Wish you were
early days by E.Nagele F.R.P.S.)
Far from it: a German photolibrary informed me recently, that I am under an obligation to identify all manipulated photographs with the "[M]" symbol. Not a request, an obligation ! The Rottweiler had landed !
According to (sorry, to have to do this to you) the Bund Freischaffender Foto-Designer (BFF), Bundesverband der Pressebild-Agenturen und Bildarchive (BVPA), Centralverband Deutscher Berufsphotographen (CV), Deutschen Journalisten-Verband (DJV), DOK-Verbandes, FreeLens and the IG-Medien, manipulation requiring the "[M]" symbol occurs when:
1.) Persons or objects are
added to or removed from the picture.
When BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies) joined the idiotism the following day and asked for the opinion of its members, I just had to ruin my Sunday evening.
As a successful photographer, I established myself with "traditional" photography. I have manipulated all my pictures without exeption: be it a polarising filter or gradual filter, a double exposure or a quick fiddle in the darkroom. I have waited for cars to move out of the picture so that people could envisage nature pure. Cycle-oil helped enhance bland ice-cream in the studio. But thats all right though! For unadulterated real life photography we still have to go down to the photo-booth at Woolworths. Now, that I have invested £/Sterling 95.000 in a real mean computer and all the bad bits that go with it, its all easy manipulation! Who are these BFF, BVPA, CV, DJV, DOK, FreeLens and IG-Medien kidding? Where have they been?
Photography has been doctored ever since a Mr. William Henry Fox Talbot nailed his subjects to a chair in order to offer kind assistance during long exposures. Likely minded people have used darkened powder-rooms to dodge and burn-in, have used foul tasting inks to retouch the wrinkles of society and successfully hid nuclear power-stations behind a bunch of daffodils.
Are we so naïve as to think that newspapers and television, or even worse, governments on both sides of the water would ever make use of the "[M]" symbol ? I would be more than simply pleased to have an assurance that I could trust everything I see in print, but why was I given a brain? The good people in Germany went further: not just the photographer has to identify any fiddling, but the end user will be under the same obligation to do so ! German jokes are rarely so funny: Advertising agencies would monopolise the letter in question. It gets worse: the person who undertook the manipulation should also make use of the obligatory symbol. Imagine Colabs and Tapestrys (UK photo labs) polite response and their joy over the newly found responsibilities.
As the owner of a Photographic Library, I can see another side too. Imagine the fictitious scenario: a client has a selection of your pictures. Hes happy, hes waving pound notes/euros/dollar bills (hence fictitious) and hes got lots more selections from other picture libraries too. But he does like the picture you have supplied, though he is puzzled by the symbol "[M]". You explain. Hes scared shitless. Whats been fiddled with, is the Eiffel Tower indeed in Paris? he whines. You reassure him. So whats wrong with the god-damn picture? he laments. You dont know. But you know a man or woman who does: the author of the work. You telephone, e-mail, wap and fax the photographer who is most likely speeding at 13 mph in his/her Aldi (slip of the tongue) Bat-Mobil on the M6 (freeway) listening to Baby Spice. Or he/she is hanging from a cliff in the Gobi desert. Whichever. The reply comes three days later: he/she has removed the telegraph wires in the picture! But your whiner with the colourful bank notes required the photo yesterday. Sounds familiar so far? Never mind the whiner, you have lost the pound notes/euros/dollar bills: your competitor offered an easier choice with the Eiffel Tower poking between the wires into the Paris sky. Give me strength!
Electronic imaging with all its shortfalls and creativity is here to stay. The good people in Germany behind this half-baked scheme are not protecting the industry they claim to serve, but play into the hands of the very people, who on a daily basis, rip off photographers, artist and photographic libraries. These people will ignore any symbols to achieve their publishing goal. Imagine being offered a world-exclusive picture of George W. attending a peace rally in Washington D.C. He wouldn't find it on a large-scale map to start with. Do you really expect an "[M]" beside the picture? Would you need it?
Dont get me wrong: we all disapprove of deception and any client voicing concern is entitled to an honest answer. We need to support our customers with the pictures they require and not insult their intelligence. We also need to show an understanding for the creativity of our suppliers and colleagues. The means of achieving a picture are totally irrelevant, it is the picture itself we need to contemplate. Painters might be next. These guys use anything to get paint onto canvass. Lets leave a few letters for the artists who employ other means but the humble brush, to earn a crust. Get real!
