From the depression years of the 1930s to the arrival of the roving TV cameraman in the late 1960s the photojournalist was seen as the romantic and daring reporter who sent news from the battle fronts and disaster areas of the world.
The phrase ‘famous photographer’ used in the bizzarest of circumstances today, comes from those four decades when the public looked to mass market picture magazines for still images by star photojournalists like Robert Capa to add depth to their understanding of the major news stories.
FROM PHARMACIST TO GLOBE TROTTER
Born in 1936 in the Welsh border town of Rhuddlan just as this golden age began, Philip Jones Griffiths started his photographic career at the Golden Sands Holiday Camp in Rhyl before being dispatched by his parents to study pharmacy at Liverpool University. However the young Griffiths had the sort of questioning mind that drew him back to photography, and he began part time work for the then Manchester Guardian as the final decade of the golden era of photojournalism was about to commence.
In 1959 Philip Jones Griffiths moved south to a London emerging from post war gloom where he survived with pharmacy work at Boots the Chemist in Piccadilly Circus and then with freelance photographic assignments from The Sunday Times and The Observer newspapers. It was in 1962 with The Observer that he scored his first major success.
At the time there was a brutal war in Algeria between French colonial forces and the Front de Libération Nationale or FLN. Defeated by the communist Viet Minh in 1954 the French had departed their former colonies in South East Asia effectively handing over their interests in the region to the Americans. Not without coincidence the French then faced a new liberation movement in North Africa later that same year.
By 1962 the Algerian war was in it’s end game but Griffiths had heard of the regroupement program that the French imposed on remote communities. People were placed in fortified villages and the French napalmed the surrounding countryside to create a free fire zone without sustenance for guerilla forces to survive on.
What intrigued him was that none of the photojournalists hanging around the bars and cafés of Algeirs had between them managed a single image of these camps.
Rising to the challenge the 25 year old flew to North Africa, trekked into the Atlas Mountains with a platoon of FLN soldiers, and became the first photographer to record a camp de regroupment. Delighted, The Observer rewarded Griffiths for his initiative with a full page of pictures, the first time this had ever been done by a national newspaper.(page