Chris Smith praised by Kiwi rugby snapper

By Barry Newcombe
SJA member Chris Smith, the former Sunday Times sports photographer, has been praised by veteran colleague Peter Bush in the latest issue of New Zealand’s Rugby News.

Asked to rate rugby snappers worldwide, Bush said: “In the UK, and I’ve got his book on my shelf, was a bloke called Chris Smith. A most genial man. I never saw him lose his rag. We went back to a dark room to develop pics and I thought I must have been at different game when I saw his pictures.

“He was a craftsman and a technician. Racing at Aintree, Muhammad Ali in boxing, he had them all. In a lot of sports, a lot more skill is required than just going down to the old bloody rugby ground.”

Bush, whose book A Life in Focus was published last year, said of his early days: “We were using glass plates, which was like today saying you were driving the stage coach. In my youthful exuberance, I dropped the magazine which had my 12 shots. The older photographers had three magazines, that would have been 36 pictures. I had one magazine with, you could say, mostly out of focus pictures. When I dropped it, I had 12 broken pictures.

“In the dark room I remember trying to develop and I had one rather blurry picture of All Blacks and an Aussie in it. If you went to a big game now, you take 36, 48 pictures of them warming up before the game. It’s like a fire hose.

“You have to be some kind of clown blindfolded, with today’s automated technology, to not get at least half a dozen useable pictures. The average to good photographer has got about 100 or more worthwhile images and can be selective, pinpointing one with the half back breaking, or out in the centres.”

Looking back to his early days on the road, Bush said: “The wire photos, when they first came, were crude, crude affairs. Now you can send off 30 pictures all at once all round the world. To wire a photo took all sorts of trouble. Half the photo would be through and then the line would drop off. You could be there for four to six hours waiting to send a photo.

“It wasn’t about whether you got the winning try or some triumphant picture, it was just about whether you could say this photo was taken at Ellis Park at 2.30pm on the Saturday.

“There are guys half my age shooting incredible stuff and moving the pictures. I’ve seen them with their laptops on the sideline, banging off 20 or 30 pictures before half time. I don’t have one on the sideline, thank you.

“I first saw that at the Stade de France. There was a French photographer who was taking pictures with one hand and working his e-mails with his other. I thought, ‘I’m getting too old for this’. But that’s what it has come to.”

Bush, who wears a gold bib given to him by the New Zealand Rugby Union to mark his long career on the touchlines of the world, said: “A bank manager once said to he would love to do what I do, and I said: ‘Really? You must make 10 times what I earn.’ And he said: ‘Yeah, and I just about die of boredom.’

“I’ve probably slept on more bathroom floors than most people have walked on. I’ve been a photographic hobo but I’ve enjoyed it.”

Bush looks ahead to the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and says: “With my eyes fading faster than my legs, what great delight to be able to stand at Eden Park, Auckland, and turn around and look up at the corporate boxes and go, ‘Hey, they’ve paid around 3,000 bucks a head to be there today and here I am down on this grass with the All Blacks lining up against France or South Africa in the final.”

SJA dates for your diaries
Mon Apr 12: SJA Spring Golf Day , to be staged at Surbiton GC. To book, contact Paul Trow (07973 862747).

Thu Apr 15: SJA 2010 Annual Meeting, at offices of UK Sport. For more details, click here

Mon Apr 19: SJA/LOCOG guided tour of Olympic Park, 2pm For booking details, click here.

Sun Apr 25: SJA Cricket Day. Enjoy corporate hospitality with friends and colleagues, and bring along your partner, as Lancashire take on Surrey. Tickets £65 each. Click here for booking details.

Wed May 19: A Question of Boris:The SJA’s second “Sporting Question Time”, this time with London Mayor Boris Johnson at City Hall. This will be strictly for SJA members only. To book your ticket, click here to send us an email with your name, SJA membership number and address, writing “Sporting Question Time with Boris” in the subject field

Mon Sep 13: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC. To book, contact Paul Trow (07973 862747).

All dates and details subject to change.

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