Monday, December 29, 2008

End of an era, end of Woolworths

Saturday, December 27 will go down in history as the day Woolworths died. Riddled with bad debt and apparently no direction, the Pick 'N Mix delight has ceased to be.

Since news of the store's demise circulated it has been the busiest shop on the high street as shoppers swooped like vultures in search of that extra special discount.

For a documentary photographer, stores like Woolwoorths attract your camera like an electro-magnet. This Preston store was 98 years old and the second Woolworths in the country. Once a huge part of people's lives, getting an image of Woolworths is irresistible.

The reality was a little less romantic. At my local store in Preston, Lancashire, there were stories of staff being abused and punched because discounts were not big enough. I saw customers queuing with basket-loads of discounted merchandise to the checkout, demanding further discounts, then dumping the stuff when staff said no.

By the final day of business, much of the store had been cordoned off and what remained looked more like a bad bring and buy sale than the thriving shop this place once was.

I hold my hands up and say these photographs were taken without having sought prior permission. I just felt the desire to document an institution was greater than being told 'no pictures' after going through all the corporate red tape.

I saw a reporter and photographer from the Lancashire Evening Post outside the store. The photographer had been denied permission to take pictures. I'm glad I got mine.

I remember the one on Northumberland Street in Newcastle when I was a kid before it closed down. The one that remained, in the downmarket part of town, was much bigger at one time.

In later years I used to single out Quality Street coffee creams in the Pick 'N Mix until Nestle stopped making my favourite favoured chocolates. Perhaps that's when it all started going wrong for Woolies.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Raily stupid

PHOTO: How British trains used to be - a lot better than they are now.

In the last few weeks I have been to Holland and Israel. Fantastic places, remarkable people.

But this is not a look-at-me-and-where-I've-been-aren't-I-special blog. This is about trains.

The Netherlands. You arrive at Schiphol Airport, the most impressive I've been to yet, go down a gleaming escalator and wait a few minutes for a shiny, clean huge double-decker train to pull silently into the station. And you're off.

Train travel in Flatlands is efficient, quiet and almost surgically clean. I was impressed. I'm told that sometimes Dutch trains aren't perfect, they do run late. Sometimes. They are a shining example of how to run a train network. I went from Schiphol to Deventer to Amsterdam to Den Haag without fuss or fear or wallet damage.

Getting from Israel's Ben Gurion Airport train station to Tel Aviv and from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a little less convenient. Less frequent trains combined with my Hebrew reading skills meant it took me two hours to take the short journey into Tel Aviv. This included 50 minutes waiting on the platform, followed by a 10 minute journey in the wrong direction, followed by another 50 minute wait on a station platform somewhere else.

But I can't blame Israeli railways for my stupidity.

The trains themselves were either huge, spacious single-deckers or even huger double-deckers much like those in the Netherlands. Israeli's train stations were so clean you could sit on the floor. The trains were a little dusty on the outside but, be fair, this is the Middle East.

And so we come to this proud land. Great Britain. Inventors of the steam train, pioneers of the railway. Keepers of the developed world's worst rail network. Have you ever got on a train from Manchester Airport? It's a shitty little 'cross-country' thing with about as much charm as a Glaswegian family on holiday in Benidorm.

Ugly and dirty (the train, not the Glaswegians) and if you're really unlucky you get the two-carriage version which is fitted-out with the kind of seating you get on a 1980s bus.

Forget the fact that British trains are inexcusably expensive and notoriously unreliable. They are just awful, out-dated and embarrassing.

Even in Ukraine, a former Soviet nation which the British like to think is still a little bit backwards, their rail and underground system (in Kiev) is super efficient and mega cheap - a staggering five pence a journey, actually.

When I travel the 300 miles from my home to London I go by car. British Rail is too expensive and, crucially, too unreliable. And when you consider how congested the British motorways are and how expensive petrol and diesel is in this country, that's saying something.

This country is carpeted with railway tracks but British Rail has for too many years been a shambles, both as a nationalised outfit and a private business. The Dutch can do it, the Israeli's can do it. My god, most of the rest of the world can do it. Why can't we get it right?

NOTE: In December 2008 diesel cost £0.99 a LITRE at the cheapest pumps in this country, down from a record high of £1.30 - again at the cheapest pumps.

NOTE 2: The photo is of the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway near Lake Windermere. If you want to catch a train (and a delightful ferry for that matter) visit

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Photographing people

Taking photographs of people can be tough. If you want good results you need to get in peoples faces. It takes a bit of courage, a bit of cheek, a bit of balls.

The problem is that a lot of people don't like being photographed, especially in their ordinary, everyday lives. This can be a problem if you like photographing people in their ordinary, everyday lives.

Mathematically, there is direct inverse proportion between how ordinary a situation is and the likelihood of someone saying 'no' to a picture request. So, if you're at a music festival you will find people smiling deliriously at you as you snap away. If you are down the high street on a wet Wednesday afternoon people will growl at you because you are obviously a weirdo.

Sadly, you can't persuade the steadfastly unwilling that a photograph of them dripping wet in their C&A raincoat is just what you're after.

But there are certain things you can do to give yourself a fighting chance of photographing Britain in its everyday unexcitedness.

Make eye contact, smile and wear a luminous workmen's jacket can all make things a little bit easier for you.

And there's also these two quotes from experienced photographers.

