Birmingham Will Break Your Art


Fuck Your Creative City Up Its Tight Arse


There’s a line in the sand which I’ve been tottering along for a few months now and a teeny little nudge has pushed me over. It’s been a long time coming but I think it’s time for me to withdraw from the futile carnival that is Birmingham – The Concept. Not Birmingham the city, which remains a wonderful place to do stuff. I love living and working here for many reasons which have stayed with me over the years. That has nothing to do with my ire.

I think it’s best illustrated by detailing the nudge in question.

Last year Birmingham Council decided to bid for the UK City of Culture crown. Since I was running the Created in Birmingham shop at the time I found myself dragged in, though I was never that comfortable with lines being taken. The notion that the Birmingham was “better” than other cities at doing “culture” struck me as not only wrong but completely irrelevant. Why do British cities have to compete on everything? And if anything Birmingham thrived despite the Council. It was the dereliction of Digbeth that spawned the good stuff there, not some bizarre Big City Plan. And so on. But I appreciated there’s a need to play that political game and by jumping through some hoops the city could get some cash to do some stuff in 2013 then what the hell, who I am to grump about the details.

Then the council publicity people got in touch with me. In 2007 I’d taken some photos of an event called Blast! which took place over the Artsfest weekend. A bunch of us had photo passes in exchange for Artsfest being able to use the photos for to publicise Artsfest in the future. This person from the council asked if they could use this photo. I asked how much they might pay me for. They were very insistent that they didn’t have to pay me because of this Artsfest deal. I said the City of Culture wasn’t Artsfest. Eventually I managed to get £50 out of them. At this stage I was under the impression it would be used on a leaflet and one of those tall banners you see at corporate events and, while paltry, £50 wasn’t too insulting. Unfortunately I neglected to specify this on the invoice.

Within a couple of months my photo was everywhere. And I mean everywhere, from toilets in Moseley to the London Underground. This was a major advertising campaign promoting Birmingham’s cultural industries for which one of the photographers, the “creative” if you like, had been grudgingly paid £50. I’m not complaining. It was my mistake for not specifying use. But, well, I think my point is made.

Birmingham didn’t get the City of Culture gong. Derry / Londonderry did, probably because they deserved it. From what I can tell, and having heard from Peter Jenkinson who orchestrated their bid, it was the right decision.

Fast forward a year or so. We’re in an “age of austerity” under a Conservative lead coalition government. Birmingham’s council is a Conservative lead coalition so they’re happily pushing that agenda. Cut everything, embrace the market, you know the drill. A couple of weeks back I got an invite to a thing.

Invite - Creative City Launch 25 Oct 2011

The text says:

Andy Street, Chair of the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) Board invites you to the launch of Creative City by Ed Vaizey MP Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries. Creative City is an important new initiative bringing together the public and private sector to harness culture and creativity to drive economic recovery.

The event will include the launch of Catalyst, the new £100 million culture sector wide private giving investment programme, sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund.

As my friend Helga says, the money doesn’t vanish. It just gets shuffled somewhere else. Those who have the time and energy to keep track of it win.

I don’t have the time and energy. In a few years time this will just be replaced with some other half-arsed “initiative” and I’d rather stick my head in a cow than listen to Ed Vaizey witter on. If I need to know about it I’ll ask Helga, or Chris, or Dave. File under somebody else’s problem and move on.

But these things can’t leave me alone. I got an email from someone at the council publicity department asking if they could use one of my photos from Blast to promote the Creative City thing. Here’s the email exchange:

Council Worker 1:

Hi Pete, how are you. I’ve been asked to contact you by our Arts Team about clearence for a photo which I’m told is yours. A picture taken at Blast as part of artsfest 2008. We are launching a ‘Creative City’ partnership next week launched to support the economic recovery through the development of cultural and creative industries in Birmingham. We would love to use it on some short run publicity. Please let me know, thanks

(See attached file: blast.jpg)


Much as I would like to take credit for that photo it’s not one of mine. Mine are in this set here:

The photo you used for the City of Culture bid was this one:

If you’re interested in any of them please let me know.

Council Worker 2 to Council Worker 1 with me cc-ed in:

I love blast 04 but we could only use if free of charge.

Me to Council Worker 2:

Funny you should say that. The last time you used one of my Blast photos I had to really fight to get a fee. Eventually we agreed on a paltry £50 which I thought was going to be on one of those retractable banners at the launch event. In the end my photo was used across the London underground and all over Birmingham on the poster campaign. While it was my fault for not specifying the use, and I accept that fault, it wasn’t exactly pleasing.

It also strikes me as extremely odd that I was under compensated for my photo being used to say how wonderful Birmingham was for creative types and am now being asked to work for free for another campaign to build up the creative industries.

