Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Star photo assignment

Here is the story of how I paid a visit to the Toronto Star newsroom to have my portfolio reviewed by one the staff photographers, John Mahler and ended up doing a photo assignment which made page A20 of the Tuesday March 4, 1980 edition of the Toronto Star less than a year after I started at the Brampton Daly Times in May of 1979. I met John through Mike Crossman my previous editor at the Gazette who had given me John's name to look up while there I was in the Brampton area. John and Mike had worked together in Vancouver at one time.

 But first some background… After I had left the weekly newspaper the Goldstream Gazette on Vancouver Island in April or 1979, I found myself a job at the Brampton Daily Times in Ontario. It's interesting how I found the job, I sent out a number of letters of application along with 10 to 12 of my original photographic prints to smaller size newspapers across Canada that had a circulation of 10,000 to 15,000. I probably sent out at least a dozen or more of these unsolicited applications and received quite a few letters back saying thanks, but there are no openings for photographers at the time.

 However I did receive one letter from the Brampton Daily Times, a Thompson owned paper not far from Toronto, a bedroom community for the many people who commuted on a daily basis. It was arranged for me to I make my way up to Naniamo, BC on Vancouver Island where I was interviewed by the publisher of the Naniamo Daily Free Press, John Farrington. He wore a big brightly coloured psychedelic tie like out of the 1960's and looked over my portfolio, he must have liked what he saw and said if I wanted the job it was mine. He asked if I had ever been to Ontario? I said, "No" he replied "It's flat".

With that I packed up my bright orange Volvo with my worldly goods and proceeded to drive the entire 4800 km distance starting out from my parent's home in Langford all the way to Brampton, via the Canadian route. I had never been further east than Alberta. About ten days later, I arrived in Brampton. I remember eagerly grabbing a copy of the paper from the paper's vending box only to see a cheque presentation shot as the paper's main front page photo for that day. I was bit disappointed to say the least, I had my work cut out for me in more ways than one. For one thing my work load was much higher instead of producing say maybe 10 photo assignments a week for the the Gazette, I had many days at the Times when when I was producing ten assignments a day, plus I had to process film and make prints, write cutlines etc. Thus began my daily newspaper career.

....So there I am sitting in this very large Toronto Star newsroom, the biggest I had ever been in my life, feeing a little overwhelmed. John was looking over my portfolio, graciously giving me his time some helpful advice on how to improve my portfolio, he said I needed more hard news and sports. True to this day, my strongest work has always been feature type photography which I have always excelled at.

Anyway, John is looking over my bundle of prints, when the phone rings as they usually do in most busy newsrooms across the country, so John picks up the phone and on the other end is one of the Star's readers who thinks that three generations of family playing cards would make for a nice photo in the Star. I could hear John on the other end of the conversation, saying the he would send a photographer over and could he please have the address. John hangs up the phone, hands me the piece of paper with the address on it and say do I want to try this photo assignment? Like any good photographer not only did I have my portfolio with me but I had my cameras with me too. So off I went to this home in the Scarborough area of Toronto, I recall that it seemed to take forever to get there, but I found it okay.

At the home were these two old sweet ladies, May Fuller, 99 and Agnes King, 101 who liked playing gin rummy, so for the family generation photo King's great-grand-daughter 6-month-old Cheryl Reid was positioned between the two. Babies being babies and ones that are teething like to chew on things, it didn't take long for the baby to grab hold of one of the cards she was given to play with and start chewing. I knew I had my shot, shot the picture with a wide 24mm lens on my Nikon camera, so I drive back to the Star office at One Young Street, drop off my film and related cutline info thinking it will never make it into the paper. The next day I'm back at work at the Brampton Times, I go out to the street corner and grab a copy of that day's Star, I'm looking through the paper, not really expecting that my picture would appear, but also realizing that it would be cool if it did. Turning through the various pages of the paper I found my picture nice and big with good play on the the 20th page of the "A" section, ( March 4 1980 ). I never mentioned anything to my Brampton Times editors as I wasn't sure what they would think of my "freelance" job but it was a fun assignment and never did get me a full time job at the Star, but maybe got my little toe in the door.

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