Thursday, January 21, 2010

Crying Wolf

In an earlier post I showed you the winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards including this great shot of a wolf in the wild leaping a gate. It won cameraman Jose Luis Rodruigez a £10,000 prize.

Now the judges of the competition have ruled that it was a fake. Jose won't get his money. They point out the animal's similarity to a tame wolf in a zoo near Madrid. Although how they can tell one from another is beyond me.

Animal photography has many tricks, usually involving food reward. A polo mint up the nostril will get a horse to 'laugh.' Fishing gut round a dog's hind leg tethered to a cricket stump gives an appearance on film that the mutt is peeing inappropriately. Jose was unlucky with his tame wolf picture. Where is the fine line between a wildlife programme shot in the wild that cuts to selected close-ups shot inside a studio 'lair?'

Better luck next year, Jose.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Give confidently to Haiti

When an appalling tragedy like the devastating Haiti earthquake happens you can be sure two things will happen.

Firstly, an outpouring of generosity and assistance from the public of Britain, Europe and America will raise millions in relief funds.

Secondly, a groundswell of fraudulent scam artists will emerge from under their rock to try to skim off some of that money – just as they did for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the tsunami of 2004.

Now it’s reported that the fraudsters are rushing to register URLs capitalising on Tuesday’s natural disaster on the blighted Caribbean island where hundreds of thousands of people are at risk. Security researchers at the Internet Storm Centre have already logged the appearance of suspicious domains not connected to recognised charities. Some will be legitimate but some won’t.

There are government warnings released against these criminals but how many well intentioned people will see them, trying to pledge their hard earned cash to assist the rescue efforts? With the rise of Twitter, Facebook, etc. there are new methods of exploiting the public’s generosity.

The well respected website, The Register reports this:

“Scams have evolved since the days of Katrina so that Black Hat search engine manipulation is used to promote dodgy sites, Twitter tag-poisoning and even paid search engine placement ads may be brought into play to increase traffic flowing towards fraudulent domains. Cybercrooks may also attempt to trick surfers into downloading malware under the guise of codecs supposedly needed to view video reports of the Haitian tragedy, if previous experience is any guide.”

The FBI and the Better Business Bureau have released guidelines for all who wish to be sure their donations go where they are desperately needed – and not into the pockets of unscrupulous crooks cashing in on the misery in Haiti.

So please don’t stop giving. These appallingly afflicted people need your cash. Sticking to the well known charity names is always safe. The Red Cross, Save the Children, etc. You can consult the website of the Disaster Emergency Committee in the UK and the IFRC internationally for guidance.

The victims of this terrible disaster need you – right now.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Front line press tragedy in Afghanistan

Rupert Hamer
Philip Coburn

Today Sunday Mirror defence Correspondent, Rupert Hamer, was killed in Afghanistan. His photographer, Philip Coburn, was seriously injured. They were in a US Army vehicle that hit an improvised bomb near Nawa, in Helmand Province.

They were on assignment embedded with the US Marine Corps. A US marine and an Afghan soldier were also killed in the blast.

This tragedy has brought heartfelt words of sympathy from the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Fulsome praise for their previous work with the armed forces also comes from a former commander of the British Army in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, as well as from many friends and colleagues including his Editor, Tina Weaver.

I never worked with Rupert or Philip but I know they were a brave and professional team in any conflict. I have worked with many war photographers and their correspondents, stretching from the end of Vietnam, the Biafran Wars of the 60’s, the Israeli Five Day War, the Falklands conflict and the invasion of Bosnia. I last assigned photographers to the invasion of Kuwait and the overthrow of Saddam in Iraq. My man stood on the roof of a hotel in Baghdad to record ‘Shock and Awe’ for the readers of the Daily Mirror.

All these brave men and women have one thing in common. Utter dedication to bringing the front line plight of our soldiers, sailors and airmen to our breakfast table newspapers. They wine, dine, cajole and court the top brass, doing whatever it takes to get to the private at the front. Often the MOD or the brass don’t want them there but they persevere. Their assignment is to photograph the sons and daughters of their reading public who put their lives on the line for our country.

Many journalists and cameramen have died doing so in the past. A total of 18 have died in Afghanistan since 9/11. Most recently, Michelle Lang, aged 34, from Canada’s Calgary Herald in a similar attack last month.

Now that tragedy has happened again. These newspaper warriors volunteer for these assignments. They are not fearless individuals, careless with their lives. They are mostly family men and women, like the troops they follow, but photographing the soldiers at the front means being with them and taking their risks, too. Oft times they come home to headlines and awards but, every so often, they pay the ultimate price for their dedication.

Rupert paid that price today. Philip nearly did. I add my condolences to Rupert’s wife, Helen, and her three young children as well as to the families of the US Marine and the Afghan soldier and my hopes that Philip makes a full recovery.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Is there life after Fleet Street?


