RIP Russell McPhedran (1936-2018)

Award-winning Australian photojournalist, Russell McPhedran, has passed away due to a heart-related illness.

Source: Fairfax.

Russell (right) spent the bulk of his photography career – from 1985 to 2004 – shooting for Associated Press, and leaves behind a portfolio of defining local and international news images.

His most iconic image was captured for the Herald in 1972, and shows a hooded Palestinian terrorist who had taken 12 Israelis hostage at the Munich Olympics.

Russell said his favourite image was of a fire at the Buckingham’s department store on Oxford street, captured on Anzac Day 1968. It put his name on the map worldwide, he said, and was the beginning of an illustrious career.

The photographer was inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame in November last year.

‘Few photographers take a picture powerful enough to enter the permanent consciousness of a nation, let alone become instantly recognisable around the world. Russell McPhedran, or Russ as his mates call him, has a clutch of them,’ wrote friend and former colleague, Michael Bowers, for the Hall of Fame.

Russell’s famous haunting image showing the faceless terrorist at the Munich Olympics. Photo: Russell McPhedran.

Russell was born in Glasgow in 1936. In 1950 he migrated to Sydney with his family

Two years later a 15-year old Russell landed a job at the Sydney Sun as a copy boy, later graduating to cadet and then press photographer.

‘McPhedran spent three years in the darkrooms and was taken under the wing of senior photographers like Johnny Smith and Steve Dunleavy, father of the later famous crime reporter,’ wrote Michael. ‘He would accompany them on jobs and “watch what they did”. McPhedran would borrow cameras after hours to “mess around with” and try to copy what the senior photographers had shown him.

‘The first camera issued to young B-grade photographer McPhedran was a Graflex, a bulky large format camera with a between-the-lens shutter. It took sheet film, was cumbersome and difficult to wrangle by modern standards.’

In 1962, Russell spent a year working for the Hong Kong Standard alongside journalist Frank Crook.

After that he went to London, and attempted to land a full-time work at Fleet Street. It was tough to land permanent work, despite having quality references.

But Russell caught a break when he followed up on a rumour that Princess Margaret was water skiing nearby.

Lacking a telepoto lens with his Mamiyaflex twin lens reflex camera, he captured a few ordinary exposures from far away.

However Robert Haswell, the Daily Express royal family photographer, turned up and was surprised to find Russell had nabbed his exclusive.

Russell struck a deal with Robert. For a three-month trial to cover photographers from the Daily Express, Russell would ‘fog’ his film and provide Robert with the exclusive. Little did Robert know the photos weren’t A-grade material.

The three-month trial led to four years of work with the Express.

Those years were ‘absolutely fantastic, everything was happening – the Profumo affair with Christine Keeler, the Great Train Robbery, the Beatles, the Kray Brothers,’ said Russell.

In 1968 he returned to Australia and Fairfax gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and then he photographed the Anzac day fire which changed his career. It gave Russell the pull to pick and choose assignments.

The wall of Buckingham’s department store collapses during the fire in Oxford Street on Anzac Day 1968. Photo: Russell McPhedran.

‘I got all the Olympics, all the Commonwealth Games. I could choose what I wanted to do,’ he said, which led him to Munich in 1972.

The photos he captured of the terrorists on the balcony were licensed worldwide, and represents a turning point in history.

Russell went on to capture major newsworthy events, including all the Olympics, the Granville train disaster in 1977, a shirtless Paul Hogan on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1976, Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam knocking back beers n 1975, and the British great train robber and prison escapee Ronald Biggs at a party on 1985 in Brazil.

He left Fairfax in 1985 to work for Associated Press in Sydney.

Russell retired in 2004, with a career spanning over five decades.


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