Why shoot news? It’s a question often asked of press photographers and photo-journalists and it’s a good question indeed. Let me qualify this by quoting the great Lord Beaverbrook, who owned the Daily Express in it’s heyday, “News is something that someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to print”. So I’m not talking about PR type pictures, thought these can, sometimes be newsworthy or celebrities up to shenanigans, though a lot of these they wouldn’t want you to print. I’m referring to pictures where rioters are attacking the police, looters stripping shop, drugrealers at work on our streets, the desperate plight of the many (refugees) and the few (combatants) in war zones. It costs a lot to cover these stories and many times you’ll be met with “Yeah but it’s a long way away and nobody really cares”, from the picture desks.
Softer news can be the meetings between politicians and others, normally easier to do, unless of course, they don’t want people to know they have met. So why do it, why “Put yourself in harms way” for a picture? As someone who has been injured quite a few times in the pursuit of a good picture, I put it down to a few things. First I have to be honest and say that the adrenaline rush of being in the middle of a riot or a firefight and getting away with the great image is a rush, there is no doubt about it. Also, there is the fact that you are showing the population, what is being done and in many cases funded on their behalf. After all we elect our leaders, so we have to keep an eye on what they do and we are to an extent responsible for there actions. It’s said that “A picture is worth a thousand words”. I’ve no doubt this is true, pictures can end and begin wars and more importantly even than that, educate people as to why conflicts are necessary.
Lastly, I have to say that being a press photographer, puts you into a privileged position of being in the front row for the making of history. At the last count, I have photographed seven Prime Ministers of the UK and their numerous counterparts, five US presidents and a slew of world leaders, I’ve been there when agreement’s have been made to promote peace and when talks have broken down and sometimes I’ve then had to cover the aftermath.
The downside to the job can be the almost insatiable appetite newspapers have for snatched portraits or “Headshots” to use the jargon. Most editions will carry loads,
because they take up little space on the page, yet manage somehow, to humanise a story and allow the reader to connect with the subject matter. It’s really important to get a full length and a “Tight Head” preferably with eyes to camera on every job like this. It can pay a freelance press photographer dividends, they can set up a quick portrait shoot with a politician or someone else in the public eye. With celebrity shoots, papers are more likely to use more expansive pictures, but with politicians and advisors, etc., the “Head shot” comes into it’s own. I’ve lost count of how many times my pics of Baroness Altmann, now the pensions minister and the now UKIP MP Douglass Carswell have been used.
So it’s not all excitement and adrenalin, but a lot of it can be, you just never know, as a press photographer whet the next day may bring. I think it’s one of the best and most important professions in the world, which is why I’ve continued doing it for so long.