Picture researchers organise

AGAINST ALL the odds, picture researchers are organising. Casualised and until now isolated, picture researchers may be a small group of journalists but their organisation is critical to all who make or use pictures.

Until the 1970s, there wasn't such a job. Then came highly-illustrated books, magazines and part-works.

FEEDING A BLACK HOLE -- that is, honestly, the title of this picture, as well as being a fair description of photo-research. The Freelance needed something in the public domain because it needed it at six minutes' notice on a Bank Holiday... and now has a vacancy for a photo-researcher.

Now, even school mathematics textbooks are full of photographs.

Every time a photo appears in a publication or advertisement, someone had to find it in a library or arrange a shoot. That someone needs not only an encyclopaedic memory, but the ability to co-ordinate dozens or hundreds of picture to arrive at the right time.

Well over 90% of picture researchers are women. Since casualisation and de-recognition, the majority of picture research has been done freelance and often "freelance" in Dickensian conditions.

Picture researchers sign photographers' delivery notes -- but what is the signature worth? Too often, a professional picture researcher is treated as a messenger. She takes them into the "office" -- perhaps half a desk -- and hands them to a designer who, frantic about deadlines, starts scanning them into Photoshop and building an archive -- though the small print of some delivery notes forbids this.

The NUJ Picture Researchers' Group has met twice, involving people from the worlds of books, magazines, packaging and TV. On 21 April we heard from several people about the problems of blacklisting and scapegoating. We decided to produce a checklist of points which define a good picture briefing, and to start work on a standard of training for picture researchers. We have met with the Format agency about training initiatives. On 12 May General Secretary John Foster spoke about the NUJ's position on union negotiating rights.

The next meeting is on Monday 1 June at the St Albans Centre. Stefano Cagnoni and Maggie Murray will speak on "how to commission a photographer". To be added to the mailing list for a newsletter and details of further meetings, post your details to the Picture Research Group at Head Office, or fax 020 8968 8438. If you want to defend copyright, pay rates and standards in publishing, encourage all the picture researchers you meet to get in touch.

Jun 1998
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