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Tony Cordeiro (1938-2023): photographer with ‘uncanny ability to make you believe you were there’

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Mentor and inspiration: long-time Royal Gazette photographer Tony Cordeiro died this week after a short illness. Mr Cordeiro was praised by his former colleagues as an inspirational professional who always got the picture. (Photograph by Lawrence Trott)

A self-taught photojournalist who mastered the art of capturing the moment impressed his exacting standards for a picture on to a legion of photographers.

Tony Cordeiro, a former chief photographer at The Royal Gazette, was recalled by his successor at the daily, David Skinner, for his “uncanny ability to make you believe you were there, witnessing the event”.

Former colleagues recalled him as tough but amiable, with a knack for defusing situations where the sight of a camera might spark anger.

Mr Cordeiro’s career in pictures began in the 1950s with Henry DeSilva, who worked the hotel circuit photographing guests.

He would head to the old Reid Street offices of the Gazette on weekends to develop film shot by sports reporters.

Ronnie Oatway, an editor at The Royal Gazette and later the general manager, got him to take on assignments, leading to him becoming the paper’s first full-time photojournalist.

The timing was fortuitous: Mr Cordeiro had been the house photographer at the Bermudiana Hotel — which burnt down a week later in September 1958.

Mr Cordeiro dived in with “no one before to teach him about the ins and outs of a cover story”, Mr Skinner said.

“He learnt very quickly how to tell a story in a picture, and he did it well.

“He was able to freeze time and capture the emotion of that image.”

Master photographer Tony Cordeiro at work (File photograph)

During a career spanning more than 40 years until his 2004 retirement, Mr Cordeiro covered every facet of news, from international stories to sports, riots, strikes and royal visits.

At a lifetime achievement award in 2011, Mr Cordeiro said: “Give me something that is moving, and I will go and chase it.”

Photo technology evolved from mixing darkroom chemicals to digital during his career.

Mr Cordeiro’s comment was: “I always said a good camera is the one that works, no fancy stuff.”

Tony Cordeiro in the 1970s with Amanda Outerbridge, former editor of the Mid-Ocean News (Photograph supplied)

Mr Skinner said: “Over the years, Tony passed on his incredible knowledge in photojournalism to many local photographers, including Steve Raynor, James Rego, Arthur Bean, Tamell Simons, Johnny Skinner and myself.”

He added that Mr Cordeiro could be a taskmaster.

“He demanded speed and quality — but if you wanted to learn from the best, then this was the man to teach you.

“Tony once said the pictures might be in black and white, but the language in the darkroom can get very colourful sometimes.”

The job entailed walking into tense situations, but Mr Cordeiro credited his mother, Virginia, for teaching him to “get on with everybody”.

Born in Rabo de Peixe, São Miguel in the Azores, he came to Bermuda with his family as a small child.

A career highlight was Mr Cordeiro’s return to the Azores with Sir David Gibbons, the former premier, and Lady Gibbons on an official visit.

Sir David insisted on Mr Cordeiro’s pictures being exhibited in Hamilton City Hall.

His shots of Bermuda’s 1977 riots went international — and in a February 1982 royal visit, Mr Cordeiro got the first photograph of a pregnant Diana , Princess of Wales, much in demand from the Associated Press.

During another visit, the then Prince Charles noted Mr Cordeiro’s use of a Roloflex and said: “Nice camera. My mother has one just like it.”

Mr Skinner said: “We should all be grateful to Tony for his incredible talent and ability to record Bermuda history to be seen by generations to come.”

He recalled Mr Cordeiro’s adages: “If your picture is not good enough, you are not close enough” and “You don't take a picture, you make one.”

“That one I never forget as a photographer.”

Bill Zuill, the former Editor of the Gazette and now Head of Digital at the newspaper, said: “Tony had a great eye for a picture and was willing to do whatever it took to get it — he would lie on the ground or go up in a crane to get the shot.

“His other gift was his ability to get on with everyone — he could make everyone from a Premier to a shy child comfortable about getting their picture taken in a way that allowed the person’s true personality to come through.

