Amateur vs Pro

The difference between an amatuer and a professional used to be defined by your primary source of income. Now every week I read how some hobbyist photographer is earning money from their pictures while a professional complains of falling rates and a lack of income. Everyone points to the same factors, the rise of digital, internet distribution, organisations paying low prices and photographers accepting those low prices. This is the way of economics, supply and demand, price points and the bottom line. Accept it. I never thought it would be easy to make money in this job and with so many people owning cameras that can deliver high quality images then there is definitely a glut in the market. Anyone can take a technically great artistically fantastic photograph. That is the beauty of the technology. So what's the difference between amatuer versus pro?

Here's one way to tell the difference:

“The important thing that a photojournalist does is they know how to tell the story — they know they’re not there to skew, interpret or bias,” said Katrin Eismann, chairwoman of the Masters in Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. “A photographer can go to a rally or demonstration, and they can make it look as though 10 people showed up, or 1,000 people showed up, and that’s a big difference. I’m not sure I’m going to trust an amateur to understand how important that visual communication is.”

So that's one way. Literacy in visual communication. A hard thing to define but I know that when I take a photograph, when I edit and select them I'm looking for something that is informative, that raises questions, that gives the viewer a sense of the atmosphere of the situation. In short, I'm looking for something that captures the essence of the scene. How do I know what that is?

The answers to this question relies on my knowledge of visual communication. I study photographs. I read reports and accounts. I listen. I wait. I work hard to look and try and understand what I am seeing, both through the viewfinder and outside of it. And I am always building upon that knowledge. I would define an amateur not by the income they receive from their photography but by the level of understanding they have on what they doing with their photography. Do you understand what it is you are photographing and how your photographs comminicate that? If so, then you're a pro.

Rape of a Nation

This morning I read a report by Human Rights Watch on the Makombo massacre. Yet again, I read something about the Congo and wonder how human beings can do this to each other and how it is that this conflict is allowed to continue. I've been meaning to write about Marcus Bleasdale's 'Rape of a Nation' Book for a few months now, but can never seem to collect my thoughts enough to put into words what I feel whenever I look through it's pages.

It's incredible to me that this vicious conflict is not given the attention it deserves. Imagine if the U.S. intervened in the Congo with the same enthusiasm they did in Iraq, certainly the rhetoric for liberating the people from oppression would have more credibility were it applied to the problems in this part of the globe.

I commend Marcus Bleasdale for his work in trying to get the problems of the Congo onto the agenda of the governments and organisations of the world and his support of organisations working in the area. Check out his introduction to the work he has done over on Mediastorm where you will also find links to organisations you can support in relation to the issues.

Minami + Carnival

Shizuka Minami, a friend of mine, has photographs from the Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago on show at the Konica Minolta Plaza in Tokyo until the 2nd April. Check out her website here and click the flyer below for more information (in Japanese - of course.)

Premium Beef

photograph by Larry W. Smith for The New York Times

If you eat meat, you need to know how that food gets from field to table. I'm no vegetarian, but I strongly believe we should treat the animals we eat with respect. I'd love to be able to rear my own animals for food but as a lifelong city and suburb dweller I have only limited experience with the whole rearing, killing then eating thing. Plucking Kentish pheasants full of shot in a Peckham terrace thanks to a friend whose family hunted was about as close as I got. A few years back I photographed a beef processing facility in Brazil and this article brought back the memories of being surrounded by carcasses. And yes, I ate the beef that I photographed, at the farm where the cattle were reared and it was delicious. So next time you tuck into a slab of meat, pause and give thanks to the animal that you're about to devour.


As seems to be the trend with photographers who keep blogs, I'm going to tell you what gear I'm taking on a three week trip to South Korea to continue with some personal work. The work I am doing is on small scale agriculture which is a remnant from Korea's pre-industrial past. South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, but it's rural past is still within living memory and is an important part of the heritage and culture of the country and it's people. The juxtaposition of an agricultural past and a technological future is one I recognise from my home country of the U.K. People are not so different wherever you go. Full disclosure: my wife is Korean, her extended family are my room and board, my fixers, translators, drivers and often appear in the photographs too. Without them, well, I probably wouldn't even be in the country in the first place and the help they give me while I am over there is amazing. Me and my wife are also taking a trip across to Shanghai for a few days and leaving the kids with their grandparents. I've never been to Shanghai so I'm looking forward to that little excursion as that will actually be a holiday for me.

