Positive Negative

Today’s offering is a blatant lift from my old muckers at her majesty’s The Daily Telegraph. These snaps, taken by the very greatest of Britons, should be saved for the country. It’s scandalous that we cannot raise a couple of quid to keep these in the UK.

Back in the day when I was working at the aforementioned DT all of these photos would have been binned and we’d have used whatever Reuters or The PA had. The picture Editor (no names, no pack-drill) would have given the photographer, R.F.Scott, a bollocking and asked “Is this the best you’ve got?” and asked why he didn’t manage to get a blonde bird in the frame. This was back in the late 80s and the early 90s, the birth of myopic photo-journalism. The Back Bench would have hidden them as a 2 column or a thumbnail on the basement of page 19, or “saved” them as a “Sunday for Monday” an old euphamism for never considering them again) .

YOUNG WOMAN WEARS DRESS would have been the front page headline accompanied by a young-ish woman on the red carpet of some awards ceremony wearing a…er…dress. It’s what passes for news nowadays and the DT was the pioneer of such thinking. And they called themselves a “quality” “broadsheet”. Honest. They probably still do.   Whatever they’ll tell you now, they wouldn’t have used these polar pics properly, if at all (some of these butchers and know-nothings are still around and, staggeringly, gainfully employed today — see David Lucas on The Standard). So it’s rather amusing, ironic, even comforting to see the Telegraph come to the rescue of proper photography, years after having been its assailant. (I don’t sound too bitter do I ?)

Please forward this to that rich bloke you know and tell him to give generously. For my part, I am going through The Incumbent’s drawers  in search of hidden treasures.


The Battle to Save Scott of the Antarctic’s Lost Pictures

Jasper Copping
The Daily Telegraph

Unseen images of Scott of the Antarctic’s doomed final expedition could be lost to the nation after their mystery owner gave Cambridge University until the end of the month to raise £275,000 to buy them.

If the funds are not in place by March 25, the photographic negatives are due to go for auction, where it is expected they will be purchased by a private collector from overseas.

The images were taken towards the end of 1911, as Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s team embarked on its ill-fated trek towards the South Pole, just weeks before it ran into disaster.

The 113 negatives had been thought lost until, more than a century on from the expedition, they have emerged, in private hands. The owner – whose identity has not been disclosed – has approached the Scott Polar Research Institute – part of the University of Cambridge – offering it first refusal.

However, the department has currently only raised about a fifth of the £275,000 purchase price that it must reach before March 25.

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13: Foundering in soft snow. (left to right) Cherry-Garrard, Bowers, Keohane, Crean, Wilson, Beardmore Glacier, 13 December 1911 (Robert Falcon Scott/ Scott Polar Research Institute)

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13: Foundering in soft snow. (left to right) Cherry-Garrard, Bowers, Keohane, Crean, Wilson, Beardmore Glacier, 13 December 1911 (Robert Falcon Scott/ Scott Polar Research Institute)

“The negatives are a key component of the expedition’s material legacy as an object and as a collection in themselves.”

However, the nature of the sale, and the deadline, has raised some eyebrows. John Mann, the Labour MP and a member of the all party parliamentary group on the Polar Regions, suggested it was “unseemly”.

“This is a very important part of our heritage and our history and the British spirit. I would call it living history, as it still inspires people to explore.

“We should do whatever we can to get them into the public domain. If I owned them, I would feel obliged to donate them to the nation. Selling off the nation’s history like this is a bit unseemly.

“There is a national interest here. If it was me, I would rather a plaque to acknowledge the donation.”

If successful, the Institute will display the negatives at its Polar Museum, in Cambridge, where it already holds prints of some of the photographs, as well as the camera on which they were taken. Nine of the negatives, however, have never been seen before.

The photographs were brought for the nation in 2012, when the Institute purchased them for around £750,000 from a London-based book dealer, with help a £704,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The negatives are owned by a separate vendor who has already agreed to extend the deadline once – from March 2 – to allow the institute to apply for grants from organisations.

The owner approached the organisation to offer the items for sale, but has requested that they remain anonymous. It is known not to be a relative of any of the expedition members involved.

Sir Ranulph added: “Unlike a print, of which any number can be made, the negatives are unique and would be a huge asset to the Institute.”

Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Institute, said: “There has been an extraordinarily generous response to the appeal, proving how important Scott remains in the national imagination. Every donation, however small, brings us closer to reaching our goal of £275,000. With this new extension, I am confident we can raise the remaining funds to acquire the negatives.”

The institute itself was founded with money left over from the fund for the widows and orphans of Scott and his four companions, who died on the expedition.

The negatives, taken between September to December 1911, are a record of Scott’s earliest attempts at photography through to his later images of his team on their journey towards the pole.

Scott’s ship, Terra Nova, had left Cardiff in June 1910, and travelled to the Antarctic via South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Following a period of preparatory work, as well scientific research – and aware of a rival bid by Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen – Scott started out for the Pole in late October 1911.

