This month we spent 5 minutes catching up with Seamus McGibbon, General Manager of the AOP. The AOP is a not-for-profit trade association aiming to promote and protect the worth and standing of its members, by defending, educating and lobbying for the interests and rights of all photographers. Thanks to Seamus for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to us!
© David Partner
Tell us a bit about yourself Seamus?
I was an art student in the 80s, attending Jacob Kramer College in Leeds and then St Albans College of Art where I studied Model Making. I moved to London in 1989, working as a model maker on various projects including TV and film, architectural and product design work. From the mid 90s I’ve had what is now called a ‘portfolio’ career, working in an art shop, and doing every job imaginable at the BFI Southbank including front of house, festivals coordinator and sponsorship manager. I have worked for many charities including Stonewall, NFTS and Bliss. For a short time I was a film publicist and organised film premiers. I was Business Development Manager for 6 years for the trade association UK Theatre and for 2 years at Luton Culture.
I am the proud property of one small, scruffy and bossy Jack Russell called Basil.
How did you get into the photography industry?
I was looking for a new challenge and saw an ad in The Guardian from the AOP who were looking for a new General Manager. Photography and model making are similar in many ways so I met with the then AOP Chair and a photographer Board member. That was June 2014, and here I am.
Can you explain your role at the AOP? What does a typical day involve?
It’s a very busy job and a rewarding one; we are a small team at the AOP so it can vary from day to day depending what we have on. For example the AOP Photography Awards was a huge event which took months of planning, and we have just launched the Student Awards which are open until February so we’ve also been planning for that.
I spend a lot of my time having lots of meetings, talking to businesses, photographers and others in the industry. I sit on committees and groups including DACS, British Copyright Council and British Photographic Council. I also do a lot of admin, writing reports and planning.
© Shaun Bayliss / AOP Awards
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I work with a great team and get to meet some amazing people. Our members are some of the world’s most brilliant photographers; I am always impressed by the variety and quality of their work. I get to meet and work with agents, art buyers and other inspiring people in our industry. I like being able to get things done, listening to the issues affecting our industry and working together with others to develop solutions.
What’s the most challenging part?
Getting it right, as it’s a very complex role with lots of different aspects. Making sure I listen and hear what members are asking us to do, and trying to make that become reality. To ensure we keep moving and developing. There are a lot of challenges out there, and ensuring we are working together with others to reach our goals is a challenge.
The AOP plays an essential role in campaigning for photographers’ rights and interests. What are some of the main issues you come up against?
Copyright is always an issue, as we live in a world where the internet has given people access to anything and everything, and they all think it’s all theirs. Another issue is photographers valuing themselves and their work, as well as others valuing them. Underselling yourself is a real problem for photographers, who are not as confident in themselves as they should be.
For those thinking of joining, what are the benefits of being an AOP member?
We promote and protect the best of professional photographers. We do this through lobbying, and through marketing our members’ work to buyers and commissioners. We provide special discounts from businesses in the industry. AOP members are able to enter the Photographer categories of the AOP Photography Awards, which means your work gets the chance to be in front of some very important people. This year we had almost 1,000 guests at the event, including press, artbuyers, agents and of course photographers. We also provide lots of networking opportunities, and host talks and workshops on issues affecting you including copyright and marketing. We are currently working on a training programme for Assisting Photographers, working with studios, equipment hire companies and photographers.
We thought the level of work at this year’s AOP Awards was outstanding! How do you think it compared to that of previous years? Did you have any favourites?
I think each year the work is outstanding, but I do think this year’s competition was amazing and brilliantly highlighted the breadth and quality of our members’ work and of photographers in general. Having curators brings a different dimension to each of the categories and has been a brilliant move for us.
The AOP Awards can really change things, and it was great to see one of this year’s AOP Student Awards finalists win best in category single in the Open Award. You really do have to be in it to win it.
The Assistant Award entries were amazing, the work this year really stood out.
What do the next few years have in store for the AOP?
Building on the success of this year’s awards, taking the awards on tour across the UK, building them up as a major bookmark in the photography calendar.
Developing the Junior Assistant and Assisting Photographer programme; we want to help young photographers get the skills they need to make it and sustain their careers in the industry.
Reiterate the rights of photographers, work closer with artbuyers, get them involved in what we do. Get out there more, work with more people and groups, listen and do.
Promote our members and their amazing work, and protect their interests and those of other professional photographers.
If you didn’t work at the AOP what would be your fantasy job?
I’d be a detective, cross between Paul Temple, JB Fletcher, Poirot and Miss Marple. With access to lots of gin.