A pretend Photographer

Tear sheet from the paper in 2006

Well, I was at the races today, doing that thing I do, pointing the camera at random objects and then trying to figure out what it was I just snapped, and hoping it knows what it's own name is...

Then I had this cunning plan, to get a photo of the race caller in his box, with the race course in the background, wide-angle like. Keep in mind that I'm a pretend photojournalist. I mainly do weekend sports for a free weekly paper. Not that I do it for free, I am a 'professional' in the loosest of terms, but not so much that I can fool everyone.

So, where was I? Oh, yeah, the cunning plan.

I wander into the secretaries office in the Members stand building and ask if it would be possible to go up to the box and take a pic of the caller doing his thing. The nice chap behind the desk says he doesn't think it'd be a problem, but he'll check. A woman comes out from the bowels of the building and she confirms that it should be OK.

Directions are duly given, involving some slightly scary stairs up the outside three stories of the building, and then a long corridor, a ladder up through the ceiling, then along another corridor to the end door.

I'm almost so excited at this point that I could pee, if I were a girl, which I'm not, so let's just go with a little happy, ok?

It may sound silly, but I do quite often feel that I'm just pretending to be a newspaper photographer. I've got the gear, and the paper keep printing my stuff, but it's just not enough somehow.

Every now and then something comes along that gives me a big jolt of confidence and excitement. Ducking clumps of mud at the off road racing, taking photos in the pouring rain for the Ellesmere Rugby finals, things like that let me know that I'm doing something other people can't. That's what makes it fun and to some extent justifies some of the less exciting stuff.

Oh, I digress.

Anyway, it turns out the race caller for the day is Reon Murtha. If you're a Kiwi, and you've never heard of him, you can stop reading now.

Not only that, it's his last trotting meeting at Motukarara before he retires after the Canterbury Cup in November.

I don't pretend to know a lot about horse racing, in fact the only thing I'm certain of is that it's not the power of flatulence alone that makes horses move forward. But I do know that I've been listening to Reon Murtha forever, in fact he tells me that he first called at Motukarara in 1971, the year I was born!

Yes, He told me. This is one of those name dropping moments. I'll assume you have a dumb look of awe on your face right now, either that or you don't know who he is, and you're assuming I'm drunk.

Back to the stairs.

I climbed up the scary stairs, from which I might add there is a great view of the ground through the gaps, for those who suffer from vertigo. Along the corridor and up the ladder through the hole in the ceiling. I must admit I thought the chap in the secretaries office was joking about the hole in the ceiling!

I open the door at the end of the corridor and there's an average, bespectacled chap standing looking out the window, with a large pair of binoculars on a pole and a copy of the race card for the day. A bit of an anti-climax but then he'd not spoken yet.

'Hi, I'm Chris Hellyar, from the Central Canterbury News, would you mind if I take your photo while you're calling the next race?'

Damn, I am a real photographer. Self affirmation is sooo much better than some of the other activities involving just one's self and you can explain it to your children without fear of corrupting their minds as well.

We shook hands, had a short conversation about the paper coverage and I got some details about Reon's career and involvement with the Motukarara raceway for the paper.

Then to the problem of the photo.

Reon was busying himself with reading names and even rehearsed saying a couple of them out loud in preparation for the next race. I sat back and looked at the problem. Bright sunlit day outside, single 100W lightbulb inside.

Callers boxes are not the most accommodating of places. If you tried to swing a cat in this one you'd break your hand on the wall, never mind the damage you'd do to the rather startled feline.

I stuck the wide angle lens to the camera and firee off a test shot from close to where I think the plan will work. No surprises, bright, bright sunlight on the outside and Darth Vader's armpit on the inside. Hmmmmmm.

Then it hit me... More affirmation. Not only am I a photographer, but I am a prepared photographer! I regularly appear at the opening of an envelope and other riveting events lugging around 15kg of camera gear. Flashes, filters, cables, and lenses, lens hoods, reflectors, brackets and batteries, all tied up with string. Not to mention the ointments for when good photography goes bad.

I dig a flash out from the bag, a remote release cable and the off camera flash cable. See, I did carry all that crap for a reason. Not too sure what the Indian fertility idol is in the bag for but I'm sure it'll come in handy one day!

Now with the camera held hard up against the wall across from Reon I can fire the camera remotely, and the flash is illuminating Mr Vader's armpit just fine, thank you very much.

Up until this point, I must confess I thought there was a chance that the man who introduced himself as Reon could also be faking it. I'm a pretend photographer and he is the pretend caller.

But once he started to call the race it was like closing your eyes and listening to the interdoms on 3ZB in front of the fire.. Well, I imagine it must be, I don't think I ever listened to the interdoms in front of a fire and I can't rightly remember if we ever had a radio tuned to 3ZB, but you get the idea. He certainly was the real deal.

After I got my shot off, so to speak, I sat back and watched the man at work and realised that his voice really does get louder towards the end of the race, quite loud in fact in the confines of a room with dents from swung cats on all four walls.

And then it was over. As quickly as it started. I thanked Reon for the photo and he went off to get a cuppa. I'm not sure if I should have been smoking afterwards but I felt that something would have been appropriate. Maybe we should have exchanged gifts?

I packed up my gear, went along the corridor, through the hole in the ceiling, along the other corridor and then down the scary flights of stairs.

I can rest easy for a few days now, knowing that I'm not pretending any more. Right up until the point that I go somewhere else to be a pretend photographer.

This post was restored from the Wayback Machine and better images and tear sheet pulled from my own archive. I originally posted it to my old photography site which is no longer online.

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