Sunday, September 20, 2009

Best Photo #1

So this is my favourite photo that I've ever taken. And there's a lengthy story behind it, so I hope you will indulge me a bit.


When I joined The Packet in 1998 I thought of myself as a reporter. I could take photos, but it was the lesser of the jobs I had to do with the paper. Yes, I knew good photos were important, but good copy was more important. If I had to spend my time focusing on one rather than the other, it was going to be on my interviewing and writing.

So one day Barb, my editor, sends me out to interview this group of ladies. I honestly forget what the story was about, but I grabbed a quick picture of the five of them standing on some steps. They were all smiling brightly. I developed it in the darkroom and thought no more of it.

Barb hated the photo.

"You shot it from too far away," she said. "I can barely see who they are. Go shoot it again."

I balked, but realizing I had no choice called the ladies up, said there was a problem with the photo, got them together and shot it again, this time I stood closer to them.

Barb hated the photo.

"You still shot it from too far away. And this photo tells me nothing about them. Go shoot it again."

Horrified, I called the ladies again, who were now quite annoyed with me, and they agreed to stand for one more picture. This time I carefully composed it, made sure I was close enough that you could see their faces. Although they were not smiling this time.

Barb still hated the photo. But we close on deadline and so, with some disgust, ran the picture.

"Yes, you can see their faces, but what does this picture tell me about the story? About who they are and what they're trying to do? It's five of them looking crooked on the steps. You've got to tell a story with the picture. You've got to get people looking at the photo and make them want to read the story, just based on the picture and you haven't done that here."

I was suitably mortified. It was a pretty useless picture. So I had my small epiphany that I needed to do better in the future with my pictures. Mainly because I didn't want to take the same photo three times in a row and piss off Barb again, but she'd also made her point about the importance of a good photo to the story.

This would have been about November 1998. Jump ahead to August 2000. My pictures were much better now, or at least to the point where Barb was no longer yelling at me about them. I got up early on a Sunday morning and drove out to Come By Chance to do a photo feature and quick story on a mountain bike race taking place around the community. I didn't particularly want to get up at 8am on a Sunday and drive 30 minutes or so to Come By Chance, but I knew I would get some good pictures of bikers bouncing through hills and mud.

And I did. Lots of them. I was pretty happy as the race was drawing to a close that I had some nice shots.

And then it happened. The guy who was ahead by a mile was pumping up the final hill towards the finish line. I forget his first name...I think it was Michael or Andrew, but his last name was Cleary, because his dad was (and still is) a doctor in neighbouring Arnold's Cove. And then, about 50 feet from the finish line he pulled up short and screamed in agony.

A charlie horse. Well, two of them. One in each leg. And man, he was in serious pain. But he knew the finish line was close so he essentially hopped himself and the bike the last agonizing 50 feet or so to the finish line and then collapsed.

And while he was recovering from the pain of the simultaneous charlie horses and generally hating that bike is when I snapped that photo.

I was kind of scared shooting that one, actually. It felt like I was intruding on a very personal, and painful, moment. But I did click it, figuring I had a pretty good after the race shot.

When I was developing the shots I showed the sheet of photos to Barb to figure out which shots were best. I believe she uttered a small curse, said "this one...crop out some of the background people and focus on him. And we're going to blow this one up large."

And so we did. People loved the picture. The Clearys asked for a copy of the photo. Technically I was supposed to charge them, but it felt wrong to charge them for the photo. I always had a problem with that RB/Optipress/Trancontinental policy. If the subject of the photo asks for a single copy of the picture, and for non-commercial purproses, then I had no problem giving them one.

Anyway, they got their copy of the picture. And, about 9 months later it won the first, and only, photojournalism awards I've ever won - Best Sports Photo at the Atlantic Community Newspaper Association Awards and third place, best sports photo for a paper circulation under 10,000, at the Canadian Community Newspaper Association Awards.

Some journalists I know mock journalism awards. And yes, much like sausage, once you learn how they're made it can curb your appetite for them. However, I'm still ferociously proud of them.

So there you the space of two years I went from causing my editor despair to taking an award winning photo. And one that nearly 10 years later I still love and think is the best thing I've ever shot.

Oh, and for the record, it was shot using a Pentax K-1000. Also, this is obviously a photo of a photo, so it's not perfect. The look on his face is a touch fuzzy in this picture, and you're not seeing how much mud he's covered in. But hopefully you get the idea.

Last Five
1. My body is a cage - The Arcade Fire
2. I wanna be around - Tony Bennett and Bono
3. Love like that - Mark Bragg
4. Goodnight, goodnight - Maroon 5
5. Stop - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals*


Clare said...

wonderful photo, and always your writing shines.

Gary Kelly said...

Great shot. Great story.

Megan said...

I've nominated this series for Best Post Series in the Canadian Blog Awards. I hope that's OK. If it's not, please let me know and I'll get in touch with the organizers.