Past President Ben Brodie’s Tribute to Junior Dowie
Tags: Junior Dowie
Monday, March 14th, 2016
The following tribute to veteran photographer Junior Dowie was delivered by Past President Ben Brodie on behalf of the PAJ at the funeral service at the Kingston Parish Church on Saturday, March 12, 2016
This morning, I have the bittersweet task of representing the Press Association of Jamaica at this thanksgiving service for the late great Junior Dowie.
Since his passing on February 17, Junior and his excellent work, has been at the centre of many a discussion among colleagues, (especially print media) but apparently in the by-ways and hedges where he was most comfortable. Though the call of duty constantly exposed him to Halls of High Society, he preferred the by-ways and hedges and was loved at this vibrant level of society.
On three separate occasions last week, I was stopped in downtown Kingston by lowly individuals who immediately informed: You hear sey Mr. Dowie dead? This was not just information about the passing of a man, it was an expression of a deep feeling of loss of a well-loved person. The kind of adoration from the man-in-the street that is reserved for special people, and Junior was special.
The Jamaica Observer described him as “the top news photographer of his generation.” The Daily Gleaner ‘s view was that Junior was “among the best newspaper photographers in the English-speaking Caribbean, of his or any generation…he was the consummate professional, doing almost anything to get the job done, yet always, it seemed, being able to maintain high ethical values. He was generous with his knowledge.
The Press Association, in expressing its condolences described Junior as “A master of his craft … the consummate professional.”
But when one takes a careful look at the professional career of this man it becomes clear that the achievement of Junior Dowie transcended national and regional boundaries. Though not as prominent as a Usain Bolt or a Bob Marley, Junior’s class stood out internationally.
To understand his greatness, we have to understand the times in which Junior clawed his way to excellence. In 1953 when this 19-year-old lad landed a job in the darkroom at the Gleaner, Jamaica was still a British Colony and the Gleaner was just getting a footing in the modern newspaper business.
In a situation like this, creativity and innovation was the name of the game. When I joined the Gleaner team in 1963, the darkroom was a mysterious place at the top of the stairs. A black curtain was at the entrance and at the top of the doorway was a warning sign DO NOT ENTER. I never entered the darkroom until years after!
As a young reporter, I would notice that Junior Dowie and a few others would ignore that sign from time to time and I soon learned that this was the place where photographs were processed for publication.
Junior was an essential part of that darkroom creativity; the creativity that could make a dark face bright or vice versa, with the proper timing and exposure to chemicals. It was the experience in the darkroom that helped Junior to develop that keen sense for detail which he applied to all his work throughout his career.
By 1963 Junior had also graduated into the ranks of photographer- with veterans like Aston Rhoden and Ivanhoe Williams, who was then the Chief. In 1963 too, horse-racing just moved to Caymanas Park from Knutsford Park, which we now know as New Kingston.
There was no camera at the finish line and the winner was often decided by the stewards on the basis of a photograph taken by the full time Caymanas Park photographer at the finish line.
Naturally, the Gleaner photographers all concentrated on the finish line. That was where the action was, but not for Junior Dowie.
His eyes would glow when he told the story of how he captured Thundering Hooves—the award-winning photograph with horses in full flight. The picture had nothing to do with how the horses finished. It was taken on the homestretch and Junior’s focus was on the beauty in the movement of these animals. It spoke of nature and it spoke of the genius of the man.
That picture catapulted him to international fame – for make no mistake about it, it was a massive achievement. Here was this photographer from a small, newly independent ex-colony competing against hundreds of photographers from the 53-nation Commonwealth for the Encyclopedia Britannica Award. When one considers that the competition included entries from Britain with scores of established newspapers like the London Times, Daily Mirror, Express and the Standard and with newspaper photographers from India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa- as I said 53 nations, we begin to understand that a Bronze Medal in this field was a massive achievement.
Junior’s fame had become international. As the Gleaner records:
“His shots have been featured across the globe in exhibitions after being selected numerous times in the British Press Pictures of the Year. Junior’s International recognition was complemented by numerous Awards from the Press Association of Jamaica, the Institute of Jamaica (Musgrave Bronze Medal) the nation (Order of Distinction) in 1992 and from the Caribbean Publishing and Broadcasting Association.
Junior Dowie was a living example of professionalism.
With his Yashica camera, he combined humility and civility with high-powered skill and creativity as no one else could.
He never wore a banner declaring that he was a professional nor did he ever promote himself as one, but his work spoke so loudly that Jamaica, the Caribbean and the World heard.
Junior’s greatest legacy, in my view, is the example he has set, not just for young photographers and journalists, but for young people generally.
And the lessons are simple.
The first is that if you apply yourself, think creatively and take time to learn your craft, you will achieve excellence and all the honours and awards that come with that excellence.
Secondly, humility is a key component of life and a vital facilitator for development.
The Press Association recognized the valuable, shining qualities of The Chief some thirty tears ago and named its prestigious Award for Sports Photography in his honour. Again the Association extends condolences to his family and many friends and prays that his Soul Rests in Peace.
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