping our backsides well down. We could all see ’something’ moving in the shadows under the trees on the opposite river bank. Were the shadows troops or tanks ? Who would be brave enough to crawl over and take a closer look ? We had an editorial conference in the dark on the middle of the bridge and all decided that we would come back in daylight the next day, we may have been foolhardy but none of us was stupid.

We retired to the splendid art deco bar of the Hotel Adria just off Wenceslas Square and enjoyed coffee, slivovich and hot apple struddle with lashings of cream. The Adria became a popular hang out as it was one of the few places in town where you could get a phone call back to London or elsewhere in the west. The reception staff would take your requested phone number and page you when the call had been put through to a private phone booth. There were many slightly drunken calls made as sometimes it would take over an hour to get though, more than enough time to consume several glasses of the rather excellent slivovich on offer.

Tractor plant workers having just finished their night shift enjoy beer and bread for breakfast in a nearby bar in Prague
A worker in the snow leaves the Prague tractor factory after a night shift. The communist Red Stars soon disappeared

We never did find out if the ‘Russians’ were about to reprise the repression of the ‘Prague Spring of ’68’, but having been brought up on the spy novels of John LeCarre and Graham Green I believed anything was possible.

The protesting crowds grew in size as they assembled in Wenceslas Square night after night until more than 500,000 men women and children met and called for an end to the existing regime.

Crowds of protesters increased in size each evening in Wenceslas Square around the statue of King Wenceslas

Butterflies are free

A day of action was declared and workers across the country were encouraged to go on strike for one hour at midday. I travelled with Ed Lucas, an Independent news reporter who specialised in covering eastern Europe, to the industrial area at Usti nad Labem to the north of Prague up near the border with eastern Germany.

Workers walk out for a one hour token strike on the ‘Day of Action’ from factories in Usti nad Labem in northern Czechoslovakia.

The day of action was sub zero cold. The landscape was monochrome and the sky hung low, even the falling snow looked sad. This is the bit of Europe that time had forgotten, pure Stalinist dystopia.

Workers walk out for a one hour token strike from heavy industrial factories in Usti nad Labem in northern Czechoslovakia.

To add to the chill I noticed a sign to a small town off our main route.

Terezin.

Just reading the word on a road sign was an emotive trigger that reminded me of the horrors that had visited this area only a few short years before I was born.

We drove slowly and with respect through the town and past the barrack blocks that were the camp.

Terezin, also known as Theresienstadt was a Nazi Concentration Camp. The camp was presented as a  ‘model Jewish settlement’ to the Red Cross and therefore to the rest of the world by the Nazis in the second world war  in an attempt to disguise the evil that was happening within.

More than 80,000 Czech Jews died at Terezin, many being sent to the gas chambers and ovens at Auschwitz across the nearby Polish border.

The camp was intended to house the intellectual Jewish elite from Austria as well as the Czech lands and as a consequence a disproportionate number of artists, poets, musicians and writers perished here.  It was also from here that the Danish King managed to rescue over 400 Danish Jews and from where SS Chief Heinrich Himmler allowed over twelve hundred mainly Dutch Jews to be transported to Switzerland for $1.25 million in a deal struck with a pro-Nazi former Swiss President in February 1945.

As so often in warfare it was the children that left their lasting indelible mark on history and that mark can be seen to this day even though only 93 according to some sources of the 15,000 children in the camp survived the war.

Viennese artist and teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandels a prisoner in the camp started art classes for the children which resulted in over 4,000 children’s drawings being made. They were hidden from the Nazis in two suitcases when she in turn was murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The cases and the drawings were discovered in 1955 and are now housed in the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Some days after driving past Terezin I visited the Jewish Museum with photographer colleague Mike Abrahams.

Mike and I had the rare privilege of being shown the original drawings many depicting butterflies. A collection of the children’s writings and drawings was later published as ‘ I Never Saw Another Butterfly’.

A sobering experience.

