I thought it might be of interest to my readers to gain an insight into the world of words and pictures and how they are brought together for publication.
Throughout my career it has been my privilege to work with the best and most talented writers and journalists in the business. One such man is my friend and colleague Brian James who has kindly agreed to contribute this article to my Blog.
Whenever the men and women who produce our newspapers and magazines get together someone is bound to say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Then the fighting breaks out. Yet as a wordsmith I had been made – reluctantly – to accept that this COULD be right. With a cameraman I’d been sent on assignment to a primitive village on the Romanian boarder with Moldova. We knew we had found the right place — by the stench from 50 yards away. Inside a gaunt old building scores of half clothed children were crying, screaming, or simply lying in mute despair. None had ever even been given a name. None would have seen a toy or had a cuddle. Several infants were fixedly weaving their fingers in front of their eyes. We were told their “fingers were the only toys they had ever had.” The “Staff” was often just two 15-year old village girls who kept “order” by issuing the bigger boys with sticks. There were children 6 and 7 years old who could not walk because they had been dumped as infants in cots – think cages – with only scruffy mattresses to walk upon, so leg muscles never developed. After several days chronicling this awful place we were at quandary: for our cover picture how could we offer a shot of such monochrome horror? My photographic colleague reached into his camera bag and produced a handful of bright coloured balloons. He, I, and an Aussie nurse who had come upon this place and could not bear to leave, spent a morning blowing up these balloons and filling a small side ward with them. We let in the children. They were simply stunned: for the first time in their lives they had something colourful and unthreatening to experiment with…. to whack .. to grab… pure joy lighting their faces, captured in just one shot, it was a stunning contrast with their abject surroundings. “One picture is worth a thousand words?” This one picture, on the cover of our magazine a few days later, was worth the several thousand pounds readers showered in that weekend – enough to keep this “home” running for two years with food, medical equipment, and clothing. Even toys. This one picture provoked a group of British building workers to load the back of a lorry with timber and tiles, doors and windows, which they used to build a pavilion where the more capable of these orphans would be taught to wash, dress, and feed themselves. Even a few, would learn to read.
Working with scores of photographers all over the world I had long accepted their professionalism, their knowledge of focal length, shutter speeds and lighting needs. But for a few exceptional cameramen there was something else… that eye, that instinct to see immediately a photo opportunity which told the whole story. We are lucky in Wanstead that one such, my mate at that orphanage Geoff Wilkinson, is working still in our midst.
© Words Brian James.