3 Mar 2008

Learning how to be a press photographer

Printing the photo-sales for that local newspaper was a trial of strength and endurance for a fifteen year old. I trial for which I was ill-matched. But I would put extra sugar in my tea and, on my day of, I would hump around a heavy Dawes 5 x 4inch glass plate camera and fantasize that I was a fully fledged press photographer. My mother encouraged this self-delusion when she bought me a trilby hat (come on, it was the 1960s), but I could never quite muster the courage to stick a press card in the hat band. Besides, I was too young to join the union.

My travels started soon after I changed jobs and joined the town’s rival newspaper as an apprentice photographer: I was given the address of a local church hall and ordered to catch a number 17 bus to go and photograph a dress rehearsal for a church pantomime. I quickly became an authority on the town’s bus routes and looked so young that I was still able to use my school bus pass, travel for nothing and claim the fares on my expenses. It didn’t take long for the bus conductors to get suspicious though, and pretty soon the word went round to kick me off on sight – camera bag and all.

In those days we worked every evening on ‘night jobs’ – photographing functions and events from racing pigeon club presentations to up-market dos in the Mayor’s parlour at the town hall.

Most evening we would have maybe ten ‘assignments’ to cover and none of the club secretaries, society presidents or event organisers who had invited the newspaper to their functions seemed to want the photographer to attend before 10pm. Some of my colleagues would be kept hanging around all night by a local ‘big wig’ who demanded that they ‘run along and come back at ten o’clock’. I would have none of this and, by employing tactics of diplomacy, cunning and downright cheek, I would have a group of people organised and a photograph taken before anyone had time to object.

My workmates soon cottoned on to this ability of mine and, in return for driving me around in the firm’s mini-van, I would take on their jobs as well as my own and we would still be finished before ten. It was not uncommon for them to drop me at the door of the town hall and I would out again with the job done before they had turned the van round.

The technique was simple and has stood me in good stead ever since. Whenever possible. cut out the middle man who is likely to have an inflated idea of his own importance or be frightened of his job. Either go straight to the top or ignore the hierarchy altogether – just get the picture that matters.

No comments: