john jochimsen, special mention for life-time achievement in photojournalism

Please scroll down to see a selection of John's works from 1952 until 1989, Eastman Museum

John's Story, written by Sue Scott

They say every picture tells a story, but the odds on a photojournalist called John Jochimsen living to tell the tale behind more than 120 published images in a remarkable new collection were somewhat slim. In a career spanning over 55 years working for government, Fleet Street and the commercial sector, he gained a reputation for being in the right place at the wrong time – a habit he started in World War  when his journey to school was interrupted by a German ME 109 fighter plane pursuing him over a Surrey bridge, spattering the road and pavement with machine gun fire. A decade or so later he again found himself the hapless target of anti- British sentiment during his  first overseas tour of East Africa as a photographer with the now defunct Central Office of Information, working on behalf of the Colonial Office. A trigger happy Mao Mao tribesman had him in his sights at the start of the infamously mishandled Kenya uprising against British rule in 1952, for which the UK has only recently agreed to make amends. Clutching his rifle, he rode shotgun, blasting wildly at the puffs of smoke as his driver sped to the next village as fast as the truck would go. Then there was the time the RAF mistook John for a Squadron Leader and left him flying a Shackleton aircraft from Malta to Cyprus while the crew played cards, having got together a cargo of empty bottles for tax-free Cyprus brandy to sell to the messes on their return to Malta. Or the day he was caught in cross fire between British troops and insurgents deep in the inky darkness of the Malaysian jungle, where one couldn’t see who was shooting at who? ‘I just wanted to lie down and dig a hole with my nose until the bullets finally stopped flying all around me’ he said. Later in life John had an assignment for the Navy to photograph a fleet of ten mine sweepers that were to sail from Rosyth, round the north of Scotland to Liverpool. These were the Naval Reserve with part time sailors manning the ships for the exercise. It all went well till night closed in when as they were going round the north of Scotland, they hit a force ten storm. John at the time had been awaken by the antics of the ship and had somehow got himself up onto the bridge where only the Captain wasn’t being ill. As the night went on, all the crew became sea sick leavng only the Captain, the first engineer officer and John left standing. At this point the Captain turned to John and asked him to steer the ship as there was no one else. Never having steered a ship in his life, especially a war ship he somehow got down to the wheel house and steered the ship for the rest of the night until they got into the islands, west of Scotland. Quite an experience for someone sent aboard to take pictures! The walls of the small terraced house in Southwater, West Sussex, to which he retired 20 years ago, are hung not with happy snaps of family holidays and fuzzy box camera pictures of fondly remembered  pets, but with the images he took of Britain at the end of empire as it built its post-war industrial future. Where most 88 year olds hang school photos of their grandchildren, John has one of the few shots taken of the Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie with Winston Churchill on the steps of No 10 Downing Street in 1954. Alongside it, Margaret and Dennis Thatcher pose on the same steps for their official Christmas card in 1982 during which Margaret insisted on getting behind John’s camera to set up the shot for herself. “What she wanted was impossible as she had said she wanted the whole of No 10 with the flags flying on the top with the uprights, upright. Now everyone one who has been there knows one can’t get back with a camera far enough to get what she wanted but she wouldn’t take no for an answer”. “But I won in the end” he said “by telling her that both of them would look so small, like two peas in a pod”.

These images are among thousands of photos John has taken, initially on glass plates and later 5in x 4in colour transparencies and blackand white film over the course of his career. The 120 or so images in ‘Through The Lens of a Photojournalist” have an almost three-dimensional quality - a clarity and depth that’s quite astonishing, given the circumstances under which many of them were taken and the technical limitations of equipment and film of the time. But what makes this random collection so compelling is the huge arc of political, social and industrial change that it illustrates Britain underwent in the latter half of the 20th Century. From the picture of the building of the QE2 to the dawn of the nuclear age with the Queen’s opening of Calder Hall and Cold War era visits by Russian and American presidents to cricket on a village green and hunting on the Downs, it’s a breathtaking memoir of nationhood.

