At the Hay festival back in May, I was on a panel with Dan Pearson, Tim Richardson, and Simon Jenkins – the leading political commentator on The Guardian, writer on historic churches, castles and houses and now Chairman of the National Trust – and according to my spies, very much a new broom. “So” said Simon, innocently trying to make small talk before the event, “are you writing about many Trust gardens these days?” “No”, said I through gritted teeth, “its almost impossible to find a photographer to work in a Trust garden, your system of licensing has put them all off”.
What had happened a few years ago was that the Trust decided to try to make some money out of all the images of its properties and demanded that all commercial photography had to go through its picture library. Photographers were only allowed in if they had a definite commission or were given agency status. So much garden photography is done ‘on spec’ by a growing army of people, very few of whom could get the coveted agency status. The result of the regulations was the killing of the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs. Photographers were either not allowed in, or couldn’t make much money when they were. Writers and editors began to see fewer and fewer trust gardens – which must have begun to have a pretty negative impact on media coverage of the Trust – and a loss of income. The trust is heavily dependent on this kind of unquantifiable goodwill and promotion – the kind of thing which the bean counters at head office never thought of when the whole system was instituted.
Now, I have a kind of shop steward tendency, so I gathered a few submissions from photographer colleagues, one of which was headed ‘National Distrust’, attached them to a letter to Simon, cc.ed emails to Head of Gardens, Head of Communications, Head of Publications. Most gratified to have responses in a couple of hours. Long conversation with Head of Publications on the phone – I’m not going to divulge details, but he was effectively saying that the Trust had screwed up big time and needed to renegotiate. What a relief. Felt a bit like I had pushed at an open door and cleared a log jam, to horribly mix metaphors. Lovely warm glow of goodwill all round after lots of bitchiness. So hopefully we can see a new more generous set of arrangements and we can all start writing about the Trust's wonderful gardens again.