Doug Carnegie, photographer

Born: May 8, 1931;

Died: April 25, 2020.

IN the seventeenth century a churchman and memoirist, Cardinal de Retz, wrote: “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.” This maxim was later adopted by the legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who in 1952 published a landmark book of his work under the title “The Decisive Moment.”

Award-winning press photographer Doug Carnegie, who has died aged 88, was an expert at capturing those decisive moments that are the elusive prey of all great professional image hunters. He had the ability to take a fragment of frozen time and frame it in such a way that it illuminated a life, a history, a world. Whether he was photographing conflict, sport, tragedy or romance, he always had a bold and compelling story to tell.

His greatest accolade came, however, when he covered a tragedy. He was the first press photographer on the scene following a gas explosion at the Royal Darroch Hotel in Cults, near Aberdeen, in October 1983. Six people died in the blaze and the three-storey building was destroyed. More than 200 firefighters, police, ambulance personnel and medical staff rushed to the scene as flames spread from one end of the building to the other. Almost all of the ground floor of the reinforced concrete building collapsed 12ft into the rubble. Firefighters and civilian helpers, including schoolboys, pulled 15 people out from beneath the debris.

The pictures Carnegie took on that tragic day won him the prestigious Nikon Award for Best Regional Photographer of the Year, 1984. He received his award in London.

Born in Dundee in 1931, Carnegie was very much destined to enjoy a successful career in the media. Dundee at the time was one of the great hubs of British journalism and both Carnegie’s parents worked for DC Thomson, the dominant local publishing company.

His father, Albert, was in the printing department of The Courier in Dundee. His mother, Margaret, was also employed by the newspaper before she left to start a family.

It was in nearby Invergowrie that Carnegie was raised in a house overlooking the river Tay, along with his younger brother, Bruce. A picture-perfect childhood, it involved pleasurable rural activities including boating and keeping hens in the garden.

After leaving Harris Academy he himself joined DC Thomson, aged 17, and began to learn his trade with The Courier. At a local dance he met Rita Baxter, who became his wife in 1957. Together they would go on to have three children, Derek, Audrey and Gillian.

The family would provide many pictorial opportunities for Carnegie, both for private family albums and more public display. Rita appeared on the cover of the Scots Magazine in 1957, the image taken by her husband, of course.

Carnegie had a true passion for pictures and was always keen to help young photographers at the beginning of their careers. He also had a rich and varied life away from his camera, enjoying golf and spending time with his family.

In 1961 he joined the Scottish Daily Mail, though when the office he was based in closed down he moved with his family to Northern Ireland to work for the Belfast Telegraph.

This was in 1968, and the Troubles that would so indelibly scar that nation’s landscape were beginning to escalate.

Carnegie’s job was to give an account of those disputatious and dangerous times. He lived in Bangor, about fifteen miles from Belfast, which was a relatively peaceful place to raise a young family.

However, there was constant worry, as each working day required travelling into Belfast to chronicle chaos and conflict. He took photographs of IRA funerals and was sent to cover explosions and riots.

Concerns over the safety of his family eventually led Carnegie to return to Scotland, joining the Aberdeen Evening Express in 1971. His jobs included following Aberdeen FC, who enjoyed great success in the 1980s, thriving under the stewardship of manager Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson was not a man to suffer fools gladly, and often had a prickly relationship with the press. Carnegie, however, got on well with him and enjoyed covering football matches, even if it could be a nerve-wracking experience.

Modern digital camera technology allows rapid-fire pictures to be taken, and a photographer can instantly check his camera to examine the images that have been captured. This was not the case in the 1980s, when pictures still had to be developed in a darkroom back in the newspaper office.

It was at this point that a photographer would discover whether he had taken pictures that perfectly illustrated the crucial moments of a match… or not.

Carnegie felt the pressure of those intense moments in the dark, though he thrived in the sporting world, taking many notable pictures of goals being scored and goalkeepers making acrobatic saves.

The picture he was perhaps most proud of was taken for the Courier in Dundee. The Queen had been in town and Carnegie captured an image of a student throwing a cloak over a puddle, allowing Her Majesty to walk over it without getting her feet wet.

This gallant yet archaic gesture perfectly encapsulated a life, a history, a world. A decisive moment that even Cartier-Bresson would have been proud of.

Doug Carnegie succumbed to coronavirus on April 25, 2020, aged 88. He is survived by his wife Rita, brother Bruce, children Derek, Audrey and Gillian, and grandchildren Laura and Adam.