Steve Phillips Blog:What would I do if I was not a Press Photographer?
I came across a book very recently which got me thinking about what I would do if I was not a press photographer. Well not much very different I would still want be a photographer but what type of photographer?
My first love was documentary photography and I spent my formative years wandering around Merthyr Tydfil photographing my mates in their environment and what was going on in the town in the mid eighties. Taught and encouraged by a superb documentary photographer called Wally Waygood I took gritty black and white pictures and got accepted onto the Documentary Photography course at the then Newport Art College run by ex Magnum photographer David Hurn.
But then I did work experience on the Merthyr Express newspaper was offered a job as a trainee and that was that - a career in press photography. Don't get me wrong I would not swap photographing Wales winning the grand slam for anything, but sometimes I wonder what if I had taken a different path?
When I was studying for my A-levels at Pen-Y-Dre High School a great geography teacher called Phil Lewis and his mate Phil Mantle raised enough money at their local church to take me to Calcutta, India with them. The idea was for me to photograph children on the streets of the city who may have been deliberately maimed in order for them to be beggars. The two Phil's wanted the photographs to show people back at home and help raise money to open a centre where these kids could live and not be on the streets.
This as you can imagine was a life changing experience for a 17 year old and the photographs I took where instrumental in me getting on the documentary course and a job in a newspaper. It also gave me a huge appetite for travel photography. An appetite I have still to fully feed despite short trips to Belize and countries in Europe, it's very much a case of unfinished business.
So the book in question really got me thinking. It's a fantastic record of wildlife in Africa called 'Wild Africa' by an award winning photographer called Alex Bernasconi. The images are simply stunning and take you into the heart of one of the world's last natural paradises. As I looked through the book I found myself thinking this would be a fantastic job to do, but soon realised I would not be suited to this type of photography.
To get images of the quality taken by Alex Bernasconi takes infinite patience and dedication. To be able to blend into the landscape so the wildlife does not notice you and capture spectacular photographs of them off guard is a skill I could never possess. One image of a male lion growling menacingly at an annoying fly shows how skilful this photographer is. To probably spend hours tracking, getting into the right position and then to be able to press the shutter at exactly the right time encapsulates the dedication and talent this guy has.
The book is simply full of breathtaking images which illustrate the photographers deep love for Africa and which are a timely reminder of the dangers we humans continue to pose to wildlife. Africa's population has passed the 1 billion mark and is still growing which is bound to have an impact on the animals we in the west love to see.
I would love to try and emulate Alex, but I know I have not got the patience and dedication he possesses. Press photography is too instant and fast moving, it's about getting the picture often as quickly as you can and getting it onto a website or into print as quickly as possible – then it's on to the next thing.
Time for a press photographer is a constant fight, having enough time to take pictures at an assignment, getting the picture processed and transmitted in time, getting to the next assignment on time….. So it was great to escape into this book and appreciate what can be done by a photographer with endless patience, endless dedication and a little time.
So what would I do if I was not a press photographer? Well I would love to travel the world, go back to India and take photographs. I also have a yearning to back to my roots one day and document the welsh valleys and their people and what is happening today. But, the thrill of seeing you work published, nowadays instantly on websites, and enjoyed by readers is hard to beat. As is sometimes making a positive difference to people's lives through publishing their plights. Oh and there is also photographing Wales in the Millennium Stadium with 70,000 of my countrymen roaring them on to victory over England to win the championship.
But if I was offered just one chance to play rugby for Wales, then that may be a different story….
Wild Africa by Alex Bernasconi costs £40 and is published by Papadakis ISBN 9781906506315. It is available from at Amazon at the link below