Sharing my experience of Photojournalism and Documentary Photography
“The wonderful thing about this job is you get to spend time in the worlds of other people in order to understand them and tell their stories.” My teacher was talking to graphics students about the clients he worked for but his words have stayed with me through my career as a designer, art director, photographer and film-maker.
In my early 20s I commissioned photographers as an advertising agency art director and asked one of them to do a colleague’s wedding as a gift from me. I spat out my tea when, just before the big day, he called to say he couldn’t do it but would lend me two cameras so I could instead.
It was a life-changing experience and went remarkably well so I bought my own cameras to document the tour of Europe I was about to leave for with my punk band.
I handed my notice in at work when I got back and, after doing local PR work for a year or so, set up a photo agency with a sports photographer and teacher. We covered northern football and rugby for national newspapers, often wiring pictures from the kitchen of terraced houses next to the stadium after processing the film in the sink. I got an agent in London to find more lucrative advertising commissions and did work for the Football Association including my first international game, which went badly for them but very well for us when I got a picture that went around the world and convicted three football hooligans.
The FA asked us to set up an official photo library so we recruited more staff. I’d been lecturing informally at local colleges and some of the more dynamic students came to us on work experience with the best ones staying on until there were ten of us at our peak. This nurturing of young talent was a big part of our success in competing with the big agencies, both in terms of the photography we produced and the full service we provided.
We ran the library for seven years until losing the contract to Reuters, They lost it to Getty and now Shutterstock provide the FA’s official photographers. None of them have had the kind of behind-the-scenes access to the senior men’s England team that I had and I covered 67 games from the dressing room and the players hotel rooms, a project that continued for five years and produced an archive of around 100,000 pictures that we continue to manage.
Alongside our work for the FA, we set up libraries for Premier League football clubs and produced award-winning advertising campaigns for clients like Audi, Umbro, Sony, Fiat and McDonald's. The documentary work I’ve done continues to influence the commercial work I do and we’ve built a reputation for realism and credibility with advertising agencies. Last year’s Association of Photographers Awards included a picture from my series of London shopkeepers.
One of my earliest influences was Ernst Haas, not just for the wonderful photographs he created, but for how he combined personal, editorial and advertising work through his career. I still shoot weddings for friends, stories for Press Association and commercial work that makes the BBC news.