Brooklyn Beckham’s Book

Once upon a time if a rich family had a talentless son, they’d offload them to the church, brewing or the army. None of them needed skill or brainpower but brewing, like drug dealing and for the same reasons, always paid well The church was a pleasant niche for the unimaginative and provided a the house that the offspring would never be able to buy for himself. And the army, just do what your sergeant suggests while pretending it was your decision.

I’ve just been looking at a few pictures from Brooklyn Beckham’s coffee table book and it occurred to me – la plus ca change, le plus c’est le meme chose. If you have a child of whom you don’t expect very much you set them up in a job that requires little or no skill or where someone else supplies the skill. experience and artistry  .

Photography is the new brewing, church or army. It is perfect for modern rich celebrity families because everyone knows that photographers can earn a lot of dosh. So when their kid appears in nightclubs and on yachts or in holiday destinations they could never afford for themselves – they earned it from photography. Actually, their parents give them the money, so the photography is a sort of social money laundering.

Remember Prince Andrew? He became a photographer. Air Miles Andy, the Prince of Pork and the spare heir. He said at the time that he had no ambition to become an Ansel Adams or Norman Parkinson. That’s one ambition he achieved, then.

In a spirit of reason, I come to praise Brooklyn, not bury him.  But there’s a problem. His pictures are not up to praise. They aren’t pictures. They are snaps taken by someone who is trying too hard not to take snaps. They aren’t ‘What I see’ as the book title pompously implies because he hasn’t seen anything. He has just looked and pressed the shutter button. Looking is not seeing.

Snaps are great. I love them. Snaps are of people and places we love. They are shot in their millions and they have value because they are honest. They aren’t ‘What I See’, they are ‘What I Love’. The family dog shot from human eye level is a snapshot. If you want to photograph a dog or any animate being in an interesting way, get down to the animal’s eye level. Their eyes are the window to their souls too.  But a snapshooter knows the family dog already. It’s his or her dog and the simple unthought snap is an expression of love. it is honest.

Brooklyn’s pictures don’t express anything. They are an immature attempt to convince you he is something he is not. I’d have been much more impressed with a book unashamedly made up of snapshots. His dad picking his nose. His mum not posing. He has no photographic experience but he has access to people others don’t. He should have used it. Then his book would at least have been interesting.

As it is, I think he is the loser and in a way, I feel sorry for him. Who doesn’t remember, at 16 or 17 years old, that burning hunger for something yet to be achieved. That first proper professional grown up camera and  – dream on, kiddo, it’ll be a long time – that first by-line. if you were a press photographer, the first job on Fleet street, a magazine, a commission from the Mail or  Der stern. Meeting your heroes, the people you wanted to be, who had achieved all you dreamed of. And the step by step achievement of those dreams.

I dreamt of walking up Fleet Street with a couple of Nikons slung nonchalantly over my shoulder. When I achieved it, it was even better than I imagined.   But it took me 9 years to get there.

And then, there’s Brooklyn Beckham’s experience.  Having decided he might like to ‘be a photographer’ – read that as  ‘own a nice camera’, he is bought a Leica camera, handed a plum fashion assignment and shooed in to a coffee table book. All the things that an ambitious young photographer might set his sights on as goals to be pursued have been handed to him on a plate.

He has no experience, plainly (see the elephant pic) no technical knowledge and if he has developed an eye for a picture it is not in evidence. As Arthur Koestler observed, there are two ways to climb a mountain. A helicopter can drop you off at the top or you can clamber up, scrambling for grip, cutting your hands and gasping for breath. The mistake is to imagine that the view from the top is the same.

Brooklyn is not being helped by the people exploiting his parents name. Giving him assignments where experienced professionals do the work and he is given the kudos, having handed him the finest cameras that money can buy is not assisting him. It puts him in a position where, if he is serious about photography, he will find it difficult to achieve on his own  what his doting parents and the oh so helpful publicity people behind all this nonsense have already given him.