You dont have to be a photographer to see what I am getting at: When you get in your car next time, remember that not so long ago your dearest had to walk in front of it with a red flag. The fear of the motorized monster soon turned to enjoyment and we are lumbered with the progress, whether we like it or not.
May I suggest, the good people in Germany employ their spare time to discuss the symbol © which can be found nearer the beginning of the alphabet. A subject which still requires a tremendous amount of work to be done. The day when the majority of the publishing industry shows respect for the © symbol, Ill put any letter of the alphabet in square brackets. The good people in Germany have taken the easy way out and a good time was had by all.
Virtual Reality Interview by David Corfield
Edmund Nägele crosses the
boundaries of digital and traditional to create photographs with real
impact. But it’s not been without its pitfalls, as he reveals in this major
The former advertising photographer from Munich in Germany came to the UK over forty years ago to offer his unique vision of the world to a wider audience, and in that time he has been quietly pushing forward the creative boundaries, first with Cokin filters and more recently Adobe PhotoShop.
He’s a softly spoken, intriguing man who speaks impeccable English with a clipped German accent. A tireless campaigner for photographers rights, he is one of the industry’s unsung heroes. Until now.
You have a picture library of some 50,000 images. That’s quite a collection. But do you remember your first picture?
Indeed, I do! I played around with a box camera ever since I learnt to walk. On my 15th birthday my parents gave me a Voigtländer-B in the hope of seeing less blurry pictures. It wasn’t meant as an inducement to become a photographer; indeed, accountancy was my foreseen destiny. I was on my way from school when I noticed a terrible commotion in the centre of Munich, not far from where I lived. There was a burst water pipe disastrously playing with motorcars and pedestrians alike, it was simply spectacular. I rushed back to my parents’ house to pick up my camera and went back to the scene to take a few photographs. Instinctively I got on my bike and rushed round to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a major German daily, and offered them the unprocessed film. While I was there, news of the incident came through on the ticker tape. A ticker tape for Christ sake! Now I have given my age away! All the journalists in the office looked at me as if I had just fallen off another planet. The next day four of my pictures were featured with my name below them in small letters. It was the most fantastic feeling and I was 40 marks the richer: 4 quid in those days, but 4 quid would have probably bought you a cottage in the English countryside at the time. My parents wisely dropped the bean-counting idea and got used to the smell of developer and fixing lotions.
So what happened next?
After leaving school I became a photographer’s apprentice at a Munich Studio and learnt all the techniques of day-to-day advertising photography. I did my exams, spent one year in Munich and soon left for Austria where I worked as a photographer for a postcard company. I was 18, had my own company car – a Volkswagen Beetle – and was in the very lucky position of being able to get out and about taking pretty pictures. I lived in Salzburg and the company was on the far end of the Republic. I had total freedom. More fun too, than shooting bottles of Bavarian beer for days on end! That’s how I got into landscape photography.
You clearly thrive on the outdoors, as much of your work is landscape-based.
Living in Bavaria or Austria, unless you are an escapee from a lunatic asylum or a tourist, you don't waste time in smoky bars and noisy discos, there is a great scenery facing you right outside your front door! You got better things to do: You ski, you walk and you climb every mountain. I was the equivalent of Julie Andrews with a camera and a tripod.
So what made you come to the UK?
A colleague of mine, Elmar Ludwig, from the same Munich advertising studio went to work for an Irish postcard company the same year I started working in Austria. A year later he wrote saying that they were looking for another photographer. I packed my stuff and went. When you are young you make these decisions without a second thought! Besides, I had itchy feet and wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world and an island somewhere up North seemed like a good start. I dreamed of cheap whisky, hot geysers and a little adventure. Wrong, very wrong indeed: The whisky was expensive, the hot springs were in Iceland and the little adventure developed into a rather big adventure!
So what was life as a photographer in Ireland?
