August 19th is World Photography Day, and our chief photographer, K.Gopinathan looks back on his 30 years in the field and the lessons learnt

Thirty action-packed years have passed since I first joined a newspaper as a photographer, and every incident in those years has taught me an unforgettable lesson.

Spelling bee

When Rajiv Gandhi was about to make his first visit to Bangalore, Youth Congress leaders organised a welcome march. I was working for The Indian Express then, and a reader called to suggest I might find a good picture at the event. It was a disappointing scene when I reached the spot, just a few youths holding banners. I clicked half-heartedly, till I looked more closely at one banner: “Welcome to our Horrible Prime Minister”. It became a front-page photo, and I learnt not to underestimate readers’ calls.

Get a move

After a five-year balancing act as Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1996 went with the slogan “You give me stability, I will give you prosperity.” In Bangalore the campaign kicked off at the District Congress office with the slogan painted on a white jeep, which refused to start. Mechanics pushed the vehicle to start it, and I got the photo of the day for The Hindu, captioned “Mobility first.” Next day the Congress workers came to see me. I thought there would be trouble, but they said, “After seeing your picture, we sold that vehicle, sir.”

Mistaken identity

During Ramakrishna Hegde’s term, legislator days were introduced. MLAs played cricket or wore fancy dress on those occasions. On one such day Hegde dressed as a sheik and went unrecognised. I rushed with my picture to the office. It was a madly busy hour for the desk and when I told the Chief Sub-editor I had a picture of the CM he shouted, “CM, CM and CM every day, I don’t want his picture!” He refused to look at it. The next day there were accusations about the missed picture, and ultimately a different chief sub was shouted at. He submitted his resignation. When I found out I felt guilty and went to ask him to take back his resignation. Over a cup of coffee, he said, “Gopi, I got a job in another newspaper but was feeling uneasy about giving my resignation letter. But here I got a nice opportunity and I resigned. Don’t feel guilty.” He patted my back and walked off.

Incoming, outgoing

Chief Minister S.R. Bommai headed a shaky government while P. Venkatasubbaiah sat in the Governor’s seat. Sensing trouble, on April 20, 1989, I went to Vidhana Soudha and got a picture of Bommai leaving his room. On April 21, the Governor imposed President’s Rule. The drama led me back to Vidhana Soudha to look for a good photo and I was lucky to catch the Governor visiting the CM’s chamber. The Indian Express published the two photos together with the heading “In and Out”. It won me the Karnataka Union Working Journalist award that year.

Work and play

In 1992, Chief Minister S. Bangarappa defied the high command by not attending the Tirupati session of the AICC(I). The papers reported that Bangarappa had gone underground. But I knew that the CM with all his work never once missed playing badminton in the morning.

Early next morning I went straight to the badminton court in Cubbon Park and waited. When the CM landed in the court he said, “Gopi will get nice photos today” and started changing into his sportswear.

I got an exclusive photo that day, which appeared on the front page with my story. It helps to follow politicians at work and at play.

In the course of a day

On National Integration Day, November 19, 1992, there was a government programme on the steps of Vidhana Soudha, with ministers, legislators and officials present. I shot a picture of M. Veerappa Moily apparently struggling to reach Chief Minister Bangarappa but prevented by a crowd of legislators. In the evening, everything had changed. Moily was elected legislative party leader and Chief Minister of Karnataka.

The same people pushing him away in the morning were garlanding him in the evening. I joined the pictures together as “Morning and Evening”. This too won an award.

Kissa kursi ka

At a press conference in Bangalore on January 27, 2009, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa repeatedly tried to leave the venue and was repeatedly urged by BJP president Rajnath Singh to be seated again. Each time, the CM’s chair was drawn back by assistants to give him room.

On the fourth attempt, the CM sat back but the chair was not in place and he fell to the ground. All my fellow photographers had relaxed by then and missed the shot, but I happened to click over their heads and got one frame. A few months later, The Hindu’s shot of the falling Yeddyurappa was displayed at an exhibition inaugurated by the man himself. When he saw it he simply laughed.