Memoirs of an International Photographer
An exhibition of work spanning three decades
with commentary by the photographer
To open the exhibition I have chosen four pictures. The first, from Korea,
chose itself. The others are from Prague, the South China Sea and the Scottish Western Isles.
In May 2000 I
stumbled upon a front page picture in the International Herald Tribune which looked
and, yet, unfamiliar.
The setting was clear - Panmunjom, the negotiation hut on the 38th
parallel in the centre of the DMZ, the De-Militarised Zone between North and South Korea.
It was the people and the mood that were unexpected.
When I was last there, nearly half a century ago, the show, which even then had been running
for a decade, was very different. For a start on the North Korean side were three or four
North Koreans, stony faced and unyielding on issues of minute protocol and paper clips.
While on the South Korean side there were two Americans, one Brit and one South Korean,
all equally unyielding.
Symbolism apart, it was not a line up in which tact was likely to be a
winner. Almost 60 years of people staring each other down across a little table in a
little hut in the middle of nowhere is about as farcical as the human race can get. One
can only hope that some of the three generations of participants can appreciate the humour
as well as the tragedy of the situation in their old age. And that the Korean people can
forgive - both sides.
My first evening in Prague, possibly my first evening behind the so-called Iron Curtain, I
slipped out of my hotel un-watched and apparently not followed by any guide or interpreter.
I walked across the famous Charles bridge towards the giant statue of Stalin. I followed
the sounds of decidedly American Country and Western music, until I found, sitting on the
plinth of the monument, a group of young people with guitars. They were dwarfed by Stalin
and what the Czechs then called The Meat Queue.
This picture became a fitting introduction to the story which made the cover
and 12 pages in the Sunday Times Colour Supplement under the
headline The Land of The Mellowing Marxists. The b/w picture was shot
with a Nikon SP, 28mm lens. Ian Coulter wrote the story.
Dateline: Manila, USS Constellation
- the South China Sea.
1965, the cold war. Telegraph Magazine cover from the story 7th Fleet, Giant in
Chains. Shot immediately after the Gulf of Tonkin incident and before
the massive bombardment of North Vietnam by US carrier launched planes had officially
started. This one got me a colour photo essay British Press Pictures of The Year Award.
The red comes from the colour of the night light on the carriers launch deck not
from a filter.
For me this story has three sobering memories.
The duplicity of military PR was never clearer - the full scale bombing
had started long long before it was announced or admitted.
On shipping my film I received a cable, opened to my embarrassment by Frank Robertson, the
journalist who wrote the story. First batch of film totally over exposed. Thanks
John (John Anstey long time editor of the Telegraph Magazine). I had to wait two
days in Hong Kong for the antidote, Faulty thermometer, rest of film excellent,
proceed Koreawards. Thanks John.
Back in England, working on a story in industrial Lancashire, walking down a street in
Rochdale, I noticed that the fish and chips I was eating were wrapped in my 7th Fleet
story! A reminder that getting an award does nothing to ensure the permanence of
journalism - words or pictures.
1962, the Scottish Western Isles.
I dont remember which one. It could have been North or South Uist, or Lewis and
Harris or Barra. The dated caption on the back reads, Crofters take a rest from peat
cutting. Black houses in the background are no longer inhabited.
Taken with the relatively un-obtrusive Nikon SP (non-reflex Nikon,
modelled on pre-WWII rangefinder Contax) with a 28mm lens, this picture exhibits the
distortion that publishers and photographers, myself included, were then starting to foist on the public
in the name of intimacy and ‘presence’.
In the whole of my career as a photographer I only received two useful
bits of advice and they were effectively the same although the first was less cynical.
Larry Burroughs of Life Magazine, who sadly died in Nixons ill fated
Cambodian adventure, said, Put on a wide angle and get in close. Make yourself part
of the group. Photograph it from the inside, not as a spectator from the outside.
Dont worry about distortion, you will learn how to control that. In any case, it is
all in the eye of the reader.
Mark Boxer of Queen and later the Sunday Times Colour Supplement, said,
Never take a picture that the readers can take or think they can take with a Kodak
Instamatic. Always surprise the public. Photograph a close up with a wide angle lens and a
landscape with a telephoto lens. Avoid the visually obvious, be perverse.