In the second part of our series on SmartFrame’s Ambassadors, music photographer and videographer Peter J Walsh talks to us about his work and how SmartFrame has helped him.
SmartFrame: You’ve been a photographer for the best part of the last 30 years, correct?
Peter J Walsh: Yes, even longer – since around 1986. I did a lot of documentary work before the acid house explosion. I was working in Manchester, shooting things like corporate portraits, then I worked for City Life magazine, which was Manchester’s equivalent of Time Out, shooting portraits and fashion. I started covering nightlife, too; I’d gone to the Haçienda for years before as a punter, but it started to be different to all the other clubs I photographed. I trained as a documentary photographer and I could see a movement was happening, and that I had to record it.
I sent some pictures to the NME of a Happy Mondays’ gig, which they played on Tony Wilson’s TV show The Other Side of Midnight, and I got a call from the live editor, Helen Mead. She asked whether I wanted to work for the NME as their photographer in the north of England – and that’s how it all started with the NME.
I also started working for Mixmag, The Face and ID, and they would send me in to cover the club nights and gigs, but I would also cover things for myself too. I was trying to get an archive of work together as I realized it was going to be culturally important.
I moved to London around 1995 or 1996, just as the Manchester scene started to die out. I was shooting a lot for the NME and shooting stuff abroad too, but there seemed to be more work in London [than Manchester]. I also started shooting music videos.
S: This was the foundation of your video career?
PJW: Yes. When I was still in Manchester I got asked to make a video, so I learned the craft of putting one together. I went on to make videos for five Top 10 chart hits, before making a documentary for Channel 4 called Model Turned Actor, which was received very well.
Other things came from that, including a series of videos for the NHS called Shift. [The NHS] had a budget for making programs to change people’s perceptions of mental health in the workplace, and they were trying to get away from the corporate, talking-head-type stuff.
S: It sounds like you’ve worked across many different areas, which must keep it interesting. Was that conscious decision?
PJW: Yes, I quite enjoy doing different assignments. I’m pitching a couple of documentary ideas to some production companies at the moment, but sometimes you can wait for two or three years and then nothing happens. So in between times, if people want me to shoot something, I’ll shoot anything that comes along.
I spend a lot of time now on my archive, scanning in my negatives and doing the post-production, and pushing it out to different organizations. Last year there were events [with my work] in Paris and also at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany and I also have some work in a group show at the [London] Design Museum. There’s a lot of interest in rave right now, particularly with the 30-year anniversary of it, and a lot of younger people are looking back at that time. And the music is still relevant.
S: Presumably, you still have a number of images of well-known people that the world hasn’t seen?
PJW: I’ve got thousands of negatives but I’ve only scanned a small amount. Sometimes I’ll be scanning some of the club nights and I’ll see Johnny Marr or Shaun Ryder or someone like that. So it’s great to go back and look through.
S: What’s your workflow like?
PJW: I’ve got about 35-40 A4 files stuffed full of negative sheets, most of which are numbered. I go through and find negatives to scan, and scan them at around 4000dpi so that each one produces a file measuring around 50MB. From there I select the good ones before I put them in a folder and start the post-production, getting rid of dust and scratches and things like that. Once that’s done, I upload them to the cloud to have a backup, then I think about putting them on the website and my online shop. It’s quite time-consuming to get from an original negative to a finished file.
S: You must have enough for a hefty coffee-table book by now?
PJW: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been thinking about that for the last couple of years. There are a couple of publishers I’m thinking of approaching – I just want to get a really good selection and edit it down.
S: How did you come to use SmartFrame? Was it mainly for presentation or security? Or a bit of both?
PJW: It was a bit of both. Someone got in touch with me and asked for another copy of a t-shirt that had an image of [Happy Mondays members] Shaun and Bez that I’d taken. I explained that I’d never made a t-shirt – so obviously, someone has got that picture from somewhere, and not in great quality, and stuck that on a t-shirt and sold it. It’s been done quite a few times with merchandise; I’ll see a picture of something on Google and realize it’s my image.
So it’s about trying to protect the intellectual property of my images to stop them from being ripped off. Most people come to me and ask whether they can use an image, and then we agree on a fee. And that’s great because it’s extra income for something I spent a lot of time working on many years ago.
Two or three years ago, I Googled whether there was any way of stopping right-clicks and drag-and-dropping onto a desktop, and SmartFrame came up. I thought it looked really interesting; being able to embed pictures on a website, or on Facebook and Twitter, and then being able to see where that image is opened or clicked on.
Seeing which is the most popular image using the analytics too; I have my personal favorites, and I think lots of people are looking at these images, but then I look at the analytics and see another one has had a number of views that’s been unexpected. I never would have thought a certain image might be more popular than another of mine, so you start looking at your images in a different way. So it’s a great way to see what’s popular, and how it’s being used, and makes me think about which images to add to my online shop.
S: Was theft a significant problem for you before SmartFrame?
PJW: I never saw a penny from those t-shirts, so someone else has obviously made money! Not being able to drag-and-drop images to a desktop is a really useful feature [of SmartFrame]. If you did that with a normal website and had quite a sizeable image, people could use that to produce a fairly crappy t-shirt – but still sell it.
If people wanted to make money, it would be great [to collaborate] so you could make money together. They’d get a high-resolution file, so it’d be a fair representation of my work, and the quality of the t-shirt would be good too.
S: What other SmartFrame features do you use?
PJW: It’s great that you can protect your images, but also create Campaigns with them too. You can create ‘Buy’ or ‘New’ icons that you put over images, so when people hover over them these features come up and people interact with them.
Another great thing: I photographed an exhibition recently, and was asked for the images for the client’s website. I mentioned I was using a system called SmartFrame, and that once I had the images on my site they could embed them on their site – and if people clicked on them it would come back to me. That meant I didn’t have to send them over any reference image. So it cuts down on work.