Clive Limpkin in Belfast 1972

Where do the top press photographers go after a lifetime recording the wars, triumphs and disasters that befall us all? There are just so many years they can dodge bullets, celebrity minders and traffic wardens whilst shooting assignments to a daily deadline, cajoled and screamed at by picture editors under the Editor’s cosh.

Their love of photography doesn’t diminish - they just need a new focus. I have known many who turn to travel pictures. Or rather, travel essays because these brilliant band of top snappers are honed by their past trade to ‘see’ what we all miss.

One veteran of 35 years assignments for Britain’s nationals is Clive Limpkin. From the thick of the action in the strife-torn 70’s in Northern Ireland he produced his first picture book, ‘The Battle of Bogside’ which won him the Robert Capa Gold Medal from Life Magazine. Over the following years he travelled the world with his cameras for the Daily Express, the Sketch and Daily Mail whilst writing for the Sunday Times and Observer.

Now a travel photographer he and his lovely wife, Alex, have completed an ambitious tour of India and produced a superb picture book of their experiences crossing that subcontinent. It's not one to miss.

The book is called: India Exposed – The Subcontinent A – Z

This is what he says about it.

‘For first-time visitors it’s a gamble whether this overloaded, overpopulated, over-cooked, overlooked, anarchistic madhouse will have you vowing never to go near again, or booking the next trip — no matter what the cost. When friends ask for one good reason to visit, I offer them a billion — it’s the people. Whether because of the Hindu belief in karma or due to acceptance of caste lot, nowhere else do you get so many disarming smiles or waves in warm greeting. These salutations come not from those seeking your tourist dollar but from millions upon millions with nothing to their name who act like they’ve just won life’s lottery and want you to share it. And maybe they have. Each visit to India brings a small but perceptive change to personal ambitions and Western material priorities, downgrading the urgency of another raise, a bigger car, or a facelift. India is the real world—and most of the time, it smiles at you. Matching this enveloping welcome is a serendipity of surprises that I’ve met nowhere else in the world.’

The book is a fascinating insight into India off the tourist track with 200 colour photographs and mini-essays on life in the second most populous country in the world.

The book is on Amazon here.

For those interested in how he did it go here.

You can see some of Clive’s past work here

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Two pointers to the future?

Today I thank the Lord I’m not a traditional publisher. For years I’ve suffered sniffy sniggers and downright haughty ‘attitude’ from the traditionalists of the publishing industry because I commit their cardinal sin.

I publish POD and produce e-books.

Suddenly, they are crowding onto the gangplank of the good ship E-BOOK as if it’s the last ferry from Saigon and the Viet Cong are at the gate. All the while arguing amongst themselves about how to control this strange, detested new e-world.

This week two interesting sets of figures were released.

Firstly, Amazon announced that electronic book sales outsold physical books for the first time ever on Christmas Day.

Secondly, the Publishers Association published some damning figures revealing just how badly ‘trad’ publishing is fairing. They pulp, shred or quietly entomb 77 million books a year.

Why is that? Because of the ludicrous practice of bookshops ‘returning’ unsold items. This is surely not selling, it’s lending.

Dan Franklin, publisher of Jonathan Cape, says of the system; “it’s raving mad. The retailer takes no risk.”

So the bookshops simply over order, knowing that they can send back all they don’t sell, leaving the publisher with piles of stock returns to pulp or use as ballast in bulk carriers off to the South China Seas.

Add the crazy advance system and the shallow craving by publishers for celebrity names on their titles and you have a recipe for financial disaster. A £1m advance for Cherie Blair’s autobiography, which sold 23,412 hardbacks and 10,240 paperbacks. That cost £29.70 per book just to cover the advance.

Martin Amis’s The Second Plane sold just 4,493. How much did he get on advance for that?

I’m an author who publishes his own work independently so I see both sides of the argument. As an author I want big advances, who wouldn’t? But as a publisher I know it’s unsustainable.

Nielsen Bookscan finds that, of 86,000 new physical titles published in the UK in 2009, 59,000 sold an average of just 18 copies. EIGHTEEN!

That makes me feel much better about my POD paperback sales. I’m not getting rich – but I’m not plunging into unsustainable debt either. Offering my paperback thrillers also as e-books for Kindles, Sony e-Readers and the many other electronic hand-held devices is my investment for the future – and at better discount percentages, too.

So, do I feel sorry for the blighted traditional publishing houses desperately hunting for one best seller to pay for all the bad decisions they make? Decisions like paying millions to literary lions like ‘authoress’ Jordan – Katie Price’s alter ego, even though Rebecca Farnworth actually writes her books? If they want to toss good cash off a cliff good luck to them.

It doesn’t have to be at the expense of good writers. Print on Demand, done professionally, as well as properly produced e-books are, I believe, the salvation for the rest of us.

ps. I thought I'd use the Katie Price picture at the top in a salacious attempt to get more blog readers. She didn't actually write this post. I ghost wrote it.