Waikato Times chief photographer reflects on three decades capturing news

Waikato Times Chief Photographer Peter Drury has hung up his news camera. Credit: BRUCE MERCER/FAIRFAX NZ

For more than 30 years, Peter Drury has been Waikato's eyes on the world.

As Waikato Times chief photographer, the 56-year-old has captured some of the biggest news events in New Zealand and overseas.

From major sporting events, community happenings, triumphs and tragedies, Drury has been the newspaper's man on the ground.

It's a job that has required tenacity and skill, and brought him into contact with thousands of everyday people.

"Being a photographer puts you in a privileged position because it gets you behind the scenes," Drury explains.

"And it's always been important to me to get those behind-the-scene photos, because that's what the public don't normally get to see."

Drury finished at the paper this week and he leaves behind a catalogue of diverse and stunning news images.

His job has taken him around the world to three Commonwealth Games, the Atlanta Olympics, as well as the 60-year commemoration at Monte Cassino, and the 90th Gallipoli commemorations.

He also covered the tangi of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu.

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Drury's photographs of Dame Te Ata's tangi featured in a major exhibition at Waikato Museum in 2007.

Features writer Denise Irvine describes Drury as the best in the business and recalls seeing him in action during at Dame Te Ata's tangi at Turangawaewae Marae.

"Doors were opened for Pete that were only opened for him," Irvine says.

"Watching him work was amazing. He knew the people, the main players, and where to be for the crucial images. He's vastly experienced and that always shows through in his work."

Drury joined the Times as a 17-year-old school leaver and completed a two-year cadetship.

Peter Drury covered the tangi of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu in 2006 and his photographs featured in a major exhibition at Waikato Museum in 2007. Credit: PETER DRURY/FAIRFAX NZ

It was on-the-job training and the feedback was often direct.

"As a cadet, you were given a camera and told to go and take photos. You were soon told if your photos were good or crap," Drury says.

Photography was something of a family affair with his father, Ian Drury, a keen photographer as well as a doctor.

His 23-year-old son, Karl, now works as a video producer.

After completing his Times cadetship, Drury joined the New Zealand Herald and covered the 1981 Springbok Tour - including the violent clashes between anti-apartheid demonstrators and footy fans at Hamilton's Rugby Park.

A brief stint overseas followed before Drury rejoined the Times in 1983.

An early influence on him was former Times chief photographer Kirby Wright.

He instilled in the young photographer the importance of making the most of every situation and going beyond the obvious.

"As a photographer, you're not just recording what's in front of you. You also need to use your creativity to turn something that's quite ordinary into a visually attractive photograph."

It was early in his career that Drury witnessed firsthand the ability of a single image to change people's lives.

He was asked to photograph a critically ill toddler, Regan Chibnall, who had been selected to become the youngest recipient of a liver transplant.

A photo of Regan appeared on the Times' front page and prompted the public to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the operation.

"A lot of people saw the photo and said they were just about in tears because it was such an emotive and powerful photo. Regan died before he could have the operation, but a trust was later set up and the money raised for Regan went toward helping other sick children."

An image captured by Peter Drury in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake was used to front an aid campaign. Credit: PETER DRURY/FAIRFAX NZ

The power of a solitary image was again demonstrated this year when Drury was on assignment in Nepal.

A major earthquake struck the country, leaving its people devastated.

One image captured by Drury during the aftermath was of a young boy, upset and alone.

That photo was used to front a campaign asking for donations for the Nepalese people.

"Being a press photographer is a great job, because you can make a difference in people's lives and do good in the bigger scheme of things."

Over his career, Drury has gone from taking black and white photos to working in colour and has seen digital photography supersede film.

Drury used a digital camera at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games, an event that gave him an insight into how the new technology would transform press photography.

"Beatrice Faumuina was throwing the discus and I remember people were blown away that we were able to send a photo back to the office before she had done her second throw. Before, if you got a photo back within a couple of hours, that was good. Today, with newspaper websites, there's a demand to file photos instantly and the technology lets you do that."

American writer John Steinbeck once wrote that farewell was a word with "a sweet sound of reluctance", whereas good-bye "is short and final, a word with teeth sharp enough to bite through the string that ties the past to the future".

For Drury, this week marked a good-bye to press photography.

He will work as a freelance videographer and photographer and has set up his own website visualist.co.nz.

But old habits may prove difficult to shake.

"If I come across some news event in my travels, my instincts will kick in and I'll be out there taking photos."

Irvine says Drury was always a stickler for doing right by people and treating others with respect.

"He has an knack at putting people at ease and making them feel comfortable in front of the camera. But he also had an absolute tenacity in situations where photographers aren't welcome. He's a great professional."

Colleague Mark Taylor says photographers came to the Waikato Times for the chance to work with Drury.

He credits the many photography awards the newspaper has won to Drury's leadership.

"Pete always made sure photographers had an opportunity to develop their skills and has been a great mentor to me. People have such huge respect for him."

 - Stuff


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