Close up with photographer Theo Fakos

Award proves this visual storyteller is right to trust his instincts

What does it take to become an award winning press photographer? Media Super member Theo Fakos talks to Clare Kennedy about his rewarding career.

Theo Fakos is a natural storyteller. It’s a gift that’s revealed in the many compelling shots he has taken over a 35-year career. Two years ago, the press photographer for The Sunday Times and Perth Now won the top honour in the West Australian Press Photography Awards (The Wappys).

But today we are focussing on his striking image of cricketer Adam Gilchrist crossing the road with fifteen-year-old Katrina Smith. It won the Best News Feature Award in this year’s Wappys in March, Fakos’s first major win for The Sunday Times.

Getting the shot

The photograph was taken in Subiaco, ten minutes drive from Perth’s city centre, where Gilchrist met Katrina in his role as an ambassador for Ronald McDonald House.

But capturing that moment, as Fakos explains, took some nimble thinking. At first, he was taken to a room with a blank wall as a backdrop. But in his mind’s eye, it just wasn’t working.

“It didn’t have the punch, didn’t have that factor. So I asked the PR people, ‘Is it OK for me to take them outside so I can use a longer lens?’”

Fakos knew he was pushing it. He only had minutes to take the photo, he explains. “It was stinking hot, a 40 degrees day, and it’s difficult to find a space to get a shot in the inner city. And I didn’t want Katrina to be outside for too long out of the air con,” he says.

“I had them outside on the footpath, Adam kneeling next to Katrina having a chat, and I was shooting straight down the barrel. But it just wasn’t working. On the hop, I thought, the shot here for me, right now, is getting them to cross the road and have a chat and a laugh. That’s it.”

He recalls asking someone to look out for traffic in front and the journo to look out for traffic behind. “I just went bang, and nailed it. The irony is, it only took a second.”

Winning the award was “icing on the cake”, but the real thrill was knowing that “other people saw what I saw through my eyes”. It showed Gilchrist, with his lovely personality, and Katrina, just being themselves, he explains.

“I find the simplest solution is often the correct one in life. And I work that theory into my photography.”

Early influences

Fakos, 54, was born in Melbourne’s Northcote and raised in Dandenong. As a kid, he recalls looking at the red cross on Melbourne’s old Herald Sun building and dreaming about working there. Instead, he ended up as a roof tiler. “Dad got me an apprenticeship because he thought I was steering the wrong way, which I wasn’t,” he grins.

At 18, in the mid ‘70s, he took the initiative and offered to assist photographer Craig Purcell at the Latrobe Valley Express, and spent 18 months working with him whenever he could, learning how to process film in the laboratory. Going on the road with a real professional really helped, he says, “as I learnt how a press photographer worked on the hop, and sometimes had only minutes to get the picture. I actually tracked him down recently and rang to thank him for everything he did for me so many years ago.”

At around 20, Fakos moved to Queensland and picked up a job at the Gold Coast Bulletin working in the darkroom. “I was taking pictures on the side for myself. Every now and then I got published,” he says.

The game changer

Fakos’s big break came, when at 23, he was offered a cadetship at the Bulletin. He stayed ten years and upon returning to Melbourne landed a job at the Herald Sun where he worked for nine years. Later, he worked as a freelancer in Queensland on everything from fashion to lifestyle images to racing cars and news stories.

Now he is living in Perth with wife Virginia Fakos, a former photographer herself, who is studying library and information services. They have two children: Tallulah, 13, and Marc, 9.

More stories to tell

Fakos’s zest for life, and ongoing curiosity about people’s lives, shines through in our conversation. When not travelling around the state gathering stories for Perth Now and The Sunday Times, he enjoys an early morning surf before going to work. He also plays drums in a band called Apollo’s Attic.

Fakos has photographed some famous faces in his day, among them, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti who, he says, was a thrill to meet in a surprise encounter at a friend’s restaurant.

But what he really loves about the job is meeting “ordinary punters” with extraordinary stories to tell.

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The award-winning photograph of Adam Gilchrist and Katrina Smith, Perth. Photo courtesy Theo Fakos / The Sunday Times.

Main photo supplied by Theo Fakos.