Capturing magic

Martin Stephens, ex Managing Director, PA Images reflects on some of the characteristics that define press photographers

The life of a press photographer can be a varied one. Though some specialise in one area such as sport or celebrity there are many, nowadays often working in the regions, who may find themselves in the company of royalty one day, at a political demonstration the next and on the third trying to think of a way to illustrate fracking by 11am in the morning.

I was not lucky enough to meet Ron Burton in person, but, looking at his work and hearing stories about him I am instantly reminded of some of the wonderful photographers that I had the pleasure of working with in my many years at the Press Association.

These are the people that can find magic in the ordinary, be that in an expression or an angle that causes the viewer to stop and think, but they also make magic by thinking, planning and persevering to get the image they want.

Two particular two examples come to mind. As a general rule, if I needed a picture for a marketing campaign and didn’t know where to start my search then I would simply enter the name John Giles (the now retired PA Chief Photographer) and look through his work from the last week or two. In perhaps ten jobs I would almost always find something that grabbed me. John would head to Haydock on a wet Tuesday afternoon and file an image that you might want on your wall, but he would also plan his own. With the recent visit of the Tour de France to Yorkshire, he was able to plan others’ coverage down to the finest detail (parking for three cars in a builder’s yard and maps showing the photographers where to cycle to get to their positions) to capture the essence of Yorkshire and the essence of Le Tour in one ‘front page’ image.

The other example is Owen Humphreys, PA’s North East photographer, whose picture to illustrate fracking I do actually have on my wall at home. It is a truly breathtaking image of Buttermere in the Lake District taken as the sun rose with a perfect reflection of the hills in the lake. Owen took this in response to a comment from an MP suggesting that fracking should not take place in the South of England but in the desolate North West. Having the idea, checking the weather forecast, getting up at the crack of dawn and driving 100 miles to get the picture are some of the characteristics that I think my former colleagues share with Ron Burton. One only has to look at his amazing Red Arrows shots to know that his planning was exemplary and in many of the ‘smaller’ jobs one can see that ability to capture magic in the most ordinary of situations.