Ray Sizer’s remarkable 40-year milestone

By John Lewis

It was the traditional back to school photo that caught Ray Sizer out.

Five years ago he was at Kialla West Primary School, recording yet another priceless moment of nerves, tears and excitement on the first day of prep, when a misty-eyed young mother reminded him he had taken her picture on her first day at school 30 years ago.

‘‘That stopped me and made me feel ... sort of proud really. It’s good to know that you’ve recorded a community’s history and a person’s history,’’ Ray said.

Ray sometimes struggles for words to describe his feelings.

He is a picture man.

Ray was a shy 16-year-old schoolboy when he turned up at The News for a stint of work experience in 1979.

From day one, his fate was sealed — just like the roll of black and white film in the back of his point-and-shoot Agfa camera.

‘‘The first day I was there, a part-time job came up and I was asked if I wanted it,’ he said.

‘‘I’d seen the excitement of the newsroom, the photographers going out on jobs — then the magic in the darkroom when they returned.’’

His first job was filing negatives for $1.75 an hour.

But it did not take him long to get a picture published — he thinks it was a footy presentation.

Then came his first front page — a moment of nervous apprehension as IXL factory workers in Kyabram opened letters telling them whether or not they still had a job.

That was the start of four decades of front page fever.

‘‘I still get excited by getting a picture on the front page, that’s the drive I suppose. Every picture could be a front page picture,’’ he said.

When October rains brought record-breaking floods in 1993, Ray was there with his camera — upgraded to a Nikon, but still using black and white film.

For three weeks, Ray travelled the length and breadth of the Goulburn Valley to record the startling sights of homes, farms, shops and whole towns inundated by the rising waters of the Broken and Goulburn rivers.

He followed the water by car, by boat and by gumboot as it spread from Benalla to Echuca and Shepparton, returning with hundreds of astonishing images and a nasty bout of pneumonia for his troubles.

His photo of a man desperately trying to make a call from a semi-submerged phone booth in Benalla’s flooded main street told the whole story in a single image.

Such was its iconic power, it went global in a time before social media.

‘‘Telstra loved it — they thought the phone was working. But it wasn’t,’’ Ray said.

After 40 years, he still has photo fever.

‘‘It’s a real privilege to be part of the community and share moments of happiness — and to meet all the amazing people we still continue to find,’’ he said.

Okay, now for the one question every photographer has to endure. What’s his favourite?

Ray’s answer says a lot about his motivation.

‘‘It has to be a picture I took of my kids in the backyard — Adam’s jumper was on back to front. It’s an honest picture and it has a real emotional connection to me. I hope I’ve done that for all the other people I’ve photographed,’’ he said.

For more images from Ray’s vast archive of News pictures see this Saturday’s Weekend Life.