Last week I started working for Camera Press, a venerable news agency which has been representing great photojournalists since 1947. I feel rather honoured that they've taken me on. I approached them as there was a photo call for a new exhibition at the V&A; I have covered them several times for Demotix and needed a new outlet. Camera Press then asked me to go on to the London Book Fair to photograph Jeffrey Archer and Julian Fellowes. I went back the following day to photograph another author, Tracey Chevalier (her new novel At The Edge of the Orchard is brilliant) and then a third time because I just absolutely had to see Judith Kerr, above.
Kerr is probably best known for her Mog the Cat books, given a new burst of publicity by being used in Sainsbury's Christmas adverts last year. I loved her book The Tiger Who Came to Tea, which I read regularly to my children when they were younger, and we even went to see the stage show. Being interviewed at the book fair she told of how her family fled Germany two days before Hitler was elected, having been warned by a family friend that their passports would be confiscated if they stayed. She wrote about this in her book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, though she admitted that it was very much a child's view of things and she had not realised how stressful it was for her parents. Her life might have ended when she was 9 years old and she seems to have taken everything since then as a bonus. She is approaching her 93rd birthday, still writing despite recovering from recent hip replacement surgery. She just seemed like an utterly delightful woman and, I don't know if you can tell from this photo, but there was something of the genial look of the tiger about her -- it was most definitely a friendly, though magnificent, tiger.
She also told the story of how her father, before he was married, had rescued an orphaned seal pup in France and brought it home to Berlin in a box on the train. He arrived late at night so took it in a taxi to a restaurant so he could give it some milk. He tried to keep it on his balcony but it had grown fond of him and honked to be let in. Sadly the zoo couldn't take it and he couldn't feed it enough to keep it alive but apparently this story -- with a happier ending -- is what she is reworking for her next book. With the kind of parents who bring home a seal pup, perhaps having a tiger come to tea isn't so surprising.
Technical notes: I did a few shots of her with flash, right at the beginning. After about 10 shots I was tapped on the shoulder and asked not to use flash but I sat on the floor clicking away throughout her 30 minute interview. I upped my ISO to 800 and despite using a longish lens (200mm) managed to shoot at 1/80th of a second because I was balancing the lens on my knee, so managed to avoid camera shake. I uploaded the colour photos via my laptop at the fair but when I got home I converted a few to B&W, which I think gives a more timeless look. Its a bit of a shame about the microphone (I got one shot at the end when she'd taken it off) but then again it shows an elderly woman in a modern world and a public speaking role so there's no harm in that.
Coming back into work after taking time out to have children, one of the ways I got myself going was to submit images to Demotix, and on-line news agency. You would shoot, upload, and a couple of hours later the images would be available. Once you had done 10 stories you could upload and publish immediately, which obviously helped.
The great advantage of this for me was that I could do shoots while the kids were in school. Sales were far from meteoric but I liked the fact that the images remained on-line for potential re-use and you could see how many views they had received. I shot some political launch events, art events, gallery openings, some demos. There was a massive gap in what sold: famous people sold, other things did not.
Demotix was bought by Corbis a couple of years ago, which didn't worry me as I was already a Corbis contributor; it was one of the first contracts I signed when I left photography college 16 years ago. From each story of 20 to 25 images that I submitted to Demotix, Corbis would pick about 5 images to go on their website, and it was through this that most of my sales were achieved.
Sadly, in January this year, Corbis was sold to Visual China Group who are merging them with Getty Images. The Demotix website was closed down with no notice, leaving many photographers distressed, confused and angry. Soon, on 2nd May 2016, the Corbis website will be closed down too and not all of the material will be available through Getty.
The stock industry has been getting harder and harder over the last 10 years. Fees have got lower and lower, companies turn to Flickr and Instagram to source photos from people who are flattered to get a credit rather than asking for fair payment. Picture libraries have reduced again and again the proportion of fees which go back to the photographers. Demotix seemed like a good antidote to this but evidently it was not sufficiently profitable to be kept going.
Any previous blog posts here which I have linked to Demotix no longer work, so all I have from that time is a couple of screen shots.
RIP Demotix and good luck to photographers trying to still earn a living.
Anna Watson: photographer, parent, juggler