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A Northern challenge

© Ben Robinson 2011

Ben Robinson has been the first OCA student to contribute to an exciting new joint venture between the OCA and The Big Issue in the North.  A photograph of his friend Gibson, a singer-songwriter based in Sheffield, was selected for the ‘photo of the week’ section of the northern edition of The Big Issue magazine.
OCA students living in the north of England will have now received an email from us informing them of this weekly collaboration with The Big Issue in the North. We are hoping it will be an opportunity to put your photographic skills to good use within the context of a dynamic publishing environment.
So why was Ben’s photograph chosen? To put it simply, because it ‘works’.
© The Big Issue in the North 2010

It works as a visually stimulating image which, due to its subject matter, style and connotations acts as a true communication device. And it is that which makes it suitable for editorial use. Ben’s image of his friend Gibson shows what you can do in a square frame if you have good visual and compositional skills;  the combination of ambient light and flash (with coloured gels ) created a moody atmosphere and added visual punch.
The style of Ben’s image, with that obvious gritty urban edge to it, works for a magazine primarily concerned with the needs of people who have an urban existence. Needless to say,  if you want to have your photographs published in a magazine you need to ‘study’ the magazine first and find out what their in-house style is, both in terms of aesthetics and content.
But the real challenge for Ben was to make sure the photograph would meet the crucial submission requirement by The Big Issue in the North: it had to be an image on a topical issue.
What is topical then? The cynic in me would say that topical is what the media tells us is worthy of that label. But that’s not a very useful definition of the term. By topical we mean anything that has a connection with current issues of widespread public interest, particularly anything that is newsworthy. In fact, topical issues are linked to news one way or another. As a result topical issues are ephemeral. They are not as time-sensitive as news items but certainly have a built-in obsolence. For example, the tsunami that hit Japan at the beginning of March made headlines worldwide. The subsequent problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were also on the news. Immediately, anything related to nuclear energy, particularly safety but also health issues and technology, became topical for a while- check this article on the BBC News website.
Ben’s photograph, which he originally took for the first assignment on the DPP course – visit his blog here – has a topical interest because it was cleverly captioned. This is what Ben wrote about his image:

“[photograph of] Sheffield based singer-songwriter taken in an abandoned factory. Will the new ‘City Region Enterprise Zones’ support regeneration, and local artists?”

The connection with a topical issue is evident: it refers to the recent abolition of Regional Development Agencies.
So if you are an OCA photography student (level 1 or 2)  living in the north of England and are up to this challenge, get up-to-date with topical issues in your region and contact Dee Whitmore or Elizabeth Underwood. Deadlines are tight and pressure will be on, but it’ll be well worth the effort. Good sources of information are relevant RSS feeds such as Reuters and BBC News UK. Programs such as BBC Look North and BBC Northwest Tonight will also inform you about what’s happening locally.


Posted by author: Jose
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12 thoughts on “A Northern challenge

    • Because the nature and the scope of the collaboration is more appropriate to level 1 and 2 students. And also because there might be other collaborations that we might open to level 3 students only…:-)

      • Thanks Jose,
        I think we do need more challenges/exhibitions and events up North (especially north of Manchester), there does seem to be a big North/South cultural divide. We do have some very interesting artists up in Cumbria, but photography related issues/events are lacking up here 🙂

  • This sounds really good, however as a level 1 student living in the North of England, I’ve yet to receive an email about this. Is there a definition of what areas can contribute to this?

  • It’s great to see that this collaboration has started. The photograph is good with its gritty urban backdrop although the songwriter looks maybe a bit too clean and well-pressed! Wondering as well if the songwriter is based in the same area as the abandoned factory. The juxtaposition with a topical issue is excellent though.
    I’m writing here as someone now living in Surrey who was born and brought up in Sheffield in an area which is now a local regeneration project, so I’m interested in how the North is represented through photography.
    I’m looking forward to seeing more from the North and well-done Ben.

  • Thanks for all the comments!
    I think its excellent that the OCA are engaging with organisations like the Big Issue North, and for me doing this has been a rewarding experience, and a little step outside of doing the exercises and assignments.
    The whole process of getting the image ready, to writing the caption (a limit of 20 words for me), to meeting a tight deadline was a new experience for me, and it was brilliant when I picked up a copy on Monday, and showed the vendor my piccy,
    he said “That’s just the sort of thing to get people interested in the mag”.
    So although I hate the phrase, it is a win win situation all round, and whole heartedly recommend that if you can volunteer – go for it. Plus you get to see your endeavours in print, and get lovely comments too and that put a swagger in your step!
    I’m now looking forward to getting the next copy of the magazine to see what gets printed.

  • well done ben you deserve the honour.But my question to the
    organisers of the big issue north.why just the north.As an ex
    northener now living in the west.and a purchaser of the big
    issue.Is there likley to be a big issue west,south, or even
    east.Come why be biased?

    • All in good time Tom! If this pilot is successful we will be looking at ways to continue with the Big Issue partnership. As far as I know there is only the Big Issue (as in the south) and the Big Issue in the North.

  • I live north of Newcastle and haven’t had an email yet but it does sounds like a great idea, especially as I am just starting Social Documentary and regularly buy the Big Issue. Could I have more information please?

  • Hi Susan, please contact Dee Whitmore or Elizabeth Underwood on the above emails. They will reply with more information about this pilot.

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