I first met Tim Page in the offices of Elle magazine in the late 1980s. That may sound like a strange place for him to be found so let me explain. The art director of Elle at that time had previously art directed The Observer colour supplement magazine and we often had photographers from there drop in for a chat and to look for work. Tim was one of those photographers as was Don McCullin, and the writers Bruce Chatwin and Jan Morris among many others. I was no more than nineteen years of age and in awe of these people whose names I had seen in the colour supplements on our family breakfast table.
I was working at Elle full-time whilst also completing my degree at St.Martins School of Art, running between Covent Garden and Lower Regent Street to keep both plates spinning. Part of my daily routine to achieve this meant that I was always in the office early and before anyone else to mark up prints and transparencies for the PMT guy (Google this if you don’t know) to print throughout the morning. No one got into the office before me and I usually had the hour between 9.00am to 10.00am to complete my work in quiet solitude.
It was on a morning such as this that Tim Page appeared at my shoulder. I had seen him in the office before, but never spoken to him. This time I was the only person to speak to and he made a bee-line for me.
Without the need for niceties he started into telling me about his friend Sean Flynn, the son of actor Errol Flynn and fellow photographer in Vietnam and fatefully in Cambodia. Flynn traveled with the U.S. Army Special Forces units and irregulars operating in remote areas. While on assignment for Paris Match in Cambodia in April 1970, Flynn and fellow photojournalist Dana Stone were captured by communist guerrillas. Neither man was seen or heard from again. Flynn had an apartment in Paris on the Champs Elysee that remained closed and untouched from his disappearance looked after by his mother Lili Damita. In 1984, she had him declared dead in absentia. However, the apartment was left untouched for over 20 years, finally being opened after his mother’s death in 1994 (she didn’t want to change anything should he come home). When it was finally opened all Sean’s possessions were perfectly in place, just as he’d left them.
Why am I telling you this? Because it is exactly the story Tim told me back in 1988, but he didn’t only tell me Sean’s story he also handed me Sean’s photographs. Clear plastic sheets of 35mm colour transparencies all in their original Paris Match branded cardboard sleeves. I cannot remember how or why Tim had them, but he did and asked me if I would look at them and remount them all. If he asked me today I would refuse and argue for the authenticity of the curling cardboard sleeves, but the young me did not. I agreed and began transferring each image into a plastic and glass clip together frame.
As I did so Tim talked to me of Vietnam, how he believed his leg was still being eaten away by Agent Orange. He spoke in Vietnam/Army slang, intense, but soft spoken, smoking heavily. I made him coffee and we spoke of Michael Herr’s book Dispatches, which he features in. A favourite book of mine then and now.
Tim wanted the images to become a book in memory of Sean, but it was a book that never happened. However, Tim did make a film Searching for Sean Flynn in which he travelled to Cambodia to try and solve the mysteries of Flynn and Stone’s disappearance. By the time he made the film he was 69 years of age and trying to sell his entire photo archive—he never had a pension—while at the same time working on his latest memoir. When we met the first time we had discussed the same projects and issues. Some things never change.
Tim Page was Vietnam and Vietnam was Tim Page, not the country. but the conflict. The young me found that exciting, the older me can see the sadness in experiencing and seeing what Tim did when he was just twenty years of age and having to live with those experiences for the rest of your life. Tim survived and many of his friends did not, that’s a lot to deal with.
We bumped into each other occasionally over the following decades and he was always talking of projects and how I could help or get involved. None of the projects came to fruition. In later life he lived in Australia and we recently connected vicariously through the photographer Stephen Dupont when he contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast, as Stephen had become a friend and collaborator to Tim in Australia. I sent Tim some emails but he did not respond. I presumed he was unwell.
Now Tim has joined Sean I think the final words of this piece should be Tim’s, “What we [photojournalists] have going for us is compassion. In Vietnam, photography swayed public opinion, and it still can. It can make a difference..”
Recommended Tim Page Viewing:
Mentioned in Dispatches (BBC Arena, 1979) www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBu1K8Q2j14
Tim Page on shooting the Vietnam War www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVX834XY7Yc
Searching for Sean Flynn www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3RF8tiySio&t=12s
Image: Tim Page by Stephen Dupont 2021
Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com. He is the presenter of the A Photographic Life and In Search of Bill Jay podcasts.
© Grant Scott 2022