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Old corn mower, Wiltshire, UK. [Alamy image ref. AMM00P]

When I lived for a decade at the foot of the northern escarpment of Wiltshire’s desolate Salisbury Plain, there was not a week when I didn’t venture out across the minor roads crossing that expanse of mixed farmland and Army firing ranges.

There were large areas of a geological ground type known as “Greensand” in the locality which created specific problems for farmers. The green color of greensand is due to variable amounts of the mineral glauconite, an iron potassium silicate with very low weathering resistance; as a result, greensand tends to be weak and friable. It is a common ingredient as a source of potassium in organic gardening and farming fertilizers. The greensand found at the foot of Salisbury Plain is also very soft… which means that although farmers have a rich source of soil for their crops, it is difficult to harvest them because of the weight of modern harvesting machinery. As a result there were many small farms from the area roughly from West Lavington (just south of Devizes) through to, and beyond, Pewsey and Hungerford where it was quite normal to see traditional corn stooks in the fields at harvest time. Local farmers used traditional lightweight machinery to cut, bind and dry their crops for later threshing, rather than trying to drive a modern combine-harvester on the land at the risk of one sinking to it’s axles in the earth.

This image was licensed for three years for a half-page reproduction in an English “crafts” book with a 25,000 print-run under my “Farming Today” pseudonym.

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George Eliot statue, Nuneaton, UK  [Alamy image ref. AP6M5R]

Photographs specifically taken ‘on commission’ – and especially niche subjects – can yield multiple results many years later… although sometimes it may be a long wait, an unrewarding result, or both!Around twenty-five years ago when working for the two most active ‘part-work’ publishing companies, Eaglemoss and Marshall Cavendish, I and a handful of other freelance photographers would receive regular ‘wants’ lists of subjects between two to three months in advance of being published.

The general subject planning of most weekly part-works – some being spread over 104 issues for a two-year contract period – had been completely broken down well in advance of the first launch issue being announced and printed. However, once established, the picture requests settled down to a reasonable four weeks in advance, which took into account seasonal requirements and availability of newer images.Being so long ago I can’t remember the licensing stipulations negotiated with both those well-known publishers, but compared to Dorling Kindersley, a more recent but notable success story in the non-fiction / educational publishing world, they were pretty easy going as to reuse of images.

I can certainly remember not ever signing an exclusive contract with any of the three aforementioned, and for several years after original part-works had been published, I received many monthly checks from both Eaglemoss and Marshall Cavendish for repeat fees from images reused in ‘foreign rights’ re-launches. Dorling Kindersley were, and are, another matter, and I still come across foreign language reprints as well as entirely new book tittles in the local French library using my images supplied for specific publications in the early to mid ‘80s for which no reuse fee has ever been paid. I still own the copyright to those images, but DK use them without new-use or re-use reproduction fees.

The lead image on this page was originally requested in 1986 by Marshall Cavendish for their “Great Writers” 52-issue part-work series and is of the statue of the famous English writer George Eliot who used a male pseudonym to ensure her works were taken seriously. Although female authors were published under their own names during Eliot’s lifetime, she wanted to escape the stereotype of women only writing ‘light-hearted’ romances.

Arbury Hall, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, UK  [Alamy image ref. AP6M6M]

The second image, for the same publication, is of Arbury Hall, a Grade I listed country house – former a monastery, and rebuilt in a mixture of Tudor and 18th-century Gothic architecture – situated in 300 acres of parkland near Nuneaton in Warwickshire. Eliot was born on this estate at South Farm in 1819, the daughter of the estate’s land agent. I also found and took images of South Farm, as well as other locally connected landmarks, churches and villages which have been used during a few times during the past 25 years to illustrate other author’s articles related to Eliot and her writings.

What sometimes puzzles me, however, is why my quarter-century old shots scanned from my 35mm Minolta 9000 AF’s color-transparency films may be more attractive to picture researchers than current digital stock images? The answer sometimes lies in the fact that up-to-date images often show many more distractions, or visual pollution, because of the increase in urban advertising and signage.And as for buildings in landscapes… sometimes both change for years on end through reconstruction or renovation (with scaffolding covering facades), or natural tree growth blocking previously excellent and unobstructed viewpoints.

Twenty-five years on, the reproduction fees for these two images used for a 1-year license in a UK published travel guide (and / or e-book) with an up to 500,000 print run was somewhat less than the original fee paid by Marshall Cavendish for a fortnightly published part-work with perhaps a tenth at most or more than likely as little as one percent (5,000) of the more recent publication’s print-run. But that’s how it goes nowadays!

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