In a recent Photography Monthly article, Garry Cook said: "Think like a professional - be like a professional. If you are holding a camera, you are a photographer (at that moment anyway). So don't shuffle around apologetically."

And in an interview in the The Times Travel supplement , Martin Parr said: "Behave as if you've every right to be there."

Proof, as if it was needed, that great minds think alike.

NOTE: These photographs were taken on the streets of Bethlehem.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Toony Blair, Sting, Jimmy Nail, Ant & Dec, your wallets will take one hell of a beating

Catastrophically catastrophic football club Newcastle United are trying to instigate an audaciously audacious fans' takeover of the club. It'll only cost them £300m, they reckon, to buy out their heavily hated super saviour, Mike Ashley.

The fans group reckon the Toon Army has 300,000 fans worldwide. That equates to £1,000 per fan. I reckon as they only have 52,327 for a home game - on a good day - that's a tall order.

Even with the help of Ant & Dec, Jimmy Nail, Sid Waddell, Sting and ex-Prime Minister Toony Blair it's still a taller order than persuading Kevin Keegan that Dennis Wise is a fun guy to take a taxi ride with.

Still, we all have dreams. The Toon Army do have a few fans. This photograph (above) was taken on the 20th April, 2008, in New York City's Nevada Smiths bar (74 Third Avenue, between 11th & 12th). It's the official home of Toon Army NYC. But can you see this lot forking out £1,000 each (that's $2000, 1,300 Euros)? No chance. It's Dubai or bust for the barmy Barcodes.

NOTE. Newcastle beat Sunderland 2-0 in the game during which this photograph was taken. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to me dad for publishing a photograph of the people who give Geordies a bad name.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Netherlands cliche

What do the people of Holland do? They ride bikes. It's a cliche, it's a fact.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dane and dusted

On Sunday (August 17) at around 2.30pm Nikolaj Sørensen finished his two-month walk from Lands End to John O'Groats.

Nikolaj, a history teacher from Denmark, CouchSurfed with me a month ago on his way up the length of the British Isles.

On Sunday Nikolaj, 38, told me: "I'm hurting today, but now I can go home." I think he found it a very tough journey (it is a very tough journey) but he fulfilled his ambition. I applaud him.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

More rain, more Blackpool

For the third weekend running I was back in Blackpool. Can a person take this much fun?
It was raining. But it was still fun.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Summer holidays

This is British tourism at its most average.
Taken at the Wild Boar Park, Chipping, Lancashire in July 2008.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A summer in Blackpool

Had a heated discussion with someone in the office about the merits of a weekend in Blackpool.

I was of the opinion that the resort as a drinking destination is a dirty, depressing, soulless place. A sh*thole, basically. While my colleague was from Blackpool. He vigorously disagreed.

The brash trash of the town is seductive in its own way, but the grubby bars and the hoardes of heavy drinking stag parties leave me cold.

Can't see what appeal myself. Each to their own like. Did you know people from Scotland come down the M6 to Blackpool in their thousands? Some of them even stay for a whole week! They have to come past the Lake District to get there. What are they thinking?

Over the 2008 summer season I am visiting Blackpool regularly to photograph the resort and, more specifically, it's visitors. No portraiture, no poses. Just the people as they patrol the promenade and stagger between the bars.

Interesting fact: British rail have cancelled the Blackpool to Manchester Airport train at 1.10am. And the ticket man will make you buy a new ticket for 3.35am train because returns are only valid until 2.30am.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lo Fi photography

"I don't care what camera people think I use, or even if they think I don't know how to use a camera. So much of photography is bogged down in this preciousness."

Not words uttered by me, but the kind of statement that could get you thrown off a photography masters course.

These words came from fashion photographer Valerie Phillips, whose so-called lo-fi style has been used by brands like Puma, Virgin Atlantic and Doc Martens.

Lo-fi photography is almost a snap-shot style and without the use of a studio, lightning rigs or, seemingly, much forethought. But that's the idea.

I think it's the fact that it is the easiest style to emulate for an amateur, leading to criticisms from the great and good who reside at Hotel Theoretical (not the place you and I would feel at home).

But while others sniff at it either because it looks cheap or because it can't be obviously referenced to a style first used more 50-odd years ago, the only measure of it's validity should be this: Does it look good?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It is accomplished

Got my Masters degree certificate in the post this morning. It's not as impressive as the certificates you used to get years ago with a big embossed logo but the certificate doesn't really matter, does it?

In fact, passing the course didn't really matter - it was all about learning. I learned about some old photographers, some crap theories, how to develop a project and how to produce a book.

Last month was the graduation ceremony at Bolton University. I didn't go. I kind of forgot. Or only remembered when it was too late. I bumped into fellow Master Mark Scholey and he said I was the only one who didn't go. I felt a bit guilty.

But the pomp and ceremony and stupid hats don't mean much to me. And I'd rather spend my ever-dwindling financial resources on a budget flight rather than a tatty cape.

Was the course perfect? Course not. Nothing is. The main area it fell short was in teaching you how to put together a budget proposal to get a commission or a grant. It was mainly covered through us doing a presentation. Those who had experience of it did well, those who didn't struggled. And that was it.

It's the one area that still strikes fear into my soul. Shame really, especially as the charismatic Ian Beesley has previous in this area.

