A Photographer’s Journey: ‘It’s About Finding Something Interesting In An Ordinary Place’
by Joey Crandall, email@example.com • 12 min read
It’s so easy now.
You swipe your phone out of your pocket, wielding 8 megapixels of crystal clear resolution and tap that button until you can reasonably fill a frame.
You quickly check back over 15 carbon-copy images – maybe a couple differing blinks of the eye amidst the bunch – pick the one most ‘in-focus’ and decide it’ll do.
Some filters, a light bit of color correction, a couple other nifty Photoshop tricks and voila!
A perfectly passable photo of a moment in time that looks just great, if not quite like how it actually happened in real time.
It is so easy now.
You can see the difference, though.
When you see a true photo – I mean, a photo photo – you know it.
A photographer’s photo. An artist’s photo.
It cost them something to create that image: Preparation, education, equipment, effort, thought.
Vision and composition that just can’t be taught.
It captures something about the moment that wasn’t quite there when you saw it happen, but was by no means artificially inserted after the fact.
An element of historic preservation, if you will – equal parts perfect timing and timeless perfection.
A great photo, a truly phenomenal photo, can tell a story without a single word spoken.
It can cause you to feel. To think. To relate.
It means much more than a simple push of a button and click of the shutter.
Because there is a lifetime of work behind it.
Eddie Sanderson loves his hometown – Berwick-Upon-Tweed, the northern-most town in England, located about a half mile south of the Scottish border.
He loves it, but he doesn’t get to truly see it very often.
“I see pictures published on Facebook on this page, ‘Beautiful Berwick,” he says with a chuckle. “These pictures, I lived there for 20 years and never saw light like that.”
Sanderson moved to Minden several years ago, taken with its simplicity and similarity to the countryside of his hometown. In Berwick, he says, there is even a Minden Day Parade each year to commemorate the King’s Own Scottish Borderers’ participation in the Battle of Minden during the Seven Years’ War.
“I made the mistake of writing on this page,” he says. “They tried to pin me down, saying ‘Oh, you’ve never accentuated any of your pictures?’ I said ‘Yeah, but I’m not into surrealism in what you see out there. You shouldn’t be changing that. In nature and landscape, what you see is what you get.”
What you see is what you get.
He speaks humbly, with a rolling English/Scottish lilt.
The stories Sanderson tells, though. They come out so suddenly, so remarkably, one has sit and consider for a moment what was just said.
They’re that special sort of incredible that can raise the eyebrow of even the most casual skeptic.
Photographer to the stars.
More than 1,000 magazine covers worldwide.
Credits in the New York Times, Newsweek, People, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Time, In Style, US, Harper’s Bazaar – more than 100 publications around the globe.
But even five minutes of fact checking and one begins to realize, indeed, it’s not just true, it’s perhaps even been undersold a bit.
“They want to talk to me about celebrities,” Sanderson laughs. “Spill the beans and all that.
“But I didn’t get to the point in life that I did by dumping dirt on people. Word spreads too rapidly.”
What you see is what you get.
Sanderson began lugging a Speed Graphic 4×5 plate camera around Berwick when he was 18 years old.
“Berwick was the town that kept switching hands between the English and Scottish in the movie ‘Braveheart.’” Sanderson said. “It’s a beautiful place. Castles and rivers. I never appreciated it until I left.”
He split his time between shooting for a local news agency, sending photos around England and Scotland, and playing goalkeeper for Berwick Rangers of the Scottish League.
“It was called semi-pro in those days,” he said. “You had to have a job too. You basically got travel expenses and meals paid for.”
There were individuals of interest in the area at the time – British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, for example, and world championship Formula One drivers Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, among others.
Sanderson’s big break came in the form of some fresh fish and a torn ACL, of all things.
Berwick Rangers took on Glasgow Rangers in the first round of the Scottish Cup in 1967 and won – a monumental upset of the tournament’s defending champions.
Sanderson didn’t play in the match, but editors from the Sunday Mirror came to town to present the team with the “Giant Killers Cup” award. Sanderson arranged for the editor to receive a 20-pound Tweed salmon, which would have cost a fortune in London’s top restaurants.
“People would come in, and they’d want to experience the best the area had to offer,” he said. “You’d get requests like that. I got them some salmon, and I just said, ‘Oh, I’m about ready to leave this town, if you happen to have any opportunities for a photographer on your national newspaper.’”
As it turned out, they did, though Sanderson’s arrival on the national scene may have been less than auspicious.
Having blown out his knee just prior to the interview, he arrived in London on a pair of crutches, clutching an envelope containing a pile of his best 8×10 prints.
“There were other photographers in the waiting room, and someone came up and asked to see my portfolio. I said, ‘What’s a portfolio?’”
It was a weeks-long wait — Sanderson can still hear the bluesy strains of Long John Baldry’s “For All We Know,” playing over the radio in the dark room — before there was a knock on the darkroom door back in Berwick.
“Back then, along with news and features, I photographed weddings, pets, and you did the processing, the printing, the whole bit,” Sanderson said. “Someone said the phone was for me, I got on and they said, ‘When can you start?’
“I said, ‘I don’t even have a car!’ That was the start of it.”
At 25, Sanderson was the youngest photographer on London’s Fleet Street, which at the time was the hub of worldwide journalism and home to the country’s largest publications.
“The older guys had families and didn’t necessarily want to do foreign jobs,” Sanderson said. “So I took them.
