Standing at the door of the year
A couple of days away from New Year is about the only time anyone can adopt a Janus-like stance without the accusation of being “two-faced” being a Bad Thing. It is acceptable to look back over the last year and ahead to the next. In my case, it’s a matter of saying “things can only get better”.
2012 was a year which saw me with very little work. I did some freelance work for one company, but that didn’t work out for me – perhaps about the first time that’s happened in my entire working life. I continued to get some photography work from an online estate agent, but never enough to make a real difference (I could do with getting four jobs a week from them; the best I did was four a month). Then at least I did get some decent work, four months’ software testing with the Law Society; but then that project ended, and future projects won’t have been on the planning agenda in the run-up to Christmas. I had a few expressions of interest arising out of that experience, and even one interview (although it became very clear very quickly that the client hadn’t really defined their person spec very well, and I wasn’t really what they were looking for).
Then my car required some work – a new exhaust, and new engine temperature sensors to stop the engine management system thinking that it was way colder outside than it actually was and making the car run on a rich mixture, thus using far more petrol than it ought. This was a sign of things to come, sadly; at the annual MoT test (a statutory safety inspection, for overseas readers*), the car was failed, mainly on grounds of body rot, something that I wasn’t expecting because I drive a Saab and they have a reputation as very robust vehicles. However, since General Motors took the company over and ran it into the ground, things have gone rather downhill; and nothing lasts forever. So I took advice from an independent garage, and they arranged for some welding work to be done – but further inspection showed up areas of corrosion starting that will most likely mean that I shall need a new car at some point in 2013.
However, the year did end for me on a high note, when I took myself to Austria for 48 hours to actually be a photo-journalist! My favourite railway in Austria, the 85-km. long, narrow-gauge Mariazellerbahn, was taking delivery of its first new trains since being sold by the state railway (ÖBB) to the regional government. This would herald the beginning of the end for the railway’s 100-year-old electric locomotives, and so this was sufficiently news-worthy for me to sell the story in advance to a magazine. It then only remained for me to fly out there and actually take photographs of the new train’s handover ceremony; and because I’d sold the story, I was able to get formal press credentials to attend. I’d previously made brief visits to Austria using Air Miles promotional tickets, but since British Airways merged with Iberia, that scheme has been discontinued and replaced with Avios, which a) has a flat fee of £30 per ticket, and b) is only available on BA or Iberia flights – which for getting to Vienna, meant flying from London Heathrow.
By the time I’d worked out what that would cost, my cheap light was working out at nearly £90 when the cost of getting to Heathrow was taken into account. So I went online and was able to get a Lufthansa flight (well, two flights) from Birmingham to Vienna via Frankfurt for about £105. Add on about £32 for the return journey from Vienna airport to St.Pölten (where the Mariazellerbahn starts) and £140 for two nights in a decent hotel, and I was set.
Everything worked to plan, I was able to photograph the new train and some of the old ones, I had a couple of nights in a lovely little town that hardly anyone outside Austria has ever heard of, and there was the added bonus of some snow as well! The pictures were prepared, the story written and the whole thing sent off to the magazine before Christmas; now to see when it gets published…
That will be the first Good Thing of 2013; the second will be my participation in the FORMAT 13 photography festival in Derby next March (see my previous post), and then in June the Book gets published! I’ve now seen the cover, and I’m very impressed…
Ideally, I’d like to see me getting more writing and photography work in 2013, especially on the back of the three events that are coming up, but whether that will bring in enough income to support me is another question. Otherwise, it’s back to the DWP pending some more testing work turning up.
One of the house sale vendors I met last month used to be a professional photographer – proper commercial, large-format photography – but he gave that up when property got more lucrative. Now he’s disposing of chunks of his portfolio, which says quite a bit about the way the buy-to-let market has gone; it’s now worth more to him to dispose of some of his properties than to have the hassle of decreasing returns from rents. But the point is this: he asked me if I’d recommend anyone going into photography as a career now. “Certainly not” I told him; but I added that after all that, despite the state of the profession, the diminishing returns, the availability of cheap digital images online and all the competition from wannabes, I still had no regrets about leaving Ofwat and the Civil Service. When I hear what’s happening, both in the former Sacred Workplace and in the Service as a whole, I consider myself lucky to have got out with my health and sanity reasonably intact. Frankly, I’m little worse off financially now than I would have been if I’d stayed with Ofwat, and I have the freedom to look out for new opportunities wherever I want. That has to be something to look forward to in 2013.
* MoT stands for Ministry of Transport, which is odd because the UK doesn’t have a Ministry of Transport any more. The MoT existed from 1919 to 1970, and again briefly from 1979-81. At other times, transport has been the responsibility of the Department for the Environment (DoE), the Department of Transport (DoT), the Department for the Environment, Transport, and the Regions (DEFRA), the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (no-one could get a workable acronym out of that), and, since 2002, the Department for Transport (DfT, often rendered by government critics as DafT). The MoT test was introduced in 1960, and it is still referred to officially as “the MoT test”.