Out of the Ordinary

The unique photographic legacy of Roger Bamber is now on display in his beloved Brighton
Underwater lessons with Duncan Goodhew at the bottom of a swimming pool. Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Goodhew is dyslexic and was promoting a reading help scheme for kids. The Old School desk was held down by weights and the camera was in a specially constructed plastic case pushed into the water by swimming pool attendants. Photo by Roger Bamber/TopFoto archive

Press photographers aren’t usually much loved, especially not when they’ve sailed before the mast of the tabloids. But Roger Bamber, a friendly man who stormed through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s covering hard news and rock and pop, refused to fit the mould.

The only photographer ever to win Photographer of the Year for newspapers as politically polarised as the Sun (1973) and the Guardian (1992), he was regarded as a bit of an oddball wherever he worked and, without changing his style at all, his pictures worked equally well in all three outlets.

He first learned to use a camera as a schoolboy trainspotter, capturing speeding steam engines in Leicester and studying the images in the papers he delivered on his daily newspaper round. In 1965 he landed a job as a news photographer on the Mail.

“Gone West” – taken in 2002, this striking photo shows the Brighton Grade I listed West Pier collapsing into the sea, punctuated by an onlooker carrying a red umbrella. Photo by Roger Bamber/TopFoto archive

When Rupert Murdoch relaunched the Sun as a tabloid in 1969, Bamber was the first photographer in the new office. For over nineteen years he covered news and features all over the world and toured with David Bowie, the Stones and the Stranglers. He won many awards as a staffer, but in 1989 walked away to a freelance life. His graphic, beautifully framed pictures didn’t change, but his subjects did.

A portrait of David Bowie taken in 1973 by Roger Bamber/TopFoto archive

The beach of his adopted home town, Brighton, became his studio and he quickly built a huge following for his coverage of the arts and knack of transforming mundane subjects – a Punch and Judy tent on a grey day, a skeleton in a local history museum – into compelling images. So many were published that the University of Brighton awarded him an honorary Master of Arts degree in 2005, “for his distinguished photojournalism and the wealth of images of Brighton inspired by the city.”

All Brighton buses are named after former residents of the city, chosen by public demand. Within days of his death in September last year petitions were rolling in. This month the latest addition to the fleet was christened Roger Bamber.

Roger Bamber: Out of The Ordinary is at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until 3 September. The accompanying book, published by Unicorn, has a foreword by Eamonn McCabe

Shân Lancaster is a writer who lived and worked with Roger for 40 years; they married in 2004

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April 2023, Life, Photo Essay

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