And organisation problems apart the lectures were superb, several of Beesley's being better than the big-name visitors, while the confidence from learning has been invaluable already.

Garry Cook, MA.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Photographers are perverts

If someone tried to stop me taking photographs of my son, I'd tell them to knob off.

But such is the silly world that we live in, not only can this happen you can also be accused of being a pervert. For photographing children. Your own children.

Gary Crutchley, from Walsall, was taking photos of his kids, aged, seven and five, going down a slide when he was accosted by another parent and a member of the ride's staff.

He said: "A woman said I could be taking pictures of any child to put on the internet and called me a pervert. It was sheer madness."

Sheer madness? No argument from me there.

Fact: You can take a photograph of anyone in a public place whether they like it or not.

That doesn't mean you need to go around upsetting people. If you want to take a photograph of someone it's polite to ask.

He added: "We left. Two police officers confirmed that I had been perfectly within my rights to take photographs of my own children in the park."

I've taken photographs of my own son in one of those huge indoor climbing frame centres. I'm conscious of other parents reactions but so far everyone has been respectful. Taking photos of your own kids is normal.

But if I took a photo which included one of their kids, would that make me a pervert? Of course not. If I took a photo of only their kids would that make me a pervert? No again. Just someone who is a bit rude for not asking.

But Gary Crutchley, standing next to his wife, was taking photos of his own children.

Crutchley added: "What is the world coming to? This parental paranoia is getting out of hand."

If you didn't know already, planet earth is packed with idiots.

So, this is the lesson we've learned today: Our children can carry knives, sniff glue, smash up bus stops and impregnate each other - but don't you dare photograph them you pervert.

NOTE: No children were harmed in the taking of this photograph.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Flickr's finest, Rebekka Guoleifsdóttir

Rebekka Guoleifsdóttir is one, if not the, outstanding photographer on, the photo community website.

The Icelandic photographer, known as _rebekka on the site, is both an example of how the internet can make you famous and how it can bite your bum.

Rebekka's stunning landscapes, with a smattering of sexy and humorous self-portraits, have fuelled a fanatical following for the 29-year-old. She's been featured in news and magazine articles around the world, been commissioned for major advertising campaigns, held exhibitions and does a tidy line in print sales.

And all because of the profile her photographs on flickr gave her. Rebekka's camera skills were honed as she uploaded her pictures to flickr. Her exceptional photography would eventually have reached a wider audience on its own, but there is no doubt her web presence accelerated the process.

Success for her, success for flickr, success for the internet. Jolly good.

Now the bad bit. So desirable are Rebekka's photographs that people want them. And they want to sell them. Without telling Rebekka. A British website which sells photographs printed on canvas were the first to steal her prints from flickr, upscaling the relatively small jpegs before selling them on eBay and through their website (later changing to when their scam was exposed).

It was a sorry tale, not least because of the way flickr (owned by Yahoo) handled the episode after they were inundated with complaints from Rebekka's online fans. Dismissive, unsympathetic and aggressive before someone realised they had a PR disaster on their hands unless they started to practice the feel-good community spirit they preach.

The episode left a sour taste in the mouth of the photographer herself, who told me in an interview for Photography Monthly magazine: "

So you can imagine her horror when in February 2008 she found a contributor to stock photography outfit selling her photographs, again stolen from flickr. Twenty-five of the seller's 31 photographs were Rebekka's.

iStockphoto moved quickly to remedy the problem, but it was still a shocking incident which was reported around the world.

In both instances Rebekka, though obviously peeved, kept her cool. behaving in a considered and impeccable manner. I'd be spitting feathers, demanding action and calling for the return of capital punishment.

While she had been watermarking her images on flickr and reducing the downloadable image size, some of her older images were still rife for stealing. It's almost impossible, time-wise, to re-upload images.

And the moral of the story? Lurking in the shadows, behind the undoubted power of the internet, is the power to steal. Rebekka is a high-profile victim, but I could be a victim too - so could you.

Many of my images on flickr were uploaded before I started embedding my name and copyright notices in them (though these would not deter a thief anyway). The internet is an amazing place, especially for photography.

But just as you would be wary walking down a dark alley with a bag full of expensive camera equipment, don't assume your belongings are safe online. The pixelated jungle is just as unsafe as its urban counterpart.

Rebekka's website:
Rebekka on flickr:

NOTE: I've not asked Rebekka permission to use any of her photo's to illustrate this article, so I haven't used any. Infact, I've not even told her about this article - the flickr community will do that.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kiev conquered

Lunch in Kiev, dinner in Riga, supper in Hemel Hemsptead. If that isn’t a perfect day, then a perfect day doesn’t exist.

Far off the beaten track, it’s one of those destinations few in Britain have been lucky enough to reach. But if you put in the effort, Hemel Hempstead is worth it.

But let’s deal with Kiev. It’s the most difficult city I’ve been to in terms of getting around and communicating. But once you’ve found a map, got your bearings and conquered the metro the fear disappears and the beauty of this place unveils itself.

Kiev has more churches than the Vatican, more street boozing than Manchester on UEFA Cup Final night, more beautiful women than a Paris fashion show.

The churches are part of its Christian history, the boozing on Independence Square at night is what they do and the beautiful girls are just a happy coincidence.

And with no direct flights to Kiev from Britain, you feel like you’re visiting an unspoilt wonderland that the west has been unable to bastardise through stag do’s and budget flights.