Suffice to say you cannot use any of my work for such purposes without sufficient financial compensation at industry rates, which I shall take advisement on.

Council Worker 2 to Me:

Thanks for your response Peter. I don’t believe it was any intentional slight and cannout account for the previous experience. But their use demonstrates their quality and impact as did the event – was at the event and it was incredible and went back the following night. However, sometimes in an organisation this size things to get passed and we are much better at copyright issues than perhaps in the past.

The organisation – like many others – is very cash strapped as you may have seen in recent press reports so unfortunately do not have budget for use.

Thank you for your prompt response it is much appreciated.

I left it there but did tweet a warning in case any other photographers were approached.


Just to summarise then.

* The Creative City is related to a £100m programme to drive economic recovery.

* It’s being launched at an invite-only event with a government minister supported by the council, two universities, the lottery, the Arts Council the DCMS and something with a green logo.

* This initiative is to support the creative industries, those who make a living from their creative skills. In my role as a photographer this includes me.

* While there is a budget for publicity materials to be produced there is no money to pay for the images used on those materials.

Like I say, it’s a small thing. And I’m not one of those insane people who expects photography to hold the same value as it had in the pre-digital era. Anyone can take photos now and, if I’m brutally honest, there wasn’t much skill involved in taking those photos of Blast. I merely pointed a fairly good camera in the right place and hit the shutter button a few hundred times. This isn’t a rant about the fragile livelihoods of people who’ve chosen to make a living from photography. Times change and nobody owes you a living. Adjust your business model, add value, do something different. I don’t have a problem with Birmingham City Council not valuing photography. There’s evidence enough of that on their public information posters.

What I have a problem with is bodies, be they from the council or the regional development agencies or whatever the fuck is going to replace them, who claim to be enthusiastic about “culture” but are either incompetent, ignorant or simply using it as a soft target for a publicity stunt.

I don’t blame council workers for this. I understand that they’re pretty fucked at the moment dealing with ridiculously slashed budgets to do impossible jobs for an employer that ultimately thinks they’re lazy slackers. Council workers, especially at a management level, are stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to take absurd instructions and apply them to the real world. My beef is not with them.

My beef isn’t even with the elected councillors. While I generally find them to be idiots and fools, obsessed with their own reputation to the exclusion of all else, only getting excited when The Great Game of party politics kicks in, they can’t ultimately be blamed. After all, we elect them and we get the politicians we deserve, especially in local government. That Mike Whitby is the leader of Birmingham Council, effectively our mayor, is an indictment on Birmingham’s population rather than Mike himself.

And my beef isn’t even with the population of Birmingham who elect these goons since they’re not given any real choice or reason to expect anything better. The whole system is pretty fucked so blaming one part of it isn’t going to help.

No, the people I blame are those within what’s currently defined as a the Creative Industries who bend over and accept this ritual fucking again and again.

They say you shouldn’t burn bridges, and indeed I don’t expect to be invited to participate in any grand Birmingham project after posting this, but I don’t think this bridge is worth bothering with anymore. Even if you can squeeze some personal value out of it by playing their games, and trust me, that’s the only reason these people are grinning for the camera, the investment is invariably so great that it’s probably not worth bothering with.

Some figures in this town are starting to speak up. James Yarker posted the following to the Stan’s Cafe blog:

On 1st October Stan’s Cafe ceased to be in receipt of Revenue Funding from Birmingham City Council. We’re not alone, the last time I did the sums it appeared 50% of the City’s revenue funded portfolio was being cut by 100% to save 2.6% of the Arts Revenue budget. I can’t conceive how the city missed out on its last two bids to be crowned a Capital/City of Culture.

In Birmingham terms that’s a reckless and insane thing to write on your company website. Maybe James has lost all he’s going to lose from the council and it doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe he’s prodding the beast to see if it will bite back. I don’t know.

On Tuesday lunchtime the great and the good of Birmingham’s culture industries will be in a room with Ed Vaizey and the head of one of these Local Enterprise Partnerships that is not a quango, honest. There might even be a councillor in attendance. As the platitudes and empty slogans are spewed upon them I invite them to lance the boil that’s been festering for all these years; to turn as one and, as the last sentence of bollocks echoes across the room, call out:

Fuck You.

Then leave.

Because you don’t need this warped and sickly incarnation of Birmingham. They need you. The greatest trick they played was to convince you than they were important, that they had power. As the money has trickled away their system has been revealed to mean nothing at all really. All it creates are scared, timid arts managers begging for scraps, and you’re not scared and timid. I know you. Some of you I consider good friends. You are better than this.

Fuck this ersatz copy of Birmingham. Fuck this Creative City initiative. Fuck them all.

