It came to me in a flash. At a BAPLA Picture Buyers’ Fair (remember them?) I was barking and shilling on the fotoLibra stand. OK, I admit it, I was pretty desperate. “Roll up, roll up, leddies ‘n’ gennelmen, come and see our fabulous photographs, so beautiful they’ll bring tears to your eyes etcetera etcetera.”

A harassed-looking woman was walking past quickly, head down, eyes averted.

“Come and avva gander at our bee-yootiful pickchars, darlin’!” I bellowed.

She stopped — she had to stop, I was blocking her path — and looked at our elegant display.

“They’re lovely,” she smiled sadly, “but I don’t buy lovely pictures. I buy photographs of things people don’t see.”

Now the tables were turned. I was the one who was stopped in his tracks. “If people don’t see things, how can they be photographed?”

“Well, they do see them, well enough to avoid them, but they don’t notice them. And photographers don’t notice them either. As a result, there aren’t many pictures of them.”

“But what are THEY?” I persisted. “What is it that people don’t see?”

“All sorts of things. Roadworks, men in fluorescent jackets, bus stops, rubbish bins, pavements, overgrown signs, health clinics, everything you don’t really notice as you go about your everyday life.

“All I see here are sunsets over the Maldives, the Taj Mahal by moonlight, palm-fringed beaches — and I work for Eborum District Council.

“We have a picture of the Taj Mahal in our canteen, but I didn’t buy it. I need access to pictures of the stuff we live, work and have to deal with. Parking meters, for instance. Even dog poo.”

“Dog poo?” I asked tentatively.

“Yes, dog poo, or IPSV2603 and 2604 as we refer to it. IPSV is the Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary — the code councils and government use to talk to each other. Virtually everything you can think of has an IPSV code — model soldiers, jogging, ex-servicemen’s associations, even UFOs and the U3A.”

That’s great, I thought. Here are fotoLibra’s 10,000+ photographers busy recording glorious sunsets all over the world and the customers want doggy doos. So I grinned my best grin and said “You’ve got it.”

And now she has.

I went back and rallied the fotoLibra photographers. Oyez, Oyez, I blogged, please add IPSV codes to your UK images. I posted a list of all 8,000+ IPSV codes on the fotoLibra site, at With varying degrees of reluctance and enthusiasm, many of them complied. Subjects of previously unimaginable banality were uploaded to the site, and we broadened our reach to encompass the trite and the commonplace as well as the rare and majestic.

In my Damascene revelation that a picture doesn’t have to have a pretty subject, I forgot to take our reluctant visitor’s name, but if that lady ever stumbles across the site again she will find over 17,000 images of everyday stuff, carefully labelled with the correct IPSV codes  from religions to town parks, from skips to lifeguards, from pills to parking meters.

And just because the subject is humdrum, everyday or boring, it doesn’t mean a photograph of it will be. As a result, at we now have images that are practical as well as beautiful.

Thank you, local authority lady. You helped us open our eyes.

This article was written for Montage, the magazine of the Picture Research Association


Add your comment


18 Responses to “What’s so thrilling about a parking meter?”

  1. David Hudson says:

    Many thanks for adding the IPSV code to my parking meter pic, just in case she ever does come calling 🙂

  2. Mick says:

    I like the pics of everyday things, you know, what people clone out of landscape: pylons and wind turbines etc. However, IPSV, is another matter, I don’t know if it’s because I’m a technological illiterate, but I find IPSV, clumsy, searching through lists, writing down the number and the retyping it into the file info on Photoshop because you cant copy and paste into the keywords, there has to be a better way?

  3. This article does my feelings justice. I have taken hundreds, maybe thousands of photos of beautiful sunsets, landscapes, nature, etc., over the years. My main interest has been in photo manipulation and recent developments have enforced more the desire to do noting but them. It has become boring and tiresome to take “beautiful photos,” or to attend art exhibits featuring them. Unfortunately, too many people like them and are uneducated in the ways of individuality of “seeing” our “real world.”

    Hooray for those who do see the “real world.”

  4. Keith Erskine says:

    Hi Gwyn

    I have a selection of “dog poo” and “spat out chewing cum” and will try to find more disgusting stuff for you.

    Keith Erskine

  5. peta ward says:

    Her wish is my command 🙂

  6. Erik Strodl says:

    I think if you highlight the appropriate IPSV number ….right click and select copy can then paste it into your keywords…much better than having to write it down etc etc
    surprising that my Marsden Rock photo made the humdrum category…now beautiful well that’s another thing

  7. Colin Rogers says:

    I found a lot of your pics that are required to be strange and I’ve always wondered if any get bought ?
    I’d like to see people’s faces when they see me taking pics of these things but i will have a go at it, as this opens the door to a lot of pics.

  8. John Launay says:

    Hi Gwyn.
    Good One ? What springs to mind when the word “parking meter” is mentioned, Wardens, yellow lines, fines, arguments, tears, tow trucks, wheel clamps, change machines, cones and so on.
    Isn’t it odd that we should travel around the country looking for specialist subjects like flowers, birds, fungi and the like when all this lady wanted was outside our homes.

