Gary Ramage with Mark Abernethy, The Shot (HarperCollinsAustralia 2016)
Gary Ramage, currently News Corp’s chief photographer at Parliament House in Canberra, won the Nikon Walkley Photo of the Year last year. Once a soldier himself, he has photographed soldiers in action in Somalia, Bougainville, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. In between stints in conflict zones, he has shot politicians in Canberra, visited Buckingham Palace and done the paparazzi thing for Murdoch. This book is his story.
Let me state my prejudices here: I know that to earn a living in a capitalist economy almost inevitably involves supping with the devil, but working for News Corp is supping with a short spoon; I’m suspicious of the practice of embedding journalists with troops in conflict zones, because it seems likely to lead to reports that uncritically support the war effort; I loathe even the idea of paparazzi, particularly since the death of Diana Spencer. So this book is way out of my comfort zone.
And it’s fabulous.
It’s a funny, dramatic and at times powerfully poignant account of a man discovering his calling and learning his craft, meeting challenges with ingenuity, courage, compassion and a touch of swagger. Ramage’s commitment to documenting the experiences of soldiers in conflict zones transformed my understanding of ’embedding’: this isn’t about backing the war effort, but about making sure that the men who are sent to kill or be killed aren’t consigned to oblivion. And as for the paparazzi action: I confess I shared his glee when he managed with great cunning to invade the privacy of some royals, and I was barracking for him in a long sequence towards the end of the book when he endures great personal discomfort and inveigles News Corp into spending vast amounts of money on semi-legendary equipment in order to get a single blurry forbidden shot that serves no purpose beyond tabloid titillation.
I’ve been photographed for the newspapers a couple of times myself – when my high school results were deemed newsworthy by the Catholic Weekly, when my younger son and I provided cute visuals for a report on a childcare demo, and recently for an article reporting, not 100 percent accurately, that I’m on a solar powered gravy train that will soon grind to a halt. Each time has involved an awful lot of fiddling with light and positioning, checking and re-checking. Ramage’s art of (mostly) getting himself in place, equipped and ready to catch the shot, is a matter for awe.
And the photos scattered through the text and especially those on the sixteen-page centre section are brilliant.