A destinational photographic assignment is the ultimate goal for some photographers. The wedding booking at a tropical island location, the elopement wedding in romantic Rome, the fashion shoot with a famous designer in Paris; or in my case, my first job of this ilk, documenting a contemporary ballet company at an arts festival in Scotland. The invitation came very early in my career and all I could visualise was Aberdeen, Scotland – overseas! Careful analysis of the requisite photography fees, thoughtful consideration of the opportunity costs of lost work whilst away from the studio, detailed planning of material costs? These thoughts all arose and promptly faded faster than you could say Hogmanay, single malt whisky or Loch Lomond. Having just met my first Magnum photographer, I was beginning to plan a career that would have me traveling world wide, living out of a camera bag and becoming famous beyond my wildest dreams. Ah, the confidence of youth and inexperience… One of the privileges of volunteering to assist at photographic industry functions is the chance to rub shoulders with the famous practitioners of our profession. Such was the case at one of the first conferences held by the old Institute of Australian Photography (IAP) on the Gold Coast in Queensland. New Zealand photographer Brian Brake (1927-1988) had been invited to speak and to show his famous Life Magazine photo essay, Monsoon. As a full member of Magnum since 1957, Brake was the perfect person to advise about my upcoming Scottish trip. He suggested where I could get colour transparency film processed in London prior to my return home as this would avoid the issue of potential X-ray fogging that was a common problem with air travel then, 1988. Brake also suggested that I call a friend of his who lived on the edge of London and would probably invite me to call on her and share afternoon tea. Following my trip to Aberdeen and arriving back in London with a couple of days to spare, I felt I should do the honourable thing and call Brake’s friend. Although, in all honesty I didn’t feel it required an afternoon tea with an aged and unknown lady! She was very polite to me, sorry that I couldn’t travel out to see her, and advised me that Brake had written expressly to her introducing his newest wild colonial boy photographer from Australia. That was how I did not get to meet Eve Arnold OBE, Hon FRPS (1912-2012)! For those of you as naive as I was, Arnold was then a doyenne of world photography, had shot Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits, photographed Queen Elizabeth II, Malcolm X and Joan Crawford. She had created celebrated books about China, Russia. South Africa and Afghanistan. Sadly my photographic knowledge was totally remiss, to this day my loss. Much later, there was a time when I had landed the plum job of documenting a Great Barrier Reef resort for a noted advertising agency. This was the job that would gently remind me to recognise and then anticipate the hassles that came with destination photography. Four tightly written pages of briefing notes and two nights on an exotic island paradise did not immediately ring alarm bells. The lack of sunshine on the first day did start to play with my mind! Only then did I start to question whether I had quoted enough to cover the stress of working against the elements and the clock while being re-directed by a client hundreds of kilometers away from the reality of what was happening around me. It certainly wasn’t my last destination assignment. I went on to undertake many such endeavours, but only after quoting them at a rate that adequately covered my time away from my studio and recompensed me sufficiently for my time, effort, creativity and stress. Of course I subsequently lost a few quotes, but never did I weep tears of blood about such things. Win, lose or draw – it’s all in the game.
This essay first appeared in f11 :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p146, issue 42, April 2015.