Seiz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties

Paul Gum­mer talks to Christchur­ch pho­tog­ra­pher Tony Ste­wart about op­por­tu­ni­ties, con­fi­dence, and suc­cess

The Shed - - Column -

Hav­ing con­fi­dence in what you do has the abil­ity to open doors. It is so easy to play it safe, and avoid try­ing some­thing new to save the per­ceived em­bar­rass­ment of mak­ing mis­takes. If I had one piece of ad­vice for new par­ents it would be to get their kids to try a wide range of ac­tiv­i­ties. Tak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties as they present them­selves builds con­fi­dence, and I ad­mire peo­ple who are gutsy enough to throw cau­tion to the wind and jump in with both feet.

Photograph­y seems to be a pro­fes­sion that at­tracts this type of per­son. It’s rarely nine-tofive, and more pre­cisely, it’s a way of life. It is a pas­sion rather than a job — it has its ups and downs, but we all love it. Why?

For many it’s a cre­ative out­let, while for oth­ers it’s an op­por­tu­nity to travel. Some peo­ple de­light in mak­ing some­one else’s day with a por­trait, or maybe il­lus­trat­ing a so­cial is­sue. For Christchur­ch pho­tog­ra­pher Tony Ste­wart, meet­ing dif­fer­ent peo­ple and record­ing what they do in their lives is a driv­ing force. Tony has pho­tographed all sorts of peo­ple from the Prime Min­is­ter to kids in a kinder­garten, and he says the best jobs are not al­ways shoot­ing those in the public eye.

Tony’s work­ing life kicked off by teach­ing pri­mary and sec­ondary school stu­dents. He lived in France, Scot­land, and Is­rael be­fore spend­ing a year in Lon­don teach­ing. When the time came to re­turn to New Zealand, he ques­tioned whether this was the best op­tion. Years be­fore, he had been given a cam­era, and when over­seas — and with the de­sire to record his ex­pe­ri­ences — a fas­ci­na­tion for photograph­y emerged. Land­ing back in Christchur­ch, he de­cided to en­rol in a course at Christchur­ch Polytech­nic In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (CPIT).

Tak­ing a course works for many peo­ple, es­pe­cially those want­ing a struc­tured learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. But hav­ing said that, I know some great pho­tog­ra­phers who are self taught, and oth­ers who be­gan as as­sis­tants. Whichever way suits you, the key is that learn­ing builds com­pe­tence, com­pe­tence builds con­fi­dence, and most im­por­tantly, con­fi­dence builds suc­cess, be­cause it un­leashes po­ten­tial. This is an up­ward spi­ral, and if you seize the op­por­tu­ni­ties along the way, suc­cess breeds more suc­cess.

At the end of the first year of study, Tony’s dilemma was whether to spend his sav­ings on a sec­ond year, or buy a cam­era and some lights. He took the plunge, went into busi­ness, and never looked back.

Tony has found that hav­ing set out to shoot wed­dings, th­ese oc­ca­sions still form an in­te­gral part of his sea­sonal work, as they have done for more than 15 years. With wed­dings booked for the warmer months, he shoots team pho­tos and ball images dur­ing the rest of the year, along with nu­mer­ous com­mer­cial as­sign­ments.

In the first few years of self-em­ploy­ment he had a good busi­ness op­por­tu­nity, pho­tograph­ing Ja­panese wed­dings in New Zealand. Work­ing with an in­ter­preter, Tony shot plenty of th­ese wed­dings, and although the de­mand was for a for­mu­laic style, the clients were al­ways happy.

“The best job I ever had was shoot­ing a wed­ding in France,” Tony told me. Some friends he had met dur­ing his trav­els said that they would ask him to pho­to­graph their wed­ding if they ever de­cided to get mar­ried. They flew him to Li­mo­ges, near the Dor­dogne, for an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

In con­trast, the most dif­fi­cult job to deal with was ex­pe­ri­enced by one of Tony’s col­leagues, who was pho­tograph­ing a wed­ding, when the bride’s grand­mother died dur­ing the ser­vice. Sur­pris­ingly, the only two peo­ple who seemed un­flus­tered were the bride and her mother — they were both nurses.

One of the ad­van­tages of work­ing for a regular client is there is a mu­tual un­der­stand­ing that leads to the con­fi­dence that you can de­liver. Tony prefers this way of work­ing, as there is a sense of col­le­gial­ity, and hav­ing sole charge in a job prob­a­bly leads to bet­ter images.

He is also drawn to as­sign­ments that com­bine both peo­ple and out­door lo­ca­tions, so he sees him­self pri­mar­ily as a peo­ple pho­tog­ra­pher, but within a com­mer­cial con­text. Work­ing with so many in­ter­est­ing peo­ple is an ed­u­ca­tion in it­self, he says. Sub­jects have in­cluded the Cru­saders and the All Blacks, and ar­chi­tect and tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity Kevin McCloud. He says that away from the cam­era, th­ese peo­ple are all very much down to earth.

Many jobs in­volve wait­ing around for hours at events, such as con­fer­ences, but “lis­ten­ing to the var­i­ous speak­ers and re­spec­tive is­sues can be fas­ci­nat­ing,” he said. A com­mis­sion to pho­to­graph Sir Richard Hadlee meant be­ing at the lo­ca­tion for four hours, but the ac­tual win­dow to shoot in was a mere 30 sec­onds of ex­clu­sive time as key shooter. Tony says that com­plete con­fi­dence in your gear, and the abil­ity to spon­ta­neously adapt are es­sen­tial, as well as the in­dis­pens­able el­e­ment of hav­ing a sound knowl­edge of on-cam­era flash.

Away from com­mer­cial work, Tony is a mem­ber of the NZIPP Honours Coun­cil, and main­tains a num­ber of per­sonal projects fre­quently shot for the Iris Awards.

In the end, it comes down to mak­ing the most of op­por­tu­ni­ties.

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