The Digital Journalist
Five Thousand Days
October 2004

by Neil Turner

The enormity of what we have achieved with the "Five Thousand Days" project has yet to truly sink in, but those members of the British Press Photographers' Association who have seen the proofs for the book are starting to realize just how far we have come in under two years.

The BPPA may have been formed in 1984, but it laid dormant between 1991 and 2003, when six photographers sitting in a Fleet Street bar decided to "get the band back together" to redress the poor image that news photography and news photographers enjoyed both inside and outside the industry here in the United Kingdom.

We adopted a new mission statement "to promote and inspire the highest ethical, technical and creative standards from within our industry" and started to sign up members amongst the cynical and skeptical cohorts of British press photography.We put on our first exhibition, "UNSEEN," only six months after re-forming and by the end of the first year we had the idea of staging a major retrospective exhibition covering the period since the Association had been away. We wanted to publish a book too, and sought sponsorship to help achieve that goal.

To cut a long story short, 300 press photographers have collaborated and "Five Thousand Days" is the result. The book comes out at the end of September and the exhibition opens at The Royal National Theatre in London on Oct. 11, 2004.

Photographers always want to let their pictures speak for themselves, but we knew that we needed a foreword to the book that set the context for its 370 pictures. Top of our wish list to write the foreword was Sir Harold Evans, former editor of The Times and author of "Pictures on the Page" - possibly the seminal work on the effective use of photography in the printed news media.

Armed with a set of the photographs, Sir Harold went about the task of explaining why and how this collection of stunning images was so much more than the sum of its parts. He picks out a small selection of photographs and explains why they have the power that they have and gives his take on where we are today: "British newspapers, at the time of the suspension of Life, were hardly distinguished in the use of photography, though the Daily Mirror and Daily Express could excel.

"Today, a generation later, the run of British newspapers, both national and provincial, have finally come to appreciate the photograph on its own merits, rather than as an illustration, a half-tone decoration of grey text."

The act of photographers getting together to publish what they see as great photography is an attempt to show the world who we are and what we do now and what we all aspire to do - great pictures, telling the stories that matter, to a wider world. We have achieved what we set out to do and the work starts soon on the next project.

© Neil Turner