Behind closed doors

Written by on May 27th, 2008 // Filed under The working day

As I said in the previous post, one of the biggest pleasures in this job is getting to see behind the scenes. This can be wildly different in it’s interpretation ranging from literally behind the scenes as a tv programme is being made to being allowed through the “Staff only” door in some important building.

tour de france

I can see in some of the guys that have been doing this for a long time that it must be hard not to become jaded by the whole experience but I think it’s priceless to retain that enjoyment of whatever unique experiences you get to sample in life. I must be the worst person in the world to buy gifts for as I get the biggest buzz from trying something new for the first time. By that, I don’t want to sound like some gimp who throws himself over dam walls and frozen waterfalls to try and chase the adrenaline dragon. It’s more a case of just seeing the world from somewhere new. This could be anything from the watching the Tour de France cyclists ride across Tower Bridge to watching a human pyramid get into position in a closed off underground train station while they film a muesli bar advert. Both new new to me and both a reasonably exclusive opportunity..


Having access to people and places as “the news” happens is a genuine thrill as you get to see for yourself what everyone else will be hearing about on the news later or in the paper the next morning. I remember a moment of “woahhh” when I first started in London when it dawned on me that when a photographer shoots a picture and it makes the newspaper the following day, thousands of people are seeing the world from behind their eyes. How you compose the frame, how you decided to interpret the events, how you positioned yourself to get that shot with a little something different; it all adds up to create your unique view of what you witnessed and thousands of people around the world rely on those decisions to make their own opinions on the story. It’s a good job I don’t freak out easily as combined with the Derren Brown post last week, I’d be a gibbering wreck by now..

Politics and current affairs is always a perfect example of getting to be in a position of real access. It was bizarre to read reports of Benazir Bhutto a few weeks after a press conference in London and was actually the first person that I’d ever taken photographs of that had died. It left me feeling quite odd to be editing someone one day and reading their obituary a short while later. It must have been quite shocking for John Moore who actually covered her assassination. Again, an example of being there to witness historical events first-hand.


I was discussing this with a member of the Downing Street press office a while ago during a job in the Houses of Parliament. It was a perfect example of the exclusive but bizarre access that this job can give you. As is often the case, the job itself wasn’t too exciting, being a grip and grin (AKA “shaky-shaky”, formal handshake) with Gordon Brown and some Scottish footballer but the situation resulted in me being stood in the Prime Minister’s office, waiting for him to arrive, looking at the banana skin and empty tea cup on his desk. In any other situation, that may well be the most uninteresting thing to write about but when you’re stood at Golden Brown’s desk, watching him speaking downstairs at PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) on the internal cctv, it’s one of those moments where you wonder how you got to be paid to do this for a job.

Anyway, as I was chatting to the press officer, it made me realise what a perfect balance you get when you’re a press photographer. If my job saw me turning up to the same place on a daily basis, however interesting or exclusive, I’d end up jaded by the experience and soon I’d be failing to appreciate how lucky I was. Getting brief snippets of so many people’s lives and environments is such a privilege


A good example of this was one of my first jobs when I came down to London for my placement at The Times. I was sent to cover the fact that the British Library had just digitised Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Arundel. To illustrate the story, the library projected the scanned and interactive images onto a white board and had brought the original codecs out of the vaults. In an experience completely wasted on an uneducated Northern Monkey such as myself, I then had the chance to shoot the original documents, turning the pages and browsing the actual notebook that contained sketches of da Vinci’s plans, mechanics and studies of bird flight, all written in his unique mirror-writing. Knowing that Bill Gates had purchased other pages like these for $30.8Million certainly made my already-careful page handling that little bit more delicate..

As commentators talk about the impending death of the newspaper and news photography industry as we know it due to video and online input, I hope that however it all turns out, there’ll still be a security pass waiting for me to get in to see that banana skin.

6 Responses to “Behind closed doors”

  1. Interesting read this, my liege.

    Posted by Pix Gremlin
  2. It’s very true that as press photographers we do get to see and experience some truly wonderful things.

    Today, I was allowed access to the very top of Perth’s tallest building to photograph some guy (The very top, up by the lightning conductors). I look around and think jeez I get paid to do this. To get access to somewhere most people will never be able to go. (As you said, seeing the world from somewhere new) To experience a view that most people will never see with their own eyes.

    We step into peoples lives fleetingly, have a chat, exchange a story, take a picture, and leave. It’s a fantastic life and I agree, it is a privilege.

    Posted by Will
  3. Your final line is a very accurate way of putting it, Will. Nice one. :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  4. Had a few minutes so thought i’d start at the beginning! Reading your comments re photographing subjects and them dying soon after hit a cord…was shooting at an airshow recently capturing the Red Arrows…including Red 4 who crashed and died two days ago. Sobering.

    Posted by Scott Lee
  5. That’s fantastic Scott! Thanks for taking the time to do that. It means a lot to know someone’s reading the older stuff too! :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  6. Know it’s probably something you get asked over and over…but if you get a mo would love some feed back on my website…

    Will continue to plug away….rest of 2008 here I come!

    Posted by Scott Lee

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