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13: Ponies on the march, Great Ice Barrier, 2 December 1911 (Robert Falcon Scott/ Scott Polar Research Institute)

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13: Ponies on the march, Great Ice Barrier, 2 December 1911 (Robert Falcon Scott/ Scott Polar Research Institute)

His team was equipped with mechanical sledges, ponies and dogs. However, the sledges and ponies could not cope with the conditions and the expedition carried on without them, through appalling weather and increasingly tough terrain.

Around half of the negatives chronicle this period, until December 22, when the dog teams were sent back, taking the negatives with them.

By January 1912, only five of the team remained: Scott, Edward Wilson, Lawrence “Titus” Oates, Henry Bowers and Edgar Evans.

They reached the pole on 17 January 1912 to discover that Amundsen had beaten them by 33 days. They set off on the 930 mile return journey, but ran into exceptionally bad weather and sledging conditions.

Evans was the first to die, on February 17. Oates followed on 16 March – walking out of the tent in a blizzard as he knew he was holding up his companions. Scott himself died with Bowers and Wilson in late March 1912, laid up by a blizzard 11 miles short of a pre-arranged supply depot.

During the last days, Scott kept up his journal, wrote twelve letters to friends, family, and next of kin and left a message for the public explaining his reasons for the failure of the expedition.

Eight months later, a search party found the ten and the bodies and Scott’s diary. The bodies were buried under the tent, with a cairn of ice and snow to mark the spot. News of the deaths did not reach Britain until early 1913.

Turd Polishing**

Ah yes: Exam Results. I remember them. For some reason whenever I see on the news that today’s the day when the exam results come through, I get a chill running through my bones. I feel nauseous. The very water inside me somehow wants to get out.

Perhaps this is because it brings back memories of when I received an envelope containing my results all those years ago ? Perhaps not. It wasn’t all bad (honest) I scraped in here, and got by there. Could have been a lot worse (the teachers at school certainly predicted so). No it’s not those memories which irk me. It’s something rather more recent. Something that’s still taking place. It’s the “jumping for joy photos”.

Stick your head out of the window, listen hard and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to hear the unmistakable sound of a photographer near you organising a staggeringly unimaginative photo.

“Ok if you could spread yourself out in a line towards me… no, no, can we have the two blonde young ladies in the middle… yes, much better… now, on the count of three, could you all jump up, punch  the air and cheer ? … especially you girls… thanks very much….right here we go…one…two…three….SNAP…CLICK…SNAP…”

It happens every year (twice in the UK), and it’s happening today with the announcement of today’s A-Level results.

And it’s not necessarily the fault of the photographer. Would you believe that, in this day in age, there are national newspaper and agency picture editors who actually commission such dross ? They do, I promise you. And why ? Because above them are Chief Subs, Features Editors and other assorted numpties who deal in crap and clichés. But don’t take my word for it. Buy a paper tomorrow (any one should do) and look for yourselves. If you can’t wait, switch on TV Regional News this evening (“Local Man bit by Local Dog, Locally“). They’ll be down at their local High School or Academy filming young men and women, crying with/jumping for joy (delete where applicable).

Such imagination.

Here’s another. It’s gonna be hot this weekend. Some at the Met Office are predicting up to 30 degrees over the south of England. Queue the hot weather picture:

L-R: The Times, Indie,Guardian;               Tabloids+Telegraph;                            All of them

You can bet your left testicle (or whatever you have to hand) that you’ll find a version of the above tomorrow in your favourite rag. If I had a penny for every time someone submitted a photo of boys diving into the sea/pond/canal/fountain once the temperatures reach 28 degrees, I’d have £17.43.


But the photographers don’t get off Scot free. After all, they take the snap, they ping it in to the picture desk and some berk uses it. Ca-Ching! Why on earth do you think that we’ve seen this pose endlessly over the last few weeks ?

No. Serena’s not biting that medal because she’s hungry (again), but because there’s an unwritten law amongst sports snappers which tells them that’s what Gold Medallists do.  And you know what ? – the pictures go in the paper. They get in the linen, as we used to say. (oh, and by the way, don’t think that this dreadful state of affairs will finish with the death of newspapers. Online Photo Eds and Snappers – oh, ok Monkeys – are just as (un)imaginative as are the paper ones.)

But don’t let it worry you. If you have been lucky in life and never had to listen and watch a back bench fuck-up your picture selection, you will remain unscathed by all this. I’m sure you probably think my head is about to pop off again, driven by dark memories of no-nothing subs and myopic designers ? You may or may not be correct.

I shan’t go on. Just to say, the next time you see Obama do this…

…don’t think that he’s seen someone in the crowd he recognise, it’s just that someone (probably a press officer) once told him that photos of Pointing Politicians get in the linen too. He’s not alone. They all do it. Just watch them all getting off a plane pointing; Take the applause of the crowd, pointing; Arrive in Brussels POINTING. Watch out for Barack when he wins the election. He’ll be jumping for joy.

