“So, I’m standing there, and just felt a blow to the midriff. I looked up and this man had taken a flying kick at me! I didn’t fall over because all my gear stabilised me, but I stood there and thought, ‘did he just kick me?’ I looked down and there was a footprint on my t-shirt. ‘He did. He just kicked me!’”
Martyn Wheatley tells this story as though someone just barged past him in the supermarket and didn’t apologise. At the time, of course, he was furious, and quickly reported the man to the police. But in this kind of setting – a huge anti-vaccination protest march in central London – it was something he and plenty of other press photographers are familiar with. Each day they head into the thick of everything from protests and politics to courts and crime scenes. They negotiate with police and security guards and, as we’ve already learnt, are often on the receiving end of angry members of the general public. It’s an occupational hazard that stems from an enduring misconception that press photographers and paparazzi are one and the same.
It's understandable, to a degree. Both are often thick-skinned freelance photographers, unafraid to get up close and personal with tricky and sometimes volatile situations in order to get that perfect shot. We see them on the TV, a scrum of photographers shouting at the newsworthy figures of the day or dangling precariously from railings and windows – even lying on pavements, cameras held aloft. They carry the trademark backpack stuffed with professional camera equipment and an air of someone who is entirely unshockable. Certainly, this is the case for Martyn, who has been in the industry for some decades and has the dark humour and back trouble to prove it. “I get called a pap a lot and I’m not,” he says. “It really infuriates me. I just refer to myself as a news or press photographer.”