51 thoughts on “Birmingham Will Break Your Art

  1. Just to pull you up on one minor factual error, Pete. You said: “the great and the good of Birmingham’s culture industries will be in a room with Ed Vaizey”.

    I don’t believe that to be literally true.

  2. There are many things in this post which are not literally true. Please filter for hyperbole as appropriate.

  3. Pete, I totally empathise with this. Everything you say, everything you feel I felt and said 20 years ago when Birmingham pissed on Ten.8 magazine. The only difference is that at least you managed to get £50 out of them, which is much better than I ever managed.

  4. i pretty much said the same thing, in this blog many moons ago.
    it’s not the fault of the artists or the location, or those interested in the arts – but a whole culture of hangers-on have sprung-up, ready to bleed the artist of their work… it’s that thing that “Art is created out of thin-air, so therefore has no value”.
    me, i dropped-out of any organised art stuff, after having to endure a roomfull of non-photographers organise a photography exhibition.
    love creativity.

  5. I tend to find it a little amusing that photographers spout such capitalist rhetoric in relation to their work. Especially as it is often linked to strange ‘union rates’ concepts… And that photography seems to have such an aggressive usage culture that’s very at odds with other creative endeavour… I know you’ve given plenty of time and advice to the community for free, and I often wonder what marks photography out as being so different.

    But actually – I utterly agree with your central thrust and final paragraphs. Initiatives targeted at the Creative Sector in Birmingham are a sickness that in my view suppress the ability of our creative economy to flourish. They stop people looking outside the city. They stop people from standing on their own feet. I get depressed whenever a new initiative is announced and people flock to convene, blog and live tweet. Haven’t they got some creative work they should be doing?

    There was a meme going around a couple of months back that since Facebook users don’t pay to use the platform they are, in fact, the product. Creatives should look at these initiatives in the same light. They’re driven by bizarre local, national and European targets (the client) and your participation is the product. As you say: they need you more than you need them.

    None of this targeted at Creative City you understand? I’d love to hobnob with Andy Street and to continue productive, profitable relationships with all of the organisations who’s logos are splattered across the bottom of the flyer :-)

  6. @Jake: Please re-read the paragraph starting “Like I say, it’s a small thing.” I’m entirely in agreement with you. I don’t think photography has any intrinsic value above anything else. Photographers can be utter dicks in this regard and I wouldn’t want to associate myself with them. All my stuff is available hi-res on Flickr with creative commons licenses for non-commercial use. And so on.

    BUT, if there’s a budget to pay the designer of the publicity and if they want an image which does has some modicum of scarcity (a specific arts event in Bham) then there should be a budget for it. Otherwise get ye to the bargain stock image libraries.

    I like the idea that participation in an initiative makes you a product. I like that idea a lot.

  7. Interesting read for someone who left Birmingham a long time ago but has experinced this elsewhere.

    My first reaction to someone asking for work for free is to ask the if they’re doing their bit of the campaign for free. No? Oh well fuck off then.

    Oh and so you know that £100 million catalyst fund stuff on the invite is some of the worst spin I’ve seen. It’s already been launched, weeks ago. And it’s for the whole of the UK. Of that £100mil a big chunk is set aside for organsiations to get private donations agaisnt (matchfudn). The lowest you can bid in for is £500,000 so that immediately limits the kind of people who can apply. Once the London venues have got their bit I susepct Birmginham like most cities might get 1 or maybe 2 grants of money, if any. The rest of the money will go to orgnaised arts organsiations, pretty sure that in order to bid you have to be or have recently have been an Arts Council RFO. It won’t help the wider creative industries I suspect and probably not individual artists at all.

  8. interesting points you are making. your personal opinion on the value of photography is your own prerogative but please don’t help undermine it even more by not charging appropriate fees. i know you said that it was your mistake, but it is precisely this reason why amateurs should seek external help when dealing with such matters.

    the fact that it was not difficult to shoot is totally beside the point and completely irrelevant to the fee. the fee is governed by the usage and the context and area it is circulated. for example i sell the same picture through getty images over and over again and the associated fees differ every time, all depending on how it was used.
    this was a major advertising campaign and should of earned the artist at least several thousand, probably near £8000 at least. just imagine how many millions of people saw that image/poster and break that £8000 down per person/viewer – doesn’t seem like so much any more eh!?

    most councillors are dumb arsed, stuffed shirt self satisfied smug idiots who do not know their arse from their elbow – so by giving away an image for their free reign usage makes them believe that this is OK to do and will continue to try and do so, while sitting on the £100,000,000 budget for CREATIVES.

    i’ve had dealings with council bodies and privatised companies, commissioned by the government, and they are a bunch of selfish ignorant fat bastards interested in lining their own pockets and NOT interested in the local areas and cities their are supposed to be working on and investing in.

    so i guess my point is, harking back to your comment about the fragility of photography as a business, is be responsible and don’t help fuck it in the ass!

