I never wanted to be a photojournalist when I grew up. Seriously, the last thing on my mind when I was taking my photography course was to work as a news photographer.
I knew I loved making nice photos and if I could make a living at it, so much the better.
For three months, after I finished my training, I worked in a one-hour film-processing place on Water Street. It was called Sooter’s and it was boring as hell.
So when I heard about an opening for a photographer at The Evening Telegram, as it was known then (and still is to some), I jumped at it. It was basically a step to start working as a photographer, not processing pictures for photographers. I only planned on staying long enough to get established and to start selling my own stuff.
That was in 1986 and I’m still here.
I couldn’t imagine then how satisfying or gratifying or fulfilling this job would be.
About 10 years ago, I spoke to a class of elementary school kids about my job. I told them about all the cool stuff I had done in my job: meeting Queen Elizabeth II, going to rock concerts, flying with the Snowbirds, taking trips on helicopters and so on. One young lad exclaimed, “And you get paid to do this?”
That statement puts it all into perspective once in a while.
Of course, I didn’t tell the kids about the stuff that I didn’t sign up for, but comes with the job anyway.
I’ve had to cover stories that involved incredible loss and sadness. Sometimes, maybe more than I’d like to admit, they’re the ones that affect me the most.
One of the worst events was a fire at the top of Springdale Street near the beginning of my career, in 1988. When I arrived at the scene, heavy smoke and fire was coming out of the house, and firefighters were working frantically to get in.
Bystanders were talking about someone trapped in the blaze. Within minutes, the firemen in the house passed out a bundled blanket to another fireman waiting outside the door. He walked by me as I clicked away. He was carrying the body of the seven-month-old infant who had perished in the fire.
While I knew what was happening at the time, I didn’t really think about it, or process it, until later. I came very close to deciding that day that I couldn’t continue in the job if I had to cover events like this on a regular basis.
Fortunately, the good parts of the job outweigh the bad. I’m not stuck in an office all day. I get to go out and do the work I enjoy. I get to go places where things are happening. I get to make interesting photographs of everyday events. I get to witness a lot of the history of this province being made, good and bad.
For instance, I was there that historic day in 1992 when then federal fisheries minister John Crosbie announced the closure of the cod fishery and incensed fishermen tried to break down the doors.
I stood on the Hibernia platform as it was being towed to the Grand Banks, perhaps signifying a renewed hope that we could prosper again.
Of course, the cod stocks haven’t recovered, and the oil money seems to have evaporated like so many gas fumes, so one could argue we’re no better off — but that’s not up to me to decide.
One of my favourite and funniest pictures of all time is one I took of a tranquilized moose being wrestled from a patch of woods by wildlife officer Bill Collins and a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer.
The moose was obviously tired and stoned on the tranquilizer drugs, but the photo always brings a smile to my face. (By the way, unless he retired or changed jobs recently, Bill Collins is still doing his job, too).
Newspapers have changed drastically in the past three decades. When I first started, our news copy used to come in on ticker tape (I’m not kidding) and our wire photos came in using a thermal printer the size of a large photocopier. It took about four minutes to get one black and white photo.
I used a Pentax K1000 fully manual 35-mm camera that took one picture at a time, and I had to advance the film manually.
I processed all of my black and white film by hand using chemicals and a darkroom. I used an enlarger to make prints of the photos we were going to use.
The newsroom contacted me by pager and I had to call them on a pay phone to get the details of my next assignment (how quaint).
Now all of our wire copy and photos come directly into our computer systems. I use a modern digital SLR camera that can shoot 10 pictures per second. It can link to an iPhone to upload photos to our website or Twitter in seconds.
Was I sad to see film go? At first, yes, because the first generations of digital cameras were huge and slow and couldn’t even come close to producing an image that could compete with film.
Today’s cameras, however, have incredible quality and speed, and nothing beats knowing right away whether you got the shot or not.
As well, downloading your images directly from a memory card to your computer to look at what you produced that day is a lot more fun than processing 12 rolls of film and looking at them on a light table.
So, while the equipment I use today is drastically different than what I started out with, my job remains the same: to produce the best picture possible that relays to our reader (or the Internet viewer) what happened at the event I am covering, no matter what that event might be.