Dulverton Avenue 1977, post silver jubilee celebrations and the gloriously shaded nicotine orange net curtains twitched with envy as our neighbour pulled gingerly up to the curb, purposely and proudly sitting there, exploring the many gadgets on offer, in his newly acquired, hot off the line, Rover 2200. Sleek contours glistened and chrome dazzled, juxtaposed against the mustard yellow paintwork. The neighbour was a big man, and once he’d finished raising awareness of his presence through thunderous pulsating revolutions of the engine, cumbersomely he pulled his huge frame from the drivers position, taking up the pose of a Jack Lord wannabe, one arm resting on the roof, one foot on the sill, removing his beige leather driving gloves digit by digit, whilst maintaining a surveillance type gaze up and down the street. Driving attire removed and placed on the dash, his wife now joined him, scampering down the path in excited animation, to peer inside at the plush velour interior. The two of them pondered for nearly an hour, opening every ingress as if to spread bare this feat of Leyland design for all to see, constantly but discreetly checking for covetous interest from residents.
My dad never had a new car, never could afford one, but never once showed resentment towards this paragon of engineering excellence. Instead he would proudly spend many a weekend, head under the bonnet, hands oiled to the pores, maintaining his own roaring mechanical chariot. His was a Ford Zodiac MKIII, a good ten years old, slight perforations around the arches and underside, but other than that fairly sound. This car was a beast, sitting outside the front of the house, a sleeping giant waiting to be disturbed. Considerably louder than the Rover, drawing attention for all the wrong reasons. Even the shadows cast by the two vehicles parked head to nose seemed to compete, one a graceful flowing silhouette the other an incommodious eclipse. Its battleship grey exterior had over the years become ravaged by the sun, a powdery matt and even the chrome frontage exhibited a peppering of oxidising decay. The interior also not fairing well, its red leather bench resembling a waterless wasteland, a never ending maze of cracks and ruptures, spoiling its once lavish upholstery. The parallel speedometer paused at 50, the fuel gauge worked in reverse and the 8 track only played through one speaker. Where ever this tonnage of steel was placed it marked its territory, like a tom cat, a staining of black gold upon the asphalt. No matter its condition or temperament, my dad still persevered in ensuring its reliability, would stand ear pressed against the head gasket, following the amorous sounds of the tappets like a surgeon listening to a heartbeat. This was what we could afford, but never the less it delivered the same end result of transport, albeit noisier and a little slower.
I always envied the Rover, wished we could have a car which sounded like angels singing instead of a chesty cough, could relax deep into the faux velvet like kings, but it was never to be. They were both essentially the same, vehicles to transport, family cars, although, one was in reality just a better specification. So instead the summer trips to Weston Super-mare were noisy, hot and slow and on occasion often abandoned, when mechanical failure occurred, but still, all is remembered fondly.
It’s only now, wiser and a little older do I realise how although my father possibly wished and hoped to have a new car, that he’d accepted what was within reach. As a kid I cannot recall ever going to a car showroom, furniture or even electrical store. Most contents of our home, extending to the drive were second hand or rented, the sofa bought from a friend who had afforded a new one, the TV with its huge 50 pence usage meter fixed to the side, was on rental from Rumbelows, even clothes and shoes were the rewards of endless queuing in the rain outside community and church halls, in readiness to root through the piles of jumble. This was the 70’s and most families were in the same predicament, but as a family you survived and coped, and although I hated wearing flared 3 button fastening trousers along with tread bitten daps, I can honestly say, there wasn't any resentment towards friends who were lucky enough to have bouncing soles or a classic Harrington. My dad never once went into a dealership and requested the rover for the price of the Zodiac, neither did mum ask for a pair of St Michael school trousers for the price of the jumble flares, they realised what was within their price range and worked to that, they wanted more but played within their limits.
Within photography there are Rovers and Zodiacs, each charge not just for the photograph, but for the equipment used, their knowledge, studio space, time etc. Both deliver a service and both produce work of quality, but placed side by side there are differences, one is cracked leather while the other is plush velour and you may ask what benefit this offers to the final product if the end result in reality is the same. Yet this is where I feel certain clients fail to fully appreciate and understand, I am not about criticising any photographer who works to make a living, but there are some who approach their work differently, there are some who work to a brief and others who can interpret your thoughts and create a brief which delivers. You are not just paying for an image but investing in someones thought process, in how your requirements and ideas are construed into a visual message. An image of an apple is always going to be an apple, but skill comes into play when you want to add a context, location, meaning, metaphor or a connotation of something more. Both photographers will create a similar image, yet neither will be the same, this is where added value is evident.
When approaching photographers its not just about price but understanding what you as a client require, if you simply want the apple then realise this, if this suits your budget and expectations, then success. If however you want the apple, situated on a farmhouse table, at midday, with clues towards this becoming a pie, then there will be an additional cost, You are asking for more than an apple, more than an image, although on first impressions it may appear to be, still, just an apple, as a client you are requesting that someone invest time and thought into creating a bigger picture, you are now paying for more than just a runaround but for something that will be noticed even if unconsciously. The reason I say unconsciously is because this again is another reason why imagery is often misunderstood and its true value unappreciated. Within advertising imagery the message is instant, you glance for a mere second and still this image resonates long after its viewing, it may appear to be a simple image, something that anybody could reproduce but in reality this image has taken a great deal of time, thought and skill in order to create and work on a level of unconscious understanding.
As my dad understood the differences in value and what car he could afford, its wrong to place all photographers on the same shelf, some have turned a natural skill into a living, whilst others have invested time into understanding and exploring further than the camera, not just producing images, but work imbued with thought. In todays saturated market of photography it may be worth noting, that producing an image is not all filters and clicks, but a formulation of thought, technical skills and light, all permeated with a photographers ideas.
So when considering which photographer best suits your requirements, ask yourself do you want the Rover or the Zodiac and more importantly understand that velour comes at a cost.