  9. I don’t make a living from photography but I do sell images from time to time. I used to get lots of requests via Flickr to use an image, for free, of course, no budget, bla bla bla. So after a while I recognized that in complying with their wishes I was doing real professionals a huge disservice if I did offer an image up for peanuts. So I refuse all requests for “free” images.

    Now I license an image with restricted use for what I consider to be a professional rate. If the customer baulks, that’s fine with me as I can earn the money doing other things and, as a by product I am helping my professional friends in a very general sense. I think the restricted use clause is very important and that the image is licensed, not sold. You should always keep your rights to a potentially valuable image. Which is why I also copyright everything by default.

    Ironically, your problem with Birmingham culture is aimed almost entirely at the public sector. Private sponsors and patrons are much more likely to think things through because it is literally their money. Bureaucrats are not likely to be so inclined.

  10. The viability of photography as a business or as a career isn’t really the point here (and risks derailling this whole conversation).

    What we should take away from this perfectly formed rant is that top down initiatives led by people like the Council (or indeed the Arts Council) simply don’t work. “Creatives” and their work provide an incredibly easy way for large organisations to get PR victories and will be treated as such until they stop cooperating.

    Good work, and indeed good art does not come from above and I welcome a time when people will stop depending on hand outs from the public sector which only serve to hobble creativity.

  11. Sadly the Arts Industry divides itself between those that explore their artistry & creativity and those that make a career out of Artists. From my broad career experience of Public Funding programmes which has solicited over £40m of the stuff, the ‘Arts Programme’ promoting quangos are made up of a largely public sector career trained body that are driven to deliver the agenda of their own survival as much as promote the projects they seek to support, all of which results in an assessment of ‘outcomes”.

    In reality this means that for every £1m of funding made available to the Arts, over 65% of it is expended in the administration and salaries of the actual body. There will be MINIMUM: a programme director, 2 support managers, administrative officer, finance and one other, plus office costs & overheads of each and every body every created in this field guaranteed. The bigger the programme the bigger the organisation instilled to deliver these ‘outcomes’.

    Delivering meaningful ‘outcome’ programmes then lends itself to a complex application process, which becomes dominated by local & regional authorities lead by very experienced funding applicants by Arts partnership initiatives and some outside pure arts driven groups, but this further displaces the funding away from actual creativity and into more administration, support and ‘outcome’ delivery partners pockets.

    The net effect is a further dilution of actual support and monies going to Arts funding.

    The simple business of ‘ripping’ images and or music etc etc is commonplace and a creative partnership or media machine will happily take its starting medium from anywhere. The asking your permission for the ‘Blast’ images shows something of integrity: 1they actually asked you, 2 they based Birmingham’s efforts on an event that actually had some proper history!

    I am just so sorry that the you have been caught in the crossfire of the ‘Arts Machine’ – but its commonplace. The only solution is to form and STAY solid with your own regional Arts Collaboratives, not be distracted by the politics within, keep the basis of the body and its year on year election consistent and not be tempted to maintain creative or personal ownerships of such a body (Something so difficult for Artists to do!). The more consistent and vibrant the Arts Group is; the more influential it can become, in fact it becomes the dominant.

    Good luck and thank you for prompting the piece and debate.

  12. Matt, I have to disagree. The reason these “top down initiatives” attempt to do what they do can be attributed to ignorance perpetuated by the Flickr experience I described above.

    Through the ages Art has always relied on sponsorship and patronage. My point is that bureaucrats are not the best suited to offer such support.

    I will freely confess that I live in a different age to most of Pete’s circle and can therefore can misunderstand and be misunderstood. I have no wish to de-rail the debate, but I came to the defense of certain very very good (American) friends who are really struggling to continue their careers as well-respected and experienced professional freelance photographers. They experience what Pete describes all too often.

  13. I have a long career of depositing things in and around Moseley Public toilets over the years – none of which could ever be described as terribly photographic – so well done!!

  14. @pete. Yes, I don’t think I expressed myself very well in my cliche-laden first point about photography. It comes across like I’m targeting you, but really I was expressing an observation about photographer culture in general. It seems to me that Photographers are the most organised and militant of the creative industries with respect to defending their commercial rates. This stance is iterated quite precisely by @justforthis above. The point I was trying to make was that I wonder why people are so touchy in relation to photography versus other creative endeavours which may involve as much expertise or time. It may be that everyone else needs to raise their game in understanding their commercial value, not that Photographers need to back off.