A couple embrace outside the Jewish Cemetery in U Stareho Hrbitova, Prague, the location of the Jewish Museum

Vasclav Havel takes the lead and Alexander Dubcek returns

Vasclav Havel the eminent playwright and author was seen to be leading the intellectual argument against the communist authorities from the Green Lantern Theatre.

Vaclav Havel playwright and author and soon to be president in 1989 at political meeting before the fall of the Czech Government.

Within a week the deposed former leader of Czechoslovakia Alexander Dubcek appeared with Havel embracing his people from a balcony above Wenceslas Square after spending 18 years in exile in Slovakia.

Alexander Dubcek embraces all his subjects with Vaclav Havel behind him to the left on the balcony above Wenceslas Square when Dubcek returned.

 

Alexander Dubcek and Vaclav Havel on the balcony above Wenceslas Square when Dubcek returned, supporters give a ‘V’ for victory sign from a window opposite.

Dubcek was immediately elected as Chairman of the Federal Assembly and received the Sakharov Peace Prize for his book, ’The Soviet Invasion’. This was based on his experiences during the Prague Spring of 1968 followed by ‘Hope Dies Last’ (1992) where I would like to quote this rather telling paragraph of how it all could have been….

‘The main door flew open again and in walked some higher officers of the KGB, including a highly decorated, very short colonel and a Soviet interpreter I had met before somewhere; I think he had been in Prague a few weeks earlier with Marshal Yakubovsky. The little colonel quickly reeled off a list of all Czechoslovak Communist Party officials present and told us that he was taking us “under his protection.” Indeed we were protected, sitting around that table – each of us had a tommy gun pointed at the back of his head.

Alexander Dubcek died in a car accident in 1992. Conspiracy theories abound.

Jubilant Czechs cheer speakers and wave their national flag as they drive around Wenceslas Square in Prague.


Jubilant Czechs cheer and wave their national flag as they drive around Wenceslas Square in Prague.

I was probably just a little too young to fully understand the implications of what happened in ’68, just how close Europe and the World was to yet another war as the USSR flexed it’s muscles by offering ‘help’ to protect Czechoslovakia from invasion by the west from West Germany into Sudetenland. Warsaw Pact Armies invaded in August 1968 and stayed until November 1989.

During the Prague Spring of 1968 many brave unattributed photographers made profound and deeply moving images. The photograph of  flowers being given to the Russian soldiers and pushed down their rifle barrels, the anger in the face of the bare chested young man defying the barrel of a Russian tank are but two, but probably the most profound of all the photographs taken in that period of suppression in August 1968 was made by the Czechoslovakian photographer Josef Kouldelka, one of the greatest photographers of our generation…

The ‘Authorities’ had demanded that there be a mass meeting in Wenceslas Square at midday to show their support for the hard line communist regime.

To show their disdain the ‘people’ refused to show up, the empty square their ‘voice’.

Koudelka photographed the empty square with his watch on his wrist in the foreground indicating the midday time, a powerful and eloquent image that said more than any words could. I can’t show you this image as it is behind a Magnum exclusion wall, but i’m sure you can google Koudelka, Prague and watch to find the image.

My homage to Josef Koudelka and the people of Czechoslovakia, ‘that faraway country of whom we know little…’ (according to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain) was to replicate his image without the watch but with more than half a million of his fellow countrymen protesting as King Wenceslas looked out upon them as if he had come to life in their hour of need to raise his army of sleeping knights from the Blanik Hill.

The Independent ran my picture across the front page and to this day is one of the pictures that I am most proud of.

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Berlin – 30 years on…thoughts and recollections – November 1989 – 2019

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Thirty years ago, 1989 really was a tumultuous year in geo politics maybe the most confused, exciting and historically important since the end of WWII in 1945, certainly for me as a working news photographer for The Independent 1989 was one of the busiest and most important years in my working life.

The European elections of late spring morphed into covering the post Tiananmen Square fall out in China which then became a story about the government in Budapest opening the border into Austria allowing East Germans to transit Hungary and flee to the west…which then became a story about the fall of communism, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall leading the reunification of Germany…and, in my opinion the real end of the second world war.

