Another sad loss, and it’s a wee bit personal … Back in the days when cameras used roll film, had no automatic focussing or exposure setting, and lenses were all fixed-focus and apertures had to be manually set, photography was a skill and an art form in its own right.
There had to be technical knowledge too, choosing the correct ‘speed’ of film and processing procedures to minimise ‘graining’ in the final shots and then long hours in the dark room developing the film before printing the actual photographs themselves. Having mastered the technical expertise a photographer then had to be able to choose and compose his/her required shots, position him or herself in the right location to capture an action shot and then be quick enough to press the trigger once the aperture and speed had been set.
The difference between a good photographer and an excellent photographer could be measured in thousandths of a second back in the early days of motor racing and rallying and Eric Bryce was not just a good or an excellent photographer, he was a master of his technology and art.
A farmer by day and photographer for fun Eric spent most weekends in the 1950s and 1960s photographing motor racing at Charterhall and Winfield as well as local car rallies and in the process capturing the early motor sporting forays of a man called Jim Clark and other local hot-shots.
When the Borders circuits finally closed, Eric started attending the new circuit at Ingliston in the late 1960s where he encountered a cheeky young would-be photographer and reporter. Unlike some of the other more established ‘professionals’ at that time Eric was not in the least bit wary or jealous of any newcomers.
A quiet, polite man, he wasn’t openly helpful and didn’t try to teach, but he would chat and make suggestions and answer any questions that were asked. That was surely the best way to teach and advise a newcomer – being ‘taught’ without being ‘instructed’. He was always willing to show off his equipment and he always had the best of Nikon gear.
Apparently this came from another local source. Andrew Cowan did a lot of business in Japan and was perhaps better known in the far east for his rallying exploits than he was here at home but each time he visited Japan he came back with the latest Nikon gear for Eric. Oddly enough, there was never any mention of cost for this most expensive equipment – or whether taxes and duty had been paid!
As Clark spread his wings Eric followed him south and photographed many races and grand prix chronicling Clark’s rise through the ranks, but he didn’t venture abroad. He was first and foremost a farmer, working the family farm at Gordon near Duns.
He also photographed local shows and Point to Point horse races throughout the Borders, as well as the Jim Clark rallies, so his output was both varied and prolific.
He spoke quietly which made folk think he was shy, but there was a twinkle in his eye and his stories were full of fun and mischief of those early days and once he started talking time just slipped away.
The last time we met was at a Club Lotus ‘do’ outside the Museum in Duns. The original cloth cap or bunnet had given way to a much-faded baseball cap, but otherwise he was just the same kindly man who had been so generous to an upstart fifty years before.
His files will provide an undoubted treasure trove of images gathered over the years and hopefully we’ll get to see some of them. There is however a book which was recently produced by the Jim Clark Trust called “Clark Through the Lens” which features some of Eric’s photographs and that is now on my Christmas list:
Sadly, Eric passed away quite suddenly last week. He was 86, a lovely, kind, gentle, polite and helpful man - and a really great photographer.