    Actually I find the notion of ‘having a budget’ for design or photography quite a meaningless one as if budgets are handed down by a higher order. It’s just a brush-off excuse like ‘you don’t have a Purchase Order number’. People don’t really budget that way. They could use some of the design or media budget for photography. The commissioners who use meaningless phrases like this never consider the ‘budget’ for their own salary it seams and I’m surprised that creative industries take the notion seriously as it often seems to feature in discussions like this.

    But I think as others have said, it’s a bit of a distraction from the central point, which was the one I really wanted to make, and what I found quite exhilarating about your post: “they need you more than you need them”. This is made much more eloquently and precisely by @Andrew above (not the thing about public toilets). That’s what I was really trying to say.

  15. Oh, and I think a call for withdrawing cooperation is really quite interesting. Sadly it would be suicide for your more established organisations (perhaps even some less mainstream ones) so it would reinforce a divide between the funded establishment and the DIY fringes. But it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see it. Whether it’s expressed with a ‘Fuck You’ or in some other way.

    The thing is. When people start expressing some real vision and passion, rather than compromising themselves for third-party agendas, eventually the establishment has to come around to their way of thinking anyway.

  16. Paul –

    For the record I am a professional photographer and do believe that photographers deserve a living wage, even, God forbid, union rates to the undoubted horror of Jake Grimley above. The industry has changed dramatically though and anyone who can’t change with it should move on and do something else.

    I should have put it a bit better though – creative work is always reliant on sponsorship and money from someone, Birmingham City Council and other public bodies, especially in the current climate, are not who creatives should be looking to though.

  17. Hey Matt,

    I’m a web designer. There are undoubtedly many web designers who are struggling to make a living wage. That’s about the value they place on their work. I’d like them to have more self-confidence, and it would probably do our industry a favour if they upped their rates, but I wouldn’t try to tell them what to charge. Occasionally I’ll drop my rate because there’s a client I really want to work with, or a website that builds a new strategic opportunity. I wouldn’t like to try and tell another web designer they can’t do the same when they’re competing against me for that job.

    My point about ‘Union rates’ is not that people shouldn’t be able to make a living wage. It’s that its quite hard to take an aggressive commercial licensing approach that values a campaign at £8K based on usage, and also promote a living wage minimum/union rate approach. One says ‘this is the value I place on my work in the open market’ and the other says ‘this is my right to earn’.

    Personally I think everyone should have the right to value their work at whatever rate or license model they see fit (be that Union or whatever) and feel confident to turn down opportunities that don’t live up to their expectation.

    I don’t think it’s for a client (Council or otherwise) to tell you what you can charge, or for other Photographers either. Ultimately, if the market keeps telling you that your expectations are out of step with the benchmark, you might choose to adapt by changing the offering or pricing. In Web design the market pretty much requires us to do that all the time (new browsers, new technologies, competition in India). I guess photography had a long period of stability before everything started changing, but it’s very similar.

    I guess you could have a system where every web designer or photographer charges exactly the same, and it’s up to the client to pick on some other (aesthetic?) criteria. My wife lived under a system a bit like that. Stuff got a bit samey.

    For what it’s worth, I think I generally agree with Pete and all of the commenters on here, I just come at it with a slightly different slant.

    Sorry – will stop lurking now, it’s just this post, and the discussion pushes loads of my buttons.

  18. I’m probably in the same category as Paul, I’m not professional but I do occasionally sell images. Like Paul I politely refuse free image requests, I tend to not get any further requests from those enquiries afterwards – however I value my work and don’t want to give it away.

    Sadly too many people still think a credit will bring fame and fortune to them. The market dictates price and with people giving things away the customer will expect to get them free also.

  19. To try, and probably fail, to pull the photography thing back into line, here’s another take on the point I’m trying to make.

    I frequently give away my time and creative work for free if I feel it benefits myself or my community (for want of a better word) in some way. This is a judgement I make on a case by case basis.

    In this case I’m saying it’s not worth it, be it giving time and energy to this new initiative or the insignificant gifting on a photograph. Or, as I put it above:

    “Even if you can squeeze some personal value out of it by playing their games, and trust me, that’s the only reason these people are grinning for the camera, the investment is invariably so great that it’s probably not worth bothering with.”

    The photo was the final straw in my dealings with the city. Emphasis on “straw”. An arse-load of stuff came before it.

  20. Matt, I know you are a professional photographer – we met at your stall during artsfest several years ago. I was one of the first Houston members of the original and met several pro photogs through that (one time) fascinating community. As a result I do tend to be defensive of the current concept that an image is worth little to the consumer because, hell, they could take the same photo with their point and shoot!

