Phil Coomes, Picture editor

Phil Coomes Picture editor

Exploring the world of photojournalism, photos in the news and BBC News' use of photographs, including those by our readers

Remembering the work of Shirley Baker

Ice cream van on terraced street, Manchester 1965
Ice cream van on terraced street, Manchester, 1965

One of the leading photographers of the past century, Shirley Baker, sadly died towards the end of September. Here Tom Gillmor, of the Mary Evans Picture Library, who are guardians of her archive, pays tribute to her work.

Shirley first contacted Mary Evans Picture Library in early 2008. From looking through the first few printed pages she sent to me, featuring a mass of small contact photographs, I was immediately struck by a body of work of terrific quality and amazing potential. Shirley's work in Salford and Manchester (shot mainly between 1960 and 1973) captured a time of rapid social and economic change in the lives of working class people in Manchester and Salford.

Slum clearances, started in the 1930s, resumed in earnest in the 1950s, and in the twenty years between 1955 and 1975, around 1.3 million homes were demolished nationwide. When Shirley Baker began photographing the streets of her native Salford, it seemed that no-one was interested in recording the human story of these soon-to-be demolished communities. Old ladies sitting on doorsteps in a row of condemned houses, men with handcarts searching for refuse to be recycled, children playing inventively among rubble and abandoned cars. That she chose to preserve these moments on film, now seems like the only perceptive response to a vanishing environment.

Salesman, Hulme, Manchester, 1965
A salesman in Hulme, Manchester, in 1965

Shirley had an eye beyond that of the pure recorder of fact; she had an uncanny ability to spot incidental humour in the scenes of everyday life which surrounded her. The majority of her work needs no caption, as the emotions, energy and sense of place leap out from the scene. Later work - through the 1970s and 80s - moved geographically further afield but retained the same innate eye for quality of composition. Her wider work as a writer and lecturer, has allowed many others a clear insight into her approach and technique.

Shirley Baker taking a picture with her Rolliflex camera
Shirley Baker at work

From the moment we started to make Shirley's work available to our clients, it has proven perfect for both editorial and creative purposes, offering humour, social history and the innocence and joy of youth, set against a backdrop of a rapidly changing world. Her work has appeared on book covers, music albums and in TV documentaries around the world, and even inspired a singer songwriter (who went on to use her work as a backdrop to his live performance).

Read full article Remembering the work of Shirley Baker

Ten of the best Ryder Cup photos

Lee Westwood celebrates a putt

As the best golfers from Europe and the US converge on Gleneagles for the 40th Ryder Cup, Press Association photographer David Davies reveals what it is like to cover the prestigious golfing event and selects some of his favourites from past competitions.

Working as a photographer for the Press Association (PA) means my working day is far from the norm. Only this week I'll be sharing each day with some of the best golf players in the world, as I cover my sixth Ryder Cup and my fourth for PA.

Read full article Ten of the best Ryder Cup photos

Echoes of the Black Country


In the 1960s, Britain's industrial landscape was changing. Factories that were once the centre of the country's power and prosperity were shutting down. The physical landscape too was in flux, with derelict buildings dotting the once thriving industrial regions, some of which were now in decline.

Photographer Peter Donnelly set out to record these changes, having won a photography competition in the Daily Telegraph in 1962 with images taken near his home, around Birmingham and the Black Country.

Read full article Echoes of the Black Country

Urban kingfishers making a home on London's waterways

Kingfisher feeding it's young

Tomos Brangwyn has been photographing wildlife since he was a child growing up in south London and in recent years has turned his attention to taking pictures of kingfishers living in London's network of concrete water channels.

Here Brangwyn offers an insight into the project which is also part of a film for the BBC's The One Show.

Read full article Urban kingfishers making a home on London's waterways

Scottish referendum: The view from the border

Marshall Meadows Point

Anyone travelling overland across the border that divides Scotland and England would be hard-pressed to note where one begins and the other ends, though it was not always so - the remains of a large wall are testament to that. But whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum on 18 September it will be just one more twist in the often violent history of the border region between the two countries. Scottish photographer Alan Knox has produced a fascinating piece of work, entitled Debatable Land, in which he explores the paths that run along and cross the border.

Here Alan Knox offers an insight into his timely project.

Read full article Scottish referendum: The view from the border

The vanishing islands of Kiribati

Atoll seen from above, En Route to Tarawa

The Republic of Kiribati is probably best known as being the first inhabited place on Earth to greet the new millennium, yet these low lying atolls are under threat from rising sea levels, something that drew photographer Giulietta Verdon-Roe to spend a month documenting daily life on the slowly vanishing islands.

The 33 atolls, of which 21 are inhabited, are found in the South Pacific and were formerly known as the Gilbert Islands before gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1979. They stretch nearly 2,500 miles (4,000km) from east to west and more than 1,200 miles (2,000km) from north to south.

Read full article The vanishing islands of Kiribati

Soundings From The Estuary

Hoo St. Werburgh, 2009

The Thames Estuary has drawn photographers to its shores for many years, each one looking to capture the wide open skies and the remnants of past industrial sites.

Photographer Frank Watson is one of these, and his long-running project, Soundings From The Estuary, is about to be published.

Read full article Soundings From The Estuary

Found Cambodian family portraits

From the series, Found Cambodia

It can be argued, fairly strongly I believe, that the social history of the 20th Century is held within the family photo album.

These precious memories are often lost to us for one reason or another - but even when removed from the hands of the people whose lives they portray, there is a wealth of information to be had for anyone caring to look hard enough.

Read full article Found Cambodian family portraits

A community's tales

By their very nature, portrait photographs are silent, mute, allowing the viewer to layer on their own meaning and even to conjure up the personality of the sitter. One photographer, Damian Drohan is tackling this by creating a sound-portrait, which is simply an audio recording of the subject shown alongside their portrait. He has used the technique on his latest project that looks at residents of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, Ireland, and here he explains what it is about this approach that appeals to him.

Richard Avedon once famously said: "All photographs are accurate - none of them are the truth." He recognised the limitations of the medium, or at least its descriptive abilities. He pushed the descriptive abilities to a level seldom, if ever surpassed.

Read full article A community's tales

Chinese foot binding

Bound feet

Close-up shots of people's feet may not be the first choice of subject for a photo project, but Jo Farrell's pictures of the last remaining women in China with bound feet act as both a link to the past and a fascinating portrait of those involved.

Foot-binding is believed to have begun during, or just before, the Song Dynasty in China around the 10th Century, and became widespread within a couple of hundred years. Bound feet were seen as a status symbol for wealthy women who did not need to work, although eventually the practice became widespread.

Read full article Chinese foot binding

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About Phil

Phil has worked in the photographic arena for many years, as both a photographer and picture editor, primarily at the BBC where he has covered news stories, features and audio slideshows, both in the UK and abroad.

He obtained a BA (Hons) in photography from the University of Westminster where he studied under Andy Golding, Tom Ang and Gus Wylie, the latter of whom instilled in him his love of the colour photographic document and street photography.

Despite the obvious advantages of digital photography in news, Phil can often be found running film through his old cameras and spent 64 weeks shooting a project to mark the end of Kodachrome in 2010.

Phil is a member of the British Press Photographers Association.

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