Anyway, on with the packing:

This is a big Lowepro Computrekker Plus AW. Fits a ton of gear and my oversized 17" Sony Laptop too. I will attempt to put all the gear into this one bag.

The necessary digital: Batteries, CF cards, off camera TTL cord, SB800, D200 (battered), 35mm F2, 17-55mm F2.8. Comes in handy but probably won't get used much actually.

Everyday: Nikon FE with an ancient AI'd 24mm F2.8 and a Leica M6 with the astounding voigtlander 40mm F1.4. One or both of these cameras will go everywhere with me.

Underwater gear: Nikonos V with a 35mm F2.5. LED underwater torch with a hotshoe mount. Only just bought this camera and am looking forward to testing it out. I had it checked out by Southern Nikonos who are excellent. Decided on this rather than an incredibly expensive housing for my land cameras. We'll see if it was the right decision...

The workhorse: Bronica ETRSi with a 75mm 2.8. I love this camera. Great quality. Solid as a rock. I'll probably be shooting with this most of the time.

The beast: A Crown Graphic 4x5 with a 150mm F5.6 lens. This will get used as much as possible, whenever I get a chance to slow down a little and take some time, which hopefully will be often.

Various stuff: Cable Release, tape, Sony PCM D50 audio recorder (a newish addition and one I'm hoping to give a good workout to this trip) Sekonic L358 lightmeter, long flash sync cord, Aquatech rain cover (unbelievable how often I find myself photographing in the rain) Delkin universal charger, 4x5 Film holders (2 six shot and several standard)

Well. It fits. With the exception of the charger, the 35mm nikon lens and the standard film holders. Not a problem as the charger can go in my regular bag along with my laptop power cord. The 35mm & holders will just get left behind.

I'll take a Domke F2 shoulder bag as my second carry on and that will be my day to day bag while I'm out there. I'm also packing a changing bag for the 4x5 film and a tripod. And a spare hard drive. And a rocket ball for cleaning off dust. And a card reader. And USB cables and pens.

Oh yeah. And the film....

Now to pack my one pair of jeans and a t-shirt and I'm set. Where did I put that passport?

Adobe's 'Content Aware' tool

Well this will make cleaning the dust and scratches from my 4x5 scans that much easier. Handy for removing those pesky power stations from my holiday snaps too...

Healthcare in America

Article 25 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Today the U.S. government took a step in the right direction toward ensuring that everyone gets proper medical care, regardless of whether or not they can afford the insurance. Coming from the U.K. I know both the benefits and the problems inherent in a state funded healthcare system, but when there are scenes like the one below being played out in a country that likes to think of itself as a model for the rest of the world, then you have to wonder about the wisdom of the current system.

Photograph: Dermot Tatlow/Panos Pictures

The Caption reads: The Remote Area Medical (RAM) dental area handles 30 patients at a time. All dentists and dental assistants are volunteers. Over the weekend at Soft Shell, Knott County, in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky, the congressional district with the nation's lowest life expectancy, RAM volunteers saw 822 needy people. 95 percent of people seen were provided with dental or optical care. RAM was founded in 1985 to provide free health, dental and eye care in the developing world. However, RAM now provides 60 percent of its services in the US, providing for the estimated 47 million Americans without health insurance.

See the whole of Dermot Tatlow's series America's Sick Heartland here.

So well done to the Obama administration on their work toward overhauling healthcare in the U.S. (as flawed as that overhaul will be). I'm just amazed that there is any opposition at all to the idea of providing universal, high quality healthcare for everyone. Surely that is an essential right that should be afforded to every living thing? Oh wait a minute. I momentarily forgot we live in a greed ridden self serving capitalist society. Oops.

Next Generation Camera Sensors - Quantum film

Still waiting for that new digital Cameras to come out (Yes I am..Nikon.) before you upgrade?

