Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Gordon Brown in Polaroid by Rankin

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I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Gordon Brown, and that’s assuming there are any fans, but I have more time than him for most.

Although Brown was at the heart of the ‘market-first’ orthodoxy of the last decade, he also had the nous to recognise the end of Lehman Brothers as the catastrophe it was, and create the model to address the precipitous recession that has been adopted across the world.

If nothing else, Brown can probably have that one under his name in the history books.

But he’s made for a rather sad spectacle as PM. Whereas the initial honeymoon period showed a relaxed and confident man, HoneyMoon Brown hasn’t been seen since. He now appears unsure, hesitant and, frankly, shagged-out.

Gone are the clunking fists, and the famous intellect that terrified several Tory front benches seems overcome by neuroses.

But it’s not apparent how much of this is actually true, certainly in terms of whether that constitutes the ‘real’ Gordon Brown. As Prime Minister he is habitually painted as weak, grumpy, ineffectual and virtually paralysed by indecision.

Rankin’s Polaroid images of Brown, as part of the Observer’s Polaroid Project to celebrate the last Polaroid films reaching their expiry dates, reveal a man comfortable, humourous, relaxed and, well, human.

Even the shot of Brown astride a chair, a la Christine Keeler, doesn’t look particularly odd, despite the fact that it’s a strange pose for a man in his late-50s to adopt.

Gordon Brown by Rankin

Rankin’s own reaction to Brown speaks volumes about the way Brown is portrayed and, indeed, the way the PM comes across.

The photographer admits to being surprised at finding Brown such pleasant company.

“…with Brown you can’t help be aware that he is supposed to be dour. I found the opposite was the case. He was a really fascinating – and fascinated – bloke. Really inquisitive about what I was doing. It got me thinking that maybe no one had ever taken a good honest photograph of him before.”

‘With Polaroids it’s like I can see someone between the shots – in this case Gordon Brown is friendly, then intense, then relaxed.

“We had a chat before starting; he was easygoing and natural. The shot of him on the chair, for instance, I could have made him look bad, but he didn’t seem to care.

“He had no vanity whatsoever. He had a great way about him and a great smile, which is not what you’re led to believe from the press and most photographs.”

It’s ironic that, in an age more exposed to multimedia of every kind at every turn, it’s possible that no-one has ever taken a good photograph of one of the most photographed men on the planet.

Or, arguably, it’s part of the media’s projected image of the PM, with images of a gloomy, glowering Brown more suited to stories predicting his imminent downfall.

The images themselves are superb. Brown is shot in flattering light, and from flattering angles, but he appears every inch the statesman, family man and modern politician – as if a touch of Tony Blair has rubbed off on him. Simply, he looks like a nice guy, someone you could have a beer with.

A lot of people praise Polaroids for their supposed realness, whereas they display nothing of the sort.

Colours and contrasts aren’t remotely like those the human eye perceives. In actuality Polaroids are nothing like real life, they come out looking like a relic of a 70s summer holiday.

This appeals to me, as did the awkwardness of my old SLR. I’m mightily impressed with the efficiency of digital, but it hasn’t enthused me in the way the clunkiness and preciousness of old film snaps did.

I learned a lot experimenting with light, apertures, angles and shutter speeds on old cameras, and the imprecision of development lent another filter for the original image. Through those filters the mundane can become magical, and the stark more enigmatic.

The difference between them is like the difference between old film stock and videotape – often seen in the same programmes together during the 70s and 80s when location work was shot on old film reels and interior on video. The video segments are better in every technical respect, but they don’t look half as good.

So, how does all of this help Gordon? Not one jot in all likelihood, but it gives a fascinating insight into the power of photography or, if you’re more cynical, the power of a concerted and pre-conceived news agenda.

• The Impossible Project aims to restart production of Polaroid cameras. Head over for more details.

Written by Robin Brown

September 14th, 2009 at 1:06 pm

What would I look like if I were a zombie?

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Probably a bit like this.

Rob Zombie

Although I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to zombies – I prefer them to shuffle, moan and be vaguely pitiful like Romero’s – the truth is they’re much more frightening when they’re running at you screaming.

Robin Brown zombie

Anyway, this zombie make-up is by Helen Quinn of Liverpool Community College, and allowed me to menace some chihuahuas belonging to someone from Hollyoaks while dressed as a zombie.

Written by Robin Brown

June 28th, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Film,Photography

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How do I use non-commercial licenses on Flickr?

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Creative Commons

I’ve had a recent set-to on Flickr over Creative Commons licenses, with particular regard to the non-commercial licenses that specifies that photos licensed for use, as long as you do not use it ‘for commercial purposes’.

This is a notoriously nebulous definition that seems designed to create confusion, and it’s currently slated to be replaced.

The main bone of contention concerns what constitutes a ‘commercial purpose’. Clearly selling prints of that photo does, or using the image in an advert.

As I understand it, users on Flickr have discovered their images being used in precisely these ways.

Where it becomes a little more ambiguous is where images are used on websites that also contain adverts. Clearly websites such as these are run for profit, so arguably using an image on one of these sites is using someone else’s work for a commercial purpose.

This is where I come in.

I’ve used several images CC images from Flickr on MotorTorque, always under a CC license. Some of these have been under non-commercial licenses, where I always sought the permission of the photographer.

In all of these cases I received replies from the photographers indicating that they were happy for me to use the image. They’re always used in context and in a way that complements the text.

It’s difficult, when editing a website, to receive approval for an image in a timely manner, so after a while, as no-one had ever indicated that they considered my specific use of the images a breach of the license, I stopped asking approval for such images and provided a link to the page where the image was used.

I’d make it clear that if they objected to the use I’d take it down, and the image was always properly attributed with a link to the relevant page on the photographer’s Flickr account and another link to the CC license.

Recently a third party objected to my use of someone else’s image, and before I knew it a three-way row erupted on the image page. Another guy took my side, but the accuser was so incensed by what I’d done that he basically accused me of copyright theft.

It was all rather overblown, especially considering the copyright holder didn’t get involved at any point, but it raises some difficult questions about the CC license.

No doubt that license is open to abuse, and unlike me anyone genuinely stealing images from Flickr is unlikely to provide a link to the site where they’re ripping off someone else’s work.

The license, as it stands, is an absolute minefield that probably does not meet the intent of the copyright holder or explain sufficiently to potential users whether they can use it or not.

So, how do you use a non-commercial license? Until a new license comes into effect later this year, the only way to play it down the line is to seek approval.

Even though I’ve not used CC licenses for any of my images on Flickr, because they’re such a shambles, I’ve allowed everyone who’s approached me to use them if they’ve asked.

As for copyright holders, the only sensible approach seems to be to make them unavailable for any use if you’re likely to object to someone accidentally using your work in a way that does not fit your idea of what the licence means.

• If you have the stamina there’s a discussion here on the new license.

• Image by Giuli-o via Creative Commons

Written by Robin Brown

May 6th, 2009 at 10:11 pm