How many of us can say that our hobby, our passion has provided a lifelong career and living?
Well, Buzz reader Andy Fountain can, as he explains to interviewer Ian Langworthy.
Ian: So Andy, tell us about what you do and how you came to be what you are.
Andy: I have always been interested in photography, and as a boy, I would go to the local RAF station and take photographs of aircraft. Luckily, I was able to get work experience from school at RAF Binbrook, and as soon as I was 18, I applied to join the RAF as a ground photographer. After 6 weeks of basic military training and a 9-month specialist photographic course, the world literally became my oyster.
Ian: So what were the most memorable parts of our job?
Andy: Well, there are so many. As a ground photographer, I had so much freedom. I have photographed most members of the Royal family, including, of course, the late Queen when she was on a station visit. We weren’t meant to speak, but I would often ask for a smile and usually get one! Prince Andrew was not so accommodating! I would also photograph parades, do promotional work with physical training instructors; there was literally nothing that I couldn’t be asked to photograph. I learned very quickly how to manage large groups of people, including senior officers for group photographs.
Ian: But I don’t suppose all the work was glamorous?
Andy: No, unfortunately not. The work I did included photographing air accident sites, human remains, and autopsies. I assisted the police at road accidents and took evidential photographs for criminal and other proceedings, including domestic violence. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I went with the Red Arrows to the Soviet Union and witnessed the backwardness and poverty after years of communism. In Kosovo, I was involved with Psycho Operations, trying to win the hearts and minds of the local population, going into schools and taking photographs, preparing anti-drug posters, and facilitating a gun amnesty.
Ian: You mentioned the Red Arrows Display Team; did you get to work with them much?
Andy: Oh yes, and working with the Red Arrows was a passport to everywhere. It enabled me to meet and connect with people throughout the world: royalty, famous people, and ordinary folk. It enabled me to get to work with a whole range of different people from different backgrounds. It stood me in good stead when I came to run my own business. My role involved me photographing and videoing the Red Arrows in practice and at their displays. As you can imagine, displays involve precision flying and after every event, my work was reviewed and analysed to see what went right and what went wrong, even if not visible to the crowds watching below, and believe me there were sometimes situations that could have gone badly wrong but for the skill of the pilots.
Ian: Did you have or see some scary moments in that role?
Andy; Oh yes, I fell through the pier at Bournemouth once, I was attacked by wasps in Cyprus and I had to jump off the wing of a moving aircraft (where was health and safety!). I caused a stir and laugh for everyone once whilst trussed up and being lowered from a Lynx helicopter. It wasn’t just the photographic equipment on display!
Ian: All this sounds great but did you serve in any war zones.
Andy: Yes, although I was not serving in the front line. I have already mentioned Kosovo which was still a very dangerous place when I was there. I also served in the 2nd Iraq war. Our base was shelled although you did get a bit blasé after a few false alarms. Even there, I had a lot of freedom to move around the area and even to the local towns.
Ian: So how long did you serve, and what did it feel like to leave the RAF?
Andy: I served for 20 years in the RAF before leaving. Before that, the RAF arranged resettlement courses to help leavers settle into civilian life and to get employment. I went on a business and marketing course which helped me set up my own business as …. Yes, you have guessed it …a photographer.
Ian: Did your experience in the RAF help you?
Andy: Definitely, yes. Even while serving, I did do some wedding photography for service personnel in my spare time. I was already very knowledgeable about all types of photography, had specialist training, and think that I had developed an eye for what makes a good picture. As I have said, I had learned how to organise and manage large groups, including senior officers and had dealt with a lot of different people and learned how to put them at ease. I also knew through my experience in the RAF the importance of timing, all of which has been invaluable in my business.
Ian: What type of photography do you specialise in now?
Andy: Initially, I set up on my own, but much to my delight, my son Lewis shares my love of photography, and we are now in business together. Our business is about 10% commercial photography, 20% lifestyle (family portraits, pets, not studio based) and about 70% weddings. Our unique selling point is Lewis and I working together as a team. We always have us both at a wedding, each of us complimenting the work that the other is doing, whether taking formal or informal shots. We recognise how important the photographic record of an event is and work very hard to get the best for our clients.
Ian: Looking back, what would you change?
Andy: Nothing, I have had and am having the best life ever. I have been able to make my hobby my career and my career my business, and my experience in the RAF has played a major part in what I offer my clients today.