I write about my experiences about getting stuck in East Berlin in my book,’…and then the Prime Minister hit me…’. I write about how I delayed the actual breaking through of the wall by more than five minutes, all for the want of a set of AA batteries, on that cold damp Thursday night on the 9th of November 1989, so long ago but oh so fresh in my memory…and to perpetuate that well-worn cliché… I really was privileged to witness history in the making.

Here is an edit from my book. http://impress-publishing.com/and-then-the-prime-minister-hit-me.html

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

 

I had been keeping a watching brief on the situation in Eastern Europe for a while after returning from China where I covered the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

I made a couple of trips to Hungary where I photographed the first of the Ossies-East Germans camping out in the grounds of the West German Embassy where they enjoyed a level of political protection and at a communist summer camp on the shores of Lake Balaton.

A trickle of families including some with very young children had escaped from the GDR ( The German Democratic Republic-East Germany ) through the porous border into northern Hungary, a fellow Warsaw pact country but with a slightly more enlightened government, in the early autumn of ’89.

Indy Page copy Hungary-Austria border 14 Sept 1989BH8_9596

The trickle became a flood and the West German Government stepped in and gave sanctuary in the grounds of their Embassy.

Indy Page copy Hungary Austria border 14 Sept 1989-2

 The Hungarians seemed to be in no mood to halt the exodus through their country and within a couple of weeks the border into neighbouring Austria in the west had been thrown open. Of course there was confusion and fear. Many Ossies were worried that they would never be allowed back, some were worried that the GDR secret police, the dreaded Stassi, would seek revenge against those family members left behind and those who had no family or friends in the west soon ran out of money.

 The flood of escapees slowed and stopped.

 

Back in the GDR news has spread that it was possible to get out to the west and protests started around the country principally in Berlin and Leipzig demanding that the wall, that hideous divide between east and west, come down.

I returned in late October and realised that something truly momentous was happening in East Germany.

I had a meeting with my Picture Editor Christopher McKane and the Independent’s Editor Andreas Whitham-Smith ( AWS ) and asked to be sent to East Berlin, just to sit tight and watch for any developments.

They agreed. 

 

Through the back of the wardrobe and into the dark….

 Entering East Berlin on that dark cold November evening was a chilling, sobering experience.

West Berlin was all bright lights, busy traffic and lots of bustle and noise.

East Berlin wasn’t.

 

Going through Check Point Charlie was like going back 50 years in time. Imagine going through the back of the wardrobe in the CS Lewis tales and emerging into another world of darkened sinister streets lit by 30watt light bulbs, the whole scene bathed in a yellow glow from the pollution in the air caused by burning brown lignite coal and all with armed trigger happy East German border guards who would shoot to kill.

Welcome to hard line Stalinist East Berlin, the Soviets show piece to the west.

 There was no banter with the border guards, you did as you were told. I was travelling ‘light’, no heavy duty transmitting machine or darkroom , just a small bag of camera gear, so there was no problem entering as a ‘businessman’.

You had to change up a set sum of West German currency into Ost marks at one to one, I think it was 50DM, about £20, each time you crossed from west to east. As I was staying in a west mark hotel where you couldn’t spend Ost marks I soon had quite a surplus of useless currency. You can only eat so many Bratwursts from the Vietnamese street vendors and even they preferred you to pay in West Marks albeit at a rate somewhat better than that received at the border.

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of East German economics.

After passing through border control, the bright lights of the west behind me, I drove slowly, very slowly around the chicane of protective anti tank concrete blocks that took me onto Friedrichstrasse, a darkened cavern of a street with no people, no cars, no life.

A turn to the right took me onto Unter Den Linden and to the Pallast Hotel near Alexander Platz where I was booked in to stay.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

I noticed a small crowd gathering nearby and went to investigate. A demonstration had just finished and all the protest banners had been laid on the grass within a hundred metres of the Volkskammer, the Peoples Chamber, a real snub to the authorities.

This was the evening of Monday the 6th of November. The hated GDR leader Honecker had already been ousted in mid October, his successor Krenz wasn’t faring much better.