**”You Can’t Polish a Turd, Mike”…Telegraph Photographer Roy Letkey on being asked by me how his photos were from a terribly thought-out photo shoot.

Mrs Trellis*

Two weeks into the new job and an unexpected bonus: On Wednesday I resumed the position of “World’s Best Dad”. Having spent the last couple of years as boring, square, fat dad I regained the initiative with my kids by placing a photo of them in the paper. We needed a shot of cute babies/toddlers for a story we were doing, so I raided my archives and pulled an old pic of my girls in nappies, sitting inside a cardboard box. Job done. Editor happy, me happy, kids feigned embarrassment when they saw it, before taking copies of the paper to school to show their mates and boasting “look what my dad did!”.

What’s more I was both photographer and parent so I could ask myself for permission to use this photo, knowing I would be unlikely to change my mind and complain to myself about using pics of my semi-clad children in a national newspaper (their mother couldn’t wait to see her kids cringe). In this post-Blair bonkers world where parents aren’t allowed to attend school sports days, you can’t photograph your own kid in the park lest someone else’s get snapped in the deep background, and holiday snaps are frequently reported by the girls at Boots for being iffy, I knew I was in the clear with this one.


Or so I thought. Turd in the water tank.

On Friday one of my new colleagues approached me and asked if I knew who the kids were in that photo.
“Yes I do” I smiled “and I know the snapper pretty well too” I added, smugly “that’s a pic of my girls years ago”
“Oh!?!?” my friend said, eyebrow raised.
I felt something was awry. “Whassup?”
“Well, I’ve had a call from a woman who is very upset that we’ve used a pic of her daughters on the cover”
Guffaws in the office, the meerkats popped up over their pc screens.
“She a loony?” I asked?
“No, she sounded pretty normal, just very pissed off” he replied. “Wanna give her a call?”
“Love to”
“Mind if I stay and listen?” he said, rather excitedly.
“Not at all, old bean”
He passed me the slip of paper with the woman’s number on it. As I dialed, three more interested chums pulled up chairs to listen to the action unfold. How would the new boy handle this one? Was the reader a nutter ? Was Bealing so hungover that day that he’d forgotten what his kids looked like?

Modern digital  IP phone (isolated on white)

Let’s not use the lady’s real name.

Mrs Trellis?”
“Good morning to you, Michael Bealing from The Times. I understand you called my colleague with a problem.”
“Yes, I DID” her hackles were in the upright position—notsomuch as a ‘good morning’. “I’d like to know how and why you have use a photograph of my daughters in your newspaper?”
“Erm… I’m afraid we didn’t, Mrs Trellis, they’re my daughters”
“NO THEY ARE NOT. That is my photograph of my twin daughters, taken over 20 years ago.”
I was a model of calm and restraint.
“I’m sorry, but they really are my daughters. That’s Kate on the left, and her elder sister Lucy on the right. It was taken about twelve years ago.”
That’s impossible” she barked “My daughters are twenty-four!”
I hesitated as I tried to work out what that meant. My workmates could see I was perplexed. One of them was making little circles with his index finger around his temple area, querying the woman’s sanity.
She went again “I have that exact picture of my girls in a cardboard box. Even their haircuts are the same!”

(Even the haircuts are the same????? Kate was 9 months old—she’d never had a haircut!)

“Honestly, Mrs Trellis, I took that photo of my girls in the box years ago, I guess a lot of children like cardboard boxes.”
I was inches from offering to send her a copy of the photo, but then thought “Sod it”. And a good job too, cos in a flash she relented
“Well I suppose I’ll just have to believe you” and with that she hung up. It was over as quick as that. I would have offered my apologies again for her mistake, perhaps my phone number, and I don’t-know-what, but I was hoping I could convince her and placate her. But she’d gone. Buggered off. Vanished, like an old oak table, to coin a phrase.


You know when you know you’re right, when you know black is black then someone comes to you with such conviction that black is, in fact, white and you start doubting yourself? Well, that’s how I felt. She’d made me doubt what I knew to be fact. I had a mental image of Mrs Trellis, steam pumping our of her ears, crawling around the attic looking for that photo album to find that picture. For the rest of the day I kept one eye on the phone in case she called back triumphantly, having found the pic and demanded compensation and a written apology in the newspaper (not what a new boy needs in his first couple of weeks on the firm). Luckily, no such call came.

My colleagues and I resumed work on our next story. It was about the merits of breast feeding vrs the bottle. We chose a lovely photo for the cover: a delicate close-up of a baby suckling from a mother’s breast. Baby’s eyes wide-open, lips clasped around the nipple. Beautiful, classy, classic and very tasteful. I just pray to God that it’s not Mrs Trellis and her daughter.