I dare not do that these days

NOWADAYS, the quickest way into a police interrogation room, I reckon, would be to lean furtively across strangers’ garden walls, gates or fences, and snap pictures of their bonny wee toddlers.

Yet that’s precisely what I did back in the early 1960s when I hit on a sure-fire way of making dosh in that long-gone Age of Innocence.

I’d take pictures of my chosen subjects – sometimes using bags of sweeties to induce them to come up close and smile toothily – then return to show the parents what delightful, photogenic children they had spawned.

My line was always the same: “I’m training to be photographer, and I couldn’t help noticing what a beautiful child you have.”

And the response was always the same: “How much for a set?”

This tactic worked just as well with pets. In fact, some people went into greater ecstasy over photos of their dogs and cats – and in once instance a massive tortoise – than parents who were shown snaps of their kids. And they paid more.

The money I accumulated gained me something I wanted even more than a motorbike – a Nikon F camera which, when it first came onto the market in 1959 cost around £250.00, or £2,035 in today’s money.

What I actually used to snap the kids and pets was a clunky piece of kit called the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. It retailed at around £5.00 (about £33.00 now).

The thing was given away free to people enrolling in a photographic course sponsored by Kodak, and I well remember the looks of sheer distaste on the faces of those got one of these ugly Bakelite beasts.

We were all expecting something a darn side more sophisticated, but the instructor said that, once we learned to take GREAT pics with the Hawkeye, only then would he consider giving us an upgrade.

By the time the course ended, I had not only learned to love my Hawkeye, but had set up a home darkroom and quickly become adept in developing and printing my own black and white images.

It took me two whole years to get my Nikon F, but I never succeeded in capturing an image that would have brought me fortune and fame – although I once came extremely close to capturing a spectacular explosion.

I was running towards a factory that was on fire, Nikon in hand, when a group of firemen, fleeing the blaze and screaming “gas canisters” knocked me to the ground. At that moment one canister blew, then the rest followed. Had I not been lying face down in the dirt, I would have got a stunning shot of flames jetting skyward.

Sadly, I had to put the camera aside – except for recreational purposes – when I got a job as a reporter on a South African national daily, the Johannesburg Star, which had a dedicated team of photographers. The rule then was that journalists did the writing and the photographers produced the images.

It was not until I came to Spain almost eight years ago that I started once more to use a camera to for cash as well as for pleasure, and suddenly found myself in demand for weddings, parties, commercial presentations and the like.

But, as more and more people began acquiring smartphones with high definition cameras, demand for my work tapered off to a trickle.

In a 2013 Guardian article entitled The death of Photography: are camera phones destroying an art form? Antonio Olmos, a Mexican photographer based in London, pointed out that in the 1850s the rise of photography made many painters, who had previously made nice livings from painting family portraits, redundant. Now it’s the turn of professional photographers to join the scrap heap.

“Photographers are getting destroyed by the rise of iPhones. The photographers who used to make £1,000 for a weekend taking wedding pictures are the ones facing the squeeze. Increasingly we don’t need photographers – we can do just as well ourselves.”

Sad but true – except for the last part. Most pictures taken with phones are rubbish!


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