 The following day I spent wandering quietly around the streets of East Berlin. There was a strange quality to the light, soft and muted, similar to London in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s before the clean air act. My images had an ethereal feel to them, even though they were made in 1989 they looked like they had been shot many years earlier.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

The street furniture, the cheap clothing, the grey light and the lack of western styled cars all helped to make instant nostalgia.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

 

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

I was kicked out of my hotel the next day as a ‘delegation’  had arrived unannounced and demanded all the rooms. I have no idea who they were but the bad suits gave them away as probably in from Moscow

I didn’t argue.

 The Indy’s West German correspondent Patricia Clough arrived from Bonn and we found another hotel nearby and booked in for two weeks.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

 Apart from a couple of Civic Forum meetings held in the suburbs things were quiet. We wandered down to the east side of the Brandenburg Gate to watch the armed border guards go about their business and found a ‘bierkeller’ that served half decent food and drink.

 I popped back to the west a couple of times to ship some film back to London. After a couple of trips back and forth the border guards recognised my big West German registered hire car. I wasn’t exactly waved through but the threatening demeanour had changed somewhat. I noticed that the rifles had disappeared to be replaced with side arms.

Thursday Evening 9th of November.

I was resting in my room when the ‘phone rang. It was AWS my Editor in London. ‘ ‘I’ve just seen an AP ( Associated Press ) news snap saying that the wall be come down tonight’. He even gave me the street name and time where this was to happen.

I had 20 minutes to get to the location.

I grabbed my cameras and dashed down to the lobby to get my car out of the secured hotel car park. The car park attendant had gone home for the night. Would sir return tomorrow morning asked the receptionist. No, sir wouldn’t.

Taxis were at a premium, i.e. there weren’t any unless you pre booked or engaged a driver for the day.

As I turned from the reception desk a taxi turned up with a Canadian journalist aboard. I rushed outside before the driver disappeared. I told the reporter that the wall was about to come down within 15 minutes. He looked at me incredulously as he had just arrived in from the airport.

The driver was obviously itching to get away so I just put a 100DM ( hard Western currency ) note in his hand and demanded he drive me to Bernauer Straße.

He drove.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

I arrived at the location of what was to be the very first breach in the wall. There was a small crowd of locals, a few journalists,  a couple of photographers and a  TV camera crew. I joined them as a road digger trundled down the darkened street to attack the wall.

I fired a frame with flash but nothing happened, I tried again, nothing. My flash had died. The batteries were exhausted.

Frantically I asked the waiting crowd if anyone had any spare AA batteries.

A radio reporter came to my aid with some spares but by this time the digger was about to attack. I jumped up onto the machine to indicate to the driver that I was about to dis-assemble my photographic equipment in the dark and in the rain and would he mind just waiting a few minutes while I sorted myself out.

He did, bless him.

 

The wall started to fall, delayed by me for only a few minutes, just before 10.30pm on the 9th of November 1989.

I had images of the first bite into the wall, locals holding their bits of fallen masonry and very confused East German border guards who were visible standing in the death strip zone between east and west.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

 Now, the difficult bit. Getting the material back to London.

 I had to get to the west to transmit my pictures via Reuters the international news agency. There was no transmitter in the east, although I found out later that Reuters had managed to get a transmitter into East Berlin.

My driver, couldn’t believe what he was seeing and quite frankly neither could I.

This was history in the raw.

We tried to get to West Berlin via Check Point Charlie. I could get through but not my driver, wrong piece of paper. We drove to another crossing point where the driver knew he could get through, this time I had the wrong documentation.

It was now well past midnight and I knew I was missing all my London late editions.

We went back to Charlie where there were thousands of Berliners from both sides just trying to cross over. The border was open but closed by the sheer weight of people.

I ditched the cab and pushed my way through the throng. I walked the route of the wall around to the west side of the Brandenburg Gate.

I arrived about two in the morning, far too late for that nights edition. There were dozens of West Berliners climbing onto the wall now, waving and cheering and giving ‘V’ for victory signs to the East German border guards.

