Monday, 6 February 2012

'A Holiday in Cambodia' or how tried to kick start my career - Part 1

I had worked on the local papers since 1979, officially employed at the age of 16 as junior photographer on the Spalding Guardian, though I had worked there for a year before in the summer holidays and at weekends, getting around on my bicycle with a Rollieflex, before going back to the studio to shoot flat copies on a Speedgraphic.

Me in my 20's 

God it makes me sound old.

The weekly newspaper was a great place to learn but I yearned for bigger and better things, so when I was 25 (I think?) I landed a job with the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph in Kettering.

Not exactly the big city but it suited me at the time.

The local papers were a fantastic place to learn about photography news but more than anything it taught me about people.

I made every kind of mistake you can make in a job without getting fired, god knows how I didn't.

My photography was variable to say the least and my people skills were.....well lets just say I was young and the editors phone rang a coupe of times with helpful and illuminating comments from members of the public after I had paid them a visit......

A great experience that I would not trade for anything.

Just don't ask me to go back.

The excitement of working in a town of 60,000 at the Northants ET began to wane after a while and I decided I wanted more.

I was lucky enough to work alongside some very talented photographers, John Robertson was notable amongst these in that we would 'compete' with one another to see who could get a photograph in the National Newspapers first.( Our contract with the local allowed us to do this, not because they welcomed the idea but because I don't think they thought any of us would actually do it..)

I seem to recall that John was the first of us to score a hit, he got a picture in 'The Guardian'

Not to be beaten I managed to get a photo or two in 'The Independent'

Here is one I have managed to dig out from 1988, where I went out with the British divers who were rescuing seal afflicted by a canine virus.
I shot this with a Canon F1N with 200mm F2.8 on Ilford HP5 (I think??)

But my moment of 'glory' came when I went to the Isle of Harris where my friend Steve McComb was working as a postman and I photographed him walking to deliver the post to the last village in the UK without a road during the Mail strike, I suppose you could call him a strike breaker but the only picket line was some black face sheep which didn't seem too bothered about pay, conditions or pensions.

The photo made 6 columns on the front page of 'The Independent'

I had arrived (or thought I had)

I now had the taste for travel, (to Scotland), and I was starting to live the dream.

Nothing was going to stop me now.

I heard that a new Sunday broadsheet quality newspaper 'The Sunday Correspondent' was going to opening, and I figured that it would benefit from my considerable local newspaper experience and that they should employ me...

So I waited until they had appointed a Picture Editor, in the shape of respected former Sunday Times picture editor Michael Cranmer.

I then subjected him to a bombardment of letters and phone calls until he gave me an interview.

Remarkably my sheer enthusiasm won him over and I was shortlisted for one of the contracts on the paper.

But like a minor team's magical FA cup run, the dream had to end and so it was that sanity prevailed and he gave the job to a much more established and respected name.

It was a blow but the last thing to do was to face up to defeat and reality.

So I decided I needed to photograph a war.

Whilst having a day job on the local newspaper.

I had a fascination with Cambodia ever since reading John Pilger's account of the killing fields, and how the world stood by.

The Khmer Rouge had been ousted by the Vietnamese, leaving a rather interesting situation of the bad guys (in the West's eyes at least) putting an end to mass genocide whilst they stood idly by.

I wanted to experience something amazing and tell the world about it.

So, I booked a three week holiday.

Got on a 23 hour Aeroflot flight to Bangkok, where in the process my fear of flying was replaced by an aversion of truly awful airline food.

Upon landing I checked into a hotel and I phoned the 'Sunday Correspondent' spoke to the picture desk and told them I was in South East Asia and I was available for work (I had told them I was going and they made encouraging noises but I don't think they thought I would actually go through with it)

'Erm Great......(Very long embarrassed pause) we will let you know if anything comes up'.

It was then I faced the true gravity of the situation.

I had sold my car to finance the trip, I was totally out of my depth, I had no plan, I was alone a long, long way from home and at this rate the money would run out in a few days.

What on earth was I going to do?

Find out in Part 2.


Libby said...

My beginnings go back to an old Yashica TLR on a skateboard ;-) Oh how I love the images from that old camera and I should have kept it. I used to get home and develop the film, put them into the enlarger carrier, then ask myself why the hell I was screwing with 35mm LOL. I guess it in part relates to the comment I just left on your Phase post.

I can't wait for part two of your story. My photographic life took a turn. I fell into a high paying non photographic job at a young age and didn't follow the dream. I never put down the cameras during that time, but I sometimes wonder how things might have been different.

I can't wait for part two. -Libby

Betty Bake said...

waiting for part 2 :)

thanks for a very interesting read.

Bernice aka Betty Bake

Betty Bake said...


Unknown said...

Thanks Libby and Bernice,

It is all true too!



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