About ten days ago I was one of the speakers at a very interesting event organised by Redeye, Chetham's Library and The University of Bolton. The event was entitled as the First UK Symposium on Photography, was held at Chetham's in Manchester and had a strong cast list of speakers - especially from the news and editorial sector of our industry. My small part was as one of two panelists in a discussion about press photography in the UK. My colleague Pete Jenkins led off with an honest and sobering resume of the changes in the industry over the last twenty or so years and then it was my turn.

 

Pete did an excellent job of setting the scene. Nobody in the audience was left in any doubt that we are at a place in the history of our industry where we all have to make choices. Some photographers are bailing out of news and editorial all together. Many of them are ending up shooting weddings in a photojournalistic style and many more are looking towards the corporate an PR worlds for their clients.

I've only been freelancing this time since September 2008 but I have been around for 23 years and I have always kept my ear to the ground. I agree with Pete and with everyone else who says that we are at a crossroad and that each of us needs to make a game plan. There seem to be a division emerging where some photographers who have staff jobs or decent contracts with newspapers or agencies will carry on shooting news but will have to spend quite a lot of their working day thinking about and/or shooting multimedia and video as well as recording sound. There are other photographers, mostly based in the regions, who will carry on shooting stills for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines and who will not be particularly involved in video for a while. Then there comes the rest of us - and this is where we pick up again on my speech at the Manchester Symposium - who are press photographers but who are shooting less and less for newspapers.

In my twenty minutes at the microphone I talked about being a press photographer at heart and I actually mentioned having press photography in my soul. I have a style of pictures that is absolutely rooted in my editorial experience and I want to carry on making those kinds of images and telling those kinds of stories. This picture was shot for a very commercial client...

It is exactly the same picture that I would have shot for a newspaper or magazine but it will probably be used in a different way. This clearly presents ethical issues and I am acutely aware of them but I want to carry on taking my kind of pictures and telling my kind of stories and there are fewer and fewer opportunities to do that in the newspaper business that pay enough money to allow me to pay all of my bills.

One of the other speakers - indeed the keynote speaker for one of the sessions - said that UK photography was in a malaise. He was wrong in one important way. The industry and the market is in trouble but the work of UK photographers is in great shape. The work that is being produced is of high quality - possibly better than at any time I can remember - and there is a lot of it. The market is saturated at a time when companies are looking to spend less and get more. That's the problem. Supply and demand. Too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

I've made my mind up. I'm going to find clients who want to pay me to do what I'm good at, what I love doing and what I want to keep on doing. I'm not stupid. I'm also going to keep my eyes open and my ear to the ground. If the market changes or if technology changes I hope to be right there making those changes work for me.

In the meant time I'm going to repeat what I have said so many times before... It's an exciting time to be a photographer and I'm a very lucky man to be doing what I do.

© Neil Turner June 2009

NB - my Keynote presentation slides have been saved as a Quick Time Movie here
 
 
 

 
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