Cry Freedom!

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lightnchade Regular Member • Posts: 257
Cry Freedom!

Back in the 1960s a dashing fashion photographer rewrote the script as he became the London quarry the celebrities hunted down.

The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kray Twins and an ever flowing stream of free lovin’ hippy chicks. Everyone who was someone, or wanted to be, set their sights on getting in front of David Bailey’s lens, or in his company, or in his bed.

Demobbed from National Service in 1958, he bought a Canon Rangefinder camera to begin a career in photography and under 2 years later in 1960 he was on contract for Vogue.

Bailey’s popularity and fame became the inspiration for the main character in the movie Blown Up (1966).

At the height of his celebrity in the early 1970s, his gear was stolen and he he took the opportunity to replace it with a smaller, lighter system, based around the Olympus OM-1, designed by Yoshihisa Maitani who later designed the Pen and and Pen F models during his 40 years service to Olympus.

Bailey’s celebrity status quickly made him a poster boy for Olympus and he became the star of now iconic TV commercials for the compact Olympus Trip, helping Olympus to sell 10 million units.

Committed, talented devoted designers; Celebrity endorsement and small, light, compact cameras with excellent lenses selling by the boatload. Great times for Olympus.

This is something we’ve come to learn about camera makers, about how reliant they are on real people.

How these devoted and talented engineering artists lay the foundations for the success they build on.

I’m still inspired by the DPR video that showed inside a Canon lens production plant, the one with families who have worked there over many generations now, the attention to detail, care, skill, commitment, and love, they put into each element, many of which are still finished by hand. It gave me shivers.

At the heart of these companies are people like Yoshihisa Maitani.

As someone who enjoys photography, when I read about Bailey’s switch to Olympus being inspired by the quest for smaller lighter gear it resonates large with me.

I get it. Fully. Completely.

I loved my OM-D E-M5, l loved my 12-40 f/2.8 Pro and the astounding clarity of its performance, and after seeing the factory tour videos for the different companies, I take pause for thought about the people who had crafted it with such care and skill, and love, and I felt it.

So with the news about Olympus divesting itself of the imaging business I was waiting to be hit by some wave of emotion. Some sadness or disappointed or even anger, but it never came and deep down, I already knew why.

The love and respect for ‘Olympus’ was real, but it was love of its people, of their skills and talents and in the way they had innovated to strive to bring the joy of compact portable photography to millions. To me.

If you look at much of Bailey’s celebrity portrait work, he has a remarkable way of vividly capturing the subjects persona via natural expressions.

The subjects become fully comfortable and compliant in showing to his lens exactly who they are, or want to be.

The most notorious example is obviously The Kray Twins, capturing aspects of malicious intent, inner sadness and forlorn resignation. It’s a chilling photo that appears on countless top 10 portrait lists.

And it’s through such a Bailey-esque lens that I now turn to see Olympus. To see the other side of who they are.

Not the loyal innovative engineering Olympus, we’ve covered that and there’s only love there.

It’s when the lens turns to Corporate Olympus, that’s when the picture shifts. The light fades and the persona grows somewhat darker.

The financial crimes of 2011 were truly a disgrace, not only in terms of the scale of the fraud and the links with organised crime, but further in the attempts at coverups and further still in the treatment of Woodford, the whistleblower, who had to flea Japan and go into hiding to protect his life.

But somehow, like many others, I managed to put on a lens cap on it and allowed myself to pretend it was the past, under which a line could be drawn and a new future built.

Such blindness was not only for me and my photographic benefit, but for all those hard working dedicated engineers, my extended family who made the magic possible, I told myself.

Olympus Corporate apologised, let's move on and see where we can go.

But the year on year losses piled up.

Yet the executives remained bullish, talking of bold strategies and new professional markets.

But the year on year losses piled up.

And something about Olympus felt absent while present.

I took a closer interest in their accounts and they weren’t pretty. Always an excuse, a restructuring cost here, a change is reporting policy there, a write-off here, a transferred cost there. Bold projections in the limelight, quiet revisions in the dark.

Something definitely seemed off, but the wider camera market downturn introduced too much noise and it was anyones guess what it might be.

And then the plot is twisted, some minor player gets the major arc and now we have a new game.

The Arc in this story came with the head of imaging business unit playing out the “we chose to be bold” scene.

Year on year losses piled up, and then, courtesy of some deft accounting coinciding precisely with the end of his tenure, they are miraculously back in profit during the worst downturn in the camera industry’s history.

Just in the nick of time, and the hero promptly moves up the food chain complete with “turned around loss making business unit on his CV”.

The way I see it, the publishing of the 2017 accounts with the “returned to profit” story arc, shortly after this interview was published, marks the specific point in time when a select group of shadowy allied executives in the emerging new power structure at Olympus executed on their plan to cut the Imaging Business Unit from Olympus, unbeknown to the rest of the company.

Realistically, the “returned to profit” story arc could play out no other way. There are even a few subtle hints in the interview:

“From a business point of view, [if we were represented at Tokyo 2020] not only would we need to [provide products capable of professional shooting] but we would also need to offer professional support. And that’s a headache…. … it’s not our business model”

If you can’t smell the soiling, check your nostrils for misplaced lens caps.

This is why the sadness never came when the news finally happened. Inside I knew it was long overdue.

I can’t even feel sorry for the wonderful engineers and employees who are blameless in this. I’m sure it has been as frustrating for them being in the downstream of these corporate shenanigans and clandestine manoeuvres.

Hopefully they will find an alternative outlet to employ their talents for a new and more honourable wallet holder.

But I’m under no illusions that JIP is this saviour, sadly.

If their recent “Sony” Vaio laptops are anything to go by, their business model appears to be one of cutting costs to make expensive brands cheaply and selling them at a premium utilising the existing good name.

If there's crying to be done, cry freedom. It's time has come.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus PEN-F
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