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Janet Ibbotson & the AFAEP girls

28 March 2018

As part of AOP50's celebrations we've been talking to key individuals instrumental in shaping what AOP is today. Janet worked for AOP for many years both as General Secretary and later on as Managing Director. As one of the original 'AFAEP girls', Janet worked tirelessly for the AOP and on behalf of photographers. We caught up with her to hear about the early days and particularly about the role of women in the Association. 

Tessa TRAEGER Hommage to Monet 1989 copy

©Tessa Traeger. Hommage to Monet

How did you first get involved with the AOP? 

I was an art-buyer at McCann Erickson in the early 80’s and made a silly move into print-buying. I wasn’t enjoying the new role or the lads' culture that went with it. When a photographer’s agent told me about the AFAEP (now AOP, of course) job I jumped at it. AFAEP’s office was on the ground floor of an old draughty high ceiling’ed warehouse at 10 Dryden Street, with only one small window above head height and a too-close neighbour, involved in publishing porn. There was a large stationery cupboard and kitchen at the back, a partitioned space for the boss, typewriters, an old photocopier and a large open space with tables for desks which was office, meeting room and workshop space.  Covent Garden itself was then a run-down area housing photographers’ studios, film processors and black and white printers and AOP’s office was a popular spot for anyone dropping off film, waiting for prints, or in need of somewhere to spend their lunch break. The boss was Tina Stapley (later Golden), daughter of the redoubtable Nan Winton. Jane Hampshire was the other member of staff. Noelle Pickford left a couple of months before I joined. I was there partly, I think, to replace Noelle and I was given the grand title of Assistant General Secretary. We lived and breathed AOP.

Through the Booking Service, we kept diaries and made bookings for a select group of assistants. There were no mobile phones so the Message Service - noticeboard, pagers, telephone and message taker - provided assistants, stylists, home economists and others with a means of staying in touch with photographers. Both provided an income for the AOP but were run primarily to serve photographer members. With no internet, the sourcing of other services was by word of mouth or through the ‘phone book, so the office also maintained card indexes of recommended services and a  “source” book - hand written - of more obscure items indexed by keywords which we had to remember. We prided ourselves on tracing new services or finding the unfindable. It was time-consuming work and disruptive as calls were constant. Each staff member had other tasks, such as fundraising, campaigning, arranging workshops (sometimes at Dryden Street but often at Holborn Studios), organising committees and large unruly meetings, as well as the more general management and administration of AOP. The first big project I was entrusted with, was the Magazine Action Group (MAG), working with a committee of dedicated photographers intent on improving terms and conditions and establishing a minimum rate for editorial photographers. The work ranged from regularly mailing 150 photographers to negotiating with publishers and their lawyers. It was not without difficulties - I was hauled over the coals by the Office of Fair Trading for forming a cartel. Negotiations were difficult, particularly with IPC, which at the time was the biggest magazine and journal publisher in the UK and there were uncomfortable talks with NUJ officials who thought AOP was trying to muscle in on its territory. We eventually had some success and a Minimum Economic Rate was established. For me, it was the best possible training ground for subsequent work on standards for advertising photographers, for campaigning on rights and for my later career in copyright.

Tell us about the 'AFAEP girls' and women in the AOP 

Tina fought tirelessly for the AOP. With the Council, she started the AOP Awards, raised funding and then oversaw the move to Domingo Street. We were all involved in the work but Tina led. Her positive, 'can do' attitude was an inspiration. She taught me respect for my abilities and to work and play hard. We were known as the “AFAEPy’s" a term that may seem patronising now but I have used it recently to describe someone, normally a woman, with a particular approach to their work, that is someone who will turn their hand to anything, with an open and enquiring mind, with common sense and an ability to work in a team and prepared to share credit for their successes.

