Back in the ‘dark ages’,
when John Chillingworth was hired to breath life into corporate reports and
accounts, there was little understanding of the power of photography as a
medium for communication. Today, some of the best corporate photography in
the world originates from the creative minds of partners in Greenshoots
Communications, Norman Childs and Pat Shirreff-Thomas.
In the dour fifties and the swinging sixties, some major corporations used
photography to great advantage. A prime example was that of a leading
steel-maker which, in the years before nationalisation, used ‘warts and all’
photography to inspire loyalty in the minds of employees and investors,
using INGOT, its glossy monthly magazine.
Others, like Unilever, also believed in the power of photography, but from
personal experience, I was very much aware of the dichotomy of opinion
expressed, on the one hand by corporate publicists and the other by
corporate boards of directors in their ivory towers.
In 1964, for example, I began work on a major corporate photography project
for the Midland Bank report and accounts. Travelling widely from Thurso to
Lands End; with an ad-agency art director, I created a series of colour
images which were received with enthusiasm by the Bank.
Production began and disaster struck. In early 1965, Midland Bank Chairman,
Lord Walter Monckton, died. The incoming chairman was shown the proofs of
the 1964-5 Report and Accounts. He took a cursory glance and pronounced the
immortal words, “I don’t have photographs in my report and accounts.” I had
been adequately paid for my time, but the images were never seen again!
My approach to corporate photography had been a brief creative reaction to
the formularised approach of Walter Nurnberg and Adolf Morath, but the
intervening decades have produced brilliant photographers and sparkling end
results, based on an entirely more stable and intelligent understanding of
photography as a function of corporate communication.
Combining their skills for some years, Norman Childs and Pat Shirreff-Thomas
have picked up the concept of reliable, high quality image-making for
corporate clients and run with it to the four corners of the planet.
Far from their earnings financing a ‘star-rated’ lifestyle, the bulk of
their profit continues to be invested in a rolling programme of equipment
upgrading. As a result, IT specialist Pat Shirreff-Thomas is always working,
both in the field and back at base, with the very latest hardware and
software for the enhancement and delivery of digital images of consistent
In these days of vacillating corporate fortunes in the UK, most of their
work is international. Every assignment is the result of months of
negotiations and briefings, which finally enable the Greenshoots team to put
together the ideal combination of equipment for the job in hand.
Progressively committed to digital capture, for the past three years a
substantial amount of their output and all of the results are delivered as
digital files suitable for reproduction, as well as prints for printers’
colour guides and promotional purposes.
To date, however, they have never travelled without film and the medium
format cameras, which have been their work-horses for the past decade. The
reason? In some of the tropical and mining situations in which they work the
dust, humidity and extreme temperatures can have an unpredictable affect on
Typical of their recent commissions is one which sent them, for five
exhausting weeks, to create colour images for three separate gold mining
companies in Africa.
Biting the bullet
After Norman and Pat returned, they spent seven days handling the result
of their labours in terms of digital files, image scans, print packages and
archiving to CD, etc. When he had recovered from the rigours of the ‘white
man’s grave’, Norman talked seriously about the realities of corporate
photography at their ‘elevated’ level.
He observed, “These complex overseas assignments take a lot of organising.
The fact that we do so successfully is largely the result of my ‘selling’
our services to multiple clients as well as doing the photography. The
clients know that they have very little to do, other than telling me to get
on with the job and wait for the results to land on their desks!”
“Nowadays, we fly discounted business class, just as I did when I worked
alone,” he said. “As a lone traveller the cost, when divided between three
clients, is about the same as full economy class. I even had an additional
baggage allowance, but now that I work with Pat, it is all used up. She was
not the baggage, I hasten to say! It is the eight cases, totalling 120 Kg,
which push up the cost.
“As always, it is easier to travel that to arrive. Travelling to Africa, we
are guaranteed a long wait in immigration, with no air conditioning and the
distinctive smell of Africa for company.”
“Looking back on my diary of the frenetic thirty-one days of photography and
days of travelling,” Norman wryly points out, “I can see how important our
long build-up and planning is when we are in the field.”
“Important it may have been, but experience told us that in Africa, Murphy’s
Law (if anything could go wrong, it will go wrong) always applies. Amongst
the casualties was our built-in series of rest days, as our clients on the
ground found more and more absolutely essential subjects to be photographed.
It is a phenomenon known locally as WA-WA! West Africa - Wins Again!”
An a-typical diary entry read: Sunday – Met MD of the mine and did ‘recce’
of entire site, involving a processing plant just coming on stream and
exploration of gold baring ore, plus villages where we aim to get pictures
of children at school, clinics and facilities such as water bore holes in
village centres. Life felt sweet, discussing tactics, programme and content
as we looked out from the MD’s pad, high up on the hill above the mine,
surrounded by banana trees, paw-paw bushes, mangos, fascinating birds and
the noise of the crickets and cedillas, as well as the odd green and black
mamba slipping away from the house. Sipping gin and tonics – this is, after
The rest of their time
consisted of hard, hard graft. They also had to cope with the heat, insect
bites, over-enthusiastic clients, interminable travel on dirt roads,
re-planning, equipment maintenance, backing up digital files to exterior
hard disk, eating on the move and accommodating natures needs, more
difficult for modest Pat than for ‘behind a palm tree’ Norman. All that
aside, it was photography, photography, photography, which dominated their
every waking hour!
The digital dimension
The use of digital technology began for the Greenshoots team, long
before digital capture had proved to be a massive asset on their multiple
A past master of telephone marketing Childs, who recognised the decline of
architectural and industrial photography as a dead-end for many top-flight
photographers, turned his attention to corporate photography as early as
By 1997, Greenshoots had ceased to market its skills with one-to one
portfolio presentations. Instead, the Internet became their prime marketing
tool and PowerPoint presentations are still routinely used to reach new
contacts. Along with Internet selling, regular negative scanning was
essential and the supply of digital files, backed by guide prints for the
clients’ use was the norm.
Today on a typical field
trip, at the end a days shoot, using a laptop computer as their ‘processor’,
they download the camera card files on to external hard drives, and then
back up onto CD, before holding their breath and deleting the images from
the camera card! In future they will feel even safer because they now hold a
high capacity card reader in reserve, as a backup for the laptop.
Back at their UK base, all the RAW files are saved into a Network Attached
Storage (NAS) system, which has four hard drives with a total capacity of
1.8 Terrabytes. From there, images are retrieved for selection and possible
‘image-building’ when they have been converted to either TIFF or JPEG files.
The job is complete when, having made copies of the selection for the
client; the image files and packages of guide prints are winging their way
to the various corporate headquarters around the world.
“The problem with the digital age is that once you are on the technological
treadmill, you can never stop upgrading,” says Norman Childs. “Most of our
clients are not only outside the UK, but also the EU.”
“Anyone sporting rose-tinted ‘shades’, who thinks that photography for
corporate clients must be easy,” he observes, “they should remove the
glasses and face the facts. It is probable that there will be an increase in
demand, somewhere in the world, but we only identify it by continually
researching trends in world industry and its future development.” “Without
continual market research, finding new corporate clients at the optimum time
of their growth would be like trying to see the wrong way through a two-way
mirror – impossible!”