Roger Bamber, who has died of lung cancer aged 78, was a leading photojournalist covering music, riots and politics for British newspapers from the Sun to the Guardian. He won photographer of the year for each of those newspapers – a unique achievement.
While at the Sun, he snapped one of the defining images of Freddie Mercury performing at Live Aid in 1985. Among his many memorable photographs for the Guardian is a black-and-white image of a lone boy on Brighton beach, pointing and laughing at the Punch and Judy show. The simple, yet perfect image was part of Roger’s portfolio when he won the photographer of the year award for the Guardian in 1992.
Roger had begun working as a freelance for the Observer in 1988, then the Guardian soon after I had arrived to run the picture desk and was charged by the then editor, Peter Preston, to take on the Independent – which had made a name for itself with its great photography.
Through his slew of awards and accolades, as well as his eye for a good picture and endless energy and enthusiasm, Roger helped our team to do just that. It was my belief that readers of the Guardian visited art galleries and watched good television and films, and, as such, they deserved to be stimulated by the photographs they looked at in the Guardian. Bamber’s pictures made the reader think and smile and even look twice. He was a picture editor’s dream.
A true pictorialist, he enjoyed capturing the beauty of shape and form, always with a wry sense of humor and even a twist of anarchy. He specialized in finding quirky people in arts and crafts up and down the country who he instinctively knew would make great photographs. Roger was a lover of trains, and one of his best photographs, entitled The Station Under the Station, shows an avid collector as a giant, looking through a miniature station at his beloved train set. The sense of scale in the image is extraordinary, and looked incredible in the paper.
He would photograph the same scene 50 times from ever so slightly different angles. To me it often looked like the same picture on six different contact sheets – sometimes I just used a pin and randomly chose one; they were all great.
Born in Leicester, Roger was the younger of two children of Vera (nee Stephenson), who worked in the local textile industry, and Fred Bamber, a telephone operator. It was while growing up close to the Great Central Railway line that Roger developed his fascination with steam trains, which was to become a lifelong obsession.
In 1960, after leaving Beaumont Leys secondary school aged 16, Roger began a graphic art course at Leicester College of Art. But once he had blown his entire year’s £80 student grant to upgrade his Rolleicord camera to a Nikon, it was clear that his future lay in photography, and, after graduation in 1963, he worked as a junior photographer for a local advertising agency, Fleetway Publications. The following year, the college launched its first photography course, and Roger was invited back to teach on it, aged only 19.
A year later, in 1965, on his first day in London shopping his portfolio around, Roger got his first Fleet Street job, covering news and features for the Daily Mail, then a broadsheet. While there, he won commercial and industrial photographer of the year in the British Press Awards (1967).
In November 1969, he was poached by the launch team of Rupert Murdoch’s new project – the tabloid Sun newspaper. Over the 19 years he spent there he covered hard news and soft features all over the world, from war to rock and pop, and won many awards, including photographer of the year for his 1973 image of a bloodied, injured barrister being helped to safety after the IRA bombed the Old Bailey.
During this time, he hung out on tour with the likes of David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. A handwritten note on hotel stationery from 1976 confirms the Stones granted him permission to photograph rehearsals for the first night of their European tour, at the Festhalle, Frankfurt. A 1983 image of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall in Barbados depicts Jagger strumming a guitar and laughing his head off, not because Hall is pregnant with their first child, Elizabeth, but because Roger had been swallowed up by a huge wave – nevertheless he got his picture.
Roger had moved to Brighton in 1973, and in 1999 he worked with Brighton and Hove council in its bid for city status, his portraits and images of favorite places contributing to its success.
In 2005 he was awarded an honorary master’s degree from the University of Brighton, “for his distinguished photojournalism and the wealth of images of Brighton inspired by the city”. He was chuffed to receive this honor, given that he had left school without a single O-level.
Despite living in Brighton, Roger was always seen in a Leicester Cricket Club sweater under a sports jacket, even though he hated cricket – Leicester City FC were his first love.
Roger continued to win awards until his retirement from mainstream newspaper photography in 2009. He carried on photographing anything and everything that caught his eye, and encouraged young photographers with endless patience. In the days before he died Roger was thrilled to see (and was correcting to the last) the proofs of his forthcoming book, Out of the Ordinary – he certainly was.
He married his long-term partner, Shan Lancaster, a journalist, in 2004. The couple had met while covering the Falklands war for the Sun and were together for 40 years.
Shan survives him, as does his sister Valerie.