Event photography - the great teacher

The main lesson is that it gets very samey very quickly, but more of that later.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to receive accreditation for The Henley Royal Regatta. How? I hear you gasp. Well that question leads on to Lesson two, which is - if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I simply called up the event press office and, after 10 minutes of explaining why I wanted to be there, I was told that I would receive accreditation for the Saturday.

Lesson 3 - turn up ridiculously early. Always a sound idea because I discovered very quickly that there’s a lot to be seen in the setting up of an event. Ordinarily you might think that the event itself is the real focus, I don’t think that it will come as a galloping surprise that it’s the people at the event and what goes on in the background that can yield some of the best images.

As I sauntered around grinning stupidly, bona fide, affiliated press photographers were setting up for the day; tripods and telephoto lenses - all trained on the water. They stood there sipping coffee and waiting for the rowing to start. Dear god they must have been bored that day (some had been there for the three preceding days as well). Occasionally I saw one or two venture into the enclosures and approach the odd person asking for a portrait. Usually they were refused. In a conversation with one of the press officers I struggled to help her understand why I didn’t want to go to the press box (situated right on the finish line on a jetty in the middle of the Thames). She couldn’t grasp the concept of my not wanting to shoot the rowers as they splashed past the line.

I wandered amongst the gathering throngs of peacock dressed arrivals, men in Panamas and boaters, women in huge ornate trampoline-like affairs that seemed to defy anatomy and physics. This was what I was there for. As I’ve said many times, I’m strange in that I don’t really have a tremendous interest in faces; it’s about the gestures and circumstances for me. As a result it became difficult to visualise discrete moments as the crowds swelled. Multi-coloured, striped blazers and vivid couture dresses morphed into a sea of dizzying patterns and colours.

I shot ten rolls that day, in terms of absolute keepers I have about half that amount if I’m lucky. 250+ images are now whittled down to 43 that I like after a few days viewing. Those 43 are probably going to sit quietly for several months until a second look will end in a second culling….and so on. The odds are stacked against an image being a good one.

By four o’clock I had enough, more than enough in terms of film used and also physically. The urge is always just to keep moving just in case “that” shot is unfolding around the next marquee and, at my age, it’s tiring. My back tends to ache after about five hours and then the concentration starts to slip to the point that I’m no longer receptive. People were still arriving, looking forward to the slightly less genteel evening’s revelry, but I don’t use flash and I had no more energy. All my shots were becoming replicas of those that I had taken five or six hours beforehand. Same scene, different dress or pastel slacks. Seeing the dial reading 23 on the camera, I decided to finish the roll and head home

Two days later my fantastic local lab had them all scanned and burnt to cd. My first instinct was to post the best ones. My last entry dealt with false affirmation and my diminishing need for praise, but in this digital age I still have an impulse to present work for others. It’s exhibitionism in its truest sense. I really do envy those who have the discipline to retain images on file for the day that they can be unveiled in a more formal and permanent way - via a book or exhibition for example. I’m not saying that we should all wait and publish a book because that would fly in the face of my views on book proliferation via Blurb and other self-publication methods. However does the online publication of the cream of our work negate the impact of a future presentation? I would suggest that of course it does. Webb’s Suffering of Light was in effect his “greatest hits” selected from years of shooting and other publications. Most shooters now have online portfolios that are a chronicle of their photographic life’s work. It somehow feels less than legitimate. I can’t explain why - but it does. The image on a screen is so transient and, naturally, intangible.

So what do we have to do? I’m beginning to rethink my position about online affirmation. I think the fear is the lack of acknowledgment. There is nothing as loud as the visual silence of a posted image ignored. I am just more phlegmatic about it now. At least for the moment. Increased involvement with the online community leads to the onset of photographic Tourette’s, the almost irresistible urge is to post and keep posting. It must be very seductive when one is a cult figure to keep throwing images online. I wonder how Maciej Dakowicz (one of the most prolific posters online today) feels when, every time he posts a shot, his stars hit “99+” in an hour or so? Does he feel pleased that he’s got so many adoring fans? Perhaps I’ll ask him one day.

Using Format