The company (John Hinde Limited) I worked for, churned out happy colourful postcards. I would be given a photo list of about 80 subjects and six months in which to take the pictures. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but believe me, it was: the company produced "the finest postcards in the world" as it proudly pronounced on the yellow packing-boxes. I took 1 to 2 sheets of 4x5 film on each subject, stored the film for processing back at our own lab on the Emerald Isle at the end of the season. No motordrive, no bracketing, no excuses – film was too expensive in those days. PhotoShop wasn’t there to help out either. You waited for the right clouds, the right sunshine, the right tides and make sure you had your trousers on when it all came together. I remember waiting three weeks in Northern Ireland for just one shot, rain p...... (precipitating) down on me relentlessly day after day. Finally I phoned the boss and told him of my despair. He simply told me to wait and that the sun would come out for sure. Of course, he was right. The following week the sun came out, I got the shot and the good people of Co. Antrim were blessed with an other pretty postcard. It taught me a lot. It taught me patience and it made me realise the importance of good landscape photography. Playing the waiting game always pays off.
That restriction of creativity must have got to you after a while, surely?
Very much. I wanted to develop my own style and I wanted to experiment with different subjects and crazy approaches. I didn’t want to get into the trap of shooting chocolate box images of cottages. Just after I became self-employed Cokin filters launched onto the market and with the extra bit of colour at hand my work started to take off. That really was the first timid step towards a PhotoShop mentality - PhotoShop of course did not exist at the time. These filters were the most incredible things to happen to photographers since cut film. I think people forget how important and disastrous these little resin marvels could be to the creative photographer of the day. It was revelation and ruination all in one. My personal motto "semper in excretia sumus solum profundum variat" (We are always in the manure; only the depth varies) found its origins during this creative period.
You are well known for your double exposures. How did you go about creating these amazing images of moons in landscapes?
I started experimenting with double exposures pretty early on and I think I was virtually the very first person to put a moon into a picture by double exposure. Ok, Ansel Adams (Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941) may have beaten me to it, we’ll never know… I had plenty of disasters trying to get the technique right, but it’s only through making mistakes one learns. I was shooting with the Pentax 67, a great junk of metal! For double exposures I started rewinding the film and running it through again, but it was always a bit hit and miss. I read somewhere of a special metal take-up spool made by a small Swiss company, which cost about £100 at the time. It had a little button on the base of the spool which would release the film and allow you to cock the shutter again, keeping the film in perfect registration. I bought one and chucked it out when PhotoShop came along.
You’ve always been a bit of a photo-pioneer. Is that important to you, to be the first to try out something?
There was always a desire within me to do something that would differ to what my colleagues were doing. I produced the very first ‘moody’ - not my definition - calendar in the UK. At the time I was already supplying calendar companies with ‘normal’ pictures but the Cokin filters changed all that. I remember going to a company in Bristol to show them my very first calendar concepts employing these filters in a crazy sort of way. The reaction was ".... very nice, but not for us. Our clients like pretty cottages, fluffy clouds and little pink daisies in the foreground". It all sounded more like a Teddybear's Picnic than something one hangs on the wall. Frustrated and disappointed I returned home. I produced an atmospheric calendar for Marks and Spencer the following year (1975) and never had to look back.
When did it all start to pay off for you?
It started well before the Teddybears Picnic, when I placed my photography with the now defunct Colour Library International. My work was successful and I quickly began to see which pictures sold the best. I looked at the sales reports every month and could analyse market trends. Book productions, specialising in the United States and Canada followed. I bought a large motorhome and toured the States for months on end. It was great because the research and daily life was firmly under my control and expenses were paid on time. I really did enjoy this period in North America.
Your business brain is as strong as your creative brain. Is this the secret of your success?
One needs to be aware of the commercial aspects, but the most important thing is one's ideas and creativity. I feel sorry for young people leaving college and going into commercial photography because there is little freedom left. There is very little room for personal expression. Time is money! There is little inspiration nor encouragement. Without inspiration and encouragement you get images without soul, sad copies of other peoples work and worst of all, endless pictures of banal everyday objects described as "generic", as if to offer an excuse.
Certainly the way in which we take pictures has changed. And it’s principally the imaging programs that have been at the forefront of that change, don’t you think?