    As Pete says, this sub-plot was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and there are many things that could have created that tipping point.

  21. Jacked up on the false ego trip of a few photograph awards (essentially meaningless and in some ways counterproductive as it gives false hope), I’ve contemplated doing self-employed photography several times in the last decade for a living. But eventually decided not to, as:

    1. To do it properly requires a fair income. Cameras, processing stuff (digital or analogue), travel expenses. That’s the business side of it alone. Idealism may be great, but the need to pay both of my English cheese suppliers AND keep the fiancee in a style she’s accustomed to (tip for British men: American women, and especially American librarians, are high maintenance) means it has to pay, and pay well.

    2. Dear God is there any profession where it is so easy to simply take the final product of someone else’s labors and use it without their permission?! Or, in one word, thieve. Everyone, even non-photographers, seems to have a case of their images being either stolen, or someone salaried has asked if they can use them for free. Colleagues have had this shit. I’ve had it – and remember I’m not even a photographer for a living – locally, nationally and even internationally – the fucking tourist board of Thailand lifted one of my pictures of my local beach when I lived in the Outer Hebrides, and used it in their publicity of Thailand beaches. That turned nasty and I’m effectively banned from Thailand – despite the fact it was MY work that THEY stole.

    3. Compared to others – many others – I’m simply not that good at photography. At least am mature enough to admit that, rather than (as many others do) set myself up online as a “professional photographer”. It’s that time of year when another rash of graduated students from the University of Balsall Heath, clutching a freshly-printed degree certificate in TIFF to JPEG conversion, appear online and charge £20 for a half-day shoot, thereby fucking up the market for anyone wanting to eat better than beans on toast six days out of seven. See reason 1.

    But even in the relatively safe havens of writing for a part-time living, the issue of getting images for free is becoming commonplace. Here’s the “rates” for writing for the media as a freelance person (also photography “rates” in there too). Not, obviously, a get rich quick line of work. But this year for the first time, and on three occasions, I’ve been asked to supply appropriate and relevant pictures or images, MYSELF. Despite just being the writer/author. No extra expense or payment given, so I either find them free (which takes time, and means I’m the salaried one annoying photographers), or pay for them out of my fee.

    This is part of a creeping thing of the writer doing more and more of the things that the publishers staff should be doing. So I’m taking the line that if I can use one of my images then okay (so long as that image is acknowledged – but it’s still annoying as the newspaper basically gets my picture for free), or I turn the work down. And, yeah, the “liberal” press is just as bad as the Murdochian press in this practice; I’m looking at you, The Independent.

    So that’s another angle why it’s increasingly crappier to be a photographer. More organisations and people expecting you to provide images for free, or work for them cheaply. I’ll stick to taking very amateur pictures of American travel and food, and if that undercuts a professionals work, then they aren’t that professional to begin with.

  22. Top piece of writing, Pete. Don’t apologise for charging for anything you do. If someone likes it enough to use it then they should pay for it. And thanks for all the responses here. Particularly taken by “you can die of exposure”.

  23. I think the one mistake you made was not getting them to at the very minimum give you some recognition, they seem to have put every other sponsors logo on there so why not yours, `Photo by Pete Ashton`. printed on every poster. This may have been worth more than the £50. Love the post Pete and the images

  24. As a full time working photographer in Birmingham, I found this really interesting on many levels.

    Just to add my opinion (and it is just my opinion, don’t rant at me, I am very sensitive…), there are a couple of points that I follow to make a living from photography:

    1. I charge for every use at market rates (not union rates, that is so 1985). Everything. Each time someone benefits financially (or in other ‘difficult to measure ways’) from the use of my photo, I want my share. Harsh, but I have a family, and I am the only earner.

    2. If someone asks for a photo for free. I politely decline. They usually pay.

    3. I don’t rely on the public sector. They have no money. So, I market to where the money is.

    4. Every image online has a copyright symbol on it. I get virtually no cases of theft.

    5. I keep my copyright and sell the images many times over. I sell them myself (or license would be a better term), I also have agencies that sell them for me. Posting on Flickr is suicide if you are trying to retain control of your images – don’t kid yourself that ‘control’ isn’t required.

    6. Pete is right, you really have to adapt (on a yearly basis) to photographic markets. A few years ago, magazines and the public sector had loads of money, now they don’t. We move on to exciting new pastures – perhaps adjusting photographic styles as much as our marketing strategy.

    7. Be nice to people. People will commission you. If you are an arse, they won’t.

    8. Always listen to Matt Murtagh.

    9. Finally, if you are looking to make money from the creative industries (hate that term), realise you are running a business and work out costs and income requirements. This can be harsh at times, but incredibly fulfilling.

