9 Mar 2008

A Practical Guide to Press Photography - 1

Over recent days I’ve posted some short passages from my book published way back in 1986 by Oxford Illustrated Press, ‘A practical Guide to Press Photography’. This book became a standard work in universities and colleges, and I heard of many college tutors who would read passages straight from it as part of there lectures. Anyway, I’m persuaded that much of the information in the book is just as relevant today as it was 22 years ago. As I’ve no intentions of re-publishing the book, I’ll be posting short passages from it from time to time – updating the information as I go. There are many tips that are just as useful to the hobbyist photographer as they are to the professional or aspiring photojournalist….

You can call a photojournalist a literate press photographer if you like, but I’ve always assumed that the two titles describe one and the same person. That is – someone who makes his or her living by taking photographs for publication in a newspaper or magazine. In the true sense of the word, I suppose a photojournalist should be capable of seeing the job through from start to finish: conceiving an idea, organising the assignment, taking the photographs, writing the story to go with them, and presenting the finished results as a useable package to an editor. Whereas a press photographer is more likely to be sent on a specific assignment determined by the editor and be responsible only for getting the pictures. A reporter will take care of the words.

The idea of reporting events in pictures is far from new . It goes back to the Stone-Age and beyond when primitive man first daubed hunting scenes on the walls of his cave. It happens that things are a little more sophisticated today. Mind you, looking around at present social trends, I sometimes wonder. However, the desire to convey and receive information in visual form is still just as strong. Pictorial reportage can transcend obstacles of language, race and culture to become a universal language of communication. However, it would be naïve to run away with the idea that all newspaper photographers are blessed with the missionary aim to change the world with the impact of their pictures. To most it is just a job like any other, and often a tedious job at that. Only on infrequent occasions will the average press photographer be well-placed to put across any sound of profound message in pictures; major stories and the type of on-the-spot news events that produce award winning pictures just don’t happen in front of every photographer every working day.

For the most part, the photographer will be involved in the manufacture of entertaining pictures from run-of-the-mill, and often re-hashed stories to feed the conveyor belt demand of a newspaper, be it local, regional or national.

I started work straight from school at the age of fifteen as a tea brewer and printer of the photo-sales on a local weekly newspaper. Having progressed through an apprenticeship, agencies, evening newspapers and freelancing to a staff position with the Daily Express, and then to have returned to freelancing again, my experience is fairly wide. However, no single photographer could hope to acquire a complete knowledge of every branch of photojournalism… the subject is just too diverse and life just too short. My aim with those posts is to pass on some of the proven techniques and short-cuts and to increase the understanding of press photography – not only to aspiring photographers – but to editors of all publications using the services of photographers.

I hope you enjoy the posts and look forward to your feedback and comments.


Cathy said...

Hi Philip
I know you've yet to be convinced, but I and others find the anecdotes and stories from your work as an young press photographer not only amusing, but also a fascinating insight into how you gained the depth of experience, knowledge and skill which you now convey so well to us all. It's so interesting to know how YOU learnt your craft, and relevant to us as we in turn learn from you. So, please do keep sharing the stories.

Philip Dunn said...

Thank you Cathy.
I promise I'll post some more 'historical' insights. Trouble is, telling these stories from the time of my photography apprenticeship during the early 1960s makes me feel like the old prat sat at the end of the bar boring everyone rigid by dribbling on about 'the old days'.
It's heartening to hear that at least one person enjoys hearing about them.