IF Australian Football had a Sistine Chapel, Phillip Stubbs would be responsible for the fresco.
His image of God sitting on the shoulders of the unholy to pluck the ball from the heavens would stretch from entry to altar. It’s the perfect football photo. It’s Biblical.
Stubbsy was a Geelong Advertiser photographer. A key member of an outstanding group of snappers who taught me more about journalism than any class I ever took. Professional, talented, and humble – each of them tackled their subjects in a unique way but each one of them squeezed the best out of every single shot.
Phil’s approach verged on elegant. He would float across the floor, standing as straight as a pin, and smoothly tell the subject what he needed them to do. He’d flash his Tim Curry-esque smile, thank them for their time, and we’d move onto the next job.
He rarely seemed flustered.
He had a private school accent yet never came across as pretentious. He could talk at lengths about his love of red wine moments before talking about how the Cats played on the weekend. He was as comfortable taking snaps of celebrities as he was chatting with pissed off locals who thought they needed more footpaths, or less footpaths, or no footpaths.
I remember talking to Stubbsy about football photography. I wasn’t a football journalist and I had no plans to be. But I had a great admiration for the photographers who could capture that perfect footy shot.
I talked to him about the picture he’d taken (above) of Paul Chapman taking a screamer in the 2007 Grand Final. I told him how much I loved seeing a great shot of a great mark.
“I was actually in a very similar spot to a photo I took of Gary Ablett taking a mark,” he replied dryly.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Which one? He took enough of them.”
He smiled. “They call it the mark of the century but I’m not sure he actually held it,” he said.
I had this sort of stupid starstruck moment. That photo had adorned the wall of my childhood bedroom. I’d look up at it while listening to the game on the clock-radio next to my bed. I loved the way it not only showed Ablett’s athelticism but how it captured Garry Hocking’s look of wonder in the background. It inspired me to want to be a footy player.
And I’d been working with the bloke who took the photo for the better part of two years.
“How come no one else got the shot?” I asked as we drove along to another local job in our rubbish Toyota Prius.
“Well,” he said, “Collingwood had kicked a lot of goals in a row and were right back in the game, so all the other photographers were at the other end of the ground. As it happened, I was the only one at the right end.”
“So you got lucky,” I replied.
He turned to me, still driving.
“Luck doesn’t take into account the ability to read the game and see that something special could be happening in a place where no other person thinks it will,” he said.
“….but there was a good deal of luck involved too.”
It was an honour to work with Stubbsy. Geelong lost one of its best when he lost his battle with mental illness at the end of 2010. It was a tragedy for his friends, his family and the entire Geelong Advertiser.
But his legacy will forever live on because he saw that something special could happen when no one else could.