This is a guest blog by Joshua Daniels, the Young Photographer Runner-Up of the EEF Photography Competition 2016, who recently spent a day in Parliament shadowing Barry Sheerman MP.
Capturing the photograph
In the autumn of 2015, a friend of mine happened upon a classic Routemaster bus parked conveniently alongside the modern reincarnation. He eyed up the angles, took aim and shot a photograph that would go on to win the EEF Photography competition.
A year later, I’d had no such luck. The deadline for submission was drawing nearer at an alarming rate and I lacked a subject, let alone a usable photograph. Troublingly, I also lacked a camera (I’d not yet replaced the model I’d sold a few weeks previously).
The date for submission came and with it a sense of despair. I had nothing. Fortunately, I noticed a small Union Jack on the inside of the folded frame of my dad’s Brompton bicycle. A quick Google revealed that the bike, as the racing green paintjob indicated, was designed and manufactured in the UK (a factory in Brentford, West London had produced this model). Surely destined to become design classics, Brompton’s folding bikes compromise on neither form nor function.
With about six hours until entrance closed, I’d found a subject but lacked a suitable location and camera. I managed to borrow one from a neighbourhood friend, and, walking back from his house, decided my best bet was a slightly grimy stretch of the North Circular not too far away. With a tripod in one hand and a folded bike in the other, I headed down after nightfall and got to work. I wanted to capture some tail and headlight trails, a dash of texture for the foreground and the subject at an aesthetically pleasing angle. I had to contend with excessive flaring, freezing cold and the inevitable colour fringing that a vintage lens would produce.
Half an hour later and I’d taken enough long-exposures to know there’d be something usable. An hour after that and I’d narrowed down the images and processed a few RAW files. Another half an hour and my primitive Photoshop work was complete. I uploaded the image, typed out a brief caption and, for a few weeks, forgot all about it.
An email informed me, to my surprise and excitement, that my photograph had been shortlisted. I was invited to a Parliamentary reception for the prize-giving ceremony. All the photographs that had made it onto the shortlist had been printed and were on display within a marquee on the terrace, overlooking Westminster Bridge and the Thames.
Walking over to the Canon table (where various intimidating pieces of state-of-the-art gear were available to try out), I passed a small group admiring the shot I’d taken. In the age of digital imaging, photographs tend only to get printed when they’re somewhat special. Seeing your work on display is deeply gratifying and seeing it on display within Parliament is a very special experience indeed.
The prize-giving commenced and the category I’d entered was first up. I heard my name called out - I’d taken Runner Up (second place). It was impossible to be disappointed: not only had I gotten close and secured a sizable voucher to spend on photography equipment, but I’d lost out to a spectacular shot taken by the talented Henry Gill. Henry and I would have the chance to work together a few months later when we were welcomed back into Parliament for a second time, to spend a day with Barry Sheerman MP, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group.
Day in Parliament
At the awards ceremony, Barry Sheerman MP had announced that the winners of the Young Photographer under-20 category (Henry and I) would be welcome to shadow him for a day in Parliament. This represented a not inconsiderable undertaking, especially given the calling of an impromptu general election, but it was an undertaking for which I was immensely grateful.
Waiting to be reacquainted with Barry in the lobby of Portcullis House (the building in which most MPs have their offices), Jeremy Corbyn breezed past me in a carpet-green suit. Robert Pickles, Canon’s Head of Corporate and Government Affairs, also happened to be in the lobby. I’d met him at the prize-giving and he’d arranged for a loaner DSLR to be provided for the day in the Parliament.
We were led upstairs to Barry’s office, which had an eye-watering view of Parliament. Ours was not to be a quiet day: Barry intended to make appearances at Oral questions (directed at the Ministers for Justice) and speak at the All Party Group for Skills & Employment, as well as take various meetings and plot his re-election campaign.
Much is distinctive about a working day as an MP: the grandeur of Westminster, the immense responsibility that comes with representing your constituents and the variety of issues with which one has to engage. Yet I was most struck by the pace: a frenetic energy dominates the environment and it really is exciting.
Some of the clichés and oft-reported tidbits are true: the Commons chamber really is far smaller than it appears on BBC parliament whilst John Bercow, the Speaker, is far larger. The food is excellent and Portcullis house enjoys a sneaky private entrance to Westminster station. Certain things emerged as false: the braying, combative style of PMQs doesn’t reflect a place where everyone, of all political colours, was disarmingly polite and friendly.
The meetings and discussions we were exposed to were fascinating: there was an eclectic mix of matters discussed, from the potential closure of a local A&E to Chinese manufacturing to the progress of an extradition case. The entire day was utterly engrossing, and my thanks go to Barry Sheerman MP and his endlessly helpful team, as well as all at EEF and Canon for supporting the competition.