Ian Wright’s 50-year career as a photojournalist began at age 14 when he entered and won the bronze award for HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards Scheme for students. When Prince Philip came to present the awards, Ian was allowed to join the other professional press photographers to photograph His Royal Highness.
He later got a job as a dark room boy at The Northern Echo, a newspaper in the Northeast of England where Harold Evans became editor. Eventually he was given photography assignments, including the opportunity to cover the emerging pop music groups for a new supplement to the newspaper, ‘The Teenage Special’. Too young to drive, Ian took the bus or rode his bicycle to the concert venues, carrying all the heavy photographic equipment.
In 1964 Ian completed the first NCTJ residential course for press photographers. Throughout The Swinging ‘60s, he photographed such emerging icons as Chubby Checker, The Beatles, Gene Pitney, Marianne Faithfull, The Kinks, Roy Orbison, Dave Clark Five, Sandi Shaw, Adam Faith and The Rolling Stones. Ian was sent to photograph the U.K. debut performance of Ike and Tina Turner on the bill with The Rolling Stones and the unknown group, The Jimi Hendrix Experience. He photographed Tom Jones and was on hand the evening Gerry Dorsey’s name was changed to Engelbert Humperdinck.
Speaking about his training, Ian says: “This course was ground breaking as all previous ones were called week-end schools designed exclusively for reporters and subs - never the foot soldiers. My editor at The Northern Echo, the now renowned Sir Harold Evans, arrived at the paper in the summer of 1961 where I was a darkroom boy aged 15. Harry immediately abandoned the decades-old method of laying out pages, where pictures were the least important ingredient.
“Photographs had always been an afterthought relegated to fit any size or space remaining so Harry’s approach was revolutionary. He would lay out the photographs on the stone first and then build everything around the pictures, including the headline, copy and adverts. Harry outlawed what he called 'St Valentine’s Day Massacre' group photographs.
“He promoted a 'Picture of the Month' competition, first prize of which was a guinea and this encouraged the staff photographers to become more imaginative, creative and dynamic. Harry’s changes worked instantly and helped the paper to win numerous awards. Consequently circulation increased from under 50,000 to 125,000 per day.”
Sir Harold Evans became editor of The Sunday Times and Ian followed, working as an international photojournalist in Japan, India and the United States. He continued to photograph celebrities and newsmakers and his work was syndicated to major newspapers and magazines throughout the world, including Stern, Paris Match, Newsweek, Time, Look and Life.
In the 1980s Ian and Sir Harold Evans were made professors of Journalism at Baylor University in Texas. He says: “This amazing turn of events came about when I was on assignment for the Sunday Times Magazine in Waco, Texas where I was invited by the Dean Lloyd Gould to lecture to the journalism students.
“Thereafter I took up a permanent role at Baylor University in Texas, heading the Practical Press Photography Department where I assigned the student photographer’s jobs from the diary, discussed ideas with them, and if required accompanied them on assignments. The university published a daily tabloid, The Lariat, which was in fact the town’s local newspaper. Before I arrived, students had been brought up on a strict regime of proper developing times, correct temperatures, stop baths; thirty minutes wash time for films and prints. Within a week, I had passed on the professional tricks of the darkroom trade and every student could develop and have a finished print ready with a caption in five minutes.
“My advice came from experience; ‘Always adopt the photographers three Ps: Patience, Politeness, and Perseverance’.”
Ian currently lives in Las Vegas but travels worldwide giving lectures about his career and relating stories of all the pop music icons he photographed on the brink of fame. He has recently published a book of some of his early work.