When you pick up a biography, do you first turn to those glossy pages in the middle? The pages with the pictures, the paintings, the maps. The pages that somehow tell you what it is you’re going to be reading about. The pages that the author – a person by definition good with words, rather than images – has sweated blood over.
Reader, I know of what I speak!
When I signed the contract with Text Publishing, my agent carefully pointed out the clause that says I’m responsible for “all illustrative material” and “shall bear all costs relating to supply of such illustrative material”. Yep. Sure. No worries.
In the writing lull which occurred after I submitted the draft manuscript to my editor, I started compiling a list of all the images I wanted to include. Then I went away to find them, on the interwebs.
Some of them were easy to find (thanks, Google). Some were happy surprises, like this photo of Clovelly, the Macarthur holiday house at Watsons Bay, where Elizabeth Macarthur died. Some of them were much harder to find (and I could only find them in hard copy books).
‘Clovelly’, Watsons Bay, NSW (circa 1900).
Some of them didn’t exist – for example, Elizabeth Macarthur’s youngest daughter, Emmeline, does not seem to have a picture anywhere, despite being married to a premier of NSW (Henry Parker).
Eventually, long weeks later, I happily sent off my list (my very long list) to the editor.
You, being a person of intelligence and discernment, can probably guess what happened next. Yes, the editor edited my list. Kindly, wisely, and altogether ruthlessly, she cut it back. Right back. And, once I’d stopped sobbing, I agreed with her.
So now that she and I had an agreed list, I needed to actually source the images.
Some of the images I could download for free. The State Library of NSW provides low-res images quickly and easily straight from the online catalogue, and only asks that you mention them, in passing. Thanks SLNSW! But even if you need a high-res image, they’ll sell it to you for the bargain price of $44. Per image. I know. $44 seems a lot for what basically amounts to an email attachment. But, as I was shortly to find out, $44 is indeed a bargain.
The Art Gallery of NSW (same state, same government, same contribution from my taxes, dammit) charges a sliding scale that starts at about $230. Per image. Again, for what basically amounts to an email attachment. And that was just for a low-res image. The high-res version cost over $300. Umm, because they have to pay for the extra pixels, or something!?
The Natural History Museum (it’s in London but apparently they’re so important that it’s not necessary to say that in the title) charged me 120 pounds. Again, one image. I daren’t look at the exchange rate, for fear of fainting.
But the images that kept me awake at night were those that I’d only ever seen as poor reproductions in hard copy books. Crucial images. Images taken from miniature paintings of Elizabeth’s sons as young men. The originals of those images hang on the wall at Camden Park House, the Macarthur family seat where Elizabeth’s descendants live to this day.
Long story short – I contacted the Macarthur family, took a day trip to Sydney, was collected from the airport by Jane McKenzie (a dear friend who is also an artist and a talented photographer) and she drove me out to Camden Park. There we spent a delightful hour in the company of John and Edwina Macarthur-Stanham and the volunteer archivists who help maintain the Macarthur collection. Jane painstakingly photographed the paintings – some of which were framed with convex glass over the top, just to complicate things – and by that same evening, almost before I’d walked in the door at home, Jane had cropped and sent them to me. Phew! And what a woman! Of course I forwarded copies to the Macarthur-Stanhams and the lovely archivists.
Now, finally, I think I have the all the images I need. Well, I’m still waiting on one high-res map of Sydney from the SLNSW but apart from that, I’m done! So when you eventually look at those glossy images, dear readers, savour them. Examine them. Enjoy them. But don’t discuss them with me because I don’t think I ever want to look at them again!!
To be honest I had never considered how much work was involved in the images. And yes, I love looking at the photos (again and again and again). I will certainly appreciate them all the more now. Can’t wait to read your book.
More effort than I’d thought too, not that I’d actually given it much thought! Huge congrats to you, btw. I’m so happy for you.
Aarghhh, this sounds much as I feared! I shall return to this post for some pointers in the future. In my opinion, the people of the past did not take enough photographs.
Or paint enough portraits! When you get to the image sourcing stage, just talk with your publisher. Mine’s been pretty helpful (happy with at least some of the pics being low-res images, for example)
This is not the place then to admit that I skip past the illustrations with barely a glance?
Me too. Words. I like words.
I love looking at the pictures and try not to skip ahead, as there are often spoilers in the pictures. How generous of the family to let you into their home to take photos of paintings
Yes, they were very kind and patient.
This made me laugh, ruefully, twice! Firstly, re images. I can’t wait to look at them, but I make myself wait until I get to them … even though I know they relate to the whole book, it’s like a little treat to look forward to. (Sounds like I think they’re better than the images, but not so. It’s just that I do love them – particularly ones of PEOPLE!)
Secondly, it was because as soon as you started talking about finding images I knew exactly what you were going to find. They don’t come cheap. I worked in an archive where we provided images (moving and still) to clients, and after I retired I did some freelance image research and experienced it all from the other side! Not all fun, and the pricing varies greatly as you say – with the galleries usually being much higher.
So, I’m glad you worked it all through and got some special images directly from the source. They sound like lovely people. Well, done.
Most of the images are of people, and mostly of women. We wanted to avoid the usual Great Men of History pics. I don’t mind paying for images but the price discrepancies did make me wonder. How are those prices set?
To some degree institutions try to stay comparable with each other. My recollection is that, particularly for gallery images, it’s expected that higher resolution images will be used for higher resolution output – glossy cards, calendars etc – which are likely to be sold for higher prices than outputs using low resolution images. Sometimes, if an image is still under copyright, you might have to pay the copyright owner a fee for using the image, and the institution a fee for providing the image. (Sometimes if there is this double whammy the institution might reduce its fee.) Sometimes the cost is primarily handling charges only, sometimes it’s also about contributing to the cost to them of preserving and maintaining the originals and the cost of digitisation. Government cultural institutions do not get enough money to do the job they need to do so USER pays has been the go for a long time. Clients regularly negotiate prices though, on the basis of purchasing several images, or on the planned use (eg non-commercial) or they might negotiate some quid pro quo (perhaps regarding type or style of acknowledgement, etc etc.)
Oops, I meant, “sounds like I think the images are better than the text, but not so”. And my point about knowing the images relate to the whole book means that I know there’s no real logic to waiting until I get to them because the images reference points throughout the book. Whew. Hope that’s all clear now.
Yes, I really like good, well-chosen images. I can get by without a picture of a youngest daughter, but I do like to see the subject and her house and so on.
But with people of the past, it’s not always possible. In the Hermitage in St Petersburg, there’s a ‘Hall of Heroes gallery: portraits of generals who fought in the war against Napoleon. And amongst the portraits there are framed empty spaces, representing the individual heroes who died and who had never had their portraits painted so no one knows what they looked like…
Ooh, I like that idea of the empty frames. I was hoping for the youngest daughter largely to have the complete set (so to speak) of EM’s children.
Well that’s an unexpected wrinkle ironed out very well Michelle. A great solution – well done!
From this point forward, we won’t mention the images. They will of course be lavishly enjoyed now I know the backstory.
“We won’t mention the images.” So perfect, thanks!
When the time comes, I’ll quietly tell you which were the most expensive, so you can enjoy them the most. ;-)
Just adored this book. This history – right here where we live! So exciting. Very different from the old Ancestry which I have worked on for ten years. My grandmother came from Devon too. Elizabeth Macarthur was an amazing woman, especially recognizing the living conditions of the time. So many of her family have contributed greatly to the growth of Australia. Well done Michelle.
Thank you! So glad you enjoyed the book