Call yourself a photographer……
For the last thirty years or more I have been taking photographs…I am not just talking about photography on a particular level i.e. professional, I am talking about the day I first got interested until the present. But what qualifies you to say you are a photographer??
A runner will run. My wife runs…most days in fact…does that mean she is a runner? She certainly is an athlete and in my mind a runner too. Of course she is a runner, but that doesn’t mean to say its her profession. I have a friend who is a musician…a great one too. His day time job is so left field and way off from his musical aspirations that I feel afraid to mention it. Does that make him a musician? Of course it does.
So what would qualify you as a photographer?
Do you think been able to produce a useable, saleable photograph when put in any situation to record an event would constitute this? I do……afterall isn’t that what a client is looking for? I think so….
For years I have wanted to call myself “a photographer”. My self-image was that of a professional image maker who spent all his waking hours either shooting images or editing images; solving visual problems and listening to customers own creative concepts and translating them into photographs. I would be great to say that I have made a good living from it, but I havent. It doesn’t mean I am a failure because as far as I am concerned I have been successful in the field I am involved in. Juggling two jobs at the time was a challenge in itself let me tell you…
I remember my first “real” shoot back in 1988. In hindsight it wasnt really what I would call a commission. I actually got a toe in the door and squeezed my way on to the scene with sheer cheek and determination. I was working as a Freight Forwarder at the time in Bradford and photography was a back seat thing, something I “just” did. I tried to make it known to as many people as possible by handing out small business card style slips of paper. A simple name, address and telephone number type with a hand drawn graphic of a strip of film. It’s easy to laugh, but it worked. I managed a few family shoots and cash from the jobs paid for new equipment.
The CARTEL International Rally in February 1988 was part of the Shell Oils British Rally Championships. My brother Paul was really “into” Rallying and he and his mates were often attending these events and they were even know to partake in the lower rounds of the lesser known rallies. I used to watch the highlights on BBC Rally Report ….. I cannot resist putting this link below…so excuse me before you watch it.
They (Paul & Co) often disappeared in to the middle of the night to go watch Rallying, be it in Scotland or the North Yorkshire forests it didn’t matter, it was all part of the fun. I never really knew what going to view them really entailed. I was a comfort person back then and would quite easily take up position on the sofa as opposed to wandering through the Dalby Forest at 2am. Given the choice I selected the warmer and drier option. What it didn’t do, was stop my intrigue. An intrigue that later would hand an opportunity to me, on a plate.
I had picked up on certain snippets of information from Paul, his friends and the local newspapers that the Cartel Rally was to start and finish in Bradford this year. I’m not sure why I did this but I am glad I did; I carefully composed a letter (handwritten first) to the sponsor of the event (Cartel) asking for trackside access to shoot some images and in return I would supply them with the rolls of film. I never really expected a reply, let alone an offer but lo and behold that’s exactly what happened. I was asked to shoot at the Parc-Ferme in Bradford City Centre the night before and then at Thackley in Bradford for the first special stage the following day. I was completely staggered.
The local football club at Thackley (Thackley AFC) was somewhere we were used to visiting. Matches on a Saturday afternoon, parties on a Saturday night and a refreshment stop after watching local Sunday morning football. Which ever circumstances we visited the club it was a friendly place and a place I enjoyed for a few years to come. I often used to stand on the touch-line at first and reserve team games and take photographs. I found it a great practice arena for capturing action photography without having to get it right first time. I had no one to submit it to so all mistakes were just a learning curve. The first special stage of the Rally was to start this year from the Football Club on the Avenue outside the main gates. It would then proceeded down the hill in to the Esholt Sewerage Works and the myriad of long straights and sharp turns through the Esholt estate. Incidently, I have looked all over for the stage map but cannot find any trace of it on the web. So here goes… this is my version of events..or event in this case. A map image from Google Earth below shows the start and finish….
You can clearly see the long straights of the sewerage works on the map. This and the long bend after the starting straight on Ainsbury Avenue were ideal for photography. With one or two humps in the road it was also ideal for some “aerial” action too. This event in the British Open Rally Championship was to be sponsored by a company called CARTEL. I have looked on the net for this company and as it was 25 years ago the branding has changed but I believe this is the same outfit here. In the days long before emails and websites the only way to make contact was to write and post via snail mail. I don’t think they were as choosy back then about letting amateur photographers in to events like this but my grovelling introductory letter obviously did the trick.
Overall it was a fantastic experience and one that I will never forget. I was quite literally thrown in at the deep end as I had no Motorsports experience and I will be the first to confess that as well as not knowing what to actually expect I didn’t really have the best equipment for the job either. The memories however I will cherish forever. Sat on an upturned milk crate at the side of Ainsbury Avenue with a Ford Sierra Cosworth racing towards you at 100mph is quite exhilarating to say the least. Trying hard to capture images with two tonnes of rally car heading your way kind of tests your powers of concentration if you know what I mean. With no auto-focus it was a matter of timing and focusing on a point on the floor. Then it was just a case of pressing the shutter just before the car reached that spot. The autowinder worked overtime and the rolls of used film piled up in the bags pocket. As ever car passed me all that could be heard was turbos popping, Cosworths chattering and the chicka-chicka-chicka of shots being fired off and the autowinder doing its job. After the attending the pre-race event the night before and then the special stage at Thackley that was my job complete. I had nothing more to do other than post the rolls of film back to the sponsor.
The rolls of film were duly sent off the same day and I heard nothing more for quite a few weeks. Then, one spring morning a letter thumped on to the doormat from the sponsors. It was a letter of thanks and enclosed were a set of prints which were duplicates of the ones they had decided to select for use. There was something missing….a cheque! No, there would be no cheque and no glittering prize. I had volunteered to do this for free. The experience though, was priceless and for that opportunity I am truly grateful. Thank you Cartel. It proves one thing, however hard it is to get access to events….you don’t get anywhere if you don’t ask. Never be afraid to drop a message to someone, there is always a chance they may take you up on your offer. You wont regret it….I didn’t.
But did it make me a professional? No it didn’t……it just gave me another string to my bow and the ability to say “I’ve done that”
Did it make me a photographer? Of course it did….I had taken some images and they were subsequently used in publications. Under the image it said Photographer: Mark Winterbourne so of course I call myself a photographer, I took the photos didn’t I?
Thanks for reading