Windows, Malmesbury, UK [Alamy image ref. ANBG5X]

Most photographers, at some time during their passion, take shots of windows. For many this subject develops into a theme or collection… I’ve been doing such for forty or so years and don’t look like stopping, even though I don’t think I’m still “collecting” shots of windows with the same consuming interest. However, whenever I see an interesting one – either from the outside looking at, or from the inside looking through – I can’t help but raise my camera, frame, and click-off a couple of shots just in case they turn out to be more interesting than I thought at that moment.

Perhaps we photographers are preconditioned into thinking about and taking images of windows… after all, the first two famous photographers both used the window as their subject matter. Admittedly, exposures in the early days of photography – or “painting with light” as Hancock of Half-Hour infamy would have exclaimed, were extraordinarily long, and a window would have received and transmitted plenty of light and had enough tonal contrast to record a strong image.

A photograph of the latticed window in Lacock Abbey, made in 1835 by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 1877) was printed from the oldest, thus first, photographic negative in existence.

However, a decade before in 1825 Nicéphore Niépce (1765 – 1833), a French inventor most noted as one of the inventors of photography and a pioneer in the field, produced the world’s first known photograph… a view through an open window – “View from the Window at Le Gras” (La cour du domaine du Gras), although it was a one-off and unlike Fox Talbot’s window image couldn’t be reproduced because there was no original negative.

So we have history behind our choice of such subject matter and don’t need any further excuses. If we did, in this day and age, it would be the use of colour which was probably beyond the comprehension of Niépce and Fox Talbot but certainly beyond the techniques of the time and for many decades after.

Unless I’m walking or cycling around the French countryside, a window or windows are within my eye-line all my waking hours of the day, as with the above… a pair of windows on two adjoining houses opposite my own in Malmesbury, Wiltshire back in the early 1980s. The image was licensed around 30 years later as a 4mb file – scanned using a Nikon Coolscan V from the original transparency – by Alamy RF under my “UK Scenes” pseudonym.

Roof timbers – house construction site [Alamy image ref. BNPFF7]

Following on from last week’s article it seems natural to refer to a typical photo which does sell easily from the same situation… namely progress photography on building sites. In that last blog posting I said, “My main problem has been to capture activity on sites where those engaged in work or inspection have been wearing any of the recognized safety equipment such as helmets, reflective jackets or overalls, protective footwear, goggles or other eye protection, ear defender, respiratory equipment or masks for protection against breathing-in dust, sprays or fumes.”However, if the main problem arises from workmen not wearing the correct safety equipment, then it follows that there should be no problem when not including people working! Which happens to be most of the time whenever I manage to get onto a site.Here it has to be stressed, that your own safety is paramount… in all probability you are trespassing whenever you enter a building site and will have no insurance coverage if you break through a temporary floor and then break a leg. I does not even help, legally, if you have permission “on the nod” from a foreman or client to access a site when work is not taking place… such as in the evening or at a weekend. All such sites are dangerous and should be treated as off limits at all times.

Having said that, I have visited a local building site here in France several times during the past nine months in order to record the building progress of a typical family bungalow. The owners and builders – whom I know in the local bar – have accompanied me within the building shell and allowed me complete access on the scaffolding boarding, but not into the unsecured roof spaces.

As a result I have around a hundred progress shots from this one site on Alamy illustrating many details from service piping poking through concrete foundations and breeze-block walls to roofing tiles and rainwater guttering. However, not that much of my output is “generic” because building materials and construction methods differ from country to country… and I suspect France is more different than most.

One detail that does appear to be similar to what I have seen, shot and sold previously in the UK is the roof truss. Perhaps the “Laws of Physics” have universally determined the shapes and sizes of roofing timbers – the A-Frame being a sturdy and stable form of construction for many hundreds of years from what I have seen in many old buildings – and this type of image has been a proven seller for me over the years in several publications both at home and abroad.