“As chief photographer he set very high standards and led by example, but he also had tremendous empathy for his team. If they were struggling for any reason, he was there for them. He was a terrific colleague and friend.”

Dexter Smith, the Editor of the Gazette, said anyone who knew Mr Cordeiro would remember “his charm, good humour, dedication to the job and remarkable professionalism”.

“He was a mentor and inspiration to several generations of photographers who worked under him.”

He added: “He was also an absolute champion in the Portuguese community, where he will be sorely missed.”

Steel going up on East Broadway in this picture by Tony Cordeiro

Amanda Outerbridge, the former editor of the Mid-Ocean News and assistant editor at the Gazette, said: "Tony was an excellent news photographer, a real pro who knew the job inside out. And he was also a wonderful human being who was passionate about his family, and Bermuda. Generally he liked people and people liked him.

"As a young reporter, I loved going on assignments with him, the seasoned pro who knew everybody. It was always an adventure and a learning experience. But while he was a kind and generous mentor, he was no pushover and held everyone around him to high standards.

"As an editor, I valued his range of professional skills even more; he was so good at his job. In news photography, you only have one chance to capture the image you need. It was second nature to Tony, and he delivered.

“In addition, for planned photo shoots he would joke and chat to subjects to put them at ease, whether they were royalty, an international celebrity or a young entrepreneur.

“Tony engendered respect and affection. I feel lucky to have had him as a colleague and a friend.”

Tony Cordeiro’s iconic photograph of Sir Richard Sharples and Lady Sharples and their Great Dane Horsa. Sir Richard was assassinated in 1973. Horsa was killed as well.

Former Gazette photographer Stephen Raynor said: “I owe my career to Tony. He hired me off the street, and I spent a year in the darkroom before he let me touch a camera — it was well worth it.”

Mr Raynor recalled excitedly shooting pictures of rioters in 1977 advancing on the House of Assembly — and getting knocked to the ground in a throng of angry demonstrators.

“Suddenly I felt a hand on either shoulder like the hands of angels, and I was lifted to my feet.

“One of them was Tony. The other was Lois Browne Evans. I walked back to the Gazette just trembling.”

Mr Raynor said the head photographer’s insistence on shooting better pictures once had him in tears.

“He was never satisfied. He always wanted to make sure all the details were right.”

He added that he learnt crowd control from Mr Cordeiro’s easygoing but firm manner.

“I never sensed differences in him dealing with people of different backgrounds or races. He was always able to find not just conversation but humour — as rough and strict as he was.”

Tony Cordeiro at the Ross “Blackie” Talbot Golf tournament after he retired. (File photograph)

Lawrence Trott, who wrote about sports and photographed them during a long Gazette career, remembered Mr Cordeiro as his mentor when he first started shooting sports pictures in 1976, but one moment of kindness from the days before digital cameras recently came back to him.

Mr Trott said he was covering a press conference as a reporter and Mr Cordeiro was there to take pictures when: “Just as it was getting ready to start, the Bermuda Sun photographer said, ‘Oh man, I forgot to bring my film'.

“Tony looked at him and without saying a word reached in his camera bag, brought out a roll of film and tossed it to his competitor. It was the kindest thing I have seen in a competitive business — typical Tony Cordeiro — and I have thought about it often in the last few years.”

Former Gazette photographer Glenn Tucker called him “the grand master of all things photography”.

“He hired me knowing that my photography experience was limited, and patiently taught me the correct techniques to build my skills into a respectable pro photojournalist.

“He took me out on my first weekend assignment, which I totally messed up — and instead of firing me on the spot, he made me go study.”

He added that Mr Cordeiro was a father figure who was “always willing to listen and teach me”.

Mr Cordeiro is survived by sons Anthony and Mark with Elizabeth, his wife.

• Tony Cordeiro, a former chief photographer with The Royal Gazette, was born on July 28, 1938. He died on January 31, 2023, aged 84.

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Published February 03, 2023 at 7:55 am (Updated February 03, 2023 at 8:11 am)

Tony Cordeiro (1938-2023): photographer with ‘uncanny ability to make you believe you were there’

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