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RAB NCNEIL: See for me photography really is a thing

For Rab, there's not a day goes by that he doesn't photograph something.
For Rab, there's not a day goes by that he doesn't photograph something.

It’s a rare week when I don’t take photographs. Budding flowers. A completed garden project. An interesting sky.

Years ago, I could develop my own black and white pictures. I knew about f-stops and shutter speeds. Now? Madam, I do not possess a scoobie.

I’ve a wee pocket camera which, despite various options, is always set to “auto”: point and shoot. It’s fine, though thankfully we can now edit the pics on computer.

Sometimes, my pictures bewilder me. Why did I snap that perfectly ordinary sky? Then I fiddle with the contrast or brightness and magical cloud shapes appear.

I thought about news photography as a career

I thought about news photography briefly as a career. I worked with photographers a lot on assignments, and thought it grand to get to go places and not have to speak to people, other than to boss them about: “Stand over there! Stick your heid up! Naw, doon!”

Sometimes, if time with a subject was going to be short or the opportunity fleeting, we’d josh each other about who got first dibs.

“What good’s a picture without words?” “A picture is worth a …” “Naw it isnae.” “Is!” “Isnae! Right, here’s how it is. I’ll introduce myself and ask incisive questions. How do you feel? That sort of thing. Then, when I’m done, I’ll say: ‘This peculiar individual wants to take your picture. Is that OK?’”

Looking for a rammy story

I worked with a couple of regulars, and we were great buddies, enjoying real experiences together.

Once, we were sent under cover to a holiday camp to investigate drug dealing and gang fights. Two suspicious-looking, dram-swilling beardie chaps just down from the isles sharing a chalet together!

We visited all the bars on the massive complex looking for trouble and were just about to give up and have a drink ourselves when a massive rammy erupted outside.

My buddy had an early pocket camera – surreptitious, see? – and got great pics, which made for a fantastic spread for the story (after camp security eventually let us go).

The fundamentalist preacher? That’s a long story

Another time we smuggled ourselves into the studio TV audience of a fundamentalist preacher we were investigating in the United States. Long story!

Recently, I’ve been organising old family pictures, of which I’m the sole curator. I’ve no family at all. Well, none that I’m aware of. One half never had much to do with us, possibly (I don’t know) because it was a mixed Catholic-Protestant marriage back then.

The other half went to South Africa, became rich and drifted out of our proletarian lives.

Frustratingly, there are fascinating pictures of people in their finery back in the day but no clue who they were.

I can always pick out my family

However, I can always pick out Mum or Auntie Jessie in school pics. Funny to think of them at school. It’s not right!

I notice that my Nana, though she obviously loved posing for pictures in glam outfits (trousers and smoking a cigarette in the late 1920s), never smiled in her prime. She was “cool” before that was a thing.

I’ve a terrible smile. It darkens rooms. But I can’t help cheesing when having my photie took. I’m better behind the camera than in front of it and, luckily, the clouds and flowers always smile beautifully for Rab.

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