Nigel ‘Teargas’ Lylington’s speech to the British Association of Young Press Photographers

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Being interested and impressed by good press photographers, I was lucky to listen to a speech by the venerable press photographer Nigel ‘Teargas’ Lylington given at the British Association of Young Press Photographers. The speech was most enlightening and I am happy to share some excerpts—

“Gentlemen, and ladies if there are any, I am happy to be here today and share some of my experiences. It is important that you know what may await some of you, or you will find yourself prematurely stepping on a land mine, or shitting in your pants in some mudhole, or puking your guts out in some cockroach infested hotel room without cable TV, all while you should instead be out there doing your job. No memorable photos were ever taken by a photographer with his face stuck to the ground!

Myself, I have had the good fortune of having been around long enough to know one or two things about this profession. Having experienced eight world wars, seventeen jungle desert conflicts, civil wars in places I cannot remember, and innumerable mayhem, all I can say is that you have chosen the best bloody profession there is. You will see the world while working on your own terms. Get the gear and let the action take you where necessary!

And talk about action, no good press photographer ever wore a 600mm zoom lens. If you cannot smell the gunpowder, the burning ashes, the fear of the people around you, and the oily dust, then you might as well shoot the whole thing from bloody Croydon. No one will feel the difference! If the photographer does not feel the action, nor will anyone else!

Having seen what humanity can bring forward, I can tell you that there is no need to fear when your stomach feels like burning napalm poured over mad rattlesnakes when you wake up at 4 am after having eaten the local food. Just be happy there was any food to eat at all! Just be happy you are still alive to feel pain! Also bear in mind that any blindness after drinking the local brew tends to disappear after a few days. And while doing so, it will cure any bad stomach pain you might have.

And while being in the midst of humanity, never ever forget that if you do not shoot it, it never happened in the eyes of the world. No fame ever came to an absent photographer! Myself, I was sweating it out in some godforsaken blown-up battlefield before any of your parents even knew how to burp. And what have I learnt? Well, let me take this occasion in front of all of you youngsters to tell you a truth or two. Number one, you have to speak the language of the local flavour. If people smoke cigars, then so shall you. If people get syphilis every single f***ing time, share the pain! If people chew rolled up cactus meat, then do it. And forget what your stomach will feel like eight hours later. Get local! And take photos of the mayhem. Feel the explosions blow through your photo vest. Feel the sweat mix with the blood of some poor b*****d getting blown away. And take more photos!

I am telling you guys, you will experience things your mama never even knew existed. God I envy you. You are fresh, you will smell the world, you will be alert, and you will have so many firsttime experiences in front of you that it will be years before you will sense what this is really about. And it is about adrenaline. It is about never knowing if you will sleep next to a limbless guerrilla soldier or if you will sleep in some shit-run-down-forsaken hotel with rats but no mini bar. And most of all, it is about taking photos of all this. It is about composing the mayhem while trying to stay alive in the midst of the madness of reality. Add the local flavour, spice, women, and nausea of too much homebrewed green whiskey, and you will feel what life is really about! Go out there and show the world what it looks likes. Remind the world what it looks like. Because far too few know and you will know. It is f***ing great. I bless you all, because once out there, few others will. Thanks for listening.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: better photography, Gabriel Fuchs, different strokes, dec 2010, Nigel ‘Teargas’ Lylington, British Association of Young Press Photographers, conflict photography, how to be an enthusiastic photography, keeping the passion for photography alive