A life behind the lens

By Kim Dungey | Posted: Saturday November 2, 2019

Newspaper photographers are in a privileged position, says Stephen Jaquiery, whose career is the focus of a new book. Kim Dungey talks to the award-winning photographer and some of the subjects of his most memorable assignments.

Angry protesters, naked rugby players, exhausted farmers and tiny newborns - these are just some of the many people captured by photographer Stephen Jaquiery in 40 years at the Otago Daily Times.

Launched this weekend, Focused: A Life Behind The Lens, is a retrospective of Jaquiery's long career documenting life in Otago.

Now illustrations editor, he joined the paper as a teenager in 1979 when film was still processed with hand-mixed chemicals in a dark room.

Jaquiery says the book is not about the famous people he has photographed.

"The Queen is not in it, nor Princess Diana or the Pope, Bill Clinton or even Sir Edmund Hillary, whom I met several times and hold in the highest regard. Instead, I have chosen photographs from my career which appeal to me and have an interesting back-story.''

One example was capturing the startled expression on Prince Charles' face as a proud mother thrust her 5-month-old son towards him during a royal walkabout in Twizel in 1981. In a letter written to a friend about this time, the prince described his touring duties as "nonsensical rubbish'', saying if one more New Zealand child asked him what it was like to be a prince, he would "go demented''.

Another highlight was making a hermit sheep famous around the world "and then dodging authorities to take him 100km off the coast to be shorn on an iceberg''.

Mr Jaquiery grew up in Wanaka and had no plans to work in Dunedin. But a few months after leaving school, he was in the city for an interview with TVNZ and, without an appointment, called into the Otago Daily Times to ask if there were any vacancies.

At that stage, his photography experience was limited to taking candid photos of holidaymakers on the beach in summer to sell in his father's camera shop. It was a job he hated but it gave him a chance to drive around in the family car.

Taken on for four months to cover for a staff member who was on holiday, he was kept on as a junior photographer for the new Star community papers. By 1981, he was working for the Otago Daily Times full-time.

"It was a steep learning curve right from the start,'' he recalls. "My camera didn't have a light meter so I quickly had to learn to gauge the exposure required in different light conditions and to be careful about my choice of backgrounds. One grey-haired fellow photographed against a cloudy sky appeared to have no head above his eyes ... as grey merged into grey on the printing press of the day.''

He also learned to be observant, which he says is the most important skill a newspaper staffer can have.

"Imagine having to come up with ... pictures for the front page, pages 2, 3, 4 and 5, the court page, any number of back pages, the sports pages, the features pages and the business pages as well as helping to fill the regional pages with photographs.

"Having that hanging over your head, six days a week, year in, year out, is the biggest challenge of the job and really hones your observation skills.''

Despite the demands, Mr Jaquiery clearly enjoys his work and is not ready to "let the battery go flat any time soon''.

Newspaper photographers, more than any other profession, get to share people's triumphs, tragedies and firsts, he says.

"You have the privilege of dropping in on members of the community at the best and worst moments of their lives.''

Focused: A Life Behind The Lens ($40 for ODT subscribers and $45 for non-subscribers) is available from Otago Daily Times regional offices and from www.odtshop.co.nz

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