4 Mar 2008

Learning to be a press photographer 3

On my sixteenth birthday I bought an old Vespa motor scooter and really learned what it meant to be ‘out on the road’. I fell off that thing at least once a day. As this usually smashed all the glass plates which I carried in a battered leather camera box strapped to the back of the scooter, the chief photographer ordered a special batch of ‘unbreakable’ 5 x 4inch celluloid film from Kodak. This didn’t stop me falling off the scooter, but it did mean that I no longer had to spend half the morning developing the pieces of broken glass plate negatives from my ‘night jobs’, and the rest of the day fitting them together in a sort of panchromatic jigsaw… many a Rose Queen’s ‘royal’ portrait has been scarred by the marks of sticky-tape across her pretty face.

Unlike the young photographers who enter the newspaper world today, for me there was never enough time to attend college to learn more about the theory of my chosen profession. I was kept far too busy taking photographs and getting them in the paper. But, I the little time I had to spare, I devoured photography books and studied the work of top Fleet Street and magazine photographers.

It was difficult within the constraints of an old-fashioned local weekly newspaper to indulge some of the new and wonderful ideas I had learned from my books and magazines, and many of the pictures I produced were received with something less than enthusiasm.

One occasion, the chief photographer took me on one side for a quiet word: looking at my latest creation and shaking his head solemnly, he said: “Bit too arty, lad. Too arty. It’s faces what sells local papers, faces – and I don’t mean like t’ bloody Mona Lisa.”

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