It’s like seeing communism firsthand without the communism actually being there any more. Get yourself to Kiev (but don’t tell anybody in case they ruin it).

NOTE: My trip to Kiev was for my book Outsiders. I interviewed and photographed Sean Carr and Mick Lake from the band Death Valley Screamers, two guys from Leeds who now live in Kiev, the city where they relaunched their band with life-changing success.

I flew from Stansted via Riga. I spent two hours in Riga on my way back. The Latvian girls just aren't as pretty.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Image over substance

What’s the difference between the Burma Cyclone and the Boxing Day Tsunami?

And the answer is not a joke.

The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which killed 230,000 people across South East Asia, shocked people across the world into donating £3.5billion (USD 7 million).

The recent Burma Cyclone had a far more immediately devastating effect and the final death total is expected to exceed 500,000 – more than twice that of the Tsunami.

So why are our TV stations and newspapers not full of wall-to-wall pleas for donations like they were after the Tsunami?

The difference is, with virtually no photographic images and TV footage of the devastation, the media has not had the raw ingredients to produce stories which pull at the heartstrings.

The Burmese government, who have refused access to their country of both the press and aid agencies, have to take their share of the blame for that, especially as their needless stubbornness undoubtedly caused the needless death of thousands more of its people.

But the situation has highlighted how important images – be they still or moving – and journalists are in the world today. No press, no exposure, no public sympathy, no financial support.

Just because we can’t see rotting corpses and starving children after a disaster does not mean that disaster is any less tragic and worthy of aid. But because we can’t see so many images of it does mean that it will get less attention and less aid.

It’s a basic principle, but one that works. It’s why there are advertisements, it’s why journalists like me get invited on trips abroad for free. Attention is everything, even the suffering need it to help stop the suffering. Not very funny but it’s true.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

O my God (Hates America)

The Westboro Baptist Church, better known as or Those Awful People Who Picket The Funerals of Dead Soldiers, are a strange set indeed.

Out of all the interviews I’ve ever done, this lot have generated the most interest. And, let me tell you, I’ve interviewed Jim Bowen. People can’t wait to ask what they are really like.

I was fortunate enough to spend the day with Shirley Phelps, the motormouth unofficial leader of the gang, and her oldest daughter Megan. The rest of the kids – Bekah, Libby, Luke, Noah, Jonah, Zach, Isaiah, Gabriel and Grace drifted in and out during the day. And that’s not even all of them.

And what did I think of them? Well, like a thesis on the molecular deconstruction of photoreceptors which sprout anomalous neurites that reach the inner plexiform and ganglion cell layers, it’s difficult to explain.

I stayed in Topeka with one of the nicest (and largest) families I have ever met. I can’t rate Shirley (pictured) highly enough. I have some great photographs of this remarkable woman with her kids. I’ll have to send her some copies. But what I learned is you can’t separate this family from their burning religious beliefs. Their religion is their existence.

Some of the things they said to me were hideous, unpalatable and uncomfortable. They are acutely aware of this, but have total belief in the reasons they have for saying it.

Fred said ‘taking it up the rump’ so many times I nearly laughed. I don’t think Shirley noticed.

Whether condemning the paedophiles, America or me, they always did it with warmth, generosity and with a smile on their face. And that’s the most important thing. It’s the American way. I say: God bless America (even though God hates America).

Be shocked, appalled or join them at and

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The cost of photography and mobile phones

So, you spend weeks planning your trip, saving money wherever you can, sleeping in people's couch's for free and sharing hotel rooms with French students. Your plane tickets are the cheapest in the world, your car hire in America is a bargain and your hotel room in Tobago is free.

Then you get home and two weeks later a 99GBP mobile phone bill drops through your letterbox. Two minute call = 5GBP. Bloody Nora!

You can't budget for everything. Cheap calls through the brilliant Vyke Pro program ( just didn't work in Tobago. Ditto 18185 - the pre-call system which is supposed to cost you 1p a minute.

Cheap flights have revolutionised consumer travel but it seems when it comes to our must-have-can't-do-without cell phones, the companies are still able to take the p***. Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone: be ashamed.

BY THE WAY: This photograph is of Manhattan Island, New York. It was not taken with my mobile cell phone.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Great Uncle Ernie

Sometimes all you have to do to take a great photograph is point the camera and press the button. Rest in peace.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Hands of God


The first batch of interviews have been completed for my remarkable book, Outsiders.

While I am keeping the identity of most of the subjects close to my chest, I can reveal that my latest interview took me to the land of America.

I spent some time with a man who is the leader of a church, commands respect, has incredible knowledge of the scriptures and who works tirelessly to spread the word of God around the world.

Sadly, Pope Benedict XVI, head of the Catholic church, turned down my offer to be interviewed and photographed.

But Fred Phelps, head of the Westboro Baptist Church, and his family did invite me round for the day to their home in Topeka, Kansas.

And I have to say that I've never had a day quite like it. As an all-American family they tick all the boxes. Loving, generous, warm, friendly, respectful. Their family life is as perfect as you can get. They are amazing.

The bit about everyone going to Hell for either being homosexual or being accepting of the practice is a bit hard to swallow. As is their policy of picketing funerals of pretty much anyone, no matter how tragic the death was because (they say) tragic death is God's way of punishing fag lovers. But, apart from that, they were terrific.