 

This was too much. The guards started to use high pressure water hoses on those brave enough to stand their ground high upon the wall. I climbed a tree to get a vantage point and spotted two guys up on the wall using an umbrella as a shield against the water jet.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

 I made the picture.

 Wet, tired but elated I made my way out to the airport to arrange to get my overnight material on the first BA flight out in the morning.

The following day I was given the whole of the back page of the Saturday Independent to show off my coverage with the lead picture across 8 columns of the men being hosed off the Wall.

The next few days morphed into each other and Independent correspondent Pat Clough and myself raced around Berlin catching up with the fastest of moving stories. On Saturday the 11th of November, only two days after the wall was breached, the infamous Glienicker Bridge, scene of many a spy exchange during the height of the cold war was opened up to East and West Germans to cross at will. As there was no Sunday Independent back in November 1989 my pictures and story had to wait to be published on Monday.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Indy Page Copy Glienicke Bridge 13 Nov 1989

Indy page copy Gleinicker Bridge 13 Nov 1989-2-BH8_9585

As both Pat and I were slightly ahead with our coverage we could afford to relax a little and spend Sunday watching various sections of the Berlin Wall crash to the ground as Berliners (and not a few journalists including myself) grabbed hold of precious pieces of the falling wall…the east facing white painted sections being the most prized.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Tens of thousands of East Berliners queued patiently to cross to the west during the next few days, many to be re-united with family and friends not seen since the wall was built in the early 1960’s.

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

Berlin, Germany photographed on the days leading up to the fall

… and then as quickly as the fall of the wall in Berlin had happened, the fickle hand of the news agenda took me to Prague in Czechoslovakia to cover The Velvet Revolution where Alexander Dubček returned from exile and Václav Havel became President…what amazing times…

Indy Page copy Wenceslas Square 24 Nov 1989

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Sally Soames Photographer, Journalist, Mother, Grandmother, Mentor to so many and Friend to many more… 21 January 1937 – 5 October 2019

I make no apology for re publishing my short obituary about Sally first published on the British Press Photographers Association-BPPA site last week. 

I have included photographs taken with permission from her son Trevor Soames at Sally’s funeral held at Golders Green Crematorium, north London on Sunday 13th of October 2019. There are also some page copies of her work published in ‘Manpower’ in 1987 by Andre Deutsch-ISBN 0-233-98111-X

Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019

Sally Soames who worked as a photographer for The Sunday Times for more than three decades died aged 82 at her home in north London on the 5th of October 2019.

 

Sally, like many of her generation had no formal training as a photographer, starting out by winning a photography competition run by a London evening paper. She was noticed by the Observer where she contributed work during the 1960’s before being taken onto the Sunday Times before the decade was out. She stayed on her beloved paper for more than 32 years working for esteemed editor Harry Evans and design maestro Edwin Taylor, reluctantly retiring due to problems with her knees and as black and white analogue film photography gave way to colour and subsequently digital image making.

Sally told me in the early 90’s that she was scouring London and buying up all the Nikon FM2 film cameras that she could find once she had been told that her favourite camera wasn’t going to be made anymore. I don’t think Sally and modern digital technology would have got on together, so a good time to call it a day.

Sally was a pure image maker, the eyes were everything, get the eyes sharp and you will have your reader, she said to me once. She would talk her subject into submission if he or she proved to be reluctant to have their photograph taken. She charmed and cajoled, often writing to her subject in advance of the photography session as well as reading their work if an author, or watching their films or plays if an actor. She saw herself and her work as the equal of the writer and the written word when covering an interview, not for Sally the three minute photo-op session dictated by a hovering PR, which is now seen to be the norm, Sally demanded and got as much time as she needed to produce her work.

Although Sally did specialise in portrait work for the paper, producing some of the most eye catching imagery to grace the pages of any newspaper in the land she was also a dab hand on the political scene. I personally worked alongside her on many occasions, Sally on the ST and myself on The Times at many a political conference during the 70’s through the 80’s. I was always surprised to see her visual summation of the week in her paper, normally a quiet reflective moment caught with fuss, just a fine quality image that would make you think a while.

