John Robertson: Midlands Photographer
Freelance editorial, commercial, advertising, PR and wedding photographer based in Rothwell, Northants - covering the UK and the World.
A Monkey's Revenge - My Blog
Aug 2, 2014
Facebook is a wonderful tool for keeping in touch and getting back in touch with old friends. I just discovered Jo Knowsley who used to be one of the writers for The Sunday Telegraph back in the days when it was seperate from The Daily Tel.
A kiwi by birth, Jo shares that peculiar New Zealander trait of being more british than the british. I remember her ticking me off once when I said something she considered disparaging to the royal family ;-)
I also remembered our trip to report on an old hill farmer way up in north Yorkshire who was struggling to make ends meet. We got up at silly o'clock to arrive in time before milking at 5.30 am. I casually remarked that it was "a bit bloody early to be taking pictures" and this time it was the farmer who ticked me off. "We'll have none of that profanity here, young man" he said as he invited us inside his cosy farmhouse. He then proceeded to read the bible and finish his breakfast off while we were waiting to join him to get the cows in and start milking them. Now I know there is a myth about Yorkshiremen and miserliness, but on subsequent occasions I can prove that to be untrue. On this particular day it proved to be the case though-not so much as a cup of tea was offered!
We duly fetched the few cows in to the milking parlour and then went back to look through the diaries the old chap had kept over the years. It had been a hard life-long hours and little financial reward despite people's popular opinion that all farmers are loaded!
Farmer Giles,(I've forgotten his real name), next rounded up the sheep as it was market day and he was taking them to be sold. Fastest way for him to make enough money to keep going. Unfortunately they didn't sell and he brought them all home again- a loss by the time he forked out for the diesel to take them to market and the extra feed he would need to get in for the coming winter.
Eventually we saw on TV that Farmer Giles had gone out of business,(Channel Four did a TV documentary on him after our visit). Sadly hill farming on a small scale simply wasn't viable at the time and I imagine he was one of many who had to give up the job and their way of life.
Farmer Giles turned out to be Paul Dunn- and he has written a book and also done voice recordings for the BBC as well as the C4 documentary. It was in Helmsley, N. Yorkshire.
The Channel Four documentary is here.
Jul 29, 2014
It particularly annoys me that the National Trust are at it again, sending threatening letters out to stock agencies wherever they see photos for sale with their properties featured.I took mine off several years ago, cancelled my two NT subscriptions and make a point of not buying anything from them or visiting any of their properties. So NO NTcards,merchandise, etc.
My sister works for the NT-but not in their picture library. It's a short-sighted policy to have a go at photographers who try to make a few quid flogging stock pics of NT properties. They will have lost a fair bit of revenue and pissed off people like myself who used to basically fund my membership and frequent visits with the pics I was able to sell.
Their own stock library could have benefited from this if they had been more enlightened and asked for a cut of any profits made from photo sales elsewhere.
As it is they have pissed off most professional photographers, created a bad atmosphere and lost revenue. Stupidity at it's finest. Welcome to Britain's heritage....but don't try selling any photos or any kind of commercial use of images shot on their property! I will not even use one of my photos here from past visits or jobs shot on NT properties for national newspapers like The Guardian and The Telegraph-in case they decide to get legal on me. In effect they got LOTS of free publicity and extra visitors as a result of my efforts, and those of other professional editorial photographers.Their loss- and also the nation's.Sad that nobody in charge at the NT can see what has occurred and talk to people like me to make changes that would benefit everybody. As guardians of our heritage they leave an awful lot to be desired!
Jul 14, 2014
Last week was an interesting one for me. I gave my first talk for Manfrotto up in Sheffield at Harrisons Cameras Training Centre, where I met the excellent Phil Coates who was also giving a talk about his action and travel photography and videography.
One of my jobs last week was to photograph the Jaguar Land Rover production line at JLR Solihull for The Guardian. I recognised the Lode Lane site immediately. Clearly I have excellent visual memory, because I remembered it from when my late Uncle Tom Robertson worked for Rover on the same site and although he wouldn't recognise the place these days it's still shoe-horned into the same place.
The new plant is very swish and so are the vehicles they produce there. Last year I photographed the JLR boss, Ratan Tata and under his company's stewardship JLR are doing really well. First impressions and the one that my Uncle Tom would have noticed is how few workers there are on the production line compared to the old days. Robots everywhere and it does resemble a scene from the Terminator movies. Very clean everywhere and also very high tech. Men and women mind the machines as the robots pick up and assemble aluminium sections of the new light weight Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
As the machines go about their business, fork lift trucks and electric vehicles towing bins of parts navigate the areas between them. I hadn't expected so much safety to be in place, but there are cages around all the robots and before you can even tour the place you have to sit through a safety film. Safety goggles, high vis vests and even watch protectors must be worn.
