Friday, 10 March 2017

Channel 4 and Castle Drogo

This was Castle Drogo in Devon on a sunny day in July 1994. In fact, on my forty-second birthday. It looks in a very good state. But all was not well with the fabric of the building. On rainy days the rain came in. And had done for decades.

This is a 'modern' castle, built early in the twentieth century by the architect Lutyens for a private client who had particular ideas about what a castle should look like. The client had money and the will to insist on having exactly what he wanted. For instance, he wanted a flat roof so that he could walk around up there and survey the marvellous views to be had, for Castle Drogo overlooked the gorge of the River Teign, and had the northern edge of Dartmoor on its doorstep. So he forced Lutyens to design a flat roof, even though that was a bad idea in a rainy country. I'm sure the architect advised against it, but bowed to his client's wishes. Lutyens was obliged to look for a weatherproofing solution - and his best idea, mistaken as it turned out, was to seal the roof with a layer of asphalt. It inevitably cracked, and within a few years began to let the water in, which percolated downwards, eventually making it necessary to set up buckets around the castle on wet days to catch all the water dripping from ceiling cracks.

It wasn't just the roof. Water came in sideways too. Medieval castles had had massively thick walls, so that rain could never penetrate. But Castle Drogo's walls, though entirely made of fine masonry, were of ordinary thickness and the rain came in horizontally, along the line of the mortar between the stone blocks. So residents and visitors would eventually observe severe water-staining at every window:

An unwelcome effect.

Over the course of several decades, a variety of remedies were tried, each one attempting to make the castle leakproof. But nothing completely fixed the problem. Finally the castle's contents were in danger of destruction by damp, and the Trust decided that comprehensive re-roofing and mortar-repointing were needed to save not just the fabric of the building, but all the interior decoration and furnishings. This work began some years back, and is due to finish soon, possibly before the end of 2018.

I went to see the castle twice in 2015, in March and September. I took a large number of photographs. One (of the water-staining) is just above. Here's a few more:

All the most interesting shots were published on my Flickr pages. I did a blog post in the weeks after each visit, and that was that for a long while.

Until 1st March this year, when a lady called Emma Love, who works for Chocolate Media, a TV production company, approached me for permission to use my Castle Drogo shots on Flickr in a Channel 4 documentary series entitled Restoration of the Year. I'm guessing they wanted to use a succession of still snapshots in between talking heads in the video footage, tracking the progress of the restoration work. No doubt, of course, the National Trust had been taking its own pictures of every possible aspect of the restoration at Castle Drogo, from inception to the present time. But the NT wouldn't be providing those free to a TV production company. They'd want some money. Hence Emma Love's approach to me - and no doubt several other amateur shooters who had also published their work on Flickr.

I could have said 'Yes, please go ahead, use whatever pictures you like.' But it's not so simple. I own the copyright to all my shots, and in fact I assert it with a copyright notice embedded in every digital photo file. If somebody wants to use a picture of mine, they have to ask me for a licence - and be prepared to pay for it, or else knowingly steal the shot from me - a fact that would show up if they then tried to sell the picture on to a third party, because of the embedded copyright notice. A bona fide production company would never of course stoop to theft. They'd expect to negotiate, if I insisted on a fee.

I regularly get approached like this. The big commercial picture libraries (Getty, for example) charge whopping amounts to use the shots in their high-quality stock collections, so Flickr (an amateur photo-hosting site) has become a recognised cheap (or free) alternative source for companies looking for off-the-peg shots. And although there is a lot of dross on Flickr, there are nevertheless millions of very good photographs of publishable quality. There are thousands of people like me who go to places, and take the kind of shots, that commercial companies might well be looking for.

Actually, I don't often ask for a fee. If, for instance, a museum or historical society requests a licence to use a shot or two of mine, I generally grant one for no payment - just a credit naming me as the photographer - on the basis that they will use it primarily for a public-education purpose. But if it will be used for revenue-generation, then on principle I will ask for a fee. Chocolate Media's aim was clearly to sell their production to Channel 4. So I wanted my proper cut, albeit a small one.

And in this case, the fee would indeed be small. My pictures could hardly be unique. I wouldn't expect much per shot. The exact terms would be arrived at through negotiation, if Emma Love were authorised to do a deal. I suspected that she had a brief to source shots at nil cost. But I was bound to make a charge, and I explained my position to her in an exchange of emails.

I'm not a professional photographer, and I don't take photos with the aim of making money from them. So if she were unable to proceed - because the production budget did not allow for paying for any still shots used - then I would suffer no loss. But they wouldn't be able to use my pictures.

She soon emailed me back to say that she had found another source. I'm quite sure that would be easy to do. She probably had dozens of other sources up her sleeve, and anybody wanting to charge a fee, like myself, would be out of the running and not missed. That's perfectly OK, exactly what you would expect to happen. I'm mildly flattered that she thought my shots good enough to consider!


  1. Ah, what a shame. It would have been nice to see your name among the end of programme credits. I might even have recorded it and shown it to my neighbours. "I know that Lucy Melford," I'd say.

  2. I'm just not celebrity material, Angie!



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