This blog is a bit of a cross-over from my other one, but it’s a bit autobiographical and fits just as well with other stuff like that here.
I was chuffed to bits recently to be awarded Maidstone Parkrun‘s “Volunteer of the Year” trophy, for the work I do every week with them from behind my camera. To know that what you’re doing makes a difference to other people is enormously rewarding.
I started running when I was just a young kid, and began to take it more seriously from about the age of 14. It staggers me to think that in just two years from now, I’ll have been a member of the same running club for 50 years. I was very honoured a few weeks ago to take the Club’s “Olympic Year” photo. There are Club photos going back to its earliest days, in the 1870s, and it has gradually become the tradition to gather as many members as possible together for a photo in each Olympic year, just before the Club’s annual general meeting. Given that the guy who did the job before me did it for about 50 years, the band of photographers to have had this privilege is a pretty small and exclusive club in its own right.
I’ve always had a thing about running and photography. For someone who started young, I actually have very, very few photos of myself in action. Any shots my mother took at school sports days etc are long lost. I don’t remember many, anyway. My earliest are two shots of me taking part in the Kent County championships in around 1974, taken by the father of a good friend. And in those days, the absence of pictures of me running wasn’t because I was usually the other side of the camera. No, it just wasn’t as common or, (given the equipment available to most people,) as easy, to take good “action” photos.
This has always been a source of regret to me. Even in my 30s, when I was recovering from serious back damage and (reluctantly) running road races because I wasn’t physically able to train as a sprinter, there was never any one on hand with a camera to record the event.
Fast forward to about 2005, and, as a relatively new, modestly successful Masters athlete back on the track again, I thought the amount of photographic coverage was small compared to the number of opportunities. Jeremy Hemming and Lesley Richardson were doing what they could in the UK, but Masters Athletics, and Masters athletes had a very low visual profile.
It was a time when, quite suddenly, digital photography began to really bloom. By coincidence too, I needed to refurbish my camera equipment, sore abused and much battered from years spent following me up and down mountains. Digital really was a game-changer. To someone with what I call “the athlete’s eye”, it was really only a matter of practice and repetition to be able to produce a passable set of photos from an athletics competition. I’ve not stopped since. I like to think that my work has gone a little way to raising the profile of my sport. It’s certainly ensured I’ve never been short of opportunities to photograph runners, jumpers and (occasionally) even throwers.
If it’s also given me a reputation and a bit of a recognisable style, I’m happy. Of course, the one thing it’s not done is address the life-long lack of photos of myself in action. Recently, my friend and frequent trackside photographic compatriot Alex Rotas has shot some lovely work of me “at speed”. Several others have also been kind enough to give me copies of shots they’ve taken from the stands. It means that now I too have the benefit of photos as a diagnostic tool about my running, as well as to help keep memories alive. It’s been rewarding over the years to hear people tell me how “useful” my photos have been to them, in helping spot technique issues and flaws etc. Pure spin-off, and not something I ever set out to do, although now I understand much better what they mean when they tell me.
But the photographic record of my past inevitably remains unfilled, and this will ever be so. I’m pleased to have turned the sadness that this thought brings me into a motivating force, however. Most Saturday mornings you will now find me out somewhere on the Maidstone Parkrun course, camera in hand. I guess I’m trying to make sure that the current and emerging horde of new runners, created and/or enthused by the phenomenon that is Parkrun have at least some visible record of their own efforts, and are spared a little of my own longing for “what might have been seen”.
I’m humbled to be the Parkrun’s “Volunteer of the Year”. I’m really just trying to fill a few gaps for a few people!