Grey Cardigan: Dylan Jones on why snappers make him see red

From the Mail on Sunday’s Live magazine.

I haven’t exactly been banned from talking to them, but I’ve certainly been discouraged from approaching them in the office. Who?

Photographers, of course. Whenever one comes into the office, the art department always go to great pains to ensure I’m occupied elsewhere, so I don’t say anything to embarrass them. I wish I was joking, but I’m not.

Apparently all I ever ask them is, ‘Is this really the best picture you have?’ Or, ‘Did you actually take any in colour?’ Or, ‘Is it meant to be out of focus?’ 

I suppose my frustration with photographers stems from the fact that in any commission there’s always one particular shot that you want captured, one expression, or one picture using a particular prop.

Of course it’s usually the most extravagant part of the shoot, the one where the model is actually hanging from the aircraft wing, or standing on top of the statue, or balancing the elephant on the end of her nose.

And when the photographer returns from the shoot and you pore over the images looking for the money shot, you can never find it. And when you ask the photographer what happened to it, the reaction is always the same.

‘Oh, we tried that… and it didn’t really work.’

It didn’t really work. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a hundred times.

Either that or you get something else completely. I remember once commissioning a portrait of Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. The photographer said that he thought it was more interesting to photograph her body parts rather than her face. So when the pictures eventually came in, our portrait of Geri Halliwell was actually a portrait of the tattoo on the back of her neck.

Another time, a certain photographer was commissioned to take a portrait of the fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, which I thought would have been a fairly simple exercise for anyone. But when the pictures came in, there was only a photograph of Yohji Yamamoto’s pencil case.

‘I thought it said so much more about him,’ said the photographer, earnestly.

Silly me – in my foolishness I’d imagined that a photograph of Yohji Yamamoto might actually have him in the picture.

Of course, my frustration might arise from being a frustrated photographer myself. Many years ago, before becoming an unemployed journalist, I was actually an unemployed photographer. I tried my hand at fashion photography, rock photography, still life, the lot. And I have to say I was pretty useless at all of it.

In my time I’ve worked at many magazines and had relationships with many different photographers. I’m still friends with many of them, and some of them I’m sure would like me dead.

I’ve had so many run-ins with photographers. The ones with portfolios so big that no one can lift them. The ones who come to an appointment without their book: ‘Oh, hi – I thought I’d just come and say hello.’ And goodbye, for good.

There are photographers who say, ‘I’ll sort that out in post-production.’

Photographers who ring up and say, ‘I thought the issue was great. I particularly liked the Chanel ad on page 16.’

I’ve had a photographer refuse to hand over the prints until we wired £300 into his account; and I’ve been physically threatened with a sledgehammer by a photographer who, perhaps unsurprisingly, we haven’t used since.

Another American photographer even has a digital capture fee on his contract, which is basically the cost of pressing the button. For this pleasure he charges one dollar a pop.

Personally, I’ve always been alarmed when a photographer opens the camera’s instruction manual when on a commission, although even I was surprised to learn that on one shoot for a magazine that will remain nameless – ie, GQ – the photographer bought his camera in the airport on the way to the job.

Then, of course, there was my first auspicious meeting with David Bailey.

‘Who the **** are you and what the **** do you want?’ he demanded, as I walked into the studio.

When I explained that I was the editor of the magazine, he said, ‘Well, you won’t have a lot to do today, then, will you?’

But of course the problems you get from photographers are never as funny as the ones you get from celebrities.

Twice now I’ve commissioned photographs of a certain female celebrity in a state of undress, and twice I’ve had her on the phone afterwards, complaining that she didn’t know we were going to publish pictures of her with no clothes on. I kid you not.

This is an internationally recognised actress who has been in dozens of films, on dozens of magazine covers, but is obviously mad as a fish.

Stupid? Only completely.

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