    Anyway, life is too short to worry. Have a good night,


  25. Hey Pete have you read this?

    “The people who control the Funding are damaging the Creative Industries in The West Midlands”

    Ive added a link to your post here,

    I think what you have outlined above is what has been happening in music in the region for some time now….it has taken until now for “it” to come for you….so don’t worry, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last either…but we all need to voice our views at each and every occasion….the grass is greener on the greener side….not on the one these lunatics are trying to tell us about……Good work finding the time to put your thoughts in writing.

  26. @Mark

    I’ve read that, and similar things over the years. I don’t think they’re useful, unless you need a simplistic, knee-jerk sub-analysis to justify your gut instincts about The Man.

    I don’t agree with your basic premise. There is nothing wrong with “funding” if it’s right for you. It’s no different to sponsorship or direct sales or whathaveyou. I’m happy to take the taxpayer’s dime and have done repeatedly over the last few years. That scale can be useful to achieve certain aims.

    Your biggest mistake has, imho, been to apply blame to individuals who just happen to be within reach rather than to the system. And, frankly, until you apologise for the way you’ve publicly treated some of those individuals over the years I can’t take your rather simplistic notions seriously.

    You’re a good man with a good heart but… no.

  27. @Karl: Every poster had my credit on it. I saw no benefit, financial or otherwise, from that credit. I did manage to sell a few prints but that was through my explicitly making the connection with the poster, not coming to me from it.

    No-one ever acts on a credit.

  28. Pete, an interesting article detailing how artistic and creative workers are perhaps the biggest enemy of the ‘Creative Industry’. The payment debacle regarding your photo reminded me of when I was approached by Clare Edwards to perform in the concerts leading to the re-opening of the MAC. I had to push to get a fee and then I found other so-called professionals working for nothing. They griped when I told them I was being paid a fee (incidentally it was some way off the minimum recommended Musicians’ Union fee). If more creatives had a backbone, perhaps we could actually monetize our work and live from it.

    I’m glad I live in Sandwell.

  29. @Andy

    That sort of thing is annoying, but each person has to make their own decision. I knew a band who would play the Catapult Club gigs for bugger all compensation because it was cheaper than hiring a rehearsal room. That’s not the right solution for everyone but it worked for them. Similarly I occasionally do Social Media Surgeries for free because it gets me out of my comfort zone and sharpens my skills.

    I think the critical thing is for “creatives” to treat what they do as a business and act accordingly. If you’re doing something for free, budget for it as you would any form of publicity, and make a judgement as to whether it’s worth it. Maybe the MAC gigs functioned as networking events. Maybe they didn’t. Know when to draw the line.

    Financial compensation is not the only form of compensation – it’s just the easiest to count.

    I’m sure I’m not saying anything you’ve not heard countless times before, so this isn’t aimed at you – just getting it down here.

  30. Wow..that all makes a good read..made me late for a meeting. Lots of very good valid points here. Not going to drag up the “ins and outs” of photography..but for the record I have been a pro photographer in the city for 21 yrs and it is a VERY different industry now to the one I started in. (I think a book on this is on the way)
    I have over the years always been “outside” of the funded sector and have always struggled with my commercial / art works..I walked out of an Arts Council meeting 11 yrs ago when looking into funding for my This England show.
    I can see that it was the “final straw” and that particular bridge has now been well and truly burnt, had to be said and as the replies to the post show it opens up a great big can of worms. Well “got off your chest” Pete.
    Richard Battye Photographer River Studio

  31. @Richard

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve always respected the way you’ve maintained what could be called a “traditional” photographic career without resorting to being a winey bitch. I don’t think I have the strength of character to do what you’ve done. *mwah*

  32. It is very easy to criticize anything, and I do like to go this easy road as well from time to time as this is the only way left for me in many instances. And I do understand the angry post of Pete Ashton. BUT. It looks very unprofessional. Artists will not be able to change the governments or councils perception on Art,-its like trying to teach the cow to fly,-it can be amusing and surely can bring some respect from other professional teachers of pig-flying industry, but at the end it will not yield any results. The money will be professionally wasted on useless smokescreen projects and artists will be used as part of this high-tech bureaucratic milking technology to legitimize the expanses anyway.
    From my perspective there is no such unifying thing as BIRMINGHAM! There is Moseley, there is Solihull, there is Four Oaks, there is Sutton Coldfield, but there is no Birmingham! Every part of Birmingham lives separate life with separate ideas and only police is better than gods: one for all. In such climate of separate existing the ART will never grow. Look at hose pathetic artgalleries in Birmingham, compare them to Londons one, and you will understand what I mean.
    As an Artist, I don’t really need Birmingham: I can exhibit in London, Manchester, Paris etc. and I can grow on my own. Council must understand that if they need healthy town. I’m sure they can overcome this by go to China but sooner or later they will understand that by being a slave never brings any satisfaction, selfrespect or money.
    Birmingham has industrial mentality and it is impossible to change it without growing more quality ART in it.
    Most people don’t understand what ART is for society. ART is like hormones for the physical body: without them the real passion and vision for the future is impossible and will be substituted by money and alcohol.
    Birmingham is like a miner who was working all his life underground and suddenly being drugged under the sun: all those high artideas just freaks him out! We as artists must understand that and help this city to overcome its fear of light and its century-long alcohol dependency. At present Birmingham is very ill and hasn’t got resources or cravings for something more than cheap fast-food 1£baguette and similar to that fast-food-art-on-billboards.
    Unfortunately, I’m a foreigner and please correct me if I’m wrong somewhere somehow.

