To take a picture of a Prime Minister
People always want to know how it came about that after only 18 months of being in Israel, I was appointed as Official Photographer to former Prime Minister and then leader of the opposition Benjamin Netanyahu for the 2009 Israeli Election Campaign.
Well, like the way these things usually happen, it was being in the right place at the right time, and luck, it may have also had a little to do with the 23 years that proceeded it as a professional photographer, where I learned as all photographers need to, the meaning of commitment, dedication, sacrifice, hard work, practice, skill and most of all the desire to want to be able to take a picture.
I am sure any of us that have a passion for truly great Photojournalism and Reportage photography, not to mention world history, can remember the amazing and exclusive pictures of American Presidential Candidate Barak Obama that were published from the night he won the US Presidency in November of 2009.
He had a Campaign photographer who had accompanied him practically nonstop for the previous 2 years of the 2009 American Presidential Campaign.
The first I knew about this, was the morning after when I started to receive messages from picture desks of national newspapers in England who knew me, ( and no doubt wondered how a former top British Sports photographer had managed to end up as official photographer to the next President of the USA !) congratulating me on my stunning images from Chicago the night before and wanting to speak urgently with me, to throw large amounts of money at me for my pictures of this historic moment.
With all my hard earned experience of these situations, I never knew what the hell they were talking about, but trying hard to avoid looking like a complete idiot, I did what all great shooters learn to do, (except before we had it as a resource, of course!) I Googled what had happened the previous night in Chicago, and any pictures that may have been associated with it.
I was so blown away with the stunning and historic images and the access the photographer had been allowed to obtain them, that it took me a few seconds to realise that Barak Obama’s Campaign photographer and I, shared by complete coincidences, the same name!
Once I had notified the by now rapidly increasing list of National Newspaper picture editors that were bombarding my voicemail with international calls frantically trying to get permission to publish the previous nights images that unfortunately (for me) I was not the same photographer who had captured the amazing and much sought after images they were now chasing, even though my name is David Katz too.
Together with the inspiration and desire to want to be in a position to take a picture of an historic moment, plus the knowledge that the country I had chosen to live in was about to go in to an election campaign, I decided to take immediate action.
I found out, again through the photographers best friend (Google) that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a Bureau Chief for the political party he was leader of, and without hesitation and absolutely no knowledge of this guy, immediately fired off an email to him at an address I found online (which even to this day, I still do not know was ever received) with my Resume, explaining about the coincidence of Obama’s photographer having the same name as me, my desire to want to offer my talents to be official campaign photographer and the skills I had obtained over my varied and illustrious career, I thought, I could not fail…
So when the phone never rang or the email pinged within the next few days telling me I was just the guy they had been looking for, and when can I start, I thought that possibly the only David Katz that was going to be personal photographer to one of the most instantly recognisable men in the world, was going to be The Other One!
At this point fate (or whatever you want to call it) stepped in, I did receive an email, not from Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bureau Chief as I was expecting, but one from the Israeli Government Press Office informing all accredited journalists and photographers that the next morning at 9am Netanyahu would be meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his new role as Head of the European Union (EU) Middle East Quartet at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem.
As an accredited Photojournalist in Israel, I receive emails everyday informing me of the schedules of the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, so it is part of my daily routine to read and usually discard these emails fairly quickly, however, what caught my attention first was that it was giving me details of a Photo Opportunity with Benjamin Netanyahu, and obviously a great opportunity in trying to put my idea of wanting to be his official campaign photographer directly to him and his advisors in person (Chutzpa is also a quality any good photographer needs to have in abundance) and explaining to them what I have to offer, also having photographed former Prime Minister Blair on many occasions in England including being invited in to Number 10 Downing Street on ten separated occasions to photograph him with various different Israeli leaders throughout his time as Prime Minister, I was recognisable to him as well, as importantly his Special Branch protection officers.
It seemed a bit strange to me that the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) who are responsible for sending out details regarding the movements of Senior Ministers and the President were sending out an email about a meeting with the then Leader of the Opposition, and not at that point a part of the Government, it transpired a few weeks later that there had been a mistake and the email should not have been sent through the GPO, this is where luck plays its part again, as had it not been sent out, I would not have known about the meeting and had the chance at that point to be in direct contact with Netanyahu and his closest advisors, however, the fact that firstly i was on the email list to start with and made sure to always check the emails however trivial most of them are was not luck, it was experience!