Does anyone really think that handing a young bloke his dreams before he has even dreamed them for himself is good or caring thing to do? It strikes me as being like those ultra rich families who buy their son a 200 mph Ferrari for his 17th birthday. It isn’t for the kid, it is to signal to the world that they are so rich and successful that they can give to their children what most people could never afford for themselves.

Brooklyn Beckham and (or) his parents think that he can make a name through photography because it is easy. The people’s art, perhaps. It is true that it is easy to do. Who nowadays cannot afford a decent camera? Set to P – Program, P for Pissed as it was known in Fleet Street, it automates technically excellent pictures. The Beckhams and Prince Andrews of the world think that that makes it easy to shine.

They are wrong. It makes it more difficult. When everyone can do something, to stand out, to show talent, becomes more difficult. Photography isn’t a visual art except in execution. At its heart it is the same art as that of the novelist. It is the art of observation. To be a successful photographer you need experience of life, time to develop an attitude and a personal way of seeing and portraying the world. Take a look at Cartier-Bresson or England’s own Martin Parr and David Bailey. All have a sharp, often witty but above all personal perception of the world around them.

Their art is to show you how they see things, to offer an insight into a thought process and an existence  other than your own.  On a more mundane level, when I got my first publication in a national newspaper, I felt like Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne, I had crossed a diamond with a pearl. I was sitting on top of the world.

Brooklyn Beckham will never know that feeling. His parents and their publicity machine, in giving him everything, have left him nothing.





18 thoughts on “Brooklyn Beckham’s Book

  1. Ian Knight

    I am probably one of only a few people that thinks that David Beckham was over-rated as a footballer. Now if you are talking George Best, Dennis Law, and the likes, that would be a different matter.
    I think you summed it up when you said that his old man used to kick a ball about….how apt.
    Easy come easy go.

    1. Post author

      I’ve never been a football fan and know nothing about it. Nevertheless, I used to have to cover major matches for my newspaper when I first went to Fleet street. It was an evening paper and we could only cover the first ten minutes of the match before giving the film to our despatch rider to take back to the office. Most of my colleagues would stay on and watch the match. I was grateful to get an early finish and just went home. Except twice. Both times when George Best was playing. I stayed on purely to watch an artist at work. The other sides would put some player on him to hack him down, I noticed but he used to just run rings round them. I’ve nothing against David Beckham but football fan friends of mine say, as you do, that he was a good player but nothing special.

  2. Richard Wisniewski

    I am in my 88th year and remain fascinated by cameras and the wonderful creativity of so many photographers. I am far too old to be writing a fan letter, but must do so. I recently purchased a Pen F, not my first Olympus camera. The menu system and convoluted manual did me in as usual. This led to your helpful video, which led to getting your book on the menu system, and finally to your blog. I seldom have had the pleasure of reading more spot on, reasonable and helpful commentaries, or had the pleasure of laughing out loud at your humorous jibes. Thank you, and I look forward to more.
    PS You are described as a “grafter” in one of the blogs. A new word to me and not common on this side of the pond. Looking it up led to far too many definitions. The one I hope is most accurate is something along the lines of “someone who sees what needs doing and goes about getting it done using all means appropriate.” Sounds good to me.

    1. Post author

      Hi Richard – I’m hoping I’m still as fascinated by photography as you are at your age. I really enjoy doing the videos and the books and it’s a lovely feeling to do something you like that’s of value to other people. The digital cameras now are pretty daunting and even with my experience of the things, there are still plenty of occasions when I just think “oh, *** it” and stick it on iAuto. I did that when I was snapping away at my aunty’s 100th birthday a little while ago. What’s annoying is that it works so well!

      Grafter, yes, you’ve picked the right definition for how I was described. The criminal meaning is known in the UK through American movies but we generally use it in the sense of someone who just rolls up their sleeves and gets on with it. When I think back on it, all the people I know who did OK and always had work were grafters. As I’ve said many times, I became a photographer because the vacancy on my local paper was advertised shortly after I left school. I’d never picked up a camera before so talent didn’t come into it. Great to hear from you, thanks.

