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Aperture: Life Through a Fleet Street Lens

John Downing
Wendy Holden
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
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Foreword by Jeremy Bowen

John Downing was the pre-eminent press photographer of his generation: he led a life of adventure in wars and hotspots around the world. His memoir, Aperture: Life Through a Fleet Street Lens, offers a unique and first-hand insight into life behind the Fleet Street lens during one of the most interesting periods of world history and a golden age of photojournalism.

As a photojournalist, and seven-time winner of the British Press Photographer of the Year, John Downing recognised a good story, and how to tell it. Aperture is a fascinating and engaging mix of recording the heyday of Fleet Street – multi-million daily sales as the only source of readable news, dynamic characters and its own unique cultures – and Downing’s less glamorous personal experiences on the job. These included long assignments in hotspots around the world, including South Sudan, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Uganda, Bangladesh and Chernobyl, which are vividly described. Widely respected by colleagues, Downing’s work includes some of the iconic images of the period, including the only photograph of Thatcher immediately after the IRA bombing.

Aperture describes the glamour and excitement of journalism at the time: the hard-nosed editors, the rivalries, the ‘work hard play hard culture’, foreign assignments issued at the drop of a hat, the toll on journalists and photographers. Newspapers were hugely important in the daily lives of their readers then, the world was less accessible than now, and newspapers played a vital role in shining light into some of its darker, more inaccessible parts. John Downing played a significant part in this, though not without some personal cost. Completed shortly before his death, with the help of colleague Wendy Holden, Downing filed a story for the final time: his own remarkable life.


Comments from Malcolm Brabant, friend and journalist

Thursday, July 7, 2022

I’ve just finished reading Aperture and I felt bereft when I reached the last sentence, because I didn’t want the stream of great anecdotes to end. What shines through in this book, is John’s dedication to his craft; his massive heart, not just his love for family and friends, but humanity itself; and also his great courage. His adventures in war zones, especially Sudan, Somalia, Central America and Afghanistan, all undertaken without a helmet or flak jacket, are lessons in fortitude and chutzpah. The bravery with which John faced terminal cancer is awe-inspiring, and I’m glad that my friend had Anita by his side during that impossible battle. I normally read books on Kindle these days, but I’m glad that I have Aperture in hard copy to put on my bookshelf and I can look up and remember that John Downing knew how to live and ultimately, how to die.

Review by Buzz Magazine

Wednesday, July 6, 2022


As a Fleet Street photographer, Llanelli-born John Downing frequently found himself far from home, having been fished out of a local drinking den and dispatched on yet another dangerous foreign assignment. His posthumously published memoir plunges the reader into the cut and thrust of life – and near-death – on the front line.


Downing’s itinerary reads like a tour of post-1970s “Wish You Weren’t Here” tinderbox situations: Sudan, Vietnam, the Falklands, Bosnia, Afghanistan. His pictures hammered home the horrors of war, especially the impact on children – those who had no comprehension of the conflict and bore no responsibility for it. That concern for the innocent extended to peacetime tragedies too, notably the Chernobyl disaster.


With a cavalier attitude to personal safety as well as alcohol consumption, Downing survived as much through luck as through judgement. He paints a picture of a man’s world in which camaraderie with fellow newshounds was critical but romantic and familial relationships were neglected and often strained to breaking point.

Written with the assistance of author and former Telegraph journalist Wendy Holden, Aperture took shape as Downing faced up to a diagnosis of terminal cancer. His legacy includes the Press Photographers’ Association (which he founded), a remarkable body of work – and now this eye-opening portrait of a perilous profession.


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