diamond geezer

 Friday, December 18, 2015

What makes a photo newsworthy?

I took this photo last weekend in the Olympic Park. That's unusual, I thought, the daffodils are out. And not just one or two, but hundreds of them in several beds on banks overlooking the Waterworks River. If you'd been there too, you couldn't have missed them. And not just budding, but fully in bloom like it was March, except it was December. That's beyond unusual I thought, that's unnatural.

I wandered along the riverbank trying to get the best shot with the densest cloud of golden daffodils. It wasn't difficult. I kept walking until I got something recognisably Olympic in the background, and knelt down a bit to be at trumpet level, and bingo, my framed rectangle looked suitably out of the ordinary. I uploaded it to Twitter, because that's what you do with unusual photos in unusual places. I made sure my tweet included the date, because that was the unusual bit, and I added the hashtag #climatechange because the Paris agreement was about to be signed that afternoon.

A few people noticed. I got some little red hearts, and retweets just into double figures, which isn't bad but isn't exactly viral. And this wasn't entirely surprising, because much the same thing happened last year. I spotted daffodils in the Olympic Park last December too, and tweeted a photo, but that wasn't news. On that occasion it was December 29th, which isn't quite as outlandish as December 12th, but is still pretty freaky for a flower that usually blooms two or three months later. I strongly suspect that QEOP's gardeners planted a particularly premature strain of daffodil when they landscaped the park post-2012.

Anyway, yesterday December daffodils were suddenly news. The Met Office had fired out a press release saying golly, how exceptionally mild this December is, and various news outlets suddenly noticed how mild it was because somebody official had told them. The Guardian decided to angle their story on early-blooming flowers, and hey presto, there was my tweet and my daffodil photo in the middle. No of course they didn't ask, because Twitter doesn't work like that, but blimey look... I'm in the paper.

Not the actual physical newspaper, because I think they still need copyright permission for that, so a different professional photo of Olympic daffodils appeared instead. But I do get a specific mention, anonymously, in the body of the article's text. "Another Twitter user posted a photograph of a field of daffodils in London's Olympic Park, with the hashtag #climatechange." It wasn't exactly a field, more a string of beds along a riverbank, and I only posted that particular hashtag because of Saturday's climatic conference. But I'll take being Page Three in the Guardian, it's better than being Page Three in certain other newspapers I could mention, and all because I spotted some flowers and they turned out to be news.

Another of my photos was in the Telegraph on Tuesday.

This time it was as part of a campaign by Historic England to highlight missing 20th century public art. Certain unsavoury individuals see enormous sculptures purely as large lumps of metal with scrap potential so think nothing of turning up at night and stealing them away. It's not an easy thing to do, thankfully, indeed it's estimated that one particular Lynn Chadwick bronze figure nicked from Roehampton in 2006 would have required at least eight people to carry it off. And that's on top of the difficulty of severing the sculpture from its plinth, an act requiring a blowtorch or angle grinder, hence not to be undertaken lightly, nor indeed without making a lot of noise.

And yet still they vanish. At Christmas 2011 thieves stole a hefty Barbara Hepworth from Dulwich Park, somehow removing it overnight, and presumably selling it for a fraction of its artistic value to some dodgy backstreet melt-merchant. The artwork was called Two Forms (Divided Circle), and that's it in my photo above. I happened to be wandering by in 2010, following a newly-opened portion of the Green Chain walk, and had been rather struck by the elegance of the piece. Even better I struck lucky when taking my photo, capturing a passing cyclist in a hoodie precisely within one of Barbara's holes. I've always liked that shot, and now it turns out to be one of the few ways to remember the artwork as it was.

Historic England got in touch. "Your image best represents the sculpture and we would like to be able to furnish journalists with good images of the works we are discussing, which then may be printed in the media. We would of course credit you as the photographer." For a good cause, combating a bad cause, count me in.

I was both surprised and chuffed when the campaign launched to see that my photo was the banner at the top of their list of missing art. It was even properly attributed, with a link through to Flickr, even if that meant obscuring part of the image in one corner. A number of other lost works are highlighted on the campaign page, some with photos and some they'd quite like photos of. Have you seen Basildon's Pineapple (lost), or Southwark's Cufflink (destroyed) or Tulse Hill's Birds in Flight (stolen)? It's worth a look, and if you happen to have been fortunate enough to capture these lost works while on public display, maybe share your photo too.

An exhibition telling the story of postwar public art is to be held at Somerset House in February, curated by Historic England, and will feature original architectural models, maquettes, photographs and drawings never before on public display. We'd rather see the real sculptures, of course, but in this case that's not possible so the exhibition'll be the next best thing. Meanwhile my photo of Divided Circle has been doing sterling work in the media, turning up in the Daily Telegraph, the South London Press and (less well attributed) the Daily Mail.

It seems that what makes a photo news isn't content, but rarity. Keep your eyes open while you're out and about and you might just capture something unique, or something that's about to disappear, and make the papers too.

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