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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2008-12-02

Do I stay or do I go?
Tim Clayton decided to leave his staff photographer job at the Sydney Morning Herald.

By Tim Clayton

Photo by Tim Clayton

Photo by Tim Clayton
It's the question on everyone’s mind and a hard decision for anyone when a newspaper decides to ‘downsize’ and ask for ‘voluntary redundancies’

The rumor mill had been churning for months before Fairfax Media in Australia announced 550 job losses through a voluntary redundancy program the morning the Fairfax Olympic team arrived back in Sydney from the Beijing Olympics. Battered and weary and in need of a good stint of R&R we all suddenly found ourselves having to make one of life’s toughest decisions.

I had been a sports photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) for the past 16 years working alongside two amazing sports photographers in, Craig Golding and Steve Christo. We were a three-man team, we had the best job in the World and we achieved way beyond what was expected of us through passion and a determination, good fortune and an enormous amount of luck!

It would have been easy to sit back and not care about the rest of the paper, to get on with life in my own little world, keep my nose clean, keep out of trouble and be totally selfish. Unfortunately, that is not in my nature.

I wanted to work for THE best newspaper on the planet. I wanted the paper to be brilliant in all areas, news, sport, features, documentary photojournalism, in depth story telling, high ethical standards, great image spreads in the paper which would be the envy of our rivals and other newspapers around the world.

A small handful of us, out of a staff of thirty something battled away constantly to try to improve and encourage, to preach ethics and quality photojournalism, to try to help educate and to try to make not just the words people, but other photographers understand just what photojournalism is about on a wider scale. Fairfax has an ingrained 'Life on Mars' attitude when it comes to photojournalism. It is still lost in the 70's and encourages more of the same old-fashioned style of photojournalism. With talented leadership and editorial understanding by the words people we could have been an amazing photographic newspaper.

All this can be incredibly frustrating, constant internal politics and conflict drains you. You end up having the same conversation with the same bosses/photographers/reporters/sub editors a thousand times and they just don’t get it! It gradually takes it’s toll to the point you feel yourself screaming internally, you can only bang your head against a brick wall for so long. It becomes soul destroying.

Then there is your own personal development as a photographer, as in any artistic profession, we evolve, sometimes to the point where we have evolved way past the wants and needs of the newspaper we work for and it’s time to re challenge yourself. No education and no philosophy or direction is only going to lead to a demise of a photographic department. The world is your oyster but the future’s a clam...

Add to that, the demise of the newspaper industry world wide, the desire by management to fill newspaper content as cheaply as possible, the job losses happening on a daily basis at newspapers worldwide and suddenly you are put in a position where you have to make THAT decision... do I stay or do I go.

Of course there is a fear of the unknown but at the time I did not hesitate to put my hand up and volunteer for a redundancy package. My rational, which completely overrode all the frustrations above, was the company was offering me the equivalent of two years wages to leave. My biggest fear of all was this opportunity would never happen again the way the industry and the economy is going. My fear for many of my colleagues still at the SMH is that in twelve months time or even less, the company won't be as generous and journalists and photographers will lose there jobs without the payouts. Now that is scary!

Fairfax still has over thirty staff photographers. Last Monday both the SMH and the Australian Financial Review carried just three staff photographs across the two publications and in last weekends Sun-Herald, Fairfax's Sunday tabloid paper the business section ran a front page stock photograph. The floodgates are about to open, the door on quality photojournalism is almost shut.

Photo by Tim Clayton

Photo by Tim Clayton

Cockfighting in the Philippines.
A few days after touching down at Sydney Airport I was suddenly jobless, without a plan and exhausted.

Yes, it was a little daunting, the safety net of the newspaper was gone but the fear of what could happen to me if I stayed is over. I had made the choice, I had chosen my destiny, I had backed myself. I have long had a yearning to travel and see the world and shoot stories in all corners of the globe. Now I can.

My first thought was, I need a holiday, a day later I was in the Philippines. It’s strange how your whole perspective suddenly changes when you are unemployed. After two hours next to the pool I couldn't bare it anymore, so I spent the next four weeks shooting everything that moved while I considered what I was going to do with myself.

Back in Sydney and after much thought I rolled my sleeves up and set about establishing a new career. It was exciting. No fear, just excitement.

If there is any advice I can give from my experience it is to set yourself up as much as possible now! In the space of six weeks I have had to build a website, buy new camera equipment which is still ongoing, invest and have lessons with my new apple laptop (I changed over from PC). Set up bank accounts, tax file numbers at home and abroad, approach agencies AND start packaging the work I already have.

I have shot eight stories over the past couple of years, mostly on film. Scanning and packaging these stories takes an enormous amount of time and effort but it has to be done, I was scanning until midnight last night and was up at 5.30 a.m.. this morning, the constant hum of the scanner is now a feature of my life and I haven’t picked up a camera for a month. I have drunk gallons of tea and wine at different parts of the day!

I have been fortunate that everyone I have spoken to, friends, colleagues, photo editors, agency heads have been extremely supportive and encouraging, often answering my naive questions with patience and understanding. I am learning quickly.

After the dust has settled I am still excited, very excited. I have not closed the door on any possibility for the future but at the moment I plan to complete a long-term project in February followed by a trip around South America for six months. I intend to shoot photo essays, travel, stock and of course sport. I hope I can start producing an income that will sustain that dream.

While I believe I have made the right decision, only time will tell and I wish everyone well who is face with these tough decisions in these very difficult times.


(Tim Clayton is a freelance photographer based in Australia. You can check out his work at his personal website: www.timclaytonphoto.com and you can contact him telephone: 61 407147857 or email: timclaytonphoto@gmail.com.)

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