Unsung Heroes part 7: Snappy happy

Every club has one, yet normally they just blend into the background, not noticed by the fans.  They earn their crust through concentration, anticipation and a steady hand.  Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you the club photographer.

James Boyes, as well as doubling up as Lewes FC’s website and programme editor is also the club’s official photographer.  We caught up with him mid-shot to find out what it is like to be sat on the edge of the pitch with your eye on the lens.

What are the worst conditions you have had to work in?
I think the wet and the cold are the photographer’s enemy. I managed reasonably well in my first season as there wasn’t too much rain, but the last two seasons I haven’t been so lucky. Last season I tried to brave the rainstorm when we ironically played Bath at the Dripping Pan but five minutes into the second half, the game was abandoned. I was in the back of the stand by then but I did manage to get a photo of a wet referee blowing the final whistle. I couldn’t do the puddles justice though.

THAT game!

I think the coldest conditions were when Lewes played at the Kassam Stadium against Oxford Utd in February 2009 in a freezing, biting wind. Fortunately I managed to get home just before the snow which chased me around the M25 and caused more than a few problems for everyone the next morning.

You’ve worked at a few different clubs in the Non Leagues as a travelling photographer. What are the best media facilities you have come across?
To be honest, photographer’s rarely get to experience clubs’ media facilities, unlike journos with their cups of tea, radiators and wi-fi, and they certainly aren’t allowed in the hospitality areas with their dirty boots and bags of equipment. Sometimes it’s even a struggle to get hold of a teamsheet. Again, the facilities vary wildly depending on the club and the league but the Kassam Stadium was quite good (and warm). It was nice to go to Wembley when I photographed the play-off final in 2009, but the fancy press box is in a different section to the photographer’s area which is a window-less room underneath the stadium.

What picture are you most proud of?
In terms of football, there are two that stick in my mind. One is of Jean-Michel Sigere celebrating his 94th minute goal which secured a Lewes win against Thurrock in 2008 that kept our promotion on track. He ran towards me behind the goal and I just hit the shutter in hope. The other one is of David Wheeler celebrating a goal against Leatherhead in last season’s FA Cup replay. It was a dark, foggy night but I managed to capture the joy and relief that comes with a longed-for goal. Great photos need a lot of luck though.

The photo shoot for the 125th anniversary of the squad and Ibbo as 19th Victorian gentlemen was a stroke of genius. Who came up with the idea, and how easy was it to convince Ibbo to go along with it? Sadly this was an idea dreamt up by Alex Leith and the Sussex Express. I wish I could claim it as my own.

Ever dozed off or been distracted so that you have missed a vital moment?
As I mentioned earlier, good photography is a lot about luck, from chosing the right end to anticipating a key incident. With practice you can reduce the luck level a certain extent but an element of it will always remain. Even more so when you have to take notes during the game for a match report as well as taking photos.

Sharing a joke with an Oscar nomination

Sometimes I don’t see the actual “goal” being scored as I’m following the player who is shooting or the keeper who is diving and it’s often the crowd reaction that gives you an initial indication as to what has happened. I’ve not yet nodded off but it’s sometimes been a struggle. It wasn’t whilst I was photographing but to answer your question, I was watching Brighton v Leeds at Withdean a few seasons ago with my wife and we missed a goal because we were both, independently, watching a passing policeman putting his glove on.

Which one player would you have loved to have photographed in action?
I can’t decide between Bryan Robson, Zinezine Zidane or Bobby Charlton. So I’ll choose Eric Cantona.

What do you keep in your camera bag? Any secret hipflask to keep you warm?
Nothing out of the ordinary really. A camera, lenses, memory cards, spare battery, stopwatch, pen, notebook, Conference registration number and some headache tablets. If I’m off to an away game on the train then I might try and stuff some sandwiches in there too. Looking at that lot, maybe I need to get a bigger bag!

Is the job the lonliest in football?
Yes it can be at times. It’s normally no problem and there’s enough going on to occupy you, but it got so bad when Lewes played at Woking earlier in the season that I upped sticks and went to join Director Patrick Marber and the boys from EFW and TBIR on the terrace when the Rooks were trying to claw back an equaliser in the last 20 minutes. I enjoyed that. I’m quite humbled sometimes that I am able to go pitch side and behind the scenes at some grounds. I felt like that when I went to Wrexham given the history of the Racecourse Ground. Even Sutton United when I thought of their win over Coventry in the FA Cup all those years ago. Wembley was great too but if I ever get to go pitch side at Old Trafford then it’s downhill from there.

Would you want to be a photographer full time?
Sounds like a good thing to do, but it’s probably not as easy as it would appear. You’d be expected to get the shot every time with no excuses and you probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy the match particularly. I spoke to an Observer photographer earlier in the season at the Dripping Pan and he gave me an insight into the long days and high demands of his job, but one good thing is that he got all his equipment supplied by Canon free of charge, lucky chap, which would be wonderful. Can I plug Canon at this point? At least for me there’s not all that much pressure and the lights at the Pan are so bad that even the best of the pros would struggle to get a decent shot. I photographed a good friend’s wedding as a favour after Christmas, but it was bloody hard work, I was busy all day and I ended up with almost 1,000 shots to download and sort through. Wedding photographers might seem expensive but I now know they earn every penny.

Sum up James Boyes in a 140 character tweet?
Programme editor, website editor, wannabee sports writer and amateur photographer. Enjoying the ride until someone tells me to get off.

You can follow James’s work either by getting your butt down to watch Lewes FC play or by looking at his fantastic Flickr feed here.

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