September 4, 2013

Eric Whitehead: Every Picture Tells A Story – Paul Hunter and ‘Plan B’

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 4:20 pm

Anyone who has had an interest in snooker for over a decade will, whether they know it or not, have seen a photograph by Eric Whitehead.

Before the days when any Tom, Dick or Harry could rely on technological advances to get a half decent snap, Eric was the supremo of snooker photography with an uncanny knack of being in the right place at just the right time, probably more by judgement than luck.

I’ve been a huge admirer of his work for many years and that is why I am delighted that he has agreed to start a feature on the blog namely ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ where every so often he will pop by to talk us through the story behind one of his iconic images.

Here he explains how he captured an elated Paul Hunter and his cheeky wife Lindsey after his infamous Masters win against Fergal O’Brien, it’s quite a tale and I hope you enjoy it.

Plan 'B' secures Masters title for Paul

The Story Behind the Picture 

‘Plan B’ became the stuff of legend and turned the 2001 Benson & Hedges Masters snooker final into a major news story. Paul Hunter was losing 6-2 to Fergal O’Brien following the afternoon session and the outcome looked a foregone conclusion, but Paul came into the evening session full of composure and smashed in 4 centuries to win the event 10-9. His comeback made the final newsworthy in itself. Yet it was not until the post-match press conference that the story received an unexpected elevation, a comment by Paul about what had happened back at his hotel room following the afternoon session, which had enabled his comeback, had reporters scrambling for their notebooks.

I only heard about ‘Plan B’ as I was starting to develop the film of Paul proudly holding the trophy. A colleague of mine leaned his head into my room and commented that perhaps I should try and get a pic of Paul and Lindsey together, because a story had just broken that Paul had attributed his victory to a passionate afternoon with Lindsey. It was unusual for photographers to attend all the post-match press conferences, except on occasions where the player or match had some news value for that day, but certainly never after a final where deadlines made it impossible.  So I was grateful that my friend had informed me about this. Dropping the film on the table and having loaded another into the camera, I dashed downstairs into the players lounge to find Paul.

He was sitting with Lindsey and I asked him if I could photograph them together with the trophy. I couldn’t expect anything more than that, but the two of them together would provide a more appropriate picture than the one I already had. After all, it now seemed that Lindsey was as much accountable for Paul’s outstanding victory as he was. They both agreed and we moved to a quiet corner of the room.

The first few shots were okay – Paul and Lindsey close together with the trophy – but I felt I needed something more. I asked Lindsey to give Paul a kiss, this would provide a more intimate picture, happily she agreed. That was it, I had my shot and I prepared to thank them and dash back upstairs. I had just taken the camera from my eye when Lindsey smiled at me and turning to Paul quickly ‘tongued’ him on his cheek. In a second I composed the picture, there was only time for two shots. Then it was over, laughing, they walked back to their group.

I jumped back up the stairs to my room, my heart beating wildly, excited, knowing I had got a great picture. It had been caught in a split second, in a flash, so to speak. I processed the film, carefully making sure everything was alright. No room for mistakes now; developer temperature correct, fix ready, water running, and then the magic moment as I drew the dripping roll of film out of the developing tank, and there it was, held up to the light, my amazing shot. Out came the hairdryer, and carefully the film was dried ready to be scanned into the computer. During this time journalists were enquiring about the shot so they could let their ‘desks’ know what I had got.

The image came up on the computer screen, and we all crowded around it. The shot was perfect; only one exposure made it, the other was a second too late. The perfect expression. The journalists saw the picture and ran out to inform their editors. “It’s going on the front page,” one said. I couldn’t believe that, I was over the moon. Seldom, in all my years in snooker, had a picture become so important.

The following morning we were at the airport, waiting to board a flight to Thailand for another snooker tournament. Expectantly, I bought all the newspapers, scanning through them to look for the picture. There it was; front page of The Sun, The Star, and the back and sports pages of many others. It is always exciting to see my photographs in the newspapers and more so on this occasion after having taken the opportunity to get the picture.

Not all were impressed though; Paul’s manager telephoned me saying he wasn’t happy about the photograph. I couldn’t understand why, because it had made a great picture, promoted Paul as well as snooker. The border between press and public relations is a delicate one and sometimes the two can never meet in agreement. Paul’s manager later did agree that it was a great image and in the end he was happy, so was I.

‘Plan B’ has now become synonymous with snooker; something that people will remember with affection about one of the great snooker players and a really nice guy.

You can take a look at some of Eric’s iconic work at his new website Snooker Images by clicking here and you can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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