The family are notorious for their picketing of funerals of dead American soldiers. You can discover their fairly forceful beliefs at and

I have several hours of taped interviews, plus a photographic documentary of their routine daily life of laughter, love and pickets in Topeka. I met them again in New York.

Interesting fact: Fred Phelps used to run marathons.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Odd photography

Odd, I mean, in the terms of a photographer doing something odd, not odd as in a photograph of something odd. Do you get me, or is this all starting to sound a bit odd? Oddly enough, I agree - something odd is happening.

As if photographers, professional or not, are not under the cosh enough already. They're scared of being abused in public, scared of having their camera ripped out of their hands, scared of being arrested and scared of being accused of being a paedophile.

They're not scared for no reason - these things are happening. I've not had the paedo label hurled at me, but I have been abused (see blog of angry man at Gateshead Shopping Centre below).

Now those infinitely wisdomatic people at the Metropolitan Police in London have started a campaign to report odd looking photographers to police because they are probably terrorists.

You can read the poster for yourself. Thousands Of People Take Photos Everyday. What If One Of Them Seems Odd?

Odd? You take a photo down any highstreet in Britain and people think you're odd. It's one of the perks of the job. Now they're trying to take that away.

Being odd was once a privilege, now it's the quickest route to Guantanamo Bay.

The next time I take a photograph of a smoker outside the back door of a pub, rather than behaving oddly I'm going to blend perfectly into the background by behaving normally: I'll slur my words, ask a blonde bird for a spit roast and then vomit in the gutter. Nothing odd about that.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Focus on Imaging

Two week's ago I went to Slide, the ski, skate and snowboarding trade fair at Manchester Central. It was a well-organised show, but not too busy.

On Monday I went to Focus on Imaging at Birmingham's NEC. It was packed. You couldn't move. There were some dazzling stands, much merchandise being premiered and some unusual gadgets.

I particularly liked the fitted waterproof camera covers by Kat ( at £50) and the Eizo ColourEdge CG211 monitor (£800 but not in production yet).

As a writer and occasional contributor to several photography magazines, I was particularly interested in the publishers stands - but they were little more than unglorified newsagents.

While retailers like Jacobs could take cash off punters fast enough, the most impressive stands were the printer manufacturers - especially Epson's centre-piece stand. The quality of prints these days is as staggering as the size of some of the machines.

Of course, the difficulty in choosing the right printer is as mind-boggling complicated as ever. I liked the Epson Stylus 1400 for its A3+ prints, then I liked the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 for it’s A3+ and B&W capabilities, then I liked the Epson Stylus Photo Pro 3800 with it’s A2 ability, then I liked the Epson Stylus Photo R1900 for its new colour processing technology, then I realised I don't really know what I’m on about.
I came home empty-handed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Flashes to Ashes by Garry Cook - buy the book now

It’s taken a while but at long last my book Flashes to Ashes is available to buy.

Described as having ‘larger-than-life characters presented in loud, vivid colour’ this photo essay shows the impact of the smoking ban had when it was introduced in England on July 1, 2007.

Shot across several towns and cities, including Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool and Preston, Flashes to Ashes goes into pubs, bingo halls, working men’s clubs and nightclubs to document smokers as they light-up indoors for the last time.

The smokers are then followed as they go outside, laughing, defiant, drunk and aggressive.

This 80-page full colour book is exclusively available to buy through this blog for just £13 (email for foreign currency conversions).

It’ll make you laugh - or your money back.

Email to order your copy

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Gallery Review

This is a review of Bolton's Photojournalism and Travel Photography MA recent show at the Richard Goodall Gallery in Manchester. I suppose I should say it was taken from the website. I didn't ask permission to use the review, but I'm sure they won't mind (if they do, they're just silly).

Bolton University MA Photography Show
Richard Goodall Gallery, Manchester, 7th - 12th January 2008

Now in its third year, Bolton’s MA in international photojournalism, documentary and travel photography provides a strong local alternative to the handful of longer-established postgraduate courses on offer around the country. Uniquely, the programme is also run at the University of Dalian in China, and students in both locations have an opportunity to move between the two centres. The latest UK cohort has produced a surprisingly eclectic mix of quality work, beautifully presented for one week only in Richard Goodall’s prestigious new gallery space.

As you might expect, issue-based projects are prominent, such as Amy Crozier’s sensitive images dealing with her friend’s breast cancer and Mark Scholey’s monochrome work on foot-and-mouth, a quiet and beautifully printed portrayal of rural communities left empty and desolate by the disease. That said, several of the photographers prefer a more art-based approach, such as Tom Steveton’s depiction of five decades in a single house. Beate Mielemeier’s calm, gentle river-themed series and Garry Cook’s look at the English smoking ban, with its larger-than-life characters presented in loud, vivid colour, both underline the huge variety of subject matter chosen by the photographers.

Foreign-shot folios give the course a very international feel, but Annie O’Neill’s view of the Chinese art scene and Peter Walker’s personal images of Lithuania’s Hill of Crosses are nicely counterbalanced by Jonathan Hardman’s affectionate Liverpool-themed documentary pictures. Styles and methods range widely: Caroline Edge’s small black-and-whites of Lourdes are in classic street photographer mode, pleasantly out of step with the current photographic fashion for large colour prints; Rob Thomas’ colour participatory project in India, where he taught photography to a group of children, is an entirely different line of attack, with its own challenges and rewards. Talking of children, Daniel Jordan-Killoran reminds us that an adult photographing them is still not taboo, producing a series of joyous pictures made in a local primary school.