I also worked alongside Sally in Israel whilst covering a general election in June 1981 featuring Menachem Begin and Moshe Dyan, both of whom she had entré to with one phone call. Her portrait of General Dyan on the Golan Heights ranks, IMHO, as one of her finest images. She introduced me around to those that mattered and arranged passes and some access to this then relative green horn, but that was just so typical of Sally, she would help just about anyone but especially new guys and gals on the block…there is a long line of news photographers working now who all owe Sally a great debt of personal gratitude, myself included.

 She had a heart felt affinity with Israel, being born Jewish (born Winkleman), and when based there during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab States led by Egypt and Syria in October 1973 she was recalled by Kelvin Brodie her Sunday Times picture editor (and a former top flight news photographer) as it was deemed by the ST management as being too dangerous for Sally to stay after the death of ST correspondent Nick Tomalin. The group of Arab commandos who stormed the beach outside her Tel Aviv beach front hotel made the point more emphatically. She returned to Israel a week later to cover the km101 peace talks.

Sally may have been slight of frame and stature but she was strong and a fighter…Sally never ever gave up, she always found a way to achieve what she wanted, with a gushing smile, a hand hold, a squeeze and it must be said a fair bit of feminine schmoozing…Sally really was one of those unique individuals who was a friend to many, a mentor to many more and a bloody good photographer…oh, and a really nice woman. RIP Sally

Page copies from Sallys book ‘Manpower’

 

Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019

Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019

Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Ray Wells Picture Editor at The Sunday Times

Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019Sally Soames Funeral, Golders Green Crematorium 13 Oct 2019

A small group of photographers say their farewells to Sally at Carluccio’s, Sally’s favourite hang out near her home in north London. 

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The Impact-Pactin Photos Lunch May 2019

…and so, it came to pass that Impact Photos, the picture agency and photo library is no more…it has ceased to exist, it is a dead a defunct photo  agency…it is, as co founder Philippe Achache so succinctly put it – PACTIN !!

impact photos last day 19 jan 2019_l1007565

After many months of saving the library by sorting out more than half a million transparencies in the cold dark miserable garages of Queen Park and getting them back, if wanted, to fellow contributing photographers we decided to have a celebratory wake and lunch combined at The Coach Pub and Restaurant in the centre of uber trendy Clerkenwell, London where many of us either started in the photography business or studied here at the London College of Printing in Back Hill many many moons ago.

It should be noted that any photographs NOT claimed and not sent to landfill ( as several photographers requested ) have been sent to the Bishopsgate Institute near Liverpool Street for historical research purposes only, it must be STRESSED that the photographs can not be used for any commercial purpose including editorial unless the photographer has given express permission…here endith the legal stuff !!

And without further ado I present a set of pictures taken at our lunchtime gig….I was suitably impressed by the excellent carving and cutting skills shown by all when tackling the wonderful seven hour slow cooked lamb and the beautiful fish on the bone, obviously an indication of a lifetime of staying and eating in high end expense account hotels and restaurants around the world courtesy of our many masters over the past 50 years !!

Impact Photos Lunch 15 May 2019 names

My group shot made using my new Leica M10 balanced on a chair which in turn was balanced on a table…not for the faint-hearted…next time a tripod me thinks ! Pamela Morton Freelance Organiser from the NUJ, on the right foreground, deserves special recognition as it was her letter directed to the Impact Photos owners that stopped the collection going to landfill all those months ago.
Caption courtesy of David Reed
Early arrivals at The Coach enjoy the late spring sunshine and not a glass of wine to be seen…not very European ?

Top left: Homer Sykes, Pamla Toler and Philippe Achache. T-R: Roger Scruton, David Reed and Rick Colis. Mid right: Roger Scruton, Homer Sykes and David Reed. Bottom right: Peter Arkel, Rick Colis and Piers Cavendish. Bottow left: Ben Gibson and Lionel Derimais with middle left: David Reed, Christopher Cormack, Piers Cavendish and Caroline Penn.