Well, how's about an update in the very sensor technology used. No not more megapixels, better pixel pitch or full well capacity in the photo receptors, I'm talking about the actual technology used in constructing the sensor, with applications beyond cameras as well.

Here's a quote from an article I just read:

[...] InVisage claims to be able to create image sensors that are four-times as sensitive (or four times smaller for the same sensitivity) using a low-cost 8-inch, 1.1-micron CMOS line at TSMC, compared to the CMOS image vendors today who have to use an expensive 12-inch, 65 nanometer process to achieve inferior results.

For the future, the company also plans to target other specialized applications, such as pitch-black night vision goggles, cheaper solar cells and even spray-on displays.

"Because we have better quantum efficiency, we can also apply our quantum film technology to more efficiently collect light for solar cells, or for paintable displays on textiles, clothing and other novel uses such as glowing street signs and other night-time illumination needs," [...]

Is this the next step? Check it out here ...

Don McCullin's 1989 film about London's homeless

In the days before the internet, multimedia, HD-DSLR's and the like, people put together stills, audio and video and published the result on something called 'television'. The content of these 'programmes' should be distressingly familiar, because it's the same subject matter you see in many people's projects today. Check out this one by Don McCullin and the BBC on London's homeless for example.

Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta

For some odd reason, Nigeria keeps on cropping up in conversations I have. Two (of many) examples: A friend who recently went to Nigeria told me the other day about a petrol shortage that occurred while she was there; ridiculous as that may sound from a country sitting on oil reserves as huge as Nigeria's. Last year I met a Nigerian student at Columbia University who was studying journalism. He wanted to return to Nigeria as soon as the course finished to specifically explore the use and abuse of Nigeria's oil. I asked him if he knew of Ed Kashi's work.

Workers subcontracted by Shell to clean up an oil spill from an abandoned well. A report by Amnesty International suggests in the past 50 years at least 9m barrels worth of oil have leaked into land and rivers in the region

Photograph: Ed Kashi/Corbis

I have a copy of this remarkable book on my shelf. It is a series of photographs on an important subject. Photographer Ed Kashi is a fellow New Jersey dweller - he lives a few miles over from me in the next town, he once said some positive things about some of my photographs, I've never heard a bad word said against him and I could reel off several more reasons why you should check out the book and if you are in London head over to the Host gallery to see the prints and attend the related events, but suffice it to say that I encourage you to check it out and will refrain from wittering on about economics, the environment, human greed and oppression for the moment....

So, about that fuel shortage then....

Michael Foot R.I.P.

Press Association, via Associated Press
Michael Foot in 1982 with Tony Blair, who went on to become prime minister of Britain. Mr. Foot led Labour in the early '80s.

The New York Times obituary of Michael Foot was illustrated with this photograph, which really struck me as odd seeing as Tony Blair's Government didn't even come close to pursuing many of the policies and addressing the issues that Michael Foot was a proponent of. Blair was politically much closer to the woman who defeated Michael Foot in the 1983 election. A strange choice of photograph that I can only assume was selected so a general U.S. readership could have a context for who this Michael Foot person actually was.

Read the Guardian obituary here and The Independent obituary here.


Song for Haiti part 2

Check out this audio slideshow on Haitan musician Beken.

Photograph by Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Ciara Leeming: Elijah Debnam

I am from the north of England (as I am repeatedly telling anyone who will listen) and I love that part of the world, even if it's now over a decade since I last lived there. Photographer Ciara Leeming has a good blog which includes some local stories from one of the region's biggest cities - Manchester, where she is based. One recent post is an exercise in beautiful simplicity. A portrait of an elderly gentleman in a pullover and a jacket holds a wonderful expression. Accompanying this picture is a brief audio clip in which he describes his views on a Compulsory Purchase Order put on his house, which could mean him being forced to move out of a home he has lived in for most of his life.

Sometimes you don't need a 50 picture edit with video and audio with 10 people's points of view in order to get the essence of a story across. Sometimes all it takes is one picture and a few spoken words.

Check it out here.