17 April 2021.
Don't talk to me about cameras. Talk to me about the people in the photographs!
As a professional photojournalist and author, many may be surprised to hear that I have very little interest in equipment. As soon as people start talking about cameras my eyes tend to glaze over and it's snoozeville, Arizona!
What does interest me is the story behind the picture, especially about the person in the picture – their life, career etc. My latest book – Keeping The Wheels Turning – is a 300 page hardback book about rail staff at work. There are around 400 pictures, but it's not page after page of 'Joe Bloggs drives his train along the Midland main Line', most accompanying captions name the staff member and often have anecdotes about their life on the railway. For example, one of the people featured is signaller Peter Lewis, who died a few days ago, and the book is a permanent record of his time in the signal box.
Anyway, enough about the book and back to the point in hand! As a general rule I believe accompanying words are as important as the picture, but only if they are not used to try and justify a bad picture. The much lamented Bradford Barton books were excellent in every aspect – pictures, captions and quality printing – in other words, the books told a story which is why they were so popular.
Photography is all about being able to tell a story – hence, the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. On its own, a picture can often become a pleasing – but isolated – image rather than part of a body of work that tells a wider story. Think of, for example, Colin Garratt (someone who I worked freelance with on many occasions),Colin Gifford and Don McCullin to name just three. Their images are great on their own, but look how much more impact they have within a book, where they form part of a bigger picture (!) and can be contextualised. In the case of Colin Garratt, he often had a desire to relate the stories of others via his pictures, the images being interwoven with fascinating anecdotes. As an aside, he would take hundreds of rolls of Agfachrome with him all over the world (have to be careful in case I stray into equipment territory!) and was always a bit nervous when it came to developing as one never knew if the camera had developed a fault etc until the processed slides arrived back!
I believe the days of picture books are over, in so much that readers rightly expect so much more than endless pages of pictures with scant captions. What counts now is depth of knowledge and a driven passion. Readers can tell a 'factory production' line title – written with zero enthusiasm or knwledge – at a thousand paces. Publishers need to value ther readers, not insult them with contrived rubbish!
From a creative perspective I don't beieve there is such a thing as a 'good' or 'bad' picture, as such terms in photography are subjective. Obviously, a picture can be either of those things from a technical point of view.
Do you agree? Tweet me @chimewhistle to let me know.
12 April 2021.
Are trains and trams great? Yes.
Are cars a menace? No.
For commuting into cities, only a masochist would opt for the car, unless of course they planned to travel to various locations for business. An extensive network of light rail and dedicated cycle routes are known to be great prompters in encouraging modal shift, far more effective than buses will ever be. Similarly, the reopening of rail routes that feed into cities – Ebbw Vale and Waverley routes being prime examples – have proved immensely popular, so much so that the bus services that served the route have been severely impacted by rail's success. This is what the wheel on steel effect is all about. At the other end of the scale, long journeys of 100 miles or more are often preferable by rail.
Private car ownership began to be a threat to the railways in the 1950s, In 1950 there were 33 million miles made by private cars and yet by 1980 this figure head reached 192 million miles. Some of this was, obviously, a direct result of Beeching's cuts, but even without him, passenger figures would have declined as the average person discovered the freedom offered by the private motor car. It's not widely known, but jay walking was made an offence after heavy lobbying by car manufacturers. Prior to this, people had right of way on the roads, but so many – often the young and old – were killed and injured by cars, that motor manufacturers decided that the car should be given priority instead.
Two of my favourite European cities are Vienna and Graz. Both have extensive and popular tram networks plus an established cycling culture. To photograph the trams in the rush hour, as I have done, one can see a sea of trams and bikes, but relatively few cars. This is a near perfect combination for reducing pollution and making cities significantly more welcoming – something that should be applauded, as walking around their streets is a pleasure that just would not be possible if the car had priority.
Would reversing the Beeching cuts result in mass abandonment of the private motor car in rural communities that were once served by rail? I suspect that ship has sailed and that few would be willing to make such a switch. The fact that many small villages have, if they are lucky, only one return bus service a day tells its own tale. Theories that work well in London, often just don't travel (!) well to rural locations. For such communities, the car is a lifeline. Ultimately, if someone believes car ownership is terrible, no one is going to force them to own one. Branch line closures saw rural communities cut off, both socially and economically, inflicting huge damage. Times, however, move on and a return to such rail connectivity is never going to happen. People talk about car shares etc, but the logistics and faff involved make owning a car the preferred option for most. A regular, as in hourly, bus service seven days a week serving rural communities would be a start but would obviously need government support. I doubt that even a measure such as that would see a huge modal switch, but it would at least offer some social mobility to those few people without cars, which has to be a good thing from the perspective of society.
Personally, I love rail travel and think it is a very civilised way to get around, but I don't begrudge or berate those that don't share this belief. I also believe car travel has an important place in the mix. Rail managers will candidly admit that an already overcrowded network would burst at the seams if everyone switched to using public transport, as the trains and supporting infrastructure just isn't in place.
More freight on rail would be a welcome move, as no one wants lorries rumbling along their roads and its good to see some success in this area. Speedlink was a great concept, but a disaster financially, due mainly to the expense involved of moving wagons from private sidings to hubs where they could join the Speedlink network. If any government was really serious about wanting freight off the roads, they would subsidise such a network. As the old saying goes – actions don't lie!
I'm always suspicious of anyone who says they are anti rail or anti car, as such broad statements are difficult to take seriously and are often nothing more than dogma.
The financial decline of British Rail had many reasons, the rise of car ownership playing its fair share, but it's too simplistic to say car bad train good. Chairman Robert Reid pointed out to a sarcastic civil servant, when he was berated for the organisation's poor financial situation, that it wasn't BR that had caused the country to go into recession! True as it was, it didn't endear BR to ministers.
