Steer for the deep waters only

Robert Day's thoughts on his photography, his writing and his business

On the verge

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After my last post, things got worse. And better, as they do. The “got worse” is simple: very little new business, money is getting tighter by the day, life gets harder. It’s the same for so many people these days, so at least I feel that I’m no different. But let’s leave that on one side as a given.

The “got better” has very little that’s all that new, and yet I feel very positive about the things that are going well. Last week, I went to Derby University to see one of the exhibition organisers for FORMAT 13. He’d contacted me to suggest meeting just so we could get to know each other and begin to understand something of where each of us was coming from in terms of The Work. He’d selected four of my photographs to be blown up to around A0 size and act as a keynote display that would fix the ‘Factory’ exhibition firmly in Derby. To that end, he’d selected three pictures of the Loco Works and one of the Carriage & Wagon works, all taken on Open Days.

Huw Davies had been around Derby at about the same time I was planning to leave the city and move to Birmingham, about 1980-85. Working with an Arts Council grant, he’d gone around many of the smaller factories in Derby, photographing workers in their environment for Industry Year. Now he was revisiting those pictures and getting back in touch with some of the people he’d photographed. He’d been impressed with the way that I’d picked up the theme of the railway workshop Open Days; how they were gala events that people would put their Sunday Best on for, and throw open the gates of these otherwise closed establishments to give family and friends some idea as to what went on in the working week.

I found that we had similar approaches and similar experiences; the difference was that he’d gone down the route of specialising in art photography from the outset, whereas I’d followed my less ambitious aim of being a librarian. His choice led to him becoming the Dean of the Faculty of Art and Design in a provincial university by 2013, whereas I’d gone down  a number of blind alleys and spent thirty years in a number of comparatively dead-end jobs. Or to look at it another way, I’d spent thirty years in the real world (though I know some would say that being a minor Government functionary is hardly the ‘real world’, and we could have a good long argument about that), getting up daily to traipse into an office where I had to meet certain goals and targets and deal with other people in an effective way and doing what my managers wanted me to do rather than following my own lines of enquiry.

The thing I noticed most, though, was that he and I were conversing as equals. Whatever the differences in our experiences over the past quarter-century and more, we were speaking the same language as photographers, even though our approaches and backgrounds were very different. In the course of the visit, I saw test strips of my pictures at very high enlargement ratios, and we discussed mounting and displaying pictures. I also gave Huw an insight into the world of enthusiast photography, as he’d happened across an aviation enthusiast photo site. There are a large number of people out there who are generally self-taught in matters of photography, and who use the craft as a tool in pursuit of their own interests. That’s how I started out, though I’ve tried over the years to break out of those boundaries. It’s one of the things I’m trying to promote with my involvement in FORMAT; and I’ve spent a good part of today drafting and issuing a press notice drawing attention to my participation in an arts event as a specific railway photographer. I have no idea if anything will come out of this, but I do subscribe to the view that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Of course, the theme of the display dovetails neatly with The Lost Railway; and the release date for that gets ever closer.

In other news; I had a bit of a surprise when the article I wrote on the Mariazellerbahn, the subject of my 48 hours’ trip to Austria in December, didn’t appear in the magazine I’d submitted it to, but a news item appeared on the same subject written by one of the magazine’s staffers. I made representations to the editor, trying my best to keep an even keel on the subject, and have now been told that the article will appear in the next or next but one issue; and indeed, the magazine designer has now chosen from the images I submitted and I have now sent them the high-resolution files. I had to spend some time trying to find a royalty-free image of the class 1099 engines in their original condition, to compare their appearance in 1911 with how they are today; this turned out to be more difficult than I expected. Not everything is on the Internet, despite what some people will tell you; and the only image I could locate was a fairly poor one on Everyone I spoke to directed me back to that image, or helpfully pointed me to images that “could be scanned” from copyrighted sources. The concept of ‘reproduction rights’ has very little traction out in the real world. I did run an image to ground which most likely hadn’t been published, but I’ve had to send to the gallery administrators to investigate whether rights would be available, and I suspect that I won’t get an answer until after press date.

Aiming to maximise my earning opportunities from that one trip, I approached another magazine editor with a different article proposal; instead of introducing the Mariazellerbahn and its 100-year-old engines to an audience that has probably never heard of it (I’ve described it as ‘the best railway you’ve never heard of’), the readership of this other magazine will know about the line, and I took the opportunity of the impending retirement of the class 1099s to suggest a photo-feature of these engines over the nearly thirty years I’ve known them. That one will most likely appear in the early summer; and as I’ve worked on that article, I’ve had another idea which I’ve pitched to the editor. We’ll have to see how that works out…

Meanwhile, the bread-and-butter house photography for the online estate agent continues. When I started, it was nearly six months before they sent me any assignments; in contrast, I did five properties in January, and I’ve already done five this month, with another one lined up for next week. Most of the time, these pictures are fairly workaday, but I did succeed in taking one recently which I liked so much that I secured the approval of the vendor to my using it in my portfolio.


I feel that I’m beginning to get close to living my dream: taking photographs, writing, publishing and displaying my pictures. It’s not a perfect dream; right now, cash is tight so I don’t have the ability to jump into the car and dash off somewhere to spend a day photographing just on a whim or because there’s some event on  that would be worth covering. Yet I feel that there’s just this one break out there waiting, and if I get it, then everything will fall into place. I doubt I’ll ever get rich and famous from my photography, especially given the sort of subject matter I choose; and yet, what I’m doing now feels right.

Two updates: in an earlier blog, I wrote about Robert Day the theatre photographer. Over the Christmas break, someone contacted me and gave me an e-mail address; and a couple of weeks ago he got in touch and we had an interesting conversation. I can now direct people who contact me to him, and soon he will have a website that will help remove the confusion. And WordPress have just launched a portfolio template, so you can now find more of my photographs on show at….


Written by robertday154

February 16, 2013 at 12:00 am

Posted in Derby, Factory, Uncategorized, work

Tagged with ,

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