We passed another tour going in the opposite direction-a party of youngsters being shown around. Time was of the essence so I grabbed photo opportunities wherever I saw them but also missed a few where there simply wasn't time to stop and take pictures. At the end of the tour a surprise was in store- I met a photographer mate who was doing a PR shoot for JLR- great timing as it was the day the 500,000th Range Rover Sport vehicle was rolled off the line, destined for a lucky owner in Dubai.
We compared notes about the pretty awful lighting in parts of the factory. Perfect for production of cars, not so good for photography! My friend mentioned that he needed to use flash to light the people on his PR shots, but of course that shines back from the flourescent safety jackets they all wore,(and not possible to remove them as that would show the safety aspect in a bad light if you will excuse the pun). His solution was to take pics with and without the flash and then blend the images together in photoshop....clever stuff!
Leaving the assignment in my beaten up old Ford car felt a little sad after looking at all those nice shiny 4x4 vehicles.
Especially as further down the road my battery warning light came on and I realised the poor Focus needed a new alternator!
May 10, 2014
If you go down to the woods today.... you would have seen a photographer carrying his gear in the latest bags from Manfrotto. I've been given a Professional backpack 50, (MB MP BP 5088), and Professional Roller bag 50,( MB MP-RL-50BB) to try out and give feedback. These still have the tags on them-I haven't had time to take them off yet! So at the moment they are in pristine condition and the bluebell wood was their first outing- a sort of christening if you like,(sunshine and intermittent rain).
Rest assured they will be given plenty of real world testing by me-everything I use has to earn it's place, so I will be posting how I get on with these.
The pic below was taken using my old tripod,(I guess you know the brand!), and panning upwards at 1/15 second with the horizontal movement locked off. It's one of my favourite techniques to get a painterly effect and seems to work especially well on trees.
Mar 21, 2014
40 years ago a 16 year old slip of a lad struggled up the Tipton Canal towpath lugging a heavy Gandolfi 5x4 plate camera and an even heavier linhof tripod. Along with his fellow sufferers,also similarly burdened, he was on a mission for 'Harry the psycopath'. Harry wasn't well liked by any of the youngsters he tutored and possibly by anybody,(except perhaps his mother).
He had a habit of giving a sharp clip around the ear to any young fool who gave him a bit of lip or smart-arse reply.
The 11 young men and 1 young woman were on the National Council for the Training of Journalists one year press photography pre-entry course and I was one of the poor unfortunates. Harry,(think 'Mad Eye Moody' from the Harry Potter books), wanted us to meet and photograph 'Kaggy Stevens' who was himself something of a legend. A canal character who still towed his narrowboat by horse and eschewed the 1970's for an earlier, simpler era.
I don't have those pics any more, but I seem to remember a horse with shiny leather and brass harness and a grizzled old bloke with long hair and a strong Black Country accent. Switch to yesterday's job for The Guardian and I'm at the same stretch of canal. Narrowboats huddle together amongst pools of discarded empty cans and pop bottles and the back doors of the nearest one open up to reveal a large man with a ruddy face who looks rather annoyed and bellows something unintelligable at me.
Turns out the boat owner is a bit pissed off because he is fed up with 'gongoozlers' firing flashes off at him and his boat every weekend. It is a lovely example of the craft and I placate him by telling him this and explaining who I am and what I'm doing and that I'm not a 'bloody tourist'. I even persuade the boat owner to hold the wireless-controlled flash for me and his reward is to tell me the history of the place he is obviously so proud of. He isn't going anywhere after all until the part arrives to fix his boat's generator. I catch the word 'Kaggy' amongst his heavy Black Country accent where words like 'pound' become 'powund' and horse is 'oss'.
Black Country narrowboat owner is talking about the same bloke. Kaggy Stevens. He lived to a ripe old age and died only two years ago. We finish chatting, shake hands and go our seperate ways. As I walk over the bridge and back to my car, I pass The Fountain Public House- the base of another Black Country Legend. William Perry aka The Tipton Slasher who became the England bareknuckle boxing champion around 1858.
Sometimes it's possible to have a fun time where you'd least expect it. I get in the car and drive to the next job. Older, wiser, fatter, but with a smile on my face!
I found that photo from 40 years ago-bit tatty and faded-but here it is!