Freezing The Moment

They are iconic images: they provide the backdrop to our lives. And because of the prevalence and power of visual language, we’ve come to feel we own them.
Jonah Lomu in the rain, hunched shoulders, alone in the middle of the mad arena just before the test, listening to his own music on his Walkman; Russell Coutts, fist clenched, punching the cloud-swept San Diego sky; Michael Campbell, all concentration, clearing bunker shot, sand spraying out towards us; Taine Randall, his face once again mask of disgust at defeat; Chris Cairns on the rampage, bounding forward, bowling arm raised, about to unleash another damaging delivery.
The images are so strong, so familiar, so well-used, that it’s hard to imagine they were there only for the briefest moment. And that the millisecond of shutter exposure that created these enduring monuments to our national sense of self, once existed only in the anticipation of great photographer’s eye.
Andrew Cornaga is that photographer. His company, Photosport, has grown since 1992 from the passion of single sports-mad young man, to an internationally respected photo library which covers almost all New Zealand’s competitive and outdoor activities.
After completing Certificate of Commerce at the (then) Auckland Technical Institute, Cornaga found his first job as travel agency junior but discovered it wasn’t his thing. He then got into black and white photo processing for an Auckland lab, which provided him with valuable technical skills. But still, it was too much of sedentary, indoor existence for this energetic man. His passion for sport needed an outlet that involved him more closely.
With second-hand Canon AE-1, Cornaga accompanied friend, sports photographer for the Auckland Star, to grid-iron game. “I nailed good shot,” Cornaga recalls, “and from then on, I was hooked.”
From then on, Cornaga went out every weekend, shooting sports events. He “hassled” the Star’s sports and photo editors every Monday morning for while. They saw the quality of his work, ran many photos on freelance basis, and eventually offered him job. After the demise of that paper, Cornaga went out on his own.
“Our first client was Rubgy News, who paid us weekly retainer. This gave us cash flow and let us set up small office.”
Ten years later, Photosport is the pre-eminent New Zealand action photo agency. Awards spill off the walls of the office in Auckland’s Newmarket – best sports photographer there, best action pic there – but Cornaga and his team keep trying harder. There’s constant sense of hustle in the place, with someone always rushing off to an event. life spent chasing and capturing moment, has romantic ring. But from management perspective, it’s also scary tale, fraught with risk.
First there’s the cost of simply getting the shot. significant part of Photosport’s operating budget goes on travel for Cornaga and his other two photographers, Dean Treml and Sandra Teddy. They may invest thousands of dollars in following team of New Zealand sportsmen or women overseas, but if their results aren’t up to what is expected, there won’t be much future call for the images of their disappointing defeats. Still, you’d need to be there at every game, focusing, concentrating, waiting for that magic moment.

Images no-one wants
The last All Black World Cup Campaign is case in point: after following the All Blacks in Europe, Photosport is left with portfolio of images not many want to remember, least of all use for reproduction.
Investment in camera gear is considerable, and advancing technology, can also mean rapid obsolescence.
Emailing scans to clients has made things easier – about 70 percent of their business is conducted this way now. The previous practice of sending out original transparencies has sometimes been nightmare, with the precious little scraps of emulsion getting lost, passed on, or damaged.
Photosport’s website is comprehensive, with over 4000 images on show (about 15 percent of its entire library), and catalogued with everything from table tennis to cheerleaders. The personal touch still makes the difference: clients prefer to phone and talk, then visit the library. The website works mainly as catalogue.
Cornaga enjoys good, close relationship with the management and sponsors of the significant New Zealand sports, especially cricket. For him though, the challenge remains one of relationship management: people in pivotal positions keep changing, and his task is to keep building new relationships with their replacements. “That’s the hardest thing in business,” Cornaga asserts, “to get good contacts, and to keep them.”
Photosport has six kinds of clients: newspapers and new magazines; advertising, public relations and promotional agencies; the sports bodies; sports sponsors; private sports fans; and book publishers (who do use some of those bad times pictures).
Intellectual property issues are significant aspect of Cornaga’s business. The re-use or over-use of his images is always concern. Cornaga is very proud of his operation: shows me how they’ve expanded the size of their existing library; points out how every worthwhile image is saved onto CD, with complete, duplicate library stored elsewhere at private address. Beyond being successful small business, Cornaga’s Photosport is also building remarkable archive of New Zealand achievement. And that is good.

Alex Stone is writer based on Waiheke Island, near Auckland.

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