Any spelling or factual errors above should be blamed on the alcohol freely available at the packed launch event, where the near-tangible enthusiasm spoke volumes for this course in particular and for photography in general.

(Review by Simon Bowcock)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Don't photograph me!

It was the worst abuse I have experienced.

"You better not be taking a photograph of me. I'll come up there and smash your camera if you're taking a photograph of me. You can't take a photograph of me. It's illegal. I'll rip you're head off if you take a photograph of me."

He went on (at the top of his voice).

"Right, I'll come up there now and smash your f***ing camera. Don't you dare talk to me like that. I'm going to knock you're f***ing head off. Come on, I'll have you now."

Admittedly, by the time this 50-year-old man told me not to talk to him like that I had called him a kn*bhead about six times, an idiot more than once and had invited him to come up and join me on the upper level of the precinct so we could discuss the matter further.

The strange thing was, this wasn't a drunken smoker or heavy drinker at 11.30 at night. It was 11.30 in the morning in the drafty concrete courtyard at the back of Gateshead Indoor Market.

I had been invited onto an organised trip to the top of Gateshead car park and was taking some pictures around the shopping centre beforehand. Both are scheduled for demolition within weeks.

My camera, on a tripod, was pointing across the square, taking in both upper and lower levels (through a Sigma 12-24mm wideangle lens, if you're interested).

The occasional shopper on the open-air lower level wandered into frame, but were nothing more than specks in the frame. As was Mr Furiously Angry, the man who walks around Gateshead giving Geordies a bad name. Thank god we don't get any tourists here.

In my defence, and I should stress that angry responses should be treated with good manners to reduce the chance of escalting violence, my first words to this man were 'you don't have to be so rude'.

But this bloke was so angry. He was shouting at the top of his voice before I had even see him. The two or three pensioners who had been close to him before his outburst dispersed so quickly you'd have thought they had spotted Daniel O'Donnell coming out of the the Greggs opposite Tesco's

I was genuinely shocked at this man's reaction to my camera. I was genuinely shocked at this man's attitude. And his vitriol.

When he dropped his bag to the floor and gestured that he was about to run towards the stairs I thought I might have a situation on my hands. But I just could not stop myself calling him a kn*bhead. Quite frankly, he was. Of the highest order.

If someone doesn't want their photo taken, that's fine by me. But I don't think anyone deserves to be spoken to like that. I wouldn't do it myself, I won't accept it to myself.

* And if you're wondering, Mr Furiously Angry is the tiny body who is furthest away in the photograph above.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bye Bye Keano

As part of my plan to produce my Outsiders book this year I have made the incredibly brave decision - fearless infact - to sell my beloved Keano, otherwise known as my brilliant bright red Nissan X-trail.

I need the dosh, so Keano will shortly be going to a new home to replaced by a Volkswagen Golf, the most reliable hatchback you can buy. Fact.

In my search for a suitable replacement to Keano, I went to the Preston branch of Arnold Clark (Europe's biggest independent car dealer, they claim).

I swore I would never go back there. Eighteen months ago, I told the salesman I wanted ultra reliable hatchback with a high mpg. He immediteley guided me to a bulky Rover which had a price tag about £3,000 more than my budget. 'Don't worry about that,' he said. 'We can do you a deal."

Turns out that Arnold Clark purchased a fleet of Rovers when the company went bust a few years ago. They can't shift them so are trying to force them onto unsuspecting customers. No doubt the salesmen will get an extra bonus for shifting one of these dinosaurs.

Fast forward to the prseent and I was back at AC's knowing that either a VW Golf diesel or a Vauxhall Astra diesel were the best options for me (reliable, high mpg).

I told the salesman I wanted a spacious car with a high mpg. He went through his list. He mentioned four cars. Three of them were fr*gg*ing Rovers. The other was a Citroen Xsara Picasso.

I'll not even comment on the Rovers. As for the Picasso? Well, it was priced £2,500 over my budget. But salesman Paul told me, 'Don't worry about that, we can do you a deal.'

Do car salesmen ever give you what they want, or just what they want to get rid of? I'll leave you with these words from the Consumers' Association Which?:

'Don't Buy: Citroen Xsara. The Xsara can be pretty troublesome, and only 35% of owners would recommend it. Its dated safety and poor ownership score suggest you should give it a miss.'

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Trying to tap into the lucrative grants market is not as easy as your would hope.

I subscribe to various newsletters from organisations like folly, the Arts Council and Voluntary Arts England.

But the complicated criteria you have to meet to justify getting an award or grant to carry out a project is worthy of a degree course itself. Form-filling MA or BA in Jargon.

The process is only surpassed in its abuse of the English language by the stupidity of English language used in actual submission guidelines.

Quite frankly, I'm beginning to think you need to be on drugs to understand the terminology these organisations use.

For example: Proposals are requested that explore mapping as it relates to survival, resistance, and gentrification. How do artists respond to it? How do these issues affect community? How can the internet or web-based technology be used to address these concerns?

