Observing the 1980s

Smith, Tom (Part 1 of 1). An Oral History of British Photography

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  • Subjects

    Falkland Islands War 1982

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Kent

  • Interviewees

    Smith, Tom, (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Read, Shirley (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Brief description of Tom Smith’s [T.S.] family background including parents’ occupations and his own interest in photography started by an uncle with a camera. [00.03.33] Description of the family summer holiday hop-picking in Kent, running wild, his own interest in aircraft and late return to school. [00.06.37] Description of finding a darkroom job at Camera Press in Bloomsbury, the brilliant technicians there, working with [Yousuf] Karsh, staying on after work, not taking holidays, lighting, their love for photography, buying his first camera at 17 and having a Nikon before Camera Press did. [00.11.54] Brief description of Camera press premises and Don Chapman’s library skill. [00.12.53 Comments on class and photographers, Patrick [Lord] Lichfield, buying expensive cameras, the influence of the Beatles and Tom Blau’s [the founder and owner of Camera Press] encouragement and support of TS. [00.15.00] Comment that working in the darkroom was the traditional route to becoming a [Fleet Street] photographer, doing National Service taught photographers, good printers and the impact of Lord Snowdon on public opinion [00.17.55] Comments on darkroom work at Camera Press, Peter Miles’ printing, Karsh and Cecil Beaton’s responses to their prints and duplicates, Reg Twinning, missing his ‘comfort zone’ when he left. [00.21.25] A story about the man who supplied Karsh with the wrong flash bulbs. [00.23.50] Description of working as assistant to Karsh, enjoying it, observing the way he worked, keeping it simple, knowing his subject and getting the hands in, photographing George Woodcock of the TUC and Billy Cotton. [00.29.04] Brief comment on the difference between what TS was paid and what he earned for Camera Press, the union situation. [00.30.15] On photographing Bernard Cribbens and a story about photographing Roger Moore. [00.32.40] An anecdote about photographing the Eurovision song contest and delivering the photographs to Heathrow. [00.35.47 Being offered a job on the Observer by Bryn Campbell in 1964 [00.36.10] Comments on Look magazine which influenced TS. Description of photographer David Newell Smith who ‘spouted Shakespeare’ while printing, his work and lens preferences. Comments on the difference between an Observer and a Daily Express photograph and photographer, on motor drives, Gerry Cranham, Jane Bown and Sally Soames. Working on the Observer magazine, criticisms of it, leaving [00.45.36] Brief description of a weeks work for Bryn Campbell, Bryn’s support, snobbery at the Observer. [00.45.36] Brilliant printers at the Observer including Tony Prime who was later locked up in Argentina, the difference between working for Bryn and for the magazine, using colour. [00.58.36] Brief comments on becoming a free-lancer, on not enjoying it or being good at hustling, his reasons for leaving the Observer, photographic motivations, problem of shooting for the business pages, learning from Karsh, from Hollywood films and from other photographers like John Bulmer, being obsessive about photography, the importance of experience to news photography, the distance given by the viewfinder, understanding the technology and a comparison between film and digital photographers. Comments on current magazine photography [in 2010]. [01.16.40] Description of working at the Daily Express which was then the best paper for photography, with the most important photographers, he learned to move pictures, became the night photographer, enjoyed the pressure, loved the life, the support and knowledge, first class travel, his pay and expenses, working on hard news and crime like the Ripper and Fred West, always being ready to travel and being sent to Bali in a winter suit when pursuing Pamela Bordes , being outside the Maze prison when Bobby Sands died, the warders’party, the number of photographers employed by the Express and the numbers made redundant in the 1990s. [01.27.46] Comment on the introduction of digital technology at the Express, the role of the unions, the change it made to his way of working, the problems of wire transmission and a brief discussion of editing pictures, who does it and the way it has changed. [01.34.46] On seeing corpses, being at Lockerbie, the Agadir earthquake, Hungerford shooting. [01.37.50] Track 1 [cont. from 01.37.50] Discussion and description of photographing the Falklands war including how TS was chosen to go there, filling out the form for his war correspondent’s licence at the MOD, being attached to the Parachute Regiment, the voyage down on the Sir Lancelot and the ‘drinking club’, the soldier’s reaction to TS and his to them. [01.43.50] Comments on his equipment and the changing light in the Falklands, the impossibility of photographing on Mount Longdon at night, deaths of people he knew, the cold, walking across minefields, being there for three months and the problems when he returned, having expected something different when they left. [01.46.13] His disappointment over the way his photographs were used, mostly propaganda, no bodies ever shown, that they were checked by the Press Association and the MOD before they were shown and he didn’t get them all back afterwards. [01.48.23] Comments on his return, being a star, lunch at the Savoy, the downside of getting the top jobs. [01.50.55] Comments on working with crime reporters in the Falklands and their skill at getting information, being on Mt Longdon during the night attack, carrying soldiers down, being stuck in a mortar attack. [01.54.58] Description of walking to Stanley when the war ended, how moving it was, the light, drinking with Argentinean officers. [01.57.32] Description of going on the Canberra to return prisoners to Argentina, comparison of the conscripts with the British soldiers, and the plight of young Welsh Patagonian conscripts. [01.59.43] Comments about the importance of the Falkland experience to TS, the attitude of the government and army to photography and how it has changed. [02.03.05] Getting on with the NCOs. Comments about photographs of Argentineans collecting their dead and an exhausted soldier, influence of Don McCullin. Comments on being scared, a story about spending a night in a dug out with reporter Les Dowd, observing that the soldiers treated the Argentineans well, a wounded soldier. [02.10.56] Comment about a Paratrooper who wants to do a book and the difference between being a soldier and a reporter, TS then went on to Beirut which was scary but the news moves on whereas soldiers are stuck with it, a comparison with war today, going back again. [02.15 40] TS disappointment that he put his life on the line for photographs which weren’t used and his concern over a photographer who has been blown up recently. Comments on current use of images, their lack of importance as compared to the past and the role of tv cameramen. [02.20.25] On returning to doing news, chasing fire engines, drinking with the police, working abroad, following Pamela Bordes to Bali and then to Hong Kong. [02.26.45] Working with other photographers, competition and sharing. [02.29.20] On being made redundant in 1997 and the problems of that year. [02.31.38] On the switch over to digital, TS liking of it and the independence it gives, a story about taking film to be processed at Boots in Lewes, hating travelling with chemicals, on auto-focus and the lost art of judging distance, the way cameras ruined suits, photographers’ bad backs, further reflections on the changes in technology and press photography, a story about colour correction. [02.43.26] Brief comment on how he saw his role as a photographer. [02.44.10] Comments on copyright and costs to TS of covering the Falklands. Summary that he sees it as honest and useful but no more.

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    Interviewed for An Oral History of British Photography

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