D-I-Y Shop glue display, UK. [Alamy image ref. B64JBP]

For years I never went into a supermarket to shop… always preferring to support local traders for everything from salads to sandpaper. When I did start to venture into the aircraft-hanger sized operations in the early 1980s I was lost… the choice and range of goods being so huge compared to the local village corner shop. I must have been impressed, though, because amongst the more than 25,000 35mm colour transparencies I ended up with when I gave up film and went digital were a few dozen shots of lines, racks and arrays of assorted products on supermarket shelves.

Of those 25,000 trannies – probably resulting from more than 1,000 films (including immediate rejects) hand-processed four at a time on a Jobo CPE-2 processor in E-6 chemicals – I eventually scanned about 1,500 frames on a Nikon Coolscan V for eventual uploading to Alamy. The rest have been largely junked… too much duplication… too much dust… too much grain… too much colour degradation… digital seems so much easier nowadays despite the amount of time I spend correcting and manipulating files in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop!

However, of the 35mm transparencies I have scanned, a surprising number have started to sell and continue to be zoomed regularly… although that may be because the subject matter is obviously more than a decade or three in age and the “vintage” look could be what the researchers are looking for… who knows!

This shot, for example, was taken in a superstore in Swindon, Wiltshire around 1982 and may have been chosen because the trade names, or packaging designs, have changed enough so as not to promote specific current products in the textbook the image was licensed for, for a period of ten years.

Just after this sale came through, I started to shoot supermarket shelves with much more interest… and in one French supermarket in the next town counted 44 different boxes of breakfast cereals… that’s 54 different types, not 44 boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes! At first I only took my fast standard lens for the generally less-than-daylight lighting arrangements… but now I only go armed with a wide-angle lens to get as much as possible into the frame.

Licensed as Rights Managed by Alamy for up to a 1-page reproduction in a textbook with a 100,000 print-run under my “Fabricate” pseudonym – which includes all building and D-I-Y materials, work and sites, interior and exterior, private and public.

Mending broken saucer. [Alamy image ref. B64P1C]

Back in the early ‘80s two major publishing houses were launching “part-works” as if there was no tomorrow. Marshall-Cavendish and Eaglemoss had the market – as well as eye-level shelves at most corner-shop-cum-newsagents – covered if not cornered with an array of eye-catching titles from “Great Writers” to “Photo” and “Fix-It” to “Camera Wise” as well as several others usually running concurrently. Some of the more obscure ideas and titles didn’t survive more than a dozen or so issues, whilst others lasted the punishing weekly schedule of 104 issues over two years. Even those that failed were researched carefully and thought to be viable… but the buying public were and are fickle, and all it may take is for a new TV blockbuster or computer game to arrive and habits can and do change like the wind.

I got involved with four of these regular partworks so found myself lucky in providing images regularly for three of them (a fourth was quietly retired after a couple of months) for between 52 and 104 weeks in the case of the a D-I-Y and two photography titles… nice work when you can get it! One advantage I had was that I was usually renovating houses from moving around a couple of times, as well as being passionately involved in photography as a sole means of earning a living… so I had a valid opportunity to do certain renovation jobs ahead of schedule if they were on a “wants list” as well as having a large portfolio of personal photo material from which to search for the many different general themes and specific subjects asked for from week to week. The handful of selected photographers given “the wants list” for supplying images were usually briefed on subject requirements a month in advance of each issue closing for press so that further opportunities could be explored if suitable stock shots were not particularly suitable.

However, the above illustration was originally shot for the “Fix-it” partwork and (I can’t remember exactly from my 1986 memory bank) was probably for a section on “gluing things” which would have included the specific use of the 2-part Araldite for repairing broken pottery and china. Not having anything to offer from stock, I chose a nice saucer from a collection my then girlfriend (now wife) owned – a traditional English “Masons” pattern – and hit it against the table top in order to have something attractive broken as a suitable subject for repairing! I positioned my camera to include my hands and some of the table-top surround to make the image look lifelike rather than a studio-type shot against a white background, and took a series of photos using the camera’s self-times. After a few minutes… job done!

Apart from the original commission, the scanned transparency was licensed by Alamy under my “Ed Buziak” pseudo (which I use for a few subjects which don’t easily fit into other much more specific pseudos) to a publisher in Brazil for a retail book with a small 5,000 print-run as a 1/8th-page on a 5-year licence.

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