The main photo had to be taken on a particular weekend because I knew it was going to be covered with plastic insulating sheets and then laths and tiles the following week. But the weather had been poor – and I’m a “blue sky” photographer – so I waited and waited until a hole in the cloud cover appeared and the sun broke through to provide better contrast and some essential shadows.

House construction site [Alamy image ref. BNPFCM]

Normally I would hope for a cloudless sky when photographing building’s roofing details… yellow-blond pine timber against a rich azure blue sky always attracts a picture researcher’s eye and certainly looks better in repro than with a dull grey cloud background. But making do with the conditions I shot with a moderate wide-angle 24mm (35mm equivalent on full-frame) from all angles… concentrating on the graphic effect of the crossed diagonals and converging perspective of the A-frames.I shot many more images than is possible to show here… including patterns of shadows cast onto the concrete foundations and rich red-orange colored breeze-block walls. In a sense, it was like being a child in a toy shop… everywhere I looked there was another goody to be grabbed!

Sold by Alamy under my “Fabricate” pseudonym for use on a world-wide editorial website, secondary screen, 1/4 screen size on a 3-year license. I see more of these website/secondary screen sales popping up… and for far better fees than have been reported by others who have opted-in for the newspaper schemes. Having been a “stringer” in the ‘70s and ‘80s for papers such as the “London Evening Standard”, “Daily Express” and “Sunday Times”, I’ll be damned if I’ll see my images sold to these papers for peanuts when I know they can and will pay far greater fees when they need images.

Workman spraying beams. [Alamy image ref. B7FW5Y]

Under the pseudonym “Fabricate”, one of several I categorize my various Alamy stock subjects under, I have a growing number of building construction work images on sale. Obviously, to show progress in various stages of construction one has to be on hand or fairly near to a location to show present in any meaningful coverage when a building project may span six months to five years or more.

That, however, has proven to be the least of my problems in this category which, I increasingly suspect, is supplied free by PR agencies and the contractors themselves – especially when working on a large scale project. My main problem has been to capture activity on sites where those engaged in work or inspection have been wearing any of the recognized safety equipment such as helmets, reflective jackets or overalls, protective footwear, goggles or other eye protection, ear defender, respiratory equipment or masks for protection against breathing-in dust, sprays or fumes.

Added to that basic personal list – which most people should usually be wearing at least one item of – there is the on-site protection including ladders, hoists and lifts, handrails and edge barriers, safety nets and protective covering against falling debris!

Even on single single house building projects some of the above should always be worn and used as fixtures. But I suspect that to be true only in inner-city projects where inspection visits are more common, unannounced or lax through repeated casualness.

As a result, I have curtailed my normal “on-spec” coverage of building work and tend to seek out sites where full adherence to the safety rules and regulations are being complied with. Why? Because I find (although I have no sales proof) that trade magazines and journals only use images which have the correct procedures being seen to be employed. After all, there must be inspectors who check on these things and seek out contractors flaunting safety regulations. To borrow an analogy from the aircraft industry… “If you think the price of servicing is expensive… to should see the cost of an accident!”

Whenever I had had the opportunity, whilst renovating houses in years gone by, I frequently set-up a few posed shots of simple “D-I-Y” tasks which could be found on the regular “wants-lists” – from part-work publishers such as Marshall-Cavendish and Eaglemoss Publications – sent out on a monthly basis when they had major 104-part series under way.

The example above (a self-portrait) was one of many taken whilst restoring a Devizes house once occupied by General Wolfe… and from which numerous images were used for single reproductions as well as a 9-page feature in the specialist “Traditional Homes” magazine.

After several uses over the past 25 years, the original 35mm transparency was not in the best condition, but careful scanning using a Nikon 5000 CoolScan I brought out enough faithful detail and color to be acceptable by Alamy where it has more recently sold as 1/4 page size image on secondary page of USA-based website for 1-month under my “Fabricate” pseudonym.

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