Is there anyone left in Sussex who doesn’t know Graham? But what about the man behind the camera? From being a Beatles fan to chatting up Royals we thought it was high time we found out what makes Graham tick and what he does when he’s not taking photos (*spoiler, it’s more photos)
Tell us who you are and what you do
My name is Graham Franks, and I have been a freelance social media photographer for 15 years in Sussex. When you see pictures in newspapers and magazines of people smiling for a camera at an event, chances are I took the picture, it’s what I do.
Have you always been a photographer?
No, I left school at 15 and started life selling suits for John Collier the tailors in Western Road Brighton in the 1960s during the Mods and Rockers period. I then worked for Foyles Educational in Burgess Hill until I became a prison officer for more than 30 years.
What made you decide to be a photographer?
I had an interest in photography for most of my life, taking landscape and family pictures. Whilst in the prison service I submitted landscape photos to Sussex Life magazine. The editor contacted me and asked “Why are you sending me these pics?” I replied that he might consider publishing them? He replied “No, but would you like to photograph people at an event?” I was a bit taken aback because I had never considered doing anything like that; lots of photographers find people a bit intimidating to work with, but I drew a deep breath and said “I’ll give it a go!” My first social media job was at an Italian restaurant in Findon. It was published soon after.
You’re a very familiar face at all the events in Sussex – is that your favourite type of work?
I am not sure that it’s my favourite type of work, it has just evolved that way. I suppose I am well known on the social circuit, which helps when doing the work.
You must know all the movers and shakers in the area by now do you?!
I couldn’t say I know all the movers and shakers but I know lots of them, but only because I regularly photograph them at events. A good cross section like author Peter James, and celebrities like Chris Ellison, Carol Cleveland and Julie Graham. I also regularly photograph people in business and leading people in public life like The Lord Lieutenant. I work a lot also for Chestnut Tree House and other charities. I team up often with David Hill and his team at the E3 Group, a leading entertainment company.
You must have some funny stories, we reckon…
A few years back I attended a horse trial event in Brighton to take photos for a local magazine. During the course of the day I was informed that the Duke of Edinburgh was keeping a low profile sitting in a vehicle watching the day’s proceedings. I enquired who was with the prince and the reply was, “he’s on his own.” That surprised me. The vehicle the Prince was sitting in was then pointed out to me. No one else at the event seemed to be aware that the Prince was present.
This is the ‘pushing the boundaries’ bit! Rather nervously I approached the vehicle. I noticed an elbow resting on the open window… here goes I thought to myself, and said, “Good afternoon your Royal Highness, how are you?” There was a grumbled reply but I thought he said “Fine.” So I asked, “May I take your picture, your Royal Highness?” An unexpected reply “There is nothing interesting about me at all.”
I said “I disagree your Royal Highness, may I?”
At this stage I expected to be sent packing but to my amazement the reply was after a pause to think “Oh go on then!”
“Thank you” I replied. I raised my camera, hoping all my settings were ok, too late now if there not, pointed the camera at the Prince and pressed the button! He did have the last word saying “Not so bloody close,” referring to my lens! I thanked him and swiftly left. What a good man I thought, he could have sent me on my way but didn’t! I wonder if I would have the same photo opportunity with all the threats in today’s life.
I had the pleasure also of flying in a 1939 double wing plane for the purpose of photographing Jan Leeming who was wing walking for charity on an identical plane close to me. My stomached turned over a bit, so how she felt exposed on the top of a wing, I don’t know.
I photograph lots of people at events whilst they are at play, so I am always ready for the unexpected. I once had to rescue a local celebrity from a female stalker, she turned up at Julie Anne Giburt’s art gallery whilst the celebrity was at an exhibition there. At completion of the event I gave the celebrity a lift back to his hotel, but not before the stalker had tried to get into my car! Fortunately, the rear door was locked so they failed to get in.
Do you do much event photography outside of Sussex?
Occasionally in London, I have even attended events twice inside Number 10 Downing Street
What do you look for in a perfect ‘society’ photo?
The important thing for me is that although an event might be quite formal, I like people to appear relaxed and giving the impression that they are happy to be photographed. I always take at least two photographs in case they blink! They often do. Incidentally I am often asked to “Photoshop” ladies and sometimes men if they think their pic might be published
What other photography do you like doing?
I regularly submit photographs to picture agencies. For example, attending so many events there are always glasses of champagne being poured, that I make a point of photographing. Sometimes a picture like that would sell through a picture agency to head an article in a food and drink magazine. Anything you photograph has the potential to sell. Most magazines rely on agency pics rather than employ a photographer to take them. I also enjoy urban photography; I’ve sold pics taken in Brighton, Brick Lane, London, Portugal, Italy and New York.
How do you make a living out of this?
Quite simple really. I’m not a ‘pap’ so I never turn up to an event by chance. I am employed to be there by either a business, PR agency, magazine or a charity. I process the images after the event and submit to the business that employed me, then I’m paid. I generally send a selection of pics too, directly to the media with a press release and am regularly published this way.
Can you ever see yourself hanging up your Canons?!
I think I will always be involved in some kind of photography whether it’s social media or agency photography.
What do you do to relax?
Family, friends and photography! When I am walking the streets of Brighton or anywhere else, often with my wife Barbara and a camera, I am not thinking about anything else other than capturing a good photo.
Any unresolved dreams or goals?
I’m a Beatles fan so a photo session with Paul McCartney would suit me nicely.
What would your epitaph say?
‘His pictures live on’
All photos by Graham Franks