Defend Truth


I, Photographer

Nicolson left his hometown of Melbourne to move to Johannesburg, beset by fears Australia was going to the dogs. With a camera and a Mac in his bag, he ventures out to cover power and politics, the lives of those included and those excluded. He can be found at the tavern, searching for a good story or drowning a bad one.

Greg Nicolson likes to think he can accomplish any task, even writing this intro in the third person. But he can’t. Inspired by the stardom of Greg Marinovich, he’s on a mission to rule the frame of photography. After he learns how to change the battery.

I finally replaced the camera-phone I sling over my shoulder to fit in with the photographers, an exclusive lot not fond of outsiders who are ignorant of the physics behind taking a Facebook profile picture. Fancy cameras buck the mantra “the smaller, the better” and lifting the new contraption was like an afternoon at Virgin Active, minus the racism, so I knew I was on the money. After collecting it from award magnet Greg Marinovich, it would be only weeks, maybe days, I thought, until I could turn up at a press conference, place my international accolades in front of those “photographers” and move like Mick Jagger.

I exhausted the battery on portraits of my building’s caretaker and held the Canon over my head, staring. “Tell me how to take you out,” I urged. The manual wasn’t any help. “If we work together we can do big things. Don’t fight it,” I coaxed. Only hours before its first assignment, the camera was silent. With a knack for all things technical and self-confidence in the art of improvisation, I engineered a range of solutions. Option one: Staring with contempt. Option two: Trying again, and again, to remove it with my fingers. Finally, I attached Prestick to a pair of tweezers to remove that one obstacle to international stardom.

The attendant at the camera store couldn’t figure out why there was Prestick on the battery, but obliged my request. “At least he had to go downstairs to the workshop to get it out,” said my ego. Issue resolved, I bought a range of products that must be useful because they come from a camera store and cost more than I can afford.

I wanted to improve my photography skills because if I die I at least want to get good pictures. It started in Ratanda, two weeks back. Energised by ambition and a can of Monster, I delved into the service delivery protest, suffering teargas while weaving between police and protesters. Cops acted like an SA version of the Green Berets, slower and less menacing, and residents bayed for blood, which I was very reluctant to offer and confused at how that might solve their electricity concerns. Yet I emerged with the same photos as my brethren back in their cars who were listening to talk radio.

In a parallel to be included in my version of The Bang Bang Club, I returned to Ratanda on Sunday to baptise the new camera. The situation was calm, but my very expensive lens caught every development. I got great snaps in the VIP tent of minister Richard Baloyi being offered, receiving, pausing to drink – and drinking a bottle of water.

Racing with ideas of turning the incident into an acclaimed photo essay, perhaps “Watergate” or “The Drinker”, my dreams were interrupted when my car wouldn’t start and I had to summon Ratanda’s finest for a push start. My faith in humanity is renewed whenever the vehicle, nicknamed “Great White”, needs a nudge. Three of the four times it happened on the way home, gentlemen appeared from bushes, out of clouds of cigarette smoke and even from their homes to help.

The final time was outside my gate. With a knack for all things technical and self-confidence in the art of improvisation, I decided I could do it on my own. I laboured it up the driveway then pushed from behind, sprinted to the driver’s seat, pumped the accelerator, put it in gear, failed to start the engine and screeched to a stop in front of the gate. The process repeated until I pushed it into a pothole and, hulking as I am, couldn’t shift it. Not to be defeated, I removed the casing around the ignition. Assuming the wires weren’t the problem, I popped the bonnet and fumbled with miscellaneous parts until I looked like a chimney sweep. It wouldn’t have taken long to fix, but after two hours a Frenchman strode past and begged to help. “Why didn’t you just open the gate and push it in rather than keep trying to start it on your own and get it stuck?” he asked. The French!

Next morning, after a mechanic came to change the car battery, I was ready to start dominating this photography caper. But with what looked like a little stick of dynamite showing empty on the camera’s LCD screen, I opened the battery latch and stared at the challenge ahead. “Tell me! How do I remove you?” I yelled. DM


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