After Tina left, I took on additional responsibilities for organisational matters and then some time in the mid-80’s, I was asked to take over as General Secretary. It was at about this time that copyright started to become a real issue for photographers and members were in increasing need of advice and legal services. These later became my focus but first there was a financial crisis to deal with. Keith Johnson Photographic helped pull us out of the mire and also sent Gwen Thomas to join AOP as its first full-time financial person. Gwen's sympathetic approach, kindness and loyalty are legend and she remains a close friend. Her qualities also meant that members very quickly turned to her for help and so her role expanded. Some years later she took on the copyright and legal role and ended up as Company Secretary, from which role she retired in 2015. Valerie Lawton joined AOP from the Hamilton Gallery and made a huge success of the AOP Gallery. Under her supervision the Awards came into their own. Val with Gwen later ran the organisation. Jackie Kelley was smart, efficient and having trained as a photographer had good design skills. Jackie successfully re-made Image Magazine and she also oversaw other AOP publications. Jill Anthony joined and her brief to look after the assistants and services expanded to include education. She built up AOP’s relationship and reputation with photographic colleges and managed the Beyond the Lens project.

I left AOP in 1992 to follow a career in copyright but was invited back to run the AOP again as its Managing Director and stayed for two years between 2005 and 2007. These were difficult years with a crisis at AOP with technological change beginning to make its impact felt on the photographic profession, but also impacting on the way in which the AOP had developed its services. Previously successful projects were becoming obsolete or had become money pits or administrative millstones. I had the support of Gwen as Company Secretary and Michael Harding as a dedicated Chair working with an excellent Board but it was not an easy time. Three notable staff members during this period, apart from Gwen, were Ella Leonard who took AOP work on education and training to another level, Anna Roberts and Rachel Rogers who ran the Leonard Street Gallery and the Awards.

Women photographers during my time were few and far between, but Tessa Traeger and Tessa Codrington were top-class. As was Sandra Lousada - a great photographer, a real role model for others and also owed much by the AOP. Julie Fisher, Jess Koppel and more recently Carol Sharp were all excellent photographers who also worked tirelessly for the AOP.

Tell us about some highlights during your time with the AOP

I tried to avoid copyright as long as I could until Mike Laye persuaded me it was fundamental to the fair treatment of photographers. I then threw myself into it wholeheartedly. By the mid-80’s, I was Secretary to the Committee on Photographic Copyright, a cross-photography organisation, which campaigned for changes to photographic copyright. I did much of the donkey work but was part of a lobbying team with Susan Griggs of BAPLA, Anne Bolt of the NUJ and others. I persuaded AOP members to take an active role in the lobbying campaign and once committed there was no holding them back - they wrote and met and argued with their MP’s and peers and became crucial to our success.  Susan and I made our case to Tony Blair (he led for the opposition during the committee stage of the Bill) on the need to except photographs from the news reporting exception - this was subsequently achieved. We were helped by Lord Brain of the RPS - a godsend for our campaign as most of the debate took place in the House of Lords - his personal project was to ensure holograms appeared in the definition of a photograph. Our crowning success was the removal of the section of the 1957 Act that granted copyright in commissioned photographs to the commissioner.  

The Act came in on 1st August 1989 and the advertising agencies finally woke to the change.

What cultural changes did you witness during your time at the AOP? 

Increasing numbers of women coming into photography but many did not stay. This was still the case in the mid-2000’s - I don’t know if it still is now.

Back then you were an advertising still life photographer, or a food photographer or an editorial photographer or an “art” photographer: put into silos. I think that has now gone (to a large extent) - maybe the Awards helped.

Who are your standout photographers, and can you tell us about some iconic images?

The standout photographers for me are the ones who dedicated their time to working for the AOP or to campaigning on its behalf: those who immediately come to mind are Alan Brooking, Robert Golden, Geoffrey Frosh, Frank Herholdt, Rob Brimson, Laurie Evans, Mike Laye, Martin Beckett and Michael Harding but there are oh so many more.

I’m a fan of black and white photography so Ansel Adams, Bill Brandt, Edward Weston, Alfred Steiglitz and Edward Steichen, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eugene Atget come immediately to mind.

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