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Wednesday 24 November 2010

Peter Carrette dies at age 63. The paparazzo's story.

When I heard about the news of Peter Carrette's death - I first read about it on Twitter via journo Patty Huntington - I was saddened.

He didn't know me, I didn't know him, but I've seen him at every red carpet, every film premiere, every after party. And where he was found when he died also saddened me deeply - he was slumped at his computer, working and still running his photo agency, Icon Images. And, he was only 63. Still so young (one of these photos shows the impromptu guard of honour fellow photogs did for Peter as he was taken out of his Bondi apartment that same morning; pic credit: Big Australia).

Actually, I did speak with him once. Many years ago. It was at a film premiere - the name of the movie escapes me - and I was hovering near the assembled photogs on the red carpet. The Aussie soap starlets were turning out in droves and Peter was a little stumped with some of the fresh new faces.

"Who's that?" he asked me. I duly replied, knowing all the B-graders by name. He turned and winked at me, "Thanks for that. I can never keep up with the new ones."

I didn't know who he was but he looked important, like a veteran of the game.

How right I was.

Peter was infamous for taking what has been deemed one of the most audacious photos in recent photojournalism history. It was he who snuck into St Vincents Hospital in Sydney in 1969 to take a photo of a comatose Marianne Faithfull.

Faithfull was Sydney visiting her then boyfriend Mick Jagger, who was shooting Ned Kelly. It was said that she caught him in the arms of another woman, and she overdosed on heroin.

"Everyone wanted the picture - I went and got the picture" Carrette told The Sydney Morning Herald in an interview in 2005.

The lengths he went to are legendary: he dressed in a doctor’s coat rented from the Elizabethen Theatre Trust to sneak into the hospital.

I promptly Googled Peter Carrette as soon as I heard of his death.

One of the first pieces which came up was one by the talented Wentworth Courier journalist, Rob Bates. So, I asked him what he remembers about the man.

"I first met Peter by accident a few years ago and was instantly sucked in by his charm, humour and amazing stories. He was very tall with a long white pony tail, English accent, quick wit and a manner that made everyone feel like an old friend.

"My lasting impression was of a man with firm principles who treated everyone with respect and was respected by everyone. He was incredibly generous and would go above and beyond to help the people around him. I think he had regrets, but too few to waste time dwelling on and knew how to have fun," says Rob.

"He didn’t like a lot of what he saw in his industry, like nasty pictures and car chases, and called some other paparazzi “bandits” and “bounty hunters with cameras”. His preference was to build a rapport with celebrities and treat them with respect, but expected respect in return. He used to say “while I take your picture, your price goes up,” and took great offence if celebrities ever mistreated his staff.

The main reason he wanted to do the interview was to promote the Krousar Thmey foundation for children in Cambodia, which he had helped build over about 20 years. He visited the kids a few times a year and cried while telling us about his first trip repatriating them from a refugee camp in Thailand. I know he thought about them all the time and said he said he grew up with them," adds Rob.

Rob recounts how these beautiful pictures, taken by Courier Group photographer Alan Pace, came to be.

"Alan and I went to Pete’s office that day without any real plan and it seemed like we were mid conversation as soon as we walked in the door. Pete would skip from one decade and country to another and I kept asking questions to get the interview back into chronological order. Alan just snapped away as we spoke, Pete was so used to cameras he hardly seemed to notice. We were there for about three hours and we both would have liked to stay much longer," Rob reveals.

"We kept in touch from that day on and I was lucky enough to call him my mate."

If the few pieces I have read over the past few days about Peter, one thing is apparent: he was hugely respected by his peers.

So I got in touch with a photographer pal from my days at the Courier Group - Phil Rogers - who put me in touch with freelance photographer Robert Wallace.

One of the first things I ask Robert is about that Heath Ledger incident.

Robert is quick to point out that first and foremost, he was not there the day that global-headline making stunt happened, in which Carrette and other photographers squirted Heath Ledger with water from toy guns at a Sydney film premiere of his.

"I was NOT present when this incident occurred, nor did I participate, nor would I have participated, regardless of my feelings, had I been present at that particular event," says Robert.

"From what I have heard, Peter probably disapproved of Heath Ledger's attitude and behaviour at times. Peter's gesture was probably more of a prank than a vindictive action. He wanted to make a statement. I don't think it was ever intended to cause a stir and think it was forgotten about soon after."

Robert tells of how he knew Peter: "As photographers, Peter and I moved in similar circles, photographing events and celebrities in Sydney. I only knew Peter in the last three or four years of his life when I moved into celebrity photography from other areas of the photo industry. He was a larger than life character with a colourful, youthful dress sense and he always stood out.

"Although Peter was perhaps mostly known for his years photographing celebrities, his approach to war-zone photography would take some beating... his lifestyle and hairstyle was not exactly of the 'buzz cut' genre."

Robert recounts Peter's greatest career triumphs.

"Peter started with little or nothing and made his mark. Some of the lucky breaks he received are the things other photographers dream of. Peter had friends the world over. Most remember him for his charm, his story-telling and his good nature. Celebrity photography is not all glitz - it can be stressful and competitive. Peter retained charm and grace through it all.

"His generosity, as evidenced by his fund-raising for orphanages, was also one of his many great achievements, one that should be remembered by the general public."

"I think photographers especially can learn from Peter's 'chutzpah' in getting the job done, the legendary incidents earlier in his life – his days on a motorbike working in New York and his coverage of war-zones. Photography is a hands-on job and there is more to it than merely the glamorous or superficial notions some people have of the industry."

A memorial service will be held at the Bondi Pavilion (in the High Tide room) this Friday November 26, at 3pm, with a wake held afterwards at North Bondi RSL, Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach.

"When the details of Peter's memorial service in Bondi were announced, it was asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be forwarded to the Cambodian orphanage that Peter supported, typical of the generosity and thoughtfulness of Peter and his family.

"Photographers work hard, but there was so much more to Peter than merely his career."

Amen to that. RIP Peter Carrette.

(Photos here show Peter Carrette at Heath Ledger's Brokeback Mountain premiere where the water pistol incident occurred. He was interviewed by Yumi Stynes soon after. The others show Peter in his element at red carpet premieres; pic credits Big Australia. The two portrait shots are by Alan Pace).

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