24 February 2016
Chris Dodd writes:
The photographer Peter Spurrier (Intersport Images) has been awarded a commendation by Britain’s Sports Journalists Association Awards in the category ‘2015 Specialist Sports Portfolio’ for his rowing pictures. He began pressing the shutter as a teenager and specialised in wild life in his native Surrey before his keen interest in sport got the better of him. While learning to row at Staveley Road Secondary Modern School, Chiswick RC and Quintin BC on the Thames, Peter directed his lenses to rowing, rugby and cricket.
I can vouch for rowing holding particular challenges for photographers after my pathetic efforts to illustrate Henley Regatta for an American rowing magazine with a box Brownie in the 1960s. Even with today’s long lenses, wide lenses, zooms and lightning shutter speeds, motor drives and photoshop and Macs and bells and whistles, rowing continues to present a big challenge, a challenge met by a handful of international photographers who stalk the crews.
Peter is pre-eminate among these. Capturing explosive action on big lakes over long distances, often in difficult conditions, is only the half of it. Once you have picked your spot on a 2000-metre eight-lane-course or awaiting the four-mile procession of the Oxford and Cambridge race, you are stuck with your decision. What Peter is good at is sensing where he will shoot a defining moment.
Whether born with a sixth sense or acquiring it, Peter’s is his magic ingredient. He stirs it into the dawn-until-dusk hours spent beside lakes, rivers and by the sea in all weathers. He knows that picking the spot, whether in a set piece or a paparazzi moment, is as crucial as calculating exposure or shutter speed.
An exhibition of Spurrier’s work at the River & Rowing Museum in 2011 set out to illustrate this. One image on my wall, as I write this, is of the Tideway Scullers Great Eight – a boat made up of the world’s top scullers – passing Cambridge Boat Club in a snow storm to go Head of the Charles. It is an absolute cracker. Then there was Matt Pinsent stretching his arm behind his back to shake Steve Redgrave’s hand a full five minutes after the pair, utterly exhausted, narrowly won Olympic gold in 1996. There was Iztok Cop after winning the single sculls on Lake Tampere, Finland, in 1995, surrounded by swimmers and Slovenian flags to mark the birth of his nation.
Being in the right place at the right time is more than the ebb and flow of a regatta. Spurrier is a master of the angles, the mood, the aspects, the little giveaways of concentration or nervousness.
His work will be familiar to readers of Rowing News in the U.S. and Rowing & Regatta in Britain, and formerly in Regatta, RowingVoice and Australian publications. For many years he and I told stories in words and pictures together for Regatta magazine and RowingVoice. He is easy to work with. On top of his panoramas and close-ups, moments of agony and ecstasy, he contributes telling incidents that make a story stand out, like the oarsman who drops his inhaler in the drink, the wearing of an odd sock, a moment of meditation or a Chinese frogman bobbing up in the lake with a handful of weed.
Peter Spurrier’s lens opens the shutter on rowing’s underworld as well as its fractions of despair or delight, and his commendation by the SJA is both well deserved and overdue.