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Fuji

“Fuji” etching by Norman Stevens [Alamy image ref. C2YG5P]

Norman Stevens (b.1937 – d.1988) was a painter and printmaker who attended Bradford Regional College of Art from 1952 to 1957. At the college he led a group of talented painters – David Hockney, David Oxtoby, John Loker, Michael Vaughan and Norman Stevens – dubbed the “Bradford Mafia” by poet and writer Edward Lucie-Smith.

Stevens’ art took a while to settle into a distinctive style, not fitting into the neat categories of commercial or “pop art”. After completing his art school training at Bradford College of Art he took up a career teaching at Manchester College of Art (where I studied in the early 1960s under Liverpool pop-poet Adrian Henry). In 1973 he took the leap and gave up teaching to earn his living by painting alone, but died of cancer at the early age of 51.

I can only find a poor reproduction of this etching entitled “Fuji” on the internet linked to “The Secret Intelligence Service, Vauxhall Cross, Albert Embankment” where the series must hang on it’s walls somewhere within the building.  I have all six of the series “Sites and Sight” which include China Wall, Easter Island, Fuji, Mount Etna, Palenque, and Pyramid – which I bought from Christie’s Contemporary Art, London, in 1974. The Tate Gallery has eighteen Norman Stevens works in it’s permanent collection, but not including any from this series… so perhaps they are to be found in his collections with the V&A or the MOMA, New York.

Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft) and is an active strato-volcano that last erupted in 1707–08. Mount Fuji lies about 100 kilometres (62 miles) south-west of Tokyo and can be seen from there on a clear day. Mount Fuji’s exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped several months a year, is a well-known symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs. There is a well-known Japanese saying which suggests that anybody would be a fool not to climb Mount Fuji once – but a fool to do so twice.

The RM image was licensed by Alamy for reproduction to illustrate editorial material in a 25,000 print-run bi-monthly magazine in the United States under my “Beaux Arts” pseudonym.

Plum tree blossom, UK [Alamy image ref. AX668R]

For the past decade in France I’ve very much been a “blue sky” photographer… which is easy really because the climate in the sud-Touraine, compared to my decade or so in the hills of mid-Wales, is sunnier – warmer by around 12 degrees Celsius on average – and also much drier. Where I am now there are about as many days of blue sky with fluffy white clouds as there were in Wales with totally overcast cloud cover and the occasional patch of blue sky peeping through.

When there were blue skies up above in west Wales I would work overtime at the wheel of my car covering as many locations as possible within the limitations of the number of bracketed exposures I could make with a pair of Pentax 6×7 bodies which gave only ten shots to a roll. On this occasion I had been driving back from Shrewsbury and came across this glorious Plum tree on the Shropshire-Powys (English-Welsh) border. I stopped initially after seeing the striking display of blossom against the blue sky… but before becoming aware of a very old woman leaning on the entrance gate to her cottage garden. It was almost a scene from a Helen Allingham painting… but there were essential elements missing such as the traditional old-English garden Hollyhocks and roses, as well as a number of modern appendages in view such as TV aerial, telephone wires, gaudy plastic child’s swing, etc., making it impossible to create a shot of similar Edwardian-period attraction.

The Plum has many forms and varieties… my favourite being the Mirabelle, which I have never seen growing in England, but is common here in France. It was probably cultivated for European soils by the Romans, from origins in the Anatolia Caucasus. Shakespeare refers to cultivated Plums, Prunes and Damsons… and many gardens of his time must have contained a large variety of those fruits. From his contemporary, Gerard, in his own “Herball” (1597)…

“To write of Plums particularly would require a peculiar volume… Every clymate hath his owne fruite, far different from that of other countries; my selfe have threescore sorts in my garden, and all strange and rare; there be in other places many more common, and yet yearly commeth to our hands others not before knowne.”

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a retail textbook with a 5,000 print-run for use in France for a 1-year period under my “Nature” pseudonym.

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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