Part one: Life Behind The Lens with Alex Livesey
by Chloe McLaughlin
Alex Livesey is one of the most celebrated sports photographers in the country. The Bury-born photographer has been snapping at sports events all over the world for over 25 years and has covered prestigious events such as the World Cup, the Olympics and the Tour De France. He’s won awards, travelled the world and had his images featured in some of the world’s most popular newspapers but how did a lad who grew up in Stockport end up taking photographs of some of the world’s most famous sportspeople?
“I had an amazing art teacher as school who introduced me to it – we didn’t have photography on the curriculum at the time but he was a photographer and he set it up off his own back and said that if anyone wanted to learn photography that he would bring his cameras in.” Alex, 46, smiles, “He got us going and got a little bit of money to open a little dark room in the class room where he taught us to process film and make prints. I used to take one of his cameras home at weekend and he’d set us a little project, it wasn’t an exam or anything just something extra to do.”
After school, Alex went to Stockport College to do a photography course before moving down to Newport in Wales to complete a two year documentary photography course, after which he was ‘thrown out to look for a job’!
“A friend of mine who I shared a house with had an Auntie in London who had gone away for a few weeks and left her apartment free so I went there with him and we did the usual rounds of seeing picture editors, newspapers then I answered a small ad in a photography magazine for a small agency called Professional Sport.”
Alex worked at Professional Sport for five years taking photographs of tennis and football matches before moving to All Sport which would later become part of Getty Images. Alex worked as a staff photographer for Getty for 20 years and still works for them as a sub-contractor alongside his own company, Danehouse Photography.
But for a man who has shot so many sports, which is his favourite?
“I love football so the World Cup is always my big thing – last year was my fifth. I just get a real buzz out of doing the World Cups but I’ve been on some great trips. I went on the Tour De France which saw me travel around the whole of France working on the back of a motorbike and I went on a tour of South Africa for two months covering British Lions rugby.” Alex grins, “It doesn’t feel like I’ve actually had a real job, I’ve just been enjoying myself since I left school. I do something that I really, really love and get paid for it – it’s the best thing in the world! I keep thinking I’m going to have to get a real job one day.”
Alex takes both action photography and portraits of famous sportspeople, but what is it about shooting sports action that Alex loves?
“I like the fact I can capture something that quick and instant and freeze a moment in a match or event. You get one chance, if you miss it, you’ve missed it. There’s no going back and setting up again – you live and die on your reactions and planning.”
It’s evident a lot of planning goes into Alex’s work and he believes it’s key to getting the perfect shot.
“You have to have a bit of an eye and natural ability but it’s more developing the way you work and planning how the pictures will work. It’s thinking what the news story will be, which team is important, which player is important, if they score where will they celebrate? I think about my prime position to sit in.” Alex explains, “Or if it’s a smaller sport, like at the Olympics you might be covering Taekwondo, I’ll research the sport, find out how it works and how you win it.”
Alex’s favourite picture he’s ever taken is from the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
“It was one of those moment where you literally have one chance. The sun was setting over the stadium and I could kind of see what was going to happen but the sun was going in quickly and the race was waiting to start and I was thinking if they don’t start soon it’ll be gone. Luckily it did start, they came around and I got the picture and after that the sun was gone. It’s my favourite as it’s the kind of pictures I’d have on my wall.”
Also impressive is Alex’s equestrian photography particularly his horseracing shots – including those that seem to give a view from underneath and transport you into the action.
“That’s actually a remote control camera in the fence so before the racing starts I’ll go on the course and set the camera up in the middle of the fence but some courses can be funny about you putting a camera in! I then go to the side and fire the camera with a remote control when the race is on. You can’t really see what you’re getting, you just have to press and hope!”
However it’s not just racing where Alex can get surprise photographs. He was once at Liverpool’s training ground when he noticed something over the wall.
“I’d seen them peering over the wall so when I left to go home, I went round to have a look and see what was going on around the other side, to see what they were doing. I didn’t realise they were all stood on [the roadworks] until I drove round and it made a picture.” Alex smiles, “It’s very northern and funny how they’ve been so creative to use these barriers as ladders so they could get over and watch their heroes train.”