Trying To Join Magnum

I had just come back to the UK after spending two years in Rome working at Cinecitta’ film studios. I had saved enough money to buy all the cameras and lenses I needed. I was ready to become a big shot photographer. It was 1978 and I was 22 years old. The world was my oyster and I was confident that everything was going to work out just fine.

I was living in nice flat in Wimbledon (that I shared with a very attractive exotic dancer) and the photo lab was conveniently just two streets away. I could drop films off to be printed on my way home. I made money taking portraits and photos of models for their portfolios. I also had a part time job in a camera shop in Hammersmith. In fact I was doing OK. I had no debts, ate in restaurants a lot, and as I had no driving licence traveled almost everywhere by taxi. A habit I had picked up in Rome when I was making serious money.

The next step in my plan was to join an agency. I was a big fan of Magnum, the photographers who worked for them, and the aura that surrounded this world-renowned photo agency. I decided to take the bull by the horns, and one morning, out of the blue, called directory enquiries for Magnum’s number and rang them. It was a spur of the moment decision.

When a well spoken man answered the ‘phone I explained that that I was a photographer, just recently back in the UK, and that I wanted to join their agency.

There was a very long (and what in retrospect must have been a stunned) silence at the end of the ‘phone and then a very patient voice uttered words that I remember to this day:

“You can’t just join Magnum. You have to wait to be invited”.

The whole process from deciding to call to being told that things weren’t going to happen the way I planned probably took less than five minutes. But it’s five minutes that are vividly etched into my memory. I also remember that the weather was bright and sunny and that I had been in an optimistic mood.

I suppose the innocence of youth made me think that life was going to be easy. After all I had fallen into a good job in Rome by accident whilst on holiday there and had made (and spent) quite a bit of money. How could life not turn out the way I expected?

I did eventually work as a photo-journalist for a while in the early 80s with a photographer called Keith Hammett. He worked for Scandinavian daily newspapers Dagbladet and Aftonbladet and passed on jobs that he was unable to do. It wasn’t very glamorous. I covered motor shows, did some food photography for restaurant reviews in weekend colour supplements, I covered the closure of the Standard Triumph factory, Martin Schenke racing Ford Escorts in Rallycross and tried to stalk Bjorn Borg at the height of his Wimbledon fame. I did some photos for F1 driver and Abba drummer Slim Borgudd. He still owes me twenty quid. On one occasion I was just minutes away from being blown up by an IRA bomb. That’s a long story for another day.

I still hold Magnum photographers in the highest esteem. It would have been nice to be part of that club, but life had other things in store for me.