Interview with Andrew Taylor

Director of Photography at Ethos CRS, Andrew Taylor, has travelled the world on assignment. Experienced and expert, he’s rubbed shoulders with the powerful and dodged the bullets of the dangerous.

Here, in the first of an occasional series, he tells us what life is like as a professional at the top of his game.

What is your most memorable photograph/photography experience?

Within 30 hours of the [1984] tsunami happening, I was in Phuket photographing the results of the tsunami morgues filled with tourists who were washed away and had drowned. The Buddhist temples were converted into morgues. In Thailand there were about 3000 people, mostly Europeans, who were killed. One of the most memorable things was seeing surviving relatives putting up notices at the emergency centres when they were looking for lost relatives. The irony was the notices that they had printed out, had family photographs, and because Phuket was such a family place, there were lots and lots of freshly taken family pictures that people were using to try to identify, in a fairly forlorn hope, unfortunately, missing loved ones.

I was in Thailand for two weeks, lots of refugee camps, lots of death, lots of people sleeping out in the open. No food. Disease. A harrowing situation.

What is it like to photograph the rich and famous?

I’ve photographed [Nicole] Kidman during a one-on-one. She is really cool, cooperative. I didn’t have much time so you have to be quick. And I must say, she photographs very well. She knows how to be in a photograph, she turns it on so you can take the picture. All the movies stars seem to have that charisma. I’ve photographed Patrick Swayze. He was really cool. I actually took him into the Sydney Harbour. He was doing an action film at the time.

Have you ever found yourself in a dangerous position?

When I first started, the old photographer at the Newcastle Herald, who I replaced, said to me ‘one of the important things you should always remember is take pictures from different angles: being low, looking up and being high, looking down’. So I always like to go climbing up things. I’ve been skydiving which was really cool. I’ve climbed up towers. I did travel to Pakistan and travelled with Pakistani soldiers going across towards Quetta which is on the Western border. The soldiers were there to protect me. But we traveled in an open jeep and they were pointing out where Taliban snipers could be and have been. So that was quite cool. Survived that.



Function with G20 finance ministers
and central bank governors meeting.
Image: Andrew Taylor

What makes a great picture?

The moment. You’ve got to have people in pictures. I’m not a landscape photographer. Sure, I’ll take a picture of a landscape if I’m asked to. But that’s not what it’s about for me. The beauty of photography is people seeing other people in pictures frozen in time. And then you can relate to people because that’s what people do. You can have feelings from what you see the person doing in the photo. The empathy, if there’s somebody crying for example. You look at them in a picture and obviously you wonder why they’re crying or if the picture tells that story you can then empathise.

That’s what a great picture can do really well.

Have the advances in technology changed the way you photograph?

Yes, technology has changed the way I photograph. Now you can review your picture on the back of a camera instead of having to wait until the picture is developed as a negative.

I also think people take a lot more pictures than they used to. I think in the old days we didn’t take as many pictures.

The cameras [now] are basically the same to use. But I must say, I can now send pictures wirelessly from my camera to my iPad. You can also send pictures from your camera to other people and put them on Facebook within seconds of the photo being taken.

But I don’t think technology changes what picture you take. You still look for the same image. It doesn’t matter whether you use a modern camera, or an old film camera or even a shoe box with a pin hole in it. You’re still looking to take a picture that people can look at and hopefully get some feeling of what it was like to be where the picture was taken.

I think the fact that everybody has a camera now has changed what people think of pictures. There are so many pictures around that people take. And each picture will have a different purpose, from someone taking a selfie which is a great picture and which is just as valid as a news picture or a major corporate portrait. The beauty of a picture may be a little diluted now that there are so many pictures around that people may not actually stop and look at a picture that has been taken with more skill and thought. To photograph well does require a lot of skill. To photograph a selfie well requires minimal skill.

Where is your favourite place to take photos?

Parliament House. That’s an arena.

What is the beauty of photography?

With just a slice of time photographed, with one image, you can represent what happened in an extended period of time as opposed to sitting down and watching moving pictures or video where they don’t really represent a period of time as well as a still picture can. That’s because the still picture is of the action, the moment.

Eddie Adams during the Vietnam War photographed a Vietnamese General executing who he thought was a spy. Neil Davis was also there and took moving pictures. But nobody really remembers the moving pictures. It’s only the still picture that is remembered because it captured the moment in time.

You don’t have to sit down and turn on your television. You can have a photograph with you all the time.

What would you say to people who want to become professional photographers?

The dark side of me is a little worried about the profession of professional photography and photojournalism. Photojournalism will always be around, that’s paramount. But it will be harder to get paid for it simply because the resources for media, which is where photojournalists mostly get their jobs from, is restricting. For some reason, the newspapers seem to be reducing all of their staff but reducing their photographic staff proportionally more than everybody else.

If you’re a good photographer, if you’re really great, you’ll always get work. But if you’re not a great photographer and you are just starting out, you’ll struggle. I wouldn’t advise people to be a photographer unless there is great passion and an amazing initiative to do it. Heaps of initiative.

Is photographing a prime minster or royalty different from the way you photograph a family, corporate portraits etc.?

Yes. Because they’re VIPs, they always have a layer of people around them, including other photographers, who make it difficult to get through. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to converse and have influence and direction so you generally end up photographing what you see. But you do position yourself to get the best pictures.

I’ve often photographed Australian prime ministers and ministers one-on-one where they are there to be photographed by you. They’ve set aside a couple of minutes. Sometimes longer than that, maybe ten minutes, for magazines and newspapers. That’s kind of fun, you tell the prime minister what to do: sit down, stand up. I’ve done that with [Paul] Keating, John Howard – Howard’s probably the individual person who I’ve photographed the most because he had such a long prime ministership – [Kevin] Rudd, [Julia] Gillard and [Tony] Abbott. When you have them one-on-one you probably wouldn’t photograph them much differently to when you have a normal corporate job. Although the time generally is much less so you’ve got to be really quick – you pre-position yourself, you rehearse the picture and have someone stand in to experiment and check equipment. You’ve got to know what you’re going to do. You might have a couple of alternatives but it is pretty much working towards one great picture.

The most important thing is knowing what you’re doing and looking like you know what you’re doing. Anyone who is watching the photographer fumble around with equipment and not taking pictures and not looking confident, makes them [VIPs] get bored with you really quickly.

What tips do you have for the inexperienced?

Take lots of pictures. Work really hard. Be prepared. Make sure your equipment works. Use your eyes. Look around, look for the different and the unexpected.

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