To take a picture of a World Leader Number 10 Downing Street.
I used to think waiting to photograph world leaders was 95% boredom and 5% complete terror.
That is because you usually have to wait around for hours in advance of their arrival, then the sirens start, the security get edgy, the other media get even more nervous of missing that all important shot of a handshake, embrace, or wave, and it’s usually all over within seconds.
If you are lucky you will have a picture of one of the most well known faces in the world looking right in to your lens and smiling, if you are not so lucky, you will have a great picture of the back of the head of a member of their entourage, or a TV cameraman who has jumped right out in front of you and everyone else at the exact second you have been waiting hours for.
Having been fortunate enough to have photographed the past five British Prime Ministers, the past 6 Israeli Prime Ministers, and at least to the best of my recollection six Presidents, including two American, Italian, South African and Israeli, and numerous other high ranking politicians, I have certainly known both of these emotions.
The feeling of exhilaration and relief, when you know you have that shot is one of the truly great feelings, it is usually a combination of years of experience, skill, speed and a large portion of luck.
Trying to prepare in advance for every possible eventuality, where you want to position yourself, where you are actually going to be allowed to position yourself, weather and lighting conditions, the mood of the leader you are trying to capture, the movement of all the other people around your subject, knowledge of how the subject is likely to behave when the flashes start flashing and the sound booms and TV lights are shone and poked in their faces is also very important, as it can be the difference between them walking straight past you looking at the floor, or standing and smiling right in to your lens, which is the picture that you are expected to get.
The first time I entered this particular arena was when John Major was still Prime Minister of England and Benjamin Netanyahu was in his first term as Prime Minister of Israel.
It was my first experience of working in Downing Street as well as personally my first view of the famous Number 10 where British Prime Ministers have resided for centuries.
These were the days before 9/11 so Downing Street wasn’t quite the security fortress it is now, and was still actually opened to the public (except when visiting Israeli Prime Ministers were in town) this made it impossible to enter without a valid national press card.
I remember thinking how small, narrow and dark it seemed compared to all the times I had seen it on television, however, it was still an amazing feeling being there for the first time, even though we were not certain that we would get the opportunity to get the two PM’s together.
The usual protocol is for the visiting PM to arrive by a Jaguar accompanied by British Special Branch security personnel, who will then escort their subject to the British PM who will be standing outside the famous black door waiting to greet his guest, the door will then close as to allow a clear view of the Number 10 and there will be anything between 20 seconds and a minute to get the handshake and greeting, the warmth of which will depend on the relationship of the two leaders.
However, there can be many reasons that the visiting PM may arrive and be rushed straight in without even looking at the assembled photographers standing on the other side of the road (Great shots of backs of heads!).
You know there will be an official picture taken on the inside which will be handed out or (pooled) but unless you are invited in to take this picture (which I have been privileged to have been given the opportunity on ten different occasions) you will feel a sense of disappointment, and hope that you may get another chance a couple of hours later after the two leaders have met.
That is what happened the first time with Major and Netanyahu, there was no picture before, but they did both come out to speak to the media outside Number 10 which allowed me to get my first picture of a Prime Minister, and also taught me where the position is to fight for so you can get the famous door in the back ground, considering all the obstacles I was fairly happy that I had achieved my objective.
In the years to come I would fairly regularly find myself working in Downing Street photographing the arrival of a President, Prime Minister, or Foreign Minister.
So by the time I found myself being approached by an official while waiting outside for the front door picture of Prime Minister Tony Blair and visiting former Israeli Prime Minister and future President Shimon Peres, I was not surprised, but incredibly excited and honoured to be invited inside to take the official picture of the two leaders greeting each other.
So excited in fact, that as I went through the front door of Number 10, I was about to phone my mother to tell her of this from actually inside Number 10, when I learned that for security reasons they take your phone away until you leave, which was also a surprise to the newspaper I was working for who had watched from the newsroom on TV as I had entered and not been aware that I would be doing so, in the same way I had not been aware ten minutes earlier.
So finding myself inside this famous house, I watched from the room adjoining the Cabinet Room as Prime Minister Blair dashed past me to greet Peres at the door, the burst of flashes that I was now in front of instead of being behind, the door closing from the inside and these two leaders walking happily towards me, raising the camera to my eye seeing them both smiling jovially, pressing the button to release the shutter to take my first picture, and the camera jamming….