Framlingham: Mark Palmer Photography returns to its roots

The Palmers behind Mark Palmer Photography, from left. Mardie, Robert and Mark

The Palmers behind Mark Palmer Photography, from left. Mardie, Robert and Mark - Credit: Archant

MARK Palmer Photography of Framlingham is returning to its roots as a family-owned and independently run business. Sheline Clarke went to find out more and meet the new member of the team, Ernie

The style of photography may be very modern but the ethos behind Mark Palmer Photography is of old fashioned values and professional service.

Established back in the late 1980s by Mark Palmer and his wife Mardie, the business changed direction in 2000 when it became part of the Venture photography franchise which started in Cheshire and rolled out across the country.

Twelve years later and the Palmers have decided not to renew their contract and have changed the sign above the door of their Market Hill studio back to Mark Palmer Photography, specialising in studio-based portraiture, and they both agree that feels good.

“We were involved in Venture right from the start,” explains Mark, owner and chief photographer. “We were one of a group of 10 studios who were all very like minded and enjoyed a similar style of photography and it really started as a consultancy group and grew from there.

“I think we have come full circle; we have learnt a lot but it seemed like the right time to come out. The franchise agreement had expired and so we have gone back to what we know works well, which is being an independent family business based in Framlingham.”

“Being independent gives us much more flexibility,” adds Mardie, who says her role is ‘all the boring bits behind the scenes’, “because it gives us the freedom to source our products from wherever we want and pitch our prices to suit our customers.”

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“We didn’t really feel we needed a national brand any more,” adds Mark. “National brands have negatives as well as positives and people at the moment seem happier to work with smaller companies and certainly the reaction from clients since we have left has been overwhelmingly positive and they seem happy and pleased and like the idea of coming to a small company offering a personal service - and slightly cheaper prices - so all of those things are positive.”

To help re-establish their own brand, Mark and Mardie, and son Bobby who is the studio manager, enlisted the help of White Space Design who created another member of the team - Ernie - a cheeky chick who pops up on the company’s web and social media sites as well as welcoming you to the studio.

“Ernie’s great,” said Bobby, “everybody loves him, not just the kids. He’s an instant talking point and really helps put people at their ease. Lots of people don’t actually like having their picture taken so anything that helps them relax and engage is a good thing.”

But Ernie isn’t the only critter to grace the studio at Market Hill. As a nation of animal lovers it seems we like to have our pets photographed too and if you think that extends to the family pooch then think again. Bobby reckons over the years they have had everything from dogs and cats to chickens, snakes and lizards and even a Shetland pony in for a sitting (or standing). Then there are the other props like motorcycles.

For Mark and his photographers, it’s all in a day’s work. “It’s what we do,” he says, “and what we have always done. It doesn’t matter what comes through the door - short, tall, old, young, furry or even slimy - that’s the job.”

“It’s a great challenge and a great thrill,” says Mardie. “You get different groups or individuals and we do their pictures and they are thrilled. I often do the hand over at the end and when you see someone’s face light up when they see the finished work it’s terrific. It gives us a real buzz to know that our picture is going to be on their wall for 30 years and will give them a lot of pleasure.”

And that goes some way to explaining why Mark Palmer’s clients come back time and again.

“I suppose we see some people every three or four years, especially when they have children and want to capture them at various stages. We have got plenty of people we shot when they were small who are now coming in with their own children, which is rather lovely,” says Mardie.

Now that Mark Palmer Photography has rebranded it is looking to evolve its style of portraiture.

Along with staff photographers Emily Wilson and Gemma Scopes, Mark is looking to develop a look away from the Venture style and re-establish the company as the leading independent portrait studio in East Anglia.

“We all shoot in very much the same way, although everyone has their own quirks,” he says. “We will be looking to change that and develop the style over the next six to 12 months or so because we want to establish ourselves as something a bit different again. That’s why people choose you because they can get something they can’t get anywhere else.

“It’s a nice challenge and it is up to us what we do and that is how it was right at the start and so it’s good to go back to that and have creative freedom; there’s no excuse to shoot the same old stuff week in and week out.

“It also gives us the chance to become a centre of excellent, if that doesn’t sound too grand, so other photographers can come here and see what we do.”

Much has changed since Mark Palmer, at the age of 11, persuaded his parents to convert one of their bathrooms into a dark room. He went professional at the age of 17 and says he has never done, or wanted to do, anything else. Technology has moved on a pace and while the company has all the latest wizardry at its disposal, Mark still misses the days of film and firmly believes getting it right first time is key and that people skills are just as important as the technical ones.

“You can shoot something in a studio and then spend hours sitting in front of a computer fiddling with it, but if you get it right first time you don’t have to do that.

“It’s about being professional; there are some things that have to be done digitally and digital has its place but there’s a huge amount that can be done with correct lighting and camera angles and spending time with the client to help them feel at ease and understand what they are looking for. Sure you can correct 90% of your mistakes in Fotoshop, if you have got that kind of time to waste, and there’s still no guarantee the client will like it.”

Mark agrees it is like comparing vinyl records to compact discs.

“Listening to vinyl is different to listening to a CD and it’s the same with film and digital. A CD is sharper and so is a digital image. Film was much softer and was often just right; now with digital you often have to soften the image.”

He also has concerns about the storage of digital photographs as technology develops and hardware becomes obsolete.

“I think it is a shame when people spend hundreds of pounds for photographs on a memory stick. The way we have built our new product range encourages people to have their photographs on the wall and not stuck in a drawer, but we do both because people want to email images to their friends and family but we try to get across that we think the right thing to do is to have your portrait on the wall and enjoy it. That’s what it is all about.”