Local Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Graham (left); Peter Bush (centre) with Mayor Celia Wade-Brown

Graham (left); Peter Bush (centre) with Mayor Celia Wade-Brown

Oriental Bay resident, Graham Stewart, is pictured here (left) receiving the National Press Club's Lifetime Achievement Award from Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and club vice-president, Peter Bush. Graham Stewart was the seventh recipient of this award.

He was the first cameraman to receive the award which is only presented every five years "and I started with a box brownie," he said.

A few of Graham Stewart's career highlights as a press photographer were outlined by the Mayor. They included his coverage of the 1951 waterfront strike, the pivotal post World War II labour relations and the terrible Tangiwai disaster. His photographic career started on the New Zealand Herald and continued on the provincial circuit before he returned to the Herald as illustrations editor. He held this position for many years.

He later entered book publishing as an executive director of AH & AW Reed, the Wellington-based publishing house which used to be so dominant in the market. When Reeds faltered, the Mayor said, Graham seized the opportunity to start his own imprint, Grantham House. Non-fiction books on New Zealand and its cities were published, including two monumental works on Wellington. In uncertain publishing times, Grantham House continues to flourish.

In his reply Graham Stewart described the early days of his 60 plus career, well before television and hourly radio news. "All newspaper people had to be correctly dressed — we all wore collar and tie even when covering rugby on the sideline," he said. He went on to describe the cameras back then, which were "as large as a six-pack of beer". Glass negative plates were used and, when on out-of-town assignments, changing bags with holes for the arms to be inserted had to be used.

Before light meters came along, chemical and photographic formulas had to be mixed. For flash photography you had to use a handkerchief to remove a very hot bulb before replacing it with another. There was usually only one chance for a photo at VIP events, as you had to change the plate manually and re-cock the camera shutter — by which time the VIP in question could well have gone.

He added some further historic events he'd covered — Royal tours of the 1950s; Sir Edmund Hillary's wedding to Louise Rose; the last TEAL flying boat taking off for Sydney; the visit to New Zealand of Nat King Cole and also Vice-president Nixon. "I was present at the signing of the contract to build the Auckland harbour bridge... I was sitting in the co-pilot's seat when dare devil Freddie Ladd flew (illegally) under the bridge before the official opening".

In his early years in book publishing, book designers had to cut and paste with a scalpel every strip of typography on to each page of a book over a light box. They worked with long galleys of type produced on the old linotype machines. "Technology has certainly brought unbelievable changes to all forms of the printed word — and photography — since I started on the road."

The award ceremony took place late last year at the Wellington City Council.