Photojournalist legend says cheers

2019-07-15 09:03
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‘Scrap costly system’

SOBANTU residents barricaded the only road in and out of the township with burning tyres, protesting the high cost of the pre-paid electricity system. PHOTOS: Ian Carbutt

Today I’m writing about a Witness legend in the form of the one, the only (drumroll please …) chief photographer Ian Carbutt.

I have always known that the media gods shone on us when we at The Witness were blessed with his genius as our resident photographer. He is the best in the business.

Sadly for us, and our city, Ian has decided to pack up his lens and is riding off into the sunset in search of exotic adventure. Isn’t he lucky? I’m as jealous as hell.

Ian goes back a long way with The Witness, and I’m sure you’re all familiar with his sterling work. I first met him when I was working for another newspaper. I was covering a story about a Berg rescue and had driven up to Champagne Castle (I think it was) to try and speak to those involved. I arrived at the scene where everything was unfolding — a helicopter had landed to whisk those rescued from their dramatic exposure to the Berg elements away to hospital — and there was Ian, with an impressively fancy camera and massive lens at the ready, with a Witness reporter in tow. I quailed at the sight of his sophisticated camera equipment, which only highlighted just how ill-equipped I was with my inferior mik-en-druk (point and shoot) early model digital camera.

Anyway, Ian and the reporter were understandably furious that I had muscled in on their scoop, which they thought was theirs alone. I endured some scowls from Carby and the other guy and smiled back politely. They scowled harder, bristling with journalistic indignation.

Nevertheless, there was a job to be done and I set about doing it. Every reporter knows that the shot you want is the one where the patient is being loaded into the helicopter, looking all helpless and worthy of the drama. I stood at the ready with my sorry little camera, and just as I had zoomed in as far as I could without losing too much definition, knowing I had to hold the camera very, very steady at this point, Ian cheekily stepped in front of me and got the shot. He was all elbows, jiggling this way and that, snapping pics left, right and centre. I didn’t stand a chance. I missed the picture. I was furious! Smug in his success, he turned around and gloated, smiling at me as I scowled at him. It was my turn to bristle with journalistic indignation.

Of course Ian’s action shot — of about a trillion megabytes and in crystal clear focus — was used large and to good display on page one in The Witness the next day, while my pixelated shot of the helicopter flying off in the distance was used in the gutter position on page 427 or something of the publication I worked for. I invented swear words that day.

Anyway, I then began to bump into Ian more often on jobs and down at the pub, and got to know him rather well. (After his adventures and into his dotage, Ian should really consider writing a pub tales book, setting down in print all the wonderful stories he has about the job he’s excelled at for so many years.)

I loved listening to him tell the one about being chased by lions when he least expected it. Then there’s the one about how while travelling deep in the bush on some wildlife job, he was called by the news desk and asked for a stand-alone photo for page one. As he was swearing at the news editor under his breath and wondering what the hell he would find to entertain readers in the middle of nowhere, a huge eagle swooped down in front of him to grab a large snake on the road. And, you guessed it, Ian grabbed his camera with the hand not holding the steering wheel and got the shot. Good enough for page one of course.

Those of us lucky enough to have had a press trip away from the office with Ian enjoyed it immensely. I remember a certain press launch of some Ezemvelo jaunt many years ago. Lots of journalists were overnighting at a hotel on the North Coast. After we’d filed our stories, some of us managed to give the others (the boring ones) the slip. After supper we’d thanked our host, the legendary Jeff Gaisford, and Ian and I, an agricultural journalist, and a respected environmental reporter from the opposition newspaper, all sneaked into the hotel’s jacuzzi room and enjoyed a bubbly dip together (clothed, I hasten to add.) It was a loud riot of fun, instigated no doubt by Ian (and that wild agricultural journalist).

Being news editor for 10 years at The Witness, I worked closely with Ian, sitting next to him for much of that time, and there was never a dull moment. We laughed so much. (I’m a great fan of laughter in the workplace.)

Ian brought magic to our pages with his amazing photographs which elicited “oohs” and “aaahs” at every news conference where he showed us his work.

He’s been exposed to the horror of accident and murder scenes, the raw grief of relatives left behind, elation as sports teams won, and he’s been teargassed countless times as he’s covered protests.

It takes guts and grit to work under these conditions, and Ian had them in abundance. He got the shot every time.

Ian’s excellent photojournalism has documented so much about our city — the good and the bad. Through his lens we’ve brought you scenes you’d normally never have seen in your day to day lives.

He’s been to places you’d not have ready access to and has been our window on the world, right here in our city.

Recently he’s been documenting the sad decline of the city, showing its battered soul to you. He’s captured its hope and despair amidst action and emotion.

So, farewell Ian and good luck. We’ll miss your brilliant photographs, your wonderful creativity, and most of all, you. (And I bet the opposition journos are breathing a collective sigh of relief. With Carbutt out of the picture, they may just get the shot.)

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis

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