Lets start the Debate

7th April, 2010

Members attend a branch meeting of the London Photographers' Branch at Headland House. Image © Jonathan Warren/jwarren.co.uk 2010
Members attend a meeting of the London Photographers’ Branch at Headland House. Image © Jonathan Warren/jwarren.co.uk 2010

Welcome to the Debate section of the London Photographer’s Branch. We are the newest branch of the National Union of Journalists that will promote the needs of photographers. The Branch is the result of years of Union members campaigning to create a platform in which they could highlight the issues that matter to photographers.

Branch membership is open to photographers living in the London area or deriving most of their income from London based clients. This covers many of the photographers working in Britain today. The NUJ’s National Executive Committee has also reinterpreted the rules so that any NUJ member has the option of joining the Branch. Regardless this branch will be fighting for the issues and causes that matter to all photographers in the UK.

The Photojournalist of today is under assault from almost every side. In the last 10 years we have seen profound changes in Photojournalism. At the forefront are the changes in technology. Digital Photography has radically changed the way we not only produce images but how we consume them. Digital Photography has put in the hands of the amateur what once was the preserve of the professional. The internet has created a myriad of platforms for which to display and look at photography. Film is now increasingly the preserve of the Art photographer and even then, chances are those images are scanned and displayed somewhere in the worldwide web.

While these changes have in so many ways been a positive trend the overwhelming feeling among our community is that these changes had for the most part devalued our profession and at the very least, the value of images. I read once that more images have been made since 2000 than all the photographs made between 1842 and 1999. Our world is now swimming in an ocean of imagery. We have flooded the market with our stock.

These changes in technology have also adversely affected the very platforms we traditionally published our work. There are few newspapers or current events magazines that are not under serious duress from the alternate free sources of information available on the web. Readership and advertising is down in the physical copies of these publications, while millions now consume them for free on the internet. Web advertising cannot currently pay for the costs of producing these online versions. Publishers have been looking for ways to cut costs and the photographer’s income from commissions and use of their images has been targeted. The myriad of new platforms available to the photographer on the internet rarely pay anything approaching a living wage or the costs of producing the very photographs they publish. The real danger here is that these new platforms cater only to us as photographers, not the wider audience the photojournalist strives to reach. If we are not communicating to a wider audience what exactly are we doing?

It is in this economically difficult environment that we are challenged by authorities even to our right to photograph. More and more of our colleagues are being stopped by the police and stopped from doing their job in the name of combating terrorism. In fairness, the police have always harassed photojournalists. Now with the real threat of terrorism hanging over all of us, the security forces have decided to try to curtail our legal right to photograph. What is ludicrous about all of this in an age where everyone carries a camera it is the professional photojournalist that is deemed a threat to the safety of the country. I still cannot think of one terrorist act that the camera played any part in its execution. As the most visible members of the journalistic community we face the brunt of attacks on journalism, on free speech and freedom of
assembly.

I could keep writing about the myriad of issues that affect us but I’d best leave these to later articles. I will close in writing that the Branch is dedicated to not only highlighting the issues that concern us but as a vehicle to effect positive change. We have plans to increase the NUJ’s reach in training, education and preserving the rights we currently enjoy. The Branch will invite and seek participation from all the various skills and voices from within our community. We will strive to make our monthly branch meetings an enjoyable experience and not the deadly dull meetings many associate with Union membership. We hope to have a mixture of lectures, slide shows, panel discussions and workshops that will touch on every aspect of our profession. We hope to more than anything to represent photographers in a forceful positive way. We aim to advance our profession and we hope you will join us on our journey.

Antonio Olmos
Vice-Chair, London Photographers’ Branch

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