Who owns an image? #buildingpassions

One of the most interesting findings from self-publishing my forthcoming book (short title ‘Building Passions’) on the 19th-century Brunels and Barrys is that sourcing images is complicated!

I could probably write a separate book about this but below are some bullets.

  • My editor quite rightly advised me to start sourcing images early in the process. It has probably taken me about 4 months and there is still one outstanding one to be licensed.
  • People and organisations have different policies for licensing images ranging from free, no hassle to costly and complex! This seems to bear little relevance to the provenance of the image …
  • The internet has taken the lead in encouraging the shared use of free images through Creative Commons and similar schemes.
  • Certain images of well-known privately-owned buildings e.g. the Burj Khalifa and the Shard are copyrighted, but in the case of the Eiffel Tower while you can use a daytime image freely, you can’t use a nighttime one as the electric lighting is trademarked …
  • Non-fiction works are therefore more costly to publish so if you want to spend less, write fiction and include your own illustrations.

I am sympathetic to living producers of genuine artistic objects who need to be recognised and rewarded for their efforts, in order to allow the creative design process to flourish.

However, I am less sympathetic to others outside this category, particularly archives and agencies that charge self-publishers large sums for the reuse of their images, many of which may have outlived their ‘real’ copyright needs.

I think we need to strike a balance here, as with many areas of life. If not, one day perhaps everything we see will be labelled ‘not for reuse’, including ourselves. See this intriguing piece about copyrighting the tattoos of famous sports personalities …

To judge a book by its cover?

I’ve sent off a possible cover design for my forthcoming book on the 19th Century Barrys which I pulled together in a few minutes using a cheap software programme.

I didn’t plan to do this but an opportunity came up for a free assessment by a cover designer so I thought I’d give it a go.

I found a template with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it and then played around a bit with the title and my name. Of course for this book the structure could be one of many towers, depending on how I want to represent the Barrys visually without just sticking their portraits on the cover.

They say you should trial a range of different cover designs with audiences to see which ones work best, but I don’t have the budget for that.

What criteria do I think should be important for a potential reader?

  • Confirmation that they are looking at the right category of book e.g. historical non-fiction about buildings and their builders
  • Sense of pleasurable expectation of an experience that opening the cover might lead to.
  • Hint of quality of a product that can’t be touched before purchase as it will be marketed electronically, and you can’t get refunds on books you don’t enjoy reading, caveat emptor.

I will reveal the design stages later down the line.

Iconic 19th Century structures: the Eiffel Tower

As I write this post I am in a Paris Hotel enjoying a few days in the French capital.

Of all the iconic 19th Century structures in the world, including Big Ben and Tower Bridge credited to the Barrys, for me the Eiffel Tower stands out the most. It is the symbol of Paris, arguably France, somewhat ironic given the temporary nature of the original iron tower built for the 1889 Universal Exhibition in Paris by Gustave Eiffel, as well as the hostile reception from many quarters.

Eiffel’s company had won a competition to build a 300m high metal structure on the site. This was achieved rapidly and systematically using standardised components creating a mathematically stable tower. The essential designs were made by engineers but an architect was needed to beautify the structure and add floors for visitors.

Despite a unique achievement the reaction of many was dismay at the perceived ugliness of the tower and a campaign to tear it down began. Fortunately this never succeeded and we still can admire the structure in its original completeness. In deed 7 million visitors come each year making it the most popular paying attraction in the world.

When John Wolfe Barry was completing Tower Bridge during the same period but over a longer time span, he also attracted criticism from his profession, this time for concealing the metal matrix under cladding.

Which shows that you can’t please everyone and might as well do what you think is right.