Definitely. Though to me PhotoShop is a valuable tool, I get just as much satisfaction from shooting conventionally with the medium-format Pentax or the handy Olympus E20 digital camera, PhotoShop has been a revelation. I remember the very first time I saw someone cloning bits out of a picture. I knew there and then that I had to have it. So I went out and bought my first Power Mac, costing some £9,000 back in 1985. A high-capacity external Syquest disc drive set me back a couple of hundred quid, and the CD writer which was essential for storage, cost a whopping £1,300 on top of it all. It was, at the time, the latest technology and I felt happy to have it. I remember mentioning to the guy delivering and installing the gear "....hope, that’s the last cheque I'll have to write out!", nor will I forget his answer: "You're bloody joking, that’s just the beginning!" Bloody right he was too. The next thing I needed was a supply of high quality scans. To get them, I had to send the original transparencies for drum-scanning which cost about £30 a whirl. I decided to buy a drum scanner myself, along with a film recorder for good measure. The film recorder, ironically, is the very machine with which I output my digital files onto traditional film. You’ll never get rid of film altogether – though the digital evangelists may score a few point here.
Has your business brain influenced the way you view the world?
I take pictures these days knowing that I can pick certain elements from the shot. I admit, I look at the world around me through PhotoShop eyes. Even when I’m watching television, in my mind I am retouching any untidy backgrounds! Still, you need to take a decent picture in the first place. PhotoShop may be fantastic, but it’s no excuse to let standards drop. I would have paid big money in those early days to anyone who would have spent an hour or two guiding me through the basic techniques of PhotoShop. Thankfully, these days there are a few good books on PhotoShop subjects, the best one in my opinion is 'PhotoShop for Photographers' by Martin Evening. It took me many days to learn the minutest itsy-bitsy basics of PhotoShop. These were long days: morning, noon and night sort of days! And let’s not forget, that during all the time I was learning the software, I wasn’t making any money shooting other material. I got to grips with poxy pixels eventually!
Do you look back at your first forays into PhotoShop with affection?
God no! I remember the very first thing I did in PhotoShop. It is picture numbered 000001 and total madness multiplied by the prevailing VAT-rate. I had taken a picture of Leeds Castle in Kent and added lots and lots of hot air balloons to the scene. That was easy, I thought and put it proudly onto film. I would have long binned the picture had it not sold twice; once for a jigsaw picture and the other time for a travel guide cover. Though I am a bit embarrassed by it, I have kept it for sentimental reasons!
Is PhotoShop all you ever use?
No. I experiment with many different digital styles. The painted effects I achieve through Painter software and they give a new meaning to ‘painting with light’. Here, photography drifts into virtual painting and with each controlled brushstroke new ideas open up.
In this digital age, what are the pitfalls photographers need to be aware of?
This is a difficult age for photographers, especially as far as the copyright is concerned. It is a subject that is very dear to me and as a working photographer I try hard to protect myself. Copyright has not been helped by the large players in the picture library field. It is absurd to think that photographers will assign all rights to a stock library in order to have them published on Royalty Free CD’s. If photographers accept the terms and conditions that are dictated to them then so be it, but it’s also the reason why I have built-up my own library of some 50,000 images. Long before all the big new libraries came into play, my sales were much higher. I used to work for a New York based company called FPG and in one month I might be making something in the region of $11,000. Then the library was taken over by one of the big shots and within 60 days my monthly sales had dropped to $300. Progressive marketing, I think they called it, but it was still one hell of a drop to explain to the taxman. Although no rocket science, it will cost you time and money to set up on your own, it’s also the only way to protect one’s work and keep 100% of the sales in the process. The last few years have been disastrous for stock photography. The Internet has helped a bit, but the real good old days will never return. There are now just too many photographs out there in the market place. When a single picture agency boasts 10.35 million images and counting, you know its time to pick up a good book instead. I was fortunate enough to establish myself when the going was good.
Like the industry, the cameras are changing all the time. Do you still use the Pentax 67?
Of course, but I also use the Olympus E20. It is a well-made unit. It's appeal lays in the integral zoom lens. The interchangeable lens is more or less the downfall of the digital camera because of the risk of dust getting onto the chip. Olympus went the other way and designed a lens matching the chip and sealed it onto the camera. It’s a good little box of tricks and suits my way of working. All the people I know using digital cameras seem to have endless nightmares with dust on the sensitive chip. The only camera with an interchangeable lens I would presently consider buying is the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, simply because of its 16.6-megapixel sensitivity and the image quality that goes with it. Or, I may just buy an other good book instead.
They say that the best way of perfecting your art is to make lots of mistakes and learn from them. What do you think are the biggest mistakes photographers make today?