And: The purpose of this open participation meeting is *to explore the relationship between digital networks and physical space: how new locative technologies are changing the way citizens perceive the physical and geographic space* (cellphones, Google Earth, GPS...) *and how these media are reorganizing civic communication and interaction* (from "geobrowsers" to the Local Web 2.0 or the "hiperlocal" journalism).

I even complained to Folly, who collate these commissions before sending them out in one big fat email.

So it was nice to read a plain English appeal for artistic work today.

"The Brighton Pebble Museum is curating a CD of pebble related music. For inclusion, please send your track to..."

Rolling Stones anyone?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Inside Outsiders

I have started work on my next two books (mentioned briefly previously).

The first, with a working title Outsiders, will be a series of portraits and text interviews of people who are either outsiders or unusual, unique, excluded, lonely or different. Basically, anyone who stands out or is not understood by other sections of society. (broad brief, ideas welcome)

I have a long list of either specific names or types of people I would like to be included in the book.

First of all I will try to complete a few portraits of subjects here in Britain, then I'll look to capture some of my other targets from around the world.

The book will be full colour and A4-ish portrait shape (it's important to decide that now so I know which way I should hold the camera up) and I'm aiming for a blurbie/luluie book to be done inside 12 months.

The second book is provisionally titled Shop! The planning for this is not as far down the line (though it will be landscape) and it could take a lot longer to produce.

And, as someone who does not like airing their ideas and then failing to see them through, may I be the first to declare that this book may never see the light of day.

This project is reliant and permission to photograph in shops and is unlikely to see the light of day if I fail to get funding. As the saying goes, Men are from Mars, funders are from Uranus.

Pretty Ugly

Last Friday I found myself in a dark back street in a rough part of London. Not a great combination.

The V22 Ashwin Street Gallery in Dalston - Murder Mile I'm told it's known as - was the venue for artist Jasper Joffe's latest exhibition.

A peculiar (and kind of enchanting) venue, Joffe's paintings of women in underwear, some of them absolutely huge (the paintings I mean), were quite interesting.

Part of the fascination was the idea he had of splitting the two rooms into a place for pretty people and ugly people. The choice was yours (although having to walk through the pretty room to get to the ugly room kind of inhibited the concept).

For stunts like this, Joffe has previous. He once asked critics to review his exhibition before they had seen it. Interesting, yes. Publicity stunt, definitely. Still it kind of worked: I was there.

I Had planned to do some three-quarter length portraits of pretty/ugly people. But, because of the sheer scale of Joffe's work, I decided to photograph people standing next to, or in front of, the artworks.

The result? Not the set of specific portraits I intended, but a (fairly) interesting documentary of the kind of people who attend on exhibition opening like this. And it was very kind of Jasper to make me feel so welcome.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Blurb winning after Lulu own goal

Got a very nice email from Jodie at Connected PR who represent the online book publisher Blurb. She said they migh be interested in promoting one of my future book projects, provisionally titled Shop!

I've seen some Blurb books and they are very good. So are Lulu's, which I used for Flashes to Ashes. The only problem with Lulu is tha I ordered two sets of books and, though the print quality is great, both had major faults.

The first order had a 4mm white line across the top of every page where the pages had been sliced at the wrong place.

The second order had a 4mm white line across the bottom of every page where... well, you get the idea.

This problem has been common to several of my fellow student who have used Lulu. Sadly, the proces of complaining and getting it fixed is proving laborious for all of us.

I'd better dig out that email to Connected PR, I think I could be chnaging sides.

Plagne sailing (or skiing)

Had a great weekend in La Plagne on a press trip. Skiing for the first time, bobsleighing for the first time, Raclette for the first (and last)time.

The visit coincided with the Telemark World Cup. Though now an official FIS event, Telemarking is still less professional than, say, downhill skiing. And that was great for me as I could get access to the slopes to take photographs.

My travel article will be in the Daily Star soon.

Plagne sailing (or skiing)

Had a great weekend in La Plagne on a press trip. Skiing for the first time, bobsleighing for the first time, Raclette for the first (and last)time.

The visit coincided with the Telemark World Cup. Though now an official FIS event, Telemarking is still less professional than, say, downhill skiing. And that was great for me as I could get access to the slopes to take photographs.

My travel article will be in the Daily Star soon.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ugly and Beautiful

Strange one this. I'm off to London on Friday night to photograph the opening of an art exhibition. Not just any art exhibition this though.

Jasper Joffe, the artist, paints nice pictures. He's making a name for himself in London, but he does things differently.

He like to engage his viewers and reviewers in his art. For example, he once invited critics to review his show before they had actually seen it. Bit unusual.

This time he has his pictures in two rooms and is asking those attending the opening night to assess themselves as either pretty or ugly and step into the appropriate pretty or ugly room.

I'll be taking photos of both sets of people and, hopefully, will be able to show you what a pretty person looks like... and what an ugly person looks like.

I'm not sure what Joffe is trying to achieve, but it's an interesting idea. And if you're pretty (or ugly), I'll see you there. It's at the V22 Ashwin Street Gallery, London.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The big smoke, Manchester

The second week of January 2008 was quite an unusual one for me: I had an exhibition of photographs on display at the Richard Goodall Gallery For Contemporary Art in Manchester and I went skiing for the first time.

The exhibition was in fact a graduation show for my Photography MA at Bolton University. Unfortunately I had to miss the 'opening night' (I use the term loosely cos the exhibition had already been running for four days) because I flew out on a press trip to La Plagne in the French Alps.

