Photographing Leicester’s most memorable and tragic events over the last 15-years; Alex Hannam speaks about his career as a news photographer and how greatly the industry has changed.
Alex remembers quite specifically the date he wanted to become a news photographer— 12th September 2001. The day after the shocking events of 9/11 hit headlines worldwide. It was these images that resonated with him and in return, inspired a new career path: “I bought an old film camera and I just started going out taking pictures of flowers and sunsets and that kind of thing, just to try and learn how to use the camera.”
Almost a year later, after being made redundant from a sales role, but not quite yet confident in his photographic abilities, he bagged a position in sales and advertising at the Leicester Mercury: “I didn’t have the guts to introduce myself to the picture desk, and then one day I just went over and spoke to Andy Baker, and I said this is what I want to do and he just said ‘well okay, bring in some of your photos.’ So I took in this pile of around fifty photographs and went through them putting them into piles and by the end of it he said, ‘I like those two, come back when you’ve got more like that’”
Feeling positive about the feedback he’d received, Alex worked hard to improve his skills. Every couple of months he would present a new set of images to the chief photographer until eventually, he was offered work experience.
Enjoying every aspect of his new position, the budding photographer was determined to turn his passion into a career, but first, he was advised to enroll on a recognised photography course in Sheffield: “Once the course finished, I came back to Leicester as I quite hoped I’d get a job back at the Mercury, but unfortunately they didn’t have anything going. Instead, I got a job working for Countryside La Vie Magazine where I did a bit of sales and photography for about three months.”
It was minutes before boarding a ferry to France that Alex received a pleasantly unexpected call from the Leicester Mercury offering him a full-time position as a photographer. A week later, his career had finally begun and he embraced the demands of the news world. He shares the stark contrast of a day’s work: “I can remember the first time I photographed the Queen, I was quite excited about that and after I’d finished the job, I got a phone call to say ‘right can you go and take a photo of pet of the week at the RSPCA.’ So I’d gone from the Queen, one of the most famous people in the world, to a dog that needs a new home. One minute you’re thinking wow, this is amazing, to thinking, this is a little boring, but it’s all different kinds of work.”
The assortment of jobs undertaken by a news photographer is certainly not for the faint heart-hearted. Over the years, Alex has been in both the midst and aftermath of devastating accidents and tragic deaths, as well as funerals and court searches:
“I think some of the most challenging stuff is when you’re there and you don’t feel like you should be such as funerals, but you have to try and do your job and do it quietly. You have to be thick skinned I suppose, because there will also be times where you’re taking pictures and some people won’t want that to happen. You either just have to take the abuse that you get, or be ready to come back and say, well look, I’m just doing my job.”
Born and bred in Leicester, Alex enjoys being a part of the community and shares, “I like seeing Leicester people doing Leicester things.” Despite the tragic stories he’s covered, he has also been at the centre of some remarkable ones, including the Queens’s visit, the exhumation and reburial of King Richard III and not forgetting Leicester City Football Clubs premier league win. But it was around this time that the photographer received some unfortunate news. He and three of his colleagues were to be made redundant: “It was almost the best and the worst time to be made redundant because it’s like, right you’ve got to hit the ground running, and you’ve just got to get on with it.”
After 13 years working for the Leicester Mercury, he has now been freelancing for almost two years. Through his commitment and contacts, fortunately for Alex, he’s barely had a quiet period. He continues to contribute to the local newspaper and other media outlets in the city and works full-time for the Leicester City FC shooting all of their home matches and some away games. He reflects on his experiences and how the industry has changed:
“There are so many stories not being written and photos not being taken anymore because of the industry and the way that people consume their news. It all happened so quickly, there was no indication that it was going to go the way it has. What has done it is smartphones and social media, everyone has a phone, therefore, everyone can take photos. When I started working for the paper if you did something and the boss thought, yeah it’s all right but you could do something better, and there was time, you could go and do the job again. Whereas now, if a picture is free then it’s good enough.
“I feel like there will always be a need for good pictures to a certain extent but I feel like the quality is probably going to decrease. Hopefully, with sports photography and things like wildlife and landscape, there will always be that need for quality photographs.”