OBITUARY: MIKE LAYE
21 January 2021
We have been very fortunate throughout our 50 - plus years of existence, to have such committed support from members that have dedicated their time to making the AOP what it is today. Janet Ibbotson and Martin Evening share fond memories in a moving insight below into one of our most colourful and influential members; Mike Laye. Mike was a key part of the AOP and a protagonist in implementing important changes in copyright law, which ultimately resulted in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.
My first thought of Mike wearing his Chairman Mao cap with its red star, happy to be controversial but always a force for good. He made me understand how crucial copyright was for photographers - his story about the value of his Demis Roussos photo always made the point very clearly - and helped lay the foundations for my whole subsequent career. He was a real campaigner - very active in the AOP’s Magazine Action Group, then in our copyright campaigning. But he was also good at management.
Mike insisted we computerise the AOP administrative systems long before other offices did and long before digital became an issue for photographers. When it did, he was also at the forefront of encouraging, educating and leading photographers in adapting to digital.
He eventually gave up work as a photographer and started his Image-Access business but stayed true to AOP, building its website and was always there for staff when support and advice was needed, getting involved in Awards judging systems, portfolio building and so many other aspects of AOP’s work. He was a good friend to me and to the AOP for longer than I can remember.
I first met Mike back in the mid-eighties through our work as council members with the Association of Photographers. What I remember most from that time was Mike’s boundless energy and intellectual passion, and his force of personality to motivate and bring about change. It was during the eighties that Mike carried much of the campaigning work within the AOP and in public meetings which led to vital changes to the then existing UK copyright law. Without Mike’s dedicated involvement I do wonder if photographers would have the full rights they have today and so take for granted?
Mike would often credit Demis Roussos as his inspiration! In the early eighties Mike was commissioned to photograph Roussos for National Magazines. At the time, the singer had lost some weight and therefore looked quite different from his former kaftan-wearing self. However, a year or so after the shoot, Roussos was one of the passengers on a hijacked TWA flight. The next day Mike saw his portrait of Roussos featured on the front page of newspapers from all over the world. He contacted the magazine to see if they had permission to use his photos. It was then he learned the hard way that National Magazines, and indeed any commissioning client was automatically first copyright holder of all commissioned work. This was the light bulb moment that inspired Mike to investigate copyright law as it applied to photographers. When the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act came along it was the perfect opportunity to have the law get changed in favour of photographers. Credit must go here to at the time AOP General Secretary, Janet Ibbotson (who later came back as Managing Director), as well as other professional bodies such as the NUJ, But I think all will agree that Mike played a pivotal role with the AOP’s involvement.
It was around this time that Mike oversaw the computerisation of the AOP offices and also inspired the rest of us to embrace computerisation. It was his passion for computing that persuaded me to buy my first PC. This was a hugely important step for myself as I later transitioned to working digitally and went on to become an author on Photoshop and Lightroom. I can thank Mike for sowing the digital seeds that were to change my career forever. During the nineties, Mike, together with Adam Woolfitt established the Digital Imaging Group that allowed a number of us pioneer digital photographers get together for regular meetings and learn from each other. I remember on one occasion, when the Digital Imaging group was in its infancy, we were invited to do a presentation at a London ad agency one evening. They were probably expecting a flashy Powerpoint presentation. What they got instead was simply Mike delivering a talk about the relationship between photographers and clients and digital technology. It was incisive, entertaining and summed up the situation at that time just perfectly. At the end, the creative director got up and said how at first he was unimpressed there were no visuals, but despite that he felt this had been one of the most productive ad agency ‘invitation’ meetings they had ever had.
Mike had a varied career. He initially trained to go into the theatre. In the late Seventies he ended up as Director of the ICA and booked The Clash to perform their second and third ever gigs. Having lots of punks turn up and make loud music just a few hundred meters from Buckingham Palace got him into a certain amount of trouble! As I recall, Mike got into further conflicts and ended up staging a sit-in protest at the ICA, which eventually led to his dismissal. It was after this that Mike got into photography and soon became a regular photographer contributor for The Face magazine in its early years.
Really, Mike was an inspiring leader to many professional photographers. His determination and skill as a persuasive speaker did much to change the way we thought about our photography and how we ran our businesses. Over more recent years I was one of Mike’s clients at Image-Access. We kept in touch by email and occasionally we would chat over the phone and inevitably reminisce about the old days. I did so enjoy those chats and will miss his hearing his stories and warm sense of humour.