As a very young Fleet Street Photographer one of the most important things I learned was to not only always be on time for an assignment, but, wherever possible to be early, this is something both in my professional and personal life I have always maintained, and cannot emphasise its importance enough to other photographers at whatever level they may be!
There is nothing worse than seeing photographers turn up late to events, where they have not had a chance to have a look around, best shooting positions, lighting etc, not to mention getting a good spot when there will be large numbers of other Media there as well as Security/Protection officers or police if you are working with High Profile people, even if you are not, and just shooting for yourself, it is a very important factor to be as familiar with your surroundings as you are able to be in advance of shooting.
As I said at the beginning, luck, and being in the right place at the right time are very important, and as I said just now, being early is key, what happened next for me highlights this to its maximum.
The information that had been sent out in the original email (that actually shouldn’t have been sent out to start with) was wrong or had as often happens changed at the last second.
I had arrived at the American Colony Hotel more than 30 minutes before the start time that the meeting was due to take place, I was the first to arrive, which is very normal for me, also knowing that Middle Eastern photographers and media are mostly known for turning up late, I knew that I would get a good chance to get a look at the meeting room, speak to the organisers and clear security checks which is a day to day major factor in living and working in Israel.
As I arrived at the Hotel, I knew straight away something wasn’t right, as you learn from experience that a meeting with two former Prime Ministers such as Blair and Netanyahu would have a lot of security around, even if they were not yet at the venue, and there would already be forward security personnel in place in advance of their arrival.
After asking and receiving some helpful information from a member of staff, who explained very courteously that Tony Blair was indeed staying at the Hotel, he had just left and there were no plans for him to return by 9am for a meeting at the American Colony Hotel.
This is not uncommon in our line of work, and the fact I had arrived so early had given me plenty of time and the edge on all the other Media that would be arriving too late to be able to change locations in time for the start of the meeting that I had meanwhile independently found out was indeed still taking place at the same time, just at another Jerusalem Hotel called The King David.
I jumped in a taxi straight away and arrived at the changed venue, still in plenty of time for both the British and Israeli Security Services to be happy for my reason and my credentials for being there, and even had time for a very helpful conversation with Tony Blair’s personal assistant at the EU Quartet who seemed at first a little mystified and then fairly impressed at the fact I was the only one there, when they had been expecting a fairly large amount of stills photographers and TV for a meeting of two such senior politicians, one of them on the verge of becoming Israeli Prime Minister for the second time.
Even when Netanyahu arrived first, and Blair shortly afterwards, you could see their surprise at the fact that I was the only one there, as at the same time all the other media were frantically trying to get through Jerusalem morning traffic from the American Colony to The King David Hotel.
So what seemed like luck was in fact professionalism and good trade craft and now left me as the only photographer to capture the two leaders greeting each other, which is always a very friendly encounter as two old friends.
At this point you know you will get a look and sometimes a push from the entourage telling you your time is up and the meeting will be continuing behind closed doors, not only did I not get pushed out, I actually felt a hand in my back from the guy who turned out to be Benjamin Netanyahu’s press spokesman wanting me to stay in a bit longer, and get a few pictures for him to circulate quickly to the Media due to the importance of the meeting, and probably the fact that I was actually the only photographer or member of the Media that was actually there, I got my pictures, thanked the two politicians for their time and left the room with a rather large smile on my face.
As I got in to the corridor I noticed rather a lot of out of breath TV Camera and sound men followed by photographers from all the major international news agencies realising they had just missed the picture and demanding that they get another opportunity.
For the second time that morning I was tapped on the back, again by the Press Spokesman for Netanyahu who was trying to communicate in his broken English to me in my even more broken Ivrit (Hebrew) back that he was very impressed that I had been the only one to get the picture and the way in which I had conducted myself with both leaders, as well as the fact I had been recognised by Prime Minister Blair from working with him so often in England.
I thought this may be a good time to put my thoughts to him about being their photographer as the mornings turn of events had certainly not damaged my confidence or chances of getting a fair hearing.
He seemed to agree with my thoughts, and told me to come in to another room where the rest of Netanyahu’s team were waiting for the meeting to finish, he then introduced me to a senior campaign advisor and head of the internet team who it transpired just happened to be looking for the right person with all the right qualities professionally and personally, and had just seen me utilise 23 years of experience, a little luck, being in the right place at the right time, and was impressed enough to offer me the position of Official Campaign Photographer and personal photographer to Benjamin Netanyahu who 3 months later would win that election and become Prime Minister for the second time with me as his personal photographer.