Some excellent serving skills shown here, learned over the years at some of the worlds most exotic restaurants courtesy of our many masters as we travelled the globe on our wonderfully generous expense accounts…great days
Impact Photos Lunch 15 May 2019_L1009032Impact Photos Lunch 15 May 2019_L1009028IMPACT LUNCH 00105152019
Some fine group shot photography here from Homer Sykes and myself…if you can’t see the camera…then the camera can’t see you….

Happy snap time with Roger Scruton, Homer Sykes and bottom picture Petteri Kokkonen

Photographers always work on the principle that this could be their last food for hours, days or weeks if the phone starts to ring and you have to dash out of the door on assignment….so, lots of very clean plates here…also pudding was beckoning !!!

A cracking day spent with some of the best photographers in the business…maybe we can do it again sometime…well done Philippe, David and Lionel who organised the bash.

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Copying all those tens of thousands of transparencies and negatives

If like me you have been a working photographer for many years then you are bound to have thousands, maybe tens or even hundreds of thousands of colour transparencies or B&W negatives festering away in a filing cabinet, out in the garage, up in the loft or maybe under the bed.

If you have been a contributing photographer to a photo agency that has now folded and have been inundated with hundreds of sheets of returned trannies and have no idea where to start to make sense of your collection, your work, your pension….then look no further, I may have a solution and with a bit of effort you may even get a fiscal return for your time invested.

impact photos last day 19 jan 2019_l1007585

The Impact Photos photo library being disbanded January 2019

In the first instance forget scanning all this stuff with a desk top scanner…scanning using technology from two decades back is for the birds. I have an old Nikon 5000 Super Coolscan bit of kit tethered to an ancient Mac ibook as it will only work with an old Mac operating system dating from when Noah was a boy…it worked, it still works but boy, oh boy is it slow…chunter, chunter…about 5 minutes for each frame, after scanning  a dozen pictures you start to loose the will to live – I’m keeping it though,  just in case !

No, my new all singing and dancing wizz bang super fast way of scanning which uses the latest technology is……

Brian and slide copier small file L1004537

Brian with his ‘wizz bang’ copying set up

…I use my Nikon D810 camera body, an ancient circa 1985 manual focus 55mm Macro lens, a Nikon PK-13  extension ring (27.5mm) and a Nikon ES-1 Slide Copying Adaptor and an old lightbox for the light source seen above.

When I’m organised i can rattle through 50 slides or more in an hour. It helps to keep the picture sets together on the same subject for bulk editing, captioning and keywording later. Depending on how ‘dirty’ your precious images are will determine how much time you spend cleaning  at 200% magnification later using Photoshop. I have a policy that if the picture is really beyond the pale then it has to be quite unique for me to invest more than 10 minutes in cleaning it up and anything that can be re shot today using vastly superior optics and sensors and that isn’t up to scratch goes straight into the bin ( trash in the US ).Sudan Girba refugee camp Sudan, Africa during the famine of 1985Sudan Girba refugee camp Sudan, Africa during the famine of 1985

Girba refugee camp in Sudan 1986-raw scan and file after being cleaned up in Photoshop

I have found that I can make some really quite wonderful files from my B&W negatives using the same set up but with a black card homemade negative holder with the aperture cut 2-3mm over the negative size. This gives you an area of the blank clear film base from which to make your ‘black point’ after inverting the image back to a positive (Cmd-i ) and also allows you to have a fashionable ‘black’ border.

BH8_3166

Midsummers Day in the village of Eklången, Sweden, 1990.
Midsummers Day in the village of Eklången, Sweden, 1990. The raw scan top and finished image below

I have to admit that I haven’t mastered copying colour negative material, the orange film base has defeated my photoshop skills but I understand that if you want to shell out the best part of £3.5k on a Nikon D850 then the camera will do the colour negative inversion for you using in camera software…for me, the little work i shot on colour neg stock that has any value will be scanned on my old Nikon scanner.

My method is faster by a million miles, deep colour depth is held and shadows and highlights can be retained. I can now see the end of the tunnel of sheets of trannies and hundreds of yellow Kodachome boxes…one day all my work with be scanned into digital binary … I just hope they will be readable in 50 years time, like some of my early negs and colour transparencies !!!