“I liked the foreign travel. I didn’t fully appreciate the names I was hearing, though, or the places they were sending me.”
Take, for example, a shoot in Spain with surrealist painter Salvador Dali.
“He invited me to dinner after the shoot, and I declined,” Sanderson said. “It’s like I say, I didn’t have a full appreciation of the circumstance. It’s Salvador Dali. But I was more interested in getting back to my hotel to have dinner with a girl I’d met on the plane.
The shoot itself was formative in Sanderson’s approach moving forward.
“It was getting close to sunset and Dali, in his full-length kaftan, cane with a six-inch gold statue on top, Aladdin shoes and the famous waxed moustache, told me to pause just as I was about to press the shutter,” Sanderson said. “(He) had a dining room chair brought out. He had his manservant throw the chair over Dali’s head. I just started shooting, and in the shot, the chair is suspended in space over his head. It was a wonderful shot. No motor drive … one chance at a famous photo.
“That got me thinking about not just capturing the celebrity image, but pushing the boundaries and taking them out of their element, so to speak. I managed to do that later in life with a lot of famous subjects.
And that list grew long quickly, reading something like a roll call of answers on the back of Trivial Pursuit cards:
Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Caine, Joan Collins, Jane Seymour, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Rod Stewart, Princess Diana and the Royal Family, Tony Bennett, Mother Teresa, Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine, Barbara Streisand, four United States Presidents, Shirley Temple, Michael Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin … Elvis.
He tells of having Anthony Hopkins feed a kitten with an eye dropper to present a softer image after “Silence of the Lambs” and later having him stand in a pool, decked out in a suit in the heat of Beverly Hills, with shoes and socks off.
Of going on safari in Kenya with David Hasselhoff and later trying to talk the resulting 40 rolls of film through customs without having to open them up and expose them.
Of traveling to Mount Everest on assignment to photograph the highest hotel in the world and prove or disprove the existence of the Abominable Snowman. And of suffering from altitude sickness to the point where a pair of Sherpas had to carry him and his camera equipment back to camp.
There was a trip to the deepest mine in the world — Western Deep Levels Gold Mine in Johannesburg — where the sweat and humidity at the rock face 800 feet below was causing Sanderson to continuously shock himself with the external battery pack of his max-level flash.
“That was crazy,” he said. “I was literally on Everest one month and in the deepest mine in the world the next.”
In between, a magazine sponsored him to ride an elephant in the annual Elephant Festival Race in Candy Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
“The only reason I wasn’t last in the race was that the elephant handler behind me had forgotten to unhitch his elephant from the tree stump,” Sanderson said.
There was a bit of a cat-and-mouse game as Sanderson was on assignment in Acapulco, trying to locate Howard Hughes near the end of Hughes’ life.
“There was, it turned out to be a lookalike, that came out in the morning,” he said. “I was hanging out with this PanAm stewardess I had met, and I was using her hair to kind of hide my telephoto lens.
“I thought I had this incredible world exclusive, and we knew Hughes’ people were watching us, so I had to hide the film inside the hotel room television set. We knew Hughes had a lookalike, so we had to verify the photo.”
After flying to Las Vegas to consult with Dr. Elias Ghanem (Elvis Presley’s physician and a man who knew Hughes well) on the photo, Sanderson discovered it was indeed the lookalike.
Hughes never wore a wristwatch, but the man in the photo did.
Over time, Sanderson’s career migrated to America, and he became a U.S. Citizen in 2001. He worked out of Los Angeles — a convenient hub for inter-continental travel — doing commercial work for Cartier, corporate jet companies, cosmetics companies, Lucas Oil, Luxury Realty, Coors, Bahamas travel, Joan Collins, Jackie Collins, Bob Hope, Hasselhoff Commercial and numerous national corporate brands and publications.
One of his photos, an award-winning one of President Ronald Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II, hangs in the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
His favorite shoot? Mickey and Minnie Mouse’s 50th anniversary, deep within the bowels of Disneyland.
Or being strapped to the front of an inflatable raft with a fish-eye lens while shooting whitewater rapids in the Grand Canyon.
He checks himself again: “Spending a day in the Children’s Cancer Ward at Martin Luther King Hospital in Los Angeles. That was 20 years ago and I still have the vivid images of those unbelievably courageous and smiling kids.
“There are so many (favorite shoots). Maybe it’s the next one.”
Sanderson eventually moved up to Northern Nevada for a gallery wine bar venture with a friend in Incline Village that didn’t wind up panning out after the promised signage didn’t come through.
“I’m a country boy at heart,” Sanderson said. “I instantly fell in love with this area. I love the true four seasons. I can walk into town from my home in Winhaven Gardens, and I’ll see geese and ducks and cows and sheep. I feel as though I’m in the country.
“I’m not planning to move anywhere after this. My ashes are going down Lower Eagle Falls into Emerald Bay … but not for a while.
“After all I’ve experienced in life, it’s going to be a fun last roller coaster ride.”
He plans to continue to present the real world as he sees it in his work.
“When you see your work and it’s exactly what you set out to take, it’s exhilarating,” Sanderson said. “There was a long period of time where I just took it all for granted, all these big names, just nothing phased me.
“Photography is so totally different now. You could never get these pictures now. In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.
“It’s not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place … I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
Visit www.eddiesanderson.com to view more of Eddie’s work, or learn more about him.