25 years behind the lens

I have had the privilege to step into people’s lives and document their most private moments.

25 years behind the lens

Searching through some old negatives last week, I found an envelope filled with film strips, with a name I recognized hand-written on the front.

It was a photo I had shot in 1993 of a three young boys who had found some stolen jewelry discarded in a bag at the side of the road.

I scanned the image and sent a black-and-white photo to one of the three eight-year-old boys, now a constable with the Surrey RCMP, and the response was quick.

“Wow… how did you even find that?”

The image made me realize how long I have been photographing citizens and scenes in this city, and all the people that I’ve met.

For the past 25 years, I have had the opportunity to give readers an open window through which to view this community. I’ve been able to tell visual stories and help illustrate the lives of others on the pages of The Leader.

Despite the power of photojournalism and the immediate emotion so often associated with a still image, with declining pages and smaller news hole, space for photography has often been sacrificed to make room for the type.

In many ways, I feel fortunate to have lasted as long as I have in an industry desperately trying to find new revenue streams and land loyal readers. To me, however, having a strong visual identity is the strength of any news outlet.

Solid imagery draws readers in, and the front page photo often determines whether or not you pick up the newspaper or read the story online.

But times have changed and looking back now, the opportunity I was given in 1991 changed my life.

Photography had always intrigued me, even more so after my father passed away in 1981 and I had inherited his Pentax ES2, a sleek black film SLR with one thread-mounted 50mm lens.

Armed with a leather shoulder bag filled with a few dozen black-and-white prints I responded to a classified ad I had seen for a photojournalist position at The Surrey-North Delta Leader, a newspaper in a growing community that I really knew little about.

Even at that time, jobs in photojournalism were rare, so I felt I needed to make a personal appearance.

The Leader office was located in a small one-level horseshoe-shaped strip mall near 100 Avenue and King George Highway (now Boulevard), across the street from from Surrey Place Mall (now Central City Shopping Centre). You know you’ve been somewhere for a while when even the street names have changed.

When I arrived at The Leader for my interview, I met with then-editor Frank Bucholtz, who offered me a full-time job as a photographer/darkroom technician, responsible for taking all the photos for the paper, processing the bulk-rolled black-and-white film I had exposed during my shift, and making black-and-white prints for publication.

The darkroom was located in the back of the office up a small wooden ramp near the washroom and was by no means filled with high-end equipment, but served its purpose.

The smell of chemicals lingered heavy in the air and despite wearing aprons while working, eventually my clothing would be covered in brown stains from the developer.

Then came the Internet and in 2001 we gingerly stepped into the digital age, when we purchased a DC120 digital point-and-shoot camera. A few years later we made the total leap to full-sized digital SLRs.

In many ways, I feel like I have grown up at The Leader. I have had the privilege to step into people’s lives and witness their most intimate moments, documenting their most joyous occasions as well as their deepest sorrows.

I remember sitting on the floor of a Newton home with the parents of a young man as they wept uncontrollably remembering a son murdered only steps from their front door.

Although I was a welcome guest, raising my camera to document this family’s unimaginable pain felt intrusive. It was a moment not easily forgotten.

Whether spending the day soaring in silence in a glider over the town of Hope as a passenger with the Vancouver Soaring Club for a weekend feature, balancing on a fishing skiff in the middle of the Fraser River as local fishermen pull in their large gillnets teeming with sockeye salmon, or spending the weekend with the RCMP Emergency Response Team during a training session in Chilliwack, my experiences at The Leader have only galvanized my belief in the community and the tremendous gift it has been to give the citizens of Surrey a front row seat to the news.

I have had so many unique opportunities to experience life from behind the lens of a camera and no two days were ever the same. I also gained insights wi wouldn’t have discovered at at desk job.

The 10 months I spent documenting a homeless couple in Whalley trying to break free from drug addiction gave me a glimpse into the heartbreaking struggles of those who find themselves living on the streets and how so many are one paycheck away from the same fate.

I have worked with some incredibly talented journalists and photographers over the years, writers with a gift to dig deep into the issues and tell compelling thought-provoking stories, and I wrap up my career at this newspaper with a team, quite frankly, that is second to none.

I will miss being on the front lines at breaking news events. But it is my hope that your support for a balanced community voice in Surrey, in whatever form that takes, will continue.



• Surrey Archives showcases Surrey Leader photographs

• From a weekly paper, to online, on demand

• Paula Carlson: Not just a job, a calling

• Kevin Diakiw: Thank you Surrey – over to you

• Boaz Joseph: Out of the dark and into digital, another door closes

• Rick Kupchuk: The road trip continues for this longtime reporter

• Frank Bucholtz: The Leader – in business for 88 years

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