|This photo of five young men at English Bay, taken by my friend Ros Oberlyn, is the kind that once had a good chance of making the front page of the daily newspaper. Times have changed.|
In the days when newspapers were flush with cash and staff, photographers who didn't have enough assignments to fill their shifts were sent out "touring." This entailed driving around the city to find pictures -- of anything at all -- that might amuse, interest, engage or enrage the next day's readers.
Most photographers had favourite haunts. The Vancouver Sun's Ralph Bower would always head for Stanley Park; his many photos of the critters there included a Canada goose attacking a mounted cop who strayed too close to its nest. Other photographers found the beaches, or the Downtown Eastside, the best places. Others found "touring" -- with its serendipitous nature and spotty radio contact with the office --a good chance for a snooze in the office car. My partner John, a Province photographer, once came home to mow the lawn: he knew there was no space in the next day's paper, and besides, he hadn't had his lunch break.
I was thinking about touring and newspaper photography because my friend Ros Oberlyn just sent me a photograph of five young men leaning against a log at English Bay, only their heads visible. "I took it with my iPod and couldn't see through the viewfinder because of the glare," she wrote. "But it still makes me chuckle." She said that while she was taking the picture, a woman walking behind her saw the humour and took a picture too. As for the men, "I think they were oblivious to it all."
Ros's photograph is a perfect example of the kind of picture the touring photographers of old would have brought back to the office. The perfectly spaced five dark heads against the sand, the ocean with its ships and seagulls, the bird in flight -- a perfect story of leisure, youth and summer in Vancouver. Depending on the news of the day, space, and other pictures in the running, it would probably have made the paper, maybe even the front page. In those days, photos were allowed to tell stories on their own, and a good front-page photo was known to increase newsstand sales. Now, as papers shrink, there is no interest in one-off photos that don't illustrate an accompanying story. That a picture like this -- with its local flavour and its own little story -- is unlikely to show up in a newspaper today is a sad reflection of what has been lost.