  9. nikola ilic says:

    I have never had the urge and enthusiasm to photograph the usual over saturated, ubiquitous, mundane travel type of photographs that generally bore the pants off me. Sadly, though, it is probably why I don’t sell anything. You would think people would get bored of the con of seeing over manipulated tourists destinations that in reality, rarely exist as they are depicted. I am definitely in the parking meters camp. My dad has just hired a skip. I think I’ll go an take a picture of it.

  10. Hi Gwyn
    no suprise to me, I would of thought this wide subject market, was obviouse to a profesional photographers & Fotolibra. As all subjects & objects have a purpose, therefore all photo’s surely have a market value out there somewhere, I am an amateur ! I have photographed dog poo and owner , for an article of proof of the owners iresponsible behaviour, and other similar ugly boring pictures, i see similar photo’s in council newsletters etc, remeber that old saying, “where theres muck theres brass” dosh, money, wonga, cash,

  11. Gwyn Headley says:

    Erik, thanks for the tip for Mick — and your image was chosen because it had an IPSV code and it was “beuatiful as well as practical”, to illustrate my last sentence!

  12. Mick says:

    Erik, thanks, I have tried that, doesn’t work. I have CS4, and I put in as much info as I can by using the file info tag, as try as I may, I can’t copy something and paste it into those boxes, the paste command is greyed out?

  13. Rob Weaver says:

    Thank you I have been photographing strange things recently.. grass;leaves;wheelbarrows;stain glass;soft toys; ANYTHING to sell pics.. so if you have any strange requests me.. thanks for adding those codes.. I shall cut and paste it and put it on the Loo Wall as an aid to ensure that I do not miss any important coding.. I hope that this will help to sell.. because I am becoming totally unaware of what clients want.. I see that DOVER Town Council has been fined for publishing a photograph of the White Cliffs taken in Surrey near the Sisters.. because they did not want to pay royalties.. what is the world coming too..

  14. Having taken to IPSVing since the early days, I’ve now covered 700+ different subjects and find it an interesting challenge to search the list to see what I can photograph that will fit the bill, you really only have to step outside your front door.

    If every member looks for a few IPSV’s that few others have covered there will soon be a massive improvement in the total number.

    Once you get into it it’s easy – for instance there are over 800 topics which are covered by two IPSV’s e.g. IPSV2869; IPSV7008; Travel smartcards; Travel smart cards. These fit into other subjects as well.

    It gets better. Of the numerous multiples there are SIX IPSV’s for the following – IPSV3259; IPSV1835; IPSV3258; IPSV3261; IPSV1834; IPSV1836; Houses in multi occupancy (HMO); Houses in multiple occupation; Multiple occupancy homes; Multi occupancy housing; HMOs (houses in multiple occupation); Multiple occupation (houses). Senior citizens are covered by EIGHT IPSV’s.

    As the owner of the first doggie doo image up I’m off to pastures new!

  15. Ed says:

    Once again I feel left out… British dog doo… like the State side dog doo would’nt doo! 😮

    On the serious side, your good lady has a point and we actually teach a class on it…

    Looking vs Seeing… it’s the everyday life that most photographers miss and the photojouralist get the 10% that make up the ‘big’ events… while the rest of the world keeps on trucking…

    It’s called Visual Sociology… here is a link for additional information…

    NOTE, the listing for the British Sociological Association Visual Sociology Study Group…

    Oh, and it’s Thanksgiving today, lots of small events happening in a big way all over…



  16. Julia Rich says:

    IPSVs for canine ordure…. did you realise that there are around 6 different versions all with their own IPSV – obsessive or what? And that Tony Blair is in there twice…. but no other politicians get a look in. Several other oddities can be found – like an IPSV for volcanoes….. since when does the UK have an active volcano? You CAN cut and paste them from either excel or from a word document by the way (certainly in Windows programs); open both the IPSV file and Photoshop (I use CS4 too) use control +c to cut, and control +v to paste, having highlighted the required IPSV and then remember to re-open and re-save the image file or it won’t bring the keywords across when you upload to fotolibra, as I discovered to my bafflement and irritation – and which the Dear Leader branded an Adobe “feature” when I asked what was going on! Many thanks to fotolibra’s boffins for sorting that one out, I’ve had no more problems there. I generally “bulk” keyword while in Bridge and you can also copy and paste between images there, so if you have multiple photos with similar/same keywords it cuts out a lot of typing.

  17. Nick Jenkins says:

    I never cease to be amazed at IPSV’s – different ones to accommodate spelling errors too! Not to mention wrong codes to pics – there are 4 pics of Neath Abbey on the site with an IPSVcode for Byways against them.
    But……………what fun it is to hare up and down the list to realise National Paeks have two and I only entered one.
    Right Local Govt – get buying!

  18. Dennis Chang says:

    Thank for making a clean IPSV list available. The list is a very useful reference source when producing stock shoot lists.

    Is there a compact list of only the subjects? I would like to carry a paper copy (say 5 sheets) to remind myself what to shoot? 🙂