One can read about how BR found itself in such a dire situation in my new book Farewell BR, which includes approximately 300 colour pictures, spanning 1983 to 1997.
Link here: https://www.chimewhistle.co.uk/product/farewell-br-the-last-years-of-british-rail-a4-hardback-book-with-150-pages-containing-approximately-300-colour-pictures-it-looks-at-br-from-1983-to-1997-it-explains-how-it-ran-into-financial-difficulties-and-the-lead-up-to-privatisation-
Book/2022 calendar combination deal here: https://www.chimewhistle.co.uk/product/farewell-br-book-and-2022-br-blue-calendar-combination-deal-
Launch of print management section for books, brochures and magazines
With its founder having been professionally involved in publishing for over 20 years, Chime Whistle Publishing has decided to create a print management section. There are many, many potentially great books out there but because many publishers will not entertain the idea of publishing less than 2,000 copies, the books never see the light of day.
Every year Chime Whistle Publishing places orders for thousands of books, giving it great negotiating power when it comes to print costs. The minimum order can be as low as 20 copies but, obviously, the more one orders the lower the individual unit price. We can produce high quality hardback and softback books plus magazines and brochures at very competitive prices. The price includes delivery to one UK address.
If you have a PDF, send it to us and we'll prepare it for printing. You need do nothing more, except wait for your order to arrive. The quality of our printing speaks for itself, having sold thousands of books to many satisfied readers.
For a quote just email us at [email protected], stating how many pages, size and number of copies required and we'll get back to you ASAP. If you need any guidance, we are happy to help!
2 January 2021.
Style never goes out of fashion, while fads just fade away!
Below is a quote from David Bailey, whose birthday it is today:
“Are photographs less powerful now because there are so many of them in the world?”
DB: “No, it just makes the good ones even more powerful. Digital and Photoshop just moved mediocrity up a stop, that’s all. They’re still mediocre – they just look better.”
It's difficult, if not impossible, to disagree with this statement. How many of us see the endless pictures of other people's selfies on the internet and think “Yes, that's a great picture” ? or see some over processed picture that was already pretty poor before someone went OTT with the processing? Such pictures have no or little historical significance.
This over processing thing is just, like so much else over the years, a fashion that will fade into obscurity in due course once people mature creatively, whereas style never goes out of fashion. Pictures and photographers that influence and endure for generations to come, do not do so by fashionable gimmicks, such tricks are for the uncreative.
If one can wade through the ordinary, there are many brilliant photographers, rail and otherwise, to be discovered. The type that will not opt for generic pictures, but those who make pictures with depth. Almost always, these pictures include people to some extent or, in the case of railways, often portray the train in its environment and not a 3/4 close up.
Another opinion that has come to my attention in the last few days is one that states a photographer should never crop an image and publish it as it was made in the camera. Why oh why do some people constrain their photography in a straightjacket of self imposed rules?
Great photography is like being famous. if you have to tell people you are – you aren't!
29 December 2020
All aboard the Azuma Avenger
Doncaster, with its famous locomotive works, is well known for its railway heritage and being the birth place of both Flying Scotsman and Mallard, along with thousands of other locomotives.
However, it is also the place where iconic actress Diana Rigg, whose father was a rail engineer, was born.
Train operator LNER is to embark on a project to name its new Azuma fleet in the not too distant future and what better name than Diana Rigg? Such a move would not only honour a great actress, who incidentally once found herself tied to the tracks in an episode of the Avengers!, but would attract positive media attention that radiates far outside the rail media, something that can only be a good thing in the current climate of low passenger numbers. It would also help raise the profile of Doncaster in much the same way that the town's profile has been raised by renowned broadcaster and Doncaster resident Andrew White, a man with a tangible passion for the great outdoors. Read about Andrew and his excellent Walks Around Britain series here: https://www.walksaroundbritain.co.uk/
Chime Whistle Publishing is currently working on a book (due out in June) looking at the last years of British Rail, with hundreds of colour pictures made between 1983 and 1997, including many at locomotive works such as Doncaster. As well as beautiful photographs, the book also goes into detail about how the end of BR came about and the launch of the privatised railway. It's so much more than a picture book. In addition, we will be producing an A4 size calendar on the same theme, that can either be bought separately or at a reduced price when purchased with the book. www.chimewhistle.co.uk
20 December 2020
The purchase of three Pacers by Vintage Trains, with a lot of help from Porterbrook which offered them to Tyseley on generous terms, has caused a mixed reaction. Some have said it's a great move that opens up more possibilities for the TOC, while others have derided the decision.
Personally, I think Vintage Trains has done the right thing. When the TOC was first launched, it was with the aim of getting three Castles on the main line,something that I imagine is still an objective. However, times change and coronavirus has been the fly in the ointment for many charter operators and heritage railways alike, something that just 12 months ago no one could have predicted.
Vintage Trains has shown that family centric trips over relatively short distances can be a winner, one only has to look at its Polar Express operation to realise that simple fact. The use of Pacers to tap into this lucrative market, by running to Stratford-upon-Avon and Worcester, with onboard entertainment for children, has to be applauded as an ingenious move. No one is suggesting that the Shakespeare Express will be formed of Pacers, but the newly arrived DMUs will be an important part of the charter mix.
Next year's charter plans look very interesting, with runs behind Duchess of Sutherland, Bahamas and Clun Castle to name but three. Pacers may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if they help support the heritage movement overall, what's not to like?
Chime Whistle books available here: https://chimewhistle.co.uk/page/new-products