Born in London in 1929, John had no ambition to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Fleet Street journalist on the ‘Times’ who had seen out the 30’s, sometimes as relief correspondent in Paris and the whole war in London. When John was told by his father that he had to get on with a career after the war had ended and he had leftschool, he picked filmmaking without much thought or commitment. Marched off to a documentary maker that his father knew, John ended up landing a job as a junior with the Colonial Film Unit of the Ministry of Information, then busily engaged in producing publicinformation movies and news reels, which were dispatched on cinema vans” to the colonies where they were intended to help keep a restless empire together. His young cohorts in the film unit at the time included his lifelong pal Billy Williams, who went on to win an Oscar for shooting ‘Gandhi’ and be nominated for ‘On Golden Pond’; Bob Paynter, later the cameraman on the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve; and Sydney Samuelson, the son of a silent film director in Sussex, who would eventually head up BAFTA and earn a knighthood for his services to the British film industry. But the collaborative nature of movie making didn’t appeal to an independent spirit like John and during two years national service he began retraining as a stills photographer, eventually working for the ‘News of the World’ for eighteen months. Then returning to the COI as a staff man, mainly working abroad in Africa and the Far East before becoming Chief Photographer for the UK Atomic Energy Authority. After leaving the UKAEA he continued to work as a freelance throughout the rest of his career and later set up his own London studio. He doesn’t regret the path he chose. “Stills appealed to me because you were on your own. In films you had a whole gaggle of people around you. But you were alone when in Fleet Street and abroad as “Everything was down to you,” he says. One of his earliest jobs as a freelancer in the 50s was for a Fleet Street picture agency with the unlikely title of Planet News. He was assigned to cover a party thrown by the American millionaire J Paul Getty at Sutton Place near Guildford, but as the other photographers drifted away with glamour shots of Hollywood starlets, John hung back. “I thought to myself, there’s a big swimming pool here and someone’s going to be thrown into it. So I sat down at a table and waited. Sure enough at 2am it happened. I got three pictures. The one of the bloke coming down in the water went in the Evening News the next day.” The post-war partying and optimism at home was in sharp contrast to the dispiriting chaos he was soon to witness in Africa. The official photographer covering Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh’s honeymoon tour, he was one of the first to see the new queen after news of her father King George VI’s death reached the couple in Kenya. And, as she returned home to look after the affairs of state, John came face to face with the disintegrating empire she’d inherited, travelling between colonial outposts and documenting the fragile peace, which occasionally erupted into outright war on behalf of the government. He confronted it all with a highly developed sense of the absurd, faithfully recording what he was asked to and maintaining a professional disinterest in the politics.

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The colour transparency film he used on the tours abroad and the UK was to become the preferred format for news, commercial and advertising photography and some of the pictures he tracked down in different archives for the book were among the first trannies to find their way into print. He continued working with the format up until the Nineties when the industry migrated to digital imaging.

By that time, John and his wife Chris, now with four children, had moved to a farm at Slinfold near Horsham where, with customary enthusiasm and dogged determination, he embraced the rural life, building a flock of 400 ewes and 14 rams, while 45 chickens grew to a sizeable business of 5,000 with free range egg delivery rounds. He dovetailed farming and photography until, with Chris’s death in 1996, he gave them both up, selling the farm and the cameras that had witnessed so much. “I have a little happy snap camera that I must have done half a dozen pictures on and it sits upstairs gathering dust,” he says. “Sometimes I wish I could have a decent camera again, but I don’t think a professional photographer could see it as a hobby after 50 years of travelling the UK and most of the world”mWhilst early in retirement, John wrote his memoirs called “80 Yearsm Gone in a Flash,” realising after it was published that the normal life he thought he had always lived was not true and that he was lucky to still be alive !

References of images posted above, originals in the Eastman Museum, from top to bottom, left to right:

john images.jpg