 

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The International Driving Permit

Gavia Pass in the Italian Alps. June 2018

Gavia Pass (Italian: Passo di Gavia) (el. 2621 m.) is a high mountain pass in the Italian Alps. It is the tenth highest paved road in the Alps. The pass lies in the Lombardy region and divides the province of Sondrio to the north and the province of Brescia to the south. The road over the pass (SS 300) connects Bormio to the northwest with Ponte di Legno to the south and is single track most on its southern section.

Planning to go off on a wonderful driving holiday or business trip to Europe this year…planning to hit the highways and byways of Europe…planning to cruise over some of the worlds most beautiful and challenging mountain passes…well then…start planning now and get your International Driving Permits-IDP sorted out soonest.

Brian's Saab makes it to Switzerland 0818Towards the summit of the Simplonpass connecting north west Italy and Switzerland

I got my International Driving Permit last week. The IDP is a legal entity unlike the heavily advertised ‘International Driving Licence’ which according to the RAC and the Department for Transport has no legal validity at all.

International Driving Permit Feb 2019

Two different IDP’s…the 1968 version on left and the 1949 version on the right

The bottom line is…if you are proposing to drive in Europe ( and beyond ) after March 29th and the British Government crashes out of the European Union without a Brexit deal there is NO guarantee that your existing UK issued driving licence on its own will be valid in Europe and beyond.

SAAB 9.5 IN TOSCANA_P1020353A little bit of ‘White Road’ driving in Tuscany…

To be sure of complying with what are sure to be draconian European driving laws then pop down to your local CROWN Post Office with your passport, current UK Driving License-both parts, a passport photograph for each licence required and a means of paying £5.50 for each license. Your small local post office won’t be able to do this for you.

When I turned up I had to wait for 10 minutes as only two member of staff had been trained up to issue the IDP and they were both at lunch. It takes about 10 minutes for each IDP to be issued as all your details have to be written in laboriously by legible hand onto a card document slightly larger than a standard passport. You get lots of stamps which makes it all very official looking and most importantly each IDP is published in several  European languages…enough even to appease a French ‘Flic‘ who wants to bring his numbers up at the end of a shift !!

Somme WW1 Battlefield, July 1st-November 1916, France. Munich Tr

Using farmers dirt tracks to cross the Somme Battlefields in northern France

As far as I could work out, with the help of a wonderful Post Office clerk in Dunmow, Essex there are three versions of the IDP, all different and all valid for different periods of time…no one said this was going to be easy !

I opted for the 1949 validated version which allows me to drive in Spain, Malta, Cyprus and Iceland…AND the 1968 validated version which covers all EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland…there is another version dated from 1926 which allows you to drive in Lichtenstein. Now, just to confuse…it is possible that if the UK crashes out of Europe on the 29th of March 2019…then either none of the above will count….or, that the 1949 version will not count and only the 1968 will be of use. When the Prime Minister knows I’m sure she will tell us !!

Getting a Brexit deal may help to resolve all the above but i’m planning a belt and braces approach here by getting sorted now !

Interesting point here is that although the Government refuses to acknowledge that pre Brexit stockpiling is taking place throughout the land most Crown Post Offices have been issued with thousands of blank International Driving Permits to issue in the coming weeks…I was told ‘We are expecting a bit of a rush on in March’…don’t get caught out, go get it sorted now !!…and this will probably apply even if you are hiring a car in Europe rather than taking your own.

Here are some helpful links:

https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/travel/driving-abroad/international-driving-permit/

https://www.postoffice.co.uk/international-driving-permit

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/international-driving-permits-for-uk-drivers-from-28-march-2019

International Driving Permit Feb 2019

Both my 1968 and 1949 validated version of the IDP

Stelvio Pass, Italy,Winter, 2000

Stelvio Pass in Italy in the winter. The pass is located in the Ortler Alps in Italy between Stilfs (“Stelvio” in Italian) in South Tyrol and Bormio in the province of Sondrio. It is about 75 km (47 mi) from Bolzano and a mere 200 m from the Swiss border.

 

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