  3. dvdivx

    This would be a perfect opportunity to show on youtube what makes a mediocre photo vs a snapshot vs a great photo. After all photography is a visual medium and talking about it doesn’t really show the difference.

    1. Post author

      Interesting idea, David. There’s no general agreement about it. My problem would be that I don’t feel qualified to arbitrate on what is a mediocre or great photo. Something about people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones comes to my mind.

  4. Malcolm

    Hi David – all a bit sad really. Mind you the rich and famous wouldn’t care about us. Recently early one morning i noticed the early sunlight casting a band of beautiful hue on some trees down our road. I just had to take a shot with my 35-100mm. The photo would be of no interest to anyone else but I’m pleased I took it, for me anyway.

    Perhaps Brooklyn will develop his photographic skill more in time through his experience and as he develops his love of photography. Unless he gets bored with it.


    1. Post author

      I think your last sentence illustrates the problem, Malcolm. When things are handed to you on a plate, they always seem easy. If he was going to succeed as a photographer – and I see no reason why he couldn’t – he’d need first to realize that you need more than a camera to succeed. But I guess he already has the trappings of success. Success itself will be harder to come by. The scene you describe is what photography is about. You can’t photograph something unless you’ve first learnt to see. Looking at his book, he hasn’t done that yet and at his age nor had I. That ability to see makes your work better in every way. Even a product shot of a nut and bolt can be done well or badly.

  5. David B

    So who the heck is Brooklyn Beckham and why should I care he has a book? I’ve never heard of him – is he famous for something? He has a rich family?

    1. Post author

      If you don’t know who he is, the book would lose any interest it might have had. No, he’s not famous for anything and yes, he has a rich family. Anyone British would probably know who he is through his father, David Beckham, who used to be a footballer. That’s what qualified young Brooklyn to be a photographer, that his old man used to kick a ball about.

  6. Ed Zoltay

    I’ll pass on his book, thank you! I have your book on the em5 2. It’s excellent! If you ever write a pictorial bio, I’ll be first in line for it. Any plans?

    1. Post author

      Thanks Ed! I’d quite like to write a light hearted book on the life of a photographer in my field but I’d never get hold of the pix. The vast majority were commissioned and the copyright rests with the newspapers and magazines. Plus most of their libraries have been bought up and it’s be hard to nw where my stuff was.

  7. David Cantor

    I think that there is an underlying anger in your post David. I totally agree with the sentiments, the Beckhams have now saddled the lad with something else after giving him a ridiculous name. “Brooklyn, that’s an unusual name, how did it come about?” “Well, it’s where my Mum and Dad copulated, I’m the result”. Or something along those lines.

    I suppose that I am old fashioned but I think that the most valuable thing a parent can give to a child is their time. Attention helps in the current climate, I’ve seen instances of mothers deep in mobile phone conversation when attempting to cross the road with their offspring. Crazy or what?

    Privilege has its rewards but there is nothing that beats getting opinions and advice from your kids. If considering something tricky, my first reaction is to ask what either of my sons would do in the same situation. I don’t think the Beckhams will experience that if this ill-considered photographic venture is anything to go by.


    1. Post author

      It is ill considered, isn’t it. Like those parents who buy their son a Ferrari for their 17th birthday. I remember my children getting their Christmas presents when they were little and the most pleasure they bgot was from piling up, throwing about and climbing into the boxes and wrapping paper. When my son, aged 11 became interested in drum playing (I know!) we said we’d buy him a snare drum first and if he took lessons and learned that well enough, we’d add things as we agreed necessary. It would have been great if Brooklyn had studied and learned before getting a Leica and publishing a book but celb parents don’t do that. I suppose when you are mega rich it just seems boring.

    1. Post author

      Thank you, sir! I await a knock on my door in the middle of the night…..


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