Skiing was brilliant, thanks for asking. I only had one hour-and-a-half lesson topped off with a fast and furious sling down the Olympic bobsleigh track with three petrified girls. Of course I wasn't scared at all (the cable car going down was worse).

It was worth the trip, even if Sir Ian Beesley was a bit narked I missed the show.

When I got home on Saturday night my inbox was full of the usual strange messages, but one particularly stood. It was from a guy who had been to the exhibition and wanted a copy of my book. What a nice man.

As I believed the subject matter was un-sellable, this request came as a bit of a shock. I don't even think it was a wind-up from Sir Ian.

Last week I also got interviewed about my photos for the Bolton Eveing News. This is what I said (taken from the Preston Citizen website, who belong to the same company):

A student, who is studying for an MA in international photojournalism, documentary and travel photography, thought that the effects of the smoke ban on the social lives of people in the north west were so interesting he decided to photograph them for his degree show.

Preston-based Garry Cook, who completes his University of Bolton course in October, said: "On the first day of the ban I went to a pub in Blackpool where this guy is still defying the ban now, and there were people there who hadn't smoked for 20 years who were having a fag in the pub because they disagreed with this law.

"There is a lot of anger - sometimes pointed at me, and sometimes at my camera and sometimes at the Government.

"But, on the whole, the smokers were very chatty and thought of themselves as being defiant together - and that's not something you get these days in society, people being united over a current affairs issue.

"There was a sense of defiance that they were still doing what they wanted to do, even if they had to go outside to do it."

Garry's photographs will be included at an exhibition at Manchester's new Richard Goodall Gallery For Contemporary Art.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Guide to pdf converting to (a bit boring)

Publishing a book through is a horrendous process. It’s not designing it which is the problem, it’s the converting to a pdf which kills you.
I’ve done it several times now, have been on the verge of suffering a mental haemorrhage, but I got through the process. This guide is to help me remember so that next time I’ve got a book to do, I don’t cry again.
And the main help I’m offering here are the bits which lulu doesn’t mention in its FAQ guides.

Book or photo book?
Everything I’m doing here is in reference to a book full of photos. So it might come as a surprise to know that you must not select photobook for your photobook. Confused? Well, because it’s best to design the book yourself and upload it as a pdf, you don’t need to use the photobook templates.
Paperback, hardcover, dissertation, comic, product manual, sales proposal, travel guide, textbook...?
It doesn’t really matter which one you click on at the front page, they all lead to the same place. It’s when you start to pick book size and binding that’s important. That’s entirely up to yourself.

Which program do you design your book with?
It doesn’t matter – which ever you are familiar with. I used Microsoft publisher for my first book, then Adobe InDesign for my second.
I contacted lulu’s Live Help when was having problems converting to a pdf with my first book and told them I had used publisher, the man on the other end suggested this was the problem and i should use another piece of software. Publisher wasn’t the problem, and having spent hours designing the bloody book, no, I was not about to start it all over again.

Size of jpegs
Lulu recommends 300dpi (maximum is 600 dpi) but my biggest problem was what size jpegs should be used. My jpegs are converted from NEF RAW files then tiff’s from a Nikon D2xs, so they’re pretty big.
For my first attempt at publishing a book I saved them at Level 6. The A4 print-outs I did at home came out great. The photos in my book were awful, pixelised.
My advice is: Use jpegs as big as you can, and save at level 12. Lulu’s pdf size limit is 700mb. Unless you’re book is 800 pages long with 800 pages, that you’ll be fine.

Converting to pdf.
This is the tough part, so I’ll keep it simple:
To set page size of your document:
Start menu> setting> printers> right click mouse button> preferences> page sizes> add> enter page size of document (full bleed if you’re doing full bleed)
unclick box Do Not Send Fonts To Adobe pdf
save Adobe PDF Page Size as new name (Crown Quarto Full Bleed, for example)

layout> advanced> change True Type font to Download As Softfont
change postscript to Optimise For Portability
And save these settings under a new name, like High Quality Lulu.

Then in the document itself:
File> printer> server options> printer. Right click mouse button> change Adobe pdf size to print size to crown quarto full bleed (or whatever the name of the custom page size you created was).
File> printer> properties> layout> advanced> untick box Do Not Send Fonts To Adobe PDF
And then into: layout> advanced> paper size to Crown Quarto Full Bleed (or whatever), set TrueType Font and Postcript options also (as above).
NOTE: In this bit the dpi print quality is set to 1200. I’m not sure if you should reduce this to 300 or 600 dpi.

Then print the document (as a postscript file):
Select adobe pdf. Tick the Print to file box. Save file as same name with a .ps ending.
The file conversion will take a while and it will be a massive file.

Then convert this file through Adobe Acrobat Distiller:
Open distiller through Adobe Acrobat: Advanced> Acrobat Distiller
Simply drag the new file into Distiller. A new, much smaller pdf, will be produced. When it’s done check the fonts are embedded and that the document size is correct. And you’re done.
Simply upload to lulu with an ftp program., username is your email, password is your password.

The Cover.
I created my own two-page cover but that kept converting into a pdf with two extra blank pages, so instead I re-saved my cover as two pages, converted to jpeg and converted separately.

Thank you. Have a rest.