  33. @Postcards from K:

    That seems pretty clear. If those T&Cs are okay with you then go for it. If they’re not then don’t. I don’t see what the problem is.

  34. Andy, disappointed to see your post. At mac we always endeavour to pay artists respectable fees and we are sorry if you feel that this is not the case. All of the professional musicians for the finale of The City Sings in Cannon Hill Park were properly paid, and you received the fee that you requested. We did have a group of student and amateur trumpeters who all received generous expenses for their involvement, and welcomed the opportunity and experience. Clare Edwards was also a freelance musician on this project, so was not responsible for setting fees and therefore it is not really appropriate to namecheck her in this context.

  35. If Birmingham “intellectuals” are buying the paintings of HULK for 30 thousand pounds it is very obvious why Birmingham cannot be “A City of Culture”. All those top-middle-bottom managers from the Birmingham City Center companies are not mentally developed enough in order to understand and appreciate real ART. You don’t believe me?Do a survey on the subject “What ART is owned by the City Center intellectuals”, and you will be surprised big time!!!Or better still – ask them what ART they know from Birmingham Museum, or when last time they visited Barber collection. I’m sure 99% of the time they will tell you “piss off, mate”.

  36. @Justin: I’d like to think it leads to clarity and understanding, but I take your meaning. Problem is knee-jerk assumptions can fester and boil. As Billy Bragg said:

    I had an uncle who once played for Red Star Belgrade
    He said that some things are really best left unspoken
    But I prefer it all to be out in the open

  37. Okay, after some deep research and checking, an apology and a question.

    1) Clare fixed the first gig I did and I got the £50 I was promised from the composer who was the one who was directly funded for the project. Sorry Clare.
    2) Again, the composer was tasked with paying my fee for the main opening concert (this time it was more which I had negotiated up with the mac. Sorry MAC, however it has yet to be paid and I will of course chase that up.

    However, the 8 or so trumpeters that did work alongside me seem to be classed as non-professionals although they included some pro players. This is clearly double standards but only because the players didn’t negotiate well enough. Although I was wrong to shoot off my mouth without checking my facts first and I am very sorry for any adversely affected, my point still stands: some creative professionals are crap at asking for fees for their work. Some would rather be busy and skint.

    Now to eat some humble pie…

  38. The story about dealing with the council on that photo makes me think of record labels that repress and don’t tell the MCPS.

  39. I gave up on Birmingham City Council for this sort of thing years ago. I realised that there really was very little understanding of what being creative meant.

    I don’t even bother checking up on any funding or ‘new ideas’ anymore – hence my lateness posting here, only just stumbled across it.

    The problem of lack understanding of fees for the photography is present in all creative areas here in my opinion. I once had a client come in to my studio, at very short notice I might add, who needed a DVD created and 2 copies provided. I charged him £50 for the hour, and somehow he couldn’t get his head around the price, in his own mind only comprehending the price as being £25 per disc… when DVDs are so cheap. My expertise and rapid turnaround while he waited just could find a place in his logic.

    Working in Birmingham in the creative industry and trying to make a living out of it certainly is hard. People just want everything for nothing, pretty much all the time. I found this entertaining video once which explains in ‘everyday english’ what we have to go through as providers:

    I moved away from Birmingham in July, just a few miles away, after 23 years living there. I’m just not interested in the rubbish anymore.


  40. Pete, the overwhelming arrogance displayed within Bham power brokers is not limited to council and creativity, it infiltrates other areas of public life where the size of the budgets has dwarfed their connection to the grunts that do the work. Can the grunts organise and play the funding game? It’d certainly shake up the complacent if there was a coherent, procurement-savvy group of creatives at their heels. Sorry if this has been tried – am new here and all that. But if you are going to fuck em, fuck em where it hurts – threaten their income stream.

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