I am the New Press Photographer for Hickstead!

MI7A9022 peter jefferies

My First Hickstead Experience!

With the news that I am the new Hickstead Press Photographer I thought it was the right time to share my life changing story of the first time I photographed at Hickstead…

I was 19 years old, stood in the International Ring of Hickstead, photographing the King George V Cup, one of the most prestigious classes in the schedule, after the Press Officer gave me permission to enter the ring. All the show jumping greats are passing me on their steads and I am photographing them flying over the water jump while hidden out of the way next to a shrub! In that ‘pinch myself’ moment I shed a tear thinking ‘I am the youngest photographer probably ever to step in this ring, what an absolutely remarkable achievement!”

Go back a few days and I have arrived at Hickstead as a spotty teenager not having a clue what to expect aside from to gain some experience. Jake had offered to take me for the week, having photographed events for Becca and him in the Summer. Upon arrival I step out of his Landy and try to take in the sheer scale of the main ring, without hesitation Jack shouts “Come on Craig, we’re going to get you a press pass!!”

Having only gone to Hickstead for some experience I was hoping to happily snap away and experiment so I could improve my work, I hadn’t even considered getting a press pass! I shadowed Jake as he stride up to the Press Office. In the doorway stood Peter Jefferey, the press office, looking straight towards us as he puffed away on his pipe with a photographer stood next to him. With the opening line of ‘Could we get a press pass for Craig here please?’ Peter questioned and queried us and reluctantly gave me a pass on the basis I was working for a local magazine, while insisting I really needed to apply for one at least a month ago! I was ordered that I could photograph in the outer rings but in no circumstances was I permitted to enter the International Ring. Following this stern instruction he said, “I think you get better angles and different photos from the outside anyway!”

{Peter is pictured receiving the Dorian Williams Trophy for his service to Hickstead in the gallery above}

So there I was, walking around Hickstead getting very sun burnt with my press pass dangling from my belt, every so often gingerly going into the press office to get the Start Lists to see who was in the next Class, while all the other photographers and staff stared at me! It must be mentioned that as a family we love a challenge and enjoy the rewards these can give, hence why most of us are established self employed people!

People have been known to call me ‘the sniper’, ‘the paparazzi’ and more for the way I work. As a person I am quiet, preferring to watch others enjoying themselves from a distance, and this trait works very well for photography. Documenting the top showing folk laughing away, girls grooming their horses, judges pondering their decisions, top show jumpers patting their horses and carriages being pulled by striking horses was truly special.

Come the middle of the afternoon of the final day, the Sunday, I was photographing as I had been when Peter, having hardly spoken to me all week, ushered me into the press office. I instantly thought I was in serious trouble for having been in the wrong place or had broken a rule regarding taking photos! In his almost ex-military manner he asked how I had found the week and how my photos had been coming out. With the same level of confidence I always give off, even if I am bricking it, I said how much I had loved my time and was looking forward to edit the photos. He proceeded by asking if I would like to go into the main ring, I didn’t quite understand what he meant at first so nodded as he lead me to the door to explain what the rules were. It was then that I realised there was only one class left and this was the biggest, most important, class of the day!! He handed me a Start List and sent me on my way, and from memory as I walked away I looked back to see him at the doorway smiling.

Well, if ever I was going to feel out of my depths this was the moment! I hadn’t even contemplated going into the ring before this Class, but didn’t want to show this. I brought the course plan out from out of my pocket, looked up at the arena and thought ‘what on earth am I going to do!’ I remember nearly bailing out and then realised this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. As luck had it I spotted that the water didn’t have a photographer standing next to it! Next to the water was a series of bushes and shrubs I and these would provide the perfect cover for me to hide in as the legends of the sport battled it out for the big prize.

About halfway through the Class it really hit home at what I had achieved in one week. To win over, by just being myself, the press officer so much so that he would let me into the main ring, to be amongst photographers who are all at least 15 years older than me, to be photographing the main class of the day and to be stood in the International Ring was all a bit too much. I can remember having a few tears rolling down my cheek as one of the riders launched over the water and composing myself to get the best shots possible.

Following the event I produced up four booklets containing my favourite photos. With each photo carefully framed on a sheet of photographic paper, I stuck each print back to back and hole punched it to add it to the books. I proudly took these crude booklets into the Hickstead office and remember them doing the rounds before they got to Beverley, ‘the voice’ of Hickstead. When I went to collect them from her a steward was stood next to her flicking through the books. Upon realising I had taken the photos he commented ‘You took these! You are an exceptional young photographer!’. With a smile and some small chat I left him to browse through while I took more photos and it was only later when I picked them up that I found out he was an FEI Judge!

As you can tell, my first time at Hickstead is one of ‘the’ proudest moments of my life and has stuck with me all this time. In 2009 I photographed at Hickstead once again and in 2010 Peter put my name forward for a magazine commission, resulting in me photographing the R.I.H.S. for ’Horse Times’, the largest equine magazine in Egypt! The same year he left Hickstead and I haven’t photographed their since as I felt I couldn’t achieve anymore in my magazine role (going back to the ’move on when we’ve achieved what we set out to do’ attitude). However, I did have a stand their in 2010, last year and will have one at the Derby show this year. Selling framed and mounted prints and promoting equine photo shoots with Peter Bainbridge, my artist friend, we have a great time meeting new faces while catching up with old ones!

When Victoria, the current Press Officer, emailed to offer me the role of Press Photographer I couldn’t believe what I was reading! When I met with the Hickstead team and they told me the photos they would like I couldn’t have asked for a more suitable role. My approach has come on a long way and my wedding work has opened my eyes and ability to social photographer, landscape photography, taught me to see more than just one photo, to explore angles, to learn how to interact with people better and to become an all round photographer. All these things are key to documenting the variety of the classes, the venue and the challenges that come with these.

I can not wait to put my stamp of photography on the amazing shows that Lizzie and her team offer. With a focus on capturing the buzz, the showmanship, the people, the spectacle and the joy winning brings, my role will be to capture what makes Hickstead such a special and remarkable place we all love to visit.

… and why do I write this article? To say that anything is possible. If you have a dream, you can make it reality. I will be honest and say I have worked 10-14 hours, 7 days a week, for the last eight years during the Spring, Summer and Autumn months. My personal life has allowed me to be this time dedicated, my family have always supported me but I have funded the growth of my career purely through hard work, dedicated and commitment.

{Always go the extra mile, be proud of your achievements, never say no to a job that could give you new experiences and enjoy every moment}

You have read my story, now follow YOUR dreams,

Craig.

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