John Downing was the pre-eminent press photographer of his generation, winning British Press Photographer of the Year seven times. As a photojournalist Downing recognised a good story, and how to tell it. Aperture is a fascinating and engaging mix of recording the heyday of Fleet Street – multi-million daily sales of the only source of readable news and information, driven by dynamic characters and with its own cultures – and Downing’s less glamorous personal experiences on the job. These included long assignments in hotspots around the world, including South Sudan, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Uganda, Bangladesh and Chernobyl, which are vividly described.
Widely respected by colleagues, Downing’s work includes some of the iconic images of the period, including the only photograph of Thatcher immediately after the IRA bombing. Aperture describes the glamour and excitement of journalism at the time: the hard-nosed editors, the rivalries, the ‘work hard play hard culture’, foreign assignments issued at the drop of a hat, the toll on journalists and photographers. Newspapers were hugely important in the daily lives of their readers then, the world was less accessible than now, and newspapers played a vital role in shining light into some of its darker, more inaccessible parts. John Downing played a significant part in this, though not without some personal cost. Completed shortly before his death, with the help of colleague Wendy Holden, Downing filed a story for the final time: his own remarkable life.