My first image I’m showing is actually not a digital image at all. Its a very bad quality scan of a film shot I took in the office. I’m starting with this because it reminds of the team I worked with and reminds me of the the story of just how I became the Official Photographer of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch Relay…
In 1997 I got a job at SOCOG as the AV Coordinator. Basically, I was the guy who helped everyone in the office set up their AV equipment for meetings and presentations. It was a rapidly expanding office. When I started there were approx 250 staff. By 1999 we had over 600. My role grew as more staff had more meetings and more presentations. The role expanded into setting up for press conferences and sponsor meetings and off-site events. I started filming the events too. I loved it. And it meant I got to work with every department an Olympic Organising committee contains. From sports, to media, to sponsorship, to IT ,Torch Relay and Opening Ceremonies. I was there for 3 years , and to this day it is still the longest full time job I have ever had.
Like most Australians I had no idea what a Torch Relay was. But socialising with the Torch Relay department got me interested. It was the then head of Torch Relay media, John Flower who mentioned the job position of ‘Official Photographer’. I had an Arts degree and had worked in television, film and photography before joining the Olympic circus. So I was keen. But it took another year of campaigning before I was able to actual apply for the job. My ‘campaign’ was to produce propaganda videos and send them to the Torch Relay team. One was a team building video, while others were more direct calls to ask for the job. One was even a sinister ‘black mail’ video. It was all in good fun – and apparently livened up their weekly team meetings.
Finally in February, Torch Relay Director Di Henry took a risk and gave me the job. For this chance I will be forever grateful to her.
There was not a lot of research information about how an Official Photographer goes about his role on a Torch Relay. Di and John had gone to the Atlantic 1996 Olympic Games as observers. The information they passed onto me was – “the photographer runs around a lot, and is everywhere all the time”. And so with that brief I braced myself for the adventure.
Learning to Ride
One day in a Torch Relay team meeting Di casually mentioned about the Harley Davidson sponsorship deal. They were providing 4 police Harley Davidson motorcycles and 1 Photographers Harley. “You can ride, can’t you Greg” Di said. It almost wasn’t a question – just a statement. So I quickly replied ‘ah…yeah…’. That evening I went home and booked into a motorcycle riders course! I had 6 weeks to get my licence and learn to ride a 1200cc beast.
I passed the course two weeks later. But the day Harley Davidson delivered the bike to the office I was still too scared to ride. I had only just learnt to ride a postman’s 125cc bike. How the hell was I going to even balance on a 350KG beast? I made the excuse I was busy that afternoon and left the Harley was left in the office carpark for the next 2 days. I was building up the courage (and planning a time when no-one would see my first attempt to start it!).
Eventually I got used to it and rode it around Sydney for 2 weeks to get better prepared to use it on the Torch Relay. Although in the end, it wasn’t used that much on the relay. It was big and heavy and not ideal for travelling at 6kmh. When not used by me it had to be lifted onto a supply truck to be moved ahead. The truck driver hated having to put it on and off every few days. So in the end we pretty much left it on the truck. Even a lighter bike would not have been ideal because it forces you to have to commit to using it all day. When really, as a photographer, you need to be able to jump around and shoot from different vehicles. One minute on foot. The next on the back of the media truck and then you board a train or tram or a boat for a special ‘alternative mode of transport’ event. So you have to ditch the bike – but as its a Torch Relay, you are always moving forwards – so how do you get your bike to meet you ahead? Short of hiring a dedicated bike rider, you’re stuck with it. Anyway, it was a fun story – but not the best planning.