Posts Tagged ‘The Journalist Magazine’

Missing from the Record: what has happened to workplace photography?

20th September, 2010
A domestic worker at St. Charles Hospital, Notting Hill, newly contracted out to cleaning company Mediclean, watches a televised speech by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Image © 1986 Phillip Wolmuth.

A domestic worker at St. Charles Hospital, Notting Hill, newly contracted out to cleaning company Mediclean, watches a televised speech by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Image © 1986 Phillip Wolmuth.

The call to action from the TUC in Manchester this week brings to mind campaigns against public spending cuts imposed by previous governments, and the part that photography has played in them.

Perhaps the most memorable image of the ‘Winter of Discontent’, which immediately preceded the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, was of rats scurrying over piles of uncollected refuse sacks in Leicester Square. In that and subsequent disputes, those parts of the press more sympathetic to the trade union point of view, particularly the papers produced by the unions themselves, built solidarity with photographs of countrywide protest actions, and of workers in their workplaces.

One big difference between then and now, immediately discernable in the trade union (TU) press, is the current lack of representation of people at work. This is the culmination of a trend that began in the 1990s. It’s also at the root of the heated debate about the use of photography in TU journals that recently sprang up in the pages of the NUJ’s Journalist magazine.

The TU papers of the 1980s and 1990s were usually tabloid in format, like the NUPE Journal, for which the above photo was taken. Features frequently ran over two or three pages, with pictures used large, often occupying more than half the page. And they were very often unposed, documentary shots taken in workplaces – something that is now rare.

I think this is a significant loss, particularly in the present context. Such photographs can give meaning to the otherwise seemingly abstract effects of ‘planned public spending cuts’. If these images do not even appear in the TU press, they are unlikely to appear anywhere else.

Why has this change come about? One obvious reason is that the privatisation of so many services – from the railways and other public utilities, to hospital porters and school dinners – has made access difficult. Another is that union membership has fallen, resulting both in an increase in non-unionised workplaces, and in a decrease in union income. Over the same period there has been a move, across the media generally, away from serious photojournalism and towards ‘lifestyle’ and celebrity. And then there is the proposition that, with the rise of the new, fully automated, digital cameras, anyone can do it – so why pay for photos when members will send them in for free?

Access is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. As for the rest – I don’t buy any of it. Declining union membership has been offset by amalgamation – the membership base of the new ‘super-unions’ means that cheapskate sourcing of photography should really not be necessary. And there’s no reason why union journals should follow Murdoch and the rest down the celebrity and lifestyle route. As for digital cameras – ownership no more confers the ability to produce meaningful photojournalism, than does possession of a pen the ability to write like Shakespeare.

The fundamental reason for the absence is, I think, more depressing. It is that many editors (and those who employ them), inundated with mundane, ‘good enough’, almost-free imagery, have forgotten the value and impact of intelligently presented, serious photography.


Phillip Wolmuth is a freelance photographer and branch committee member. This article originally appeared on Phillip’s blog.

Motions to the Branch

30th March, 2010

The following motions will be put to the branch meeting on the 30th of March:

English Defence League

This Branch condemns the attacks on media workers by supporters of the far right English Defence League (EDL) and other far right groups.
Racism, violence and criminal damage are the hallmarks of EDL protests across Britain. NUJ members have exposed the true nature and character of the EDL.

EDL supporters have responded by targeting media workers with intimidation, threats and violence.
This Branch agrees to supports the media campaign Expose the BNP with a donation of £20.
Proposed by Jason Parkinson.

BA Strike

This Branch supports the right to strike – a right that is enshrined by international treaties.
The 1948 International Labour Organisation’s convention on the right to organise and bargain collectively, the Council of Europe’s social charter of 1961 and the 1966 UN covenant on economic, social and cultural rights all support this right.

This Branch agrees to send a message of support to Unite British Airways cabin crews who are taking industrial action to defend their jobs and conditions against a bullying and anti-union management.
Proposed by John Harris.

Digital Economy Bill

This Branch backs the Stop 43 campaign to knock Clause 43 out of the Digital Economy Bill, condemns this government’s attempt, in its last days, to force this highly controversial measure through the House of Commons without any debate, and calls on the next to introduce Moral Rights in full for all creators.
Proposed by Andrew Wiard

The Journalist Magazine.

This branch congratulates the new editor of The Journalist on her appointment but views with concern her sourcing of images from businesses such as Getty and iStock whose practices work against the interest of all photographers and in particular the interests of NUJ photographers.

This branch calls on the editor to meet with representatives of the London Photographers’ Branch at the earliest opportunity to discuss how the Journalist can develop a policy for the use of photographs that recognises the skill, experience and talents of NUJ members and is more supportive towards them.
Proposed by David Hoffman.

The Guardian

This Branch notes the difficult trading conditions The Guardian and we all face. We also note that the timely sale of 49.9% of TMG not only showed foresight of these difficult trading conditions and helped boosted the groups profits before tax from £97.7m (2007) to £306.4m (2008) but also that the GMG chair in the 2009 Annual report pointed to the “many other positives: we have net cash rather than net debt; we have a number of sound long-term investments; our businesses continue to be bold and innovative; our people are among the very best in the industry; and the Guardian’s superb journalism is reaching an expanding global audience through the growth of its website”.

Further we note that the subsequent 2009 loss of £89.8m according to the Chair “only gives only a partial view of our financial position and health..” the loss being made up entirely of losses on forward exchange contracts, on interest rate swaps and debt, and impairment of goodwill and intangibles.

We also note that the paper has already achieved very great cost savings through the cheap subscription deals offered by a some of the larger agencies e.g. Getty and Alamy.

However, it is a misnomer to describe the pictures sourced from individual freelances and the smaller agencies and picture libraries as “stock” in that these pictures are typically not ubiquitous generalisable commodity pictures but real, recent and relevant to the issues of the day with which the paper is concerned and are therefore precisely the diverse and original content that helps distinguish The Guardian from the competition. This content is crucial if the company is to realise its expressed aim of becoming “the world voice of liberal public opinion”. To this end we would ask that no such cuts in reproduction or commission fees are made.
Proposed by John Harris.

Any further motions to the branch should be sent to the Branch secretary prior to the meeting.