PhotoShop practically invites misuse of its facilities because there are so many incredible tools. People over-saturate and over-sharpen way too much and I have done it all myself of course! Layers are something that a lot of people are scared of, because they do not understand how layers work. I couldn’t live without layers and one picture that I have been working on recently consisted of about 40 layers. Turned out a 950Mb file! Of course the problem is that the more megabytes you accumulate, the slower the computer calculates the pixels and it might even get grand ideas of withdrawing its service altogether. 1 GB of memory is certainly a good investment! If you are serious about your imaging, then you need images, and lots of them. Be organised, catalogue your work. The beauty of having my own transparency archive is that I pull out pictures that I took many years ago and improve the original quality. The UK is not the most ideal place for taking pictures every day of the week, the weather can be a bit iffy, which is why being able to draw upon old resources in my library is very valuable and more productive than watching "Big Brother" on Channel 4.
In your career you have seen and done so much. Do you think you will ever tire of making pictures?
I would like to slow down a bit. I’d love to put my entire library on the Internet and let it run 7/24, sit back and collect the money on a Friday afternoon. This would leave me with the time to work on ideas, which may or may not be commercial, but which would give me the enjoyment photography can offer. After a lifetime of taking images for Joe Bloggs & Co. it’s about time I did my own thing.
There is a Specialist Library for practically anything. Some have grown into substantial businesses but most are run out of premises, usually a family home, where the proprietor has learned to live with the business and retirement isn't an option. As a rule, such libraries are the Fountains of All Knowledge where their own specialist subject is concerned. No general library can possible hope to better the information available from a dedicated specialist. The skill is to keep it manageable, to resist the temptation to install voice mail, to answer the phone within a couple of rings, to respond to every request instantly and to ensure that at the end of the day, the staff settle down over a bottle of wine whilst waiting for the inevitable last minute request for a high res.
The Agony - the phone fails to ring; when it does you haven't got it; perfect pictures are supplied to meet a specific request but the publication chooses to use a generic image from a huge competitor; a favourite picture researcher retires; the insurance is due; a fine contributor withdraws everything; a computer crashes; the IT specialist who knows everything gets appendicitis; power failures (that's a real downer); a picture gets published with the wrong caption; Royal Mail screws up; a file sheet is mis-filed and could be anywhere; you know you have the right picture but you can't find it.
The Ecstasy - phone, fax and e-mail erupt at the same time; a double page spread which looks wonderful; a big picture on a page with a tiny one beside it supplied by a huge competitor; a big book with pictures by nobody else; supplying something unusual which nobody else has and the astonishment of the picture researcher; the researcher who calls just to say hallo at the end of a day spent in front of a computer screen; the 'eureka' moment when you find exactly the right image in the files; the researchers who call to say thank you; the contributors who don't complain but stay with you because they like you; the client who isn't doing three books as planned - but ten; the magic moment when you discover how to do something with your laptop without having to ask the IT specialist with appendicitis.
Specialist libraries are one of the great treasures in the business of supplying images. Without them, publishers will soon find it difficult to find anything which is not a generic image. Obscure portal dolmens in Ireland, Accrington looking as if it might be a nice place to move to, Canary Wharf when there was nothing there, the Eden Project when it was a hole in the ground, domestic oak gate posts, the first occasion Bob Dylan ever performed in London - none one of these are likely to be easily accessible from a huge library because no huge library would bother with them. Specialist Libraries take time and make an effort to fill the gaps - and the gaps are very big and getting bigger.
First visit www.nagele.co.uk/ml320
Mr. B. Lorenz
07 May 2000
Dear Mr. Lorenz,
Some time ago you issued an urgent recall notice regarding the seat belt buckles of the ML320 series. As I am no longer the owner of the car, I was tempted to ignore the notice, save myself some time and wish the poor sod who bought the vehicle "good luck".
However, I feel that you and senior management in Germany should be made aware why I disposed of the expensive motorcar. It most certainly was not because of some suspect seat buckles.
In my opinion the ML320 range should have been recalled the moment they fell off the US production line. Here follows an account of my 12 months Mercedes Benz experience during which I covered a mere 2,100 miles.
My patience came to an end
and I have since bought a Range Rover, the eighth in my ownership and a vehicle which
gives me the confidence to attempt to leave the periphery of Cheltenham. Though I miss the
Bose hi-fi unit of the ML320