A picture perfect reporter
SIMON Maude is not a professional photographer, and has worked as a reporter only for two years – yet he was named in a tie for PANPA News Photographer of the Year.
While completing a postgraduate journalism diploma at Auckland University of Technology, Maude interned at New Zealand’s North Shore Times and was later offered a job.
Photography was taught in his journalism course, and he took an interest in it. He spent a lot of time perusing online forums, discussing ways to improve his technique. “It’s a hugely enjoying part of my job, this photography. I consider it just as important as the words on the page,” he says.
Yet despite Maude’s training, his prize-winning image came down to being at the right spot at the right time.
While taking photos of the Auckland bridge over Waitematã Harbour for a story he was covering, Maude heard screams coming from a wharf that he thought were from children jumping into the water.
“I kept walking about, taking photos, and as I was doing that I went out of earshot,” he says. “But when I returned, I could still hear the shouts, and they seemed urgent.
“I found a gap in the trees, and I saw this car in the water, and at that point I raced down to help.”
There were four people in the water; two were police officers and the other two civilians attempting to rescue a woman trapped inside. “At that point I thought, ‘there’s four people there, there’s not much I can do’, but it turns out the police couldn’t break the car window, and one of them headed back to shore,” Maude says.
He looked around for a rock, and handed it to the police officer. “They took it back to the car, and managed to use it to break the window, and get the poor woman out,” he says.
Maude took a number of photos of the rescue, around 40 in total, and later won two PANPA awards for the photo series, including PANPA News Photographer of the Year (national/metropolitan), in a tie with Toby Zerna, from News Corp Australia.
His photos also brought about change in New Zealand. Police officers will now be equipped with special window-breaking devices. “The photos tell the story, and the story is that the police are trying to use their retractable batons to break the windows, and they were not working,” Maude says.
Looking back on the rescue, he is happy to have provided some assistance. “As someone put it to me, I was able to be a human and a reporter,” he says.
Photographers are sometimes criticised for choosing to take photos in dire situations, rather than extending help to those in need. However, Maude believes that photographers often provide more help than they let on.
After winning his PANPA award, stuff.co.nz posted his photos on Facebook, along with a congratulatory message. The post received a few negative comments, with several Facebook users commenting that the photographer should have helped instead of taking the photos.
Maude chose not to reply. “At that point I said to myself, no, you don’t have to reply. You have to stay away from things sometimes when you know they’re not right, but you know yourself that you’ve done the right thing,” he says.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there are plenty of photographers or reporters who get into that situation but are just reluctant to actually say how they helped.”
It all comes down to good reporting, say Maude. “It’s not about being in the story. It’s about telling somebody else’s story, and… photographers and reporters don’t want to put themselves into the story.”
To journalists looking to take up photography, Maude would like to advise them to take a number of shots of their subject. “I think probably the biggest mistake reporters make is that they stop taking photos after about four or five shots.”
Maude looks to inspiration from famous photographers, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, who took huge volumes of photos and did a lot of post-production work on them.
“Don’t be fooled at first appearance that a photo is just a photo; that it’s just been taken and it’s been put up. Most photos benefit from some post production work,” he says.
“There’s some ethical challenges, but as long as you’re not putting in, or taking away, things from the photo, there shouldn’t be a problem with that.”
Right now, Maude is content with being a reporter, however if he is ever offered the opportunity to become a photojournalist, he would not refuse that. “I became a reporter because I want to be a writer; I want to tell stories, and photography is part of that. The sum total outweighs the part when you combine words and images.”