A Photographer’s Journal: May 2015


Mursi Tribe, Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Image Martin Middlebrow
Mursi Tribe, Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Image: Martin Middlebrook

In the first of a monthly series of diary entries from a working photographer; Paris based Martin Middlebrook talks about entering competitions, new projects, syndication dreams, being held hostage, unexpected exhibitions, French house prices and laying laminate flooring…

Today is my birthday – I am a year older and more than a year wiser. It feels like the start of a new year but without the shackles of supine resolutions. I feel strangely optimistic.

April 9th – I receive an email from LensCulture. “Thank you for entering our Portrait Awards. Unfortunately we received nearly seven billion submissions so your chances of winning were smaller than selecting six numbers and the bonus ball. Especially as the winner took a series of identical photographs of some bathers on a beach somewhere wearing pink latex masks and you didn’t. However we were so impressed by your submission that we have upgraded your LensCulture account; you are now a life member of the LensCulture Community for FREE, and will never ever have to send us another dollar”. Praise the Lord!

April 12th – Submit a portfolio to LensCulture, which becomes an Editor’s Pick and sits on the top of the front page. Simon Norfolk is a few rows below.

April 15th – A picture agency email’s me wanting to syndicate my piece “as seen on LensCulture”. Yes please I practically beg. In anticipation of future fees I spend some time surfing the web looking at yachts and all-inclusive sojourns’ to far away places.

April 18th – The estate agent who sold me my house in France popped by and announced that due to my dry lining and flooring skills the property is now worth €50k more than I paid for it.

April 19th – Sobering day when I absorb the fact that being a builder is far more financially rewarding than lying in ditches with a camera.

May 5th – A UK television production company get in touch. “We are putting together a series of documentaries about British people who live crazy dangerous lives living in strange places. We’ve seen your work, can we speak?” I drop my drill, scratch the new laminate floor and arrange a Skype call.

May 6th – Skype call goes like this: “Have you ever been kidnapped Martin?’ ‘No, though I just avoided kidnap in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. I was saved by my fixer. Very close call, lucky to be here, seconds from death”. “To confirm you haven’t actually been kidnapped”. Call end’s courteously and an email follows ”We will be in touch”.

May 12th – Drive to the town of Lorient and a German WWII submarine base with friend Régis Wargnier, a French film director, to discuss a possible photographic project. We spend the day walking around the most extraordinary monolithic wartime military base, with the architect responsible for redeveloping the site and discuss how to visually represent it, funding etc. On my return home I receive an email to say they are interested and want to progress.

May 15th – Arte TV confirm they will be re-broadcasting documentary they made about me and an assignment in Nepal. It’s not quite fifteen minutes of fame it’s nine and half minutes of polite recognition. Last time it was broadcast I was stopped on the streets of Paris by a young woman who said “Are you Martin Middlebrook?” “I am” I replied demurely tugging on a Gauloises with my best Hemmingway pose. “Wow” she said, “I’m a big fan”. I didn’t ask what she was a big fan of.

May 20th – Arte confirm an exhibition featuring some of my Nepal work in Paris and other European cities in collaboration with UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency). “Please can you send the high res files for the selected images?” I email back and say “I absolutely hate the selected images, they are soppy and don’t represent anything like the best work from the assignment. I would like to suggest the images attached”. “Sorry, UNHCR are paying for the event and they chose the images – nothing we can do”. I send them a bunch of high res soppy images as requested.

May 26th – Back in Paris and my girlfriend persuades me to attend a private gallery private view because there may be useful contacts there apparently. I don’t want to go as I have to be up at 4:30 am to catch the Eurostar but I’m persuaded and go. The gallery owner says he loves my Ethiopia work and wants to exhibit and represent me. I smile unconvinced – I have heard this many times in Paris.

May 27th – Head to London for meetings to discuss possible projects, meeting with a picture agency that say they want to syndicate my Ethiopia work and then off to be part of a photographer’s workshop in Dorset.

June 2nd – Return to Paris, exhausted. The gallery owner emails to suggest dates for an exhibition, and says that he would personally like to buy two prints. I leap from my bed! For the first time in years a gallery wasn’t completely bullshitting me. Meet with my new advocate and he confirms plans for world domination – life is looking up.

June 8th – Arte TV and UNHCR confirm the publicity and details for Refugees a small exhibition in Paris with further shows in Geneva (or is it Zurich?) and Berlin.

June 11th – Receive the first two large format prints for my Ethiopia exhibition. I feel proud for the first time in too many years. Girlfriend nearly cries, girlfriend’s daughter nearly cries. I nearly cry. I feel proud…I’m happy.

June 13th – I spend the day happily alone penning a proposal for a UNICEF assignment in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I need an assignment to fill my new passport and bank account. I comply with all of the requirements and lie imaginatively when appropriate, staking my reputation on the quality of my portfolio and ignoring stated preference for ‘Non-Smoking French Speaking Female’.

June 15th – Send UNICEF proposal. Take the rest of the day off – it’s my birthday!

© Martin Middlebrook 2015


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