The Gurkha regiment

 
Peter Bush expands on Kevin Stent’s image of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, and reflects on the photographer’s career

Kevin Stent

This picture of the famed Gurkha soldiers marching in Wellington with a cheerful six-year-old schoolgirl illustrates the tough disciplined soldiers from Nepal showing their delight at the young recruit in their ranks. A section of the Royal Gurkha Rifles was in New Zealand for the Anzac Day celebrations. They were returning from a lunchtime parade through the streets of Wellington on the Friday before Anzac Day, and many local primary schools had come to watch.

Kevin Stent, senior photographer at The Dominion Post, had been sent to cover the parade. The distance between the watching children and soldiers was vast, so Kevin first selected a willing child, and then politely asked the unit’s English officer if he could shoot a picture of six-year-old Yovela Li marching within their ranks. Permission was granted, and Kevin guided Yovela into position amid the soldiers, and shot this picture with his Canon EOS-1D X and 70–200mm zoom lens at an aperture of f/4 and a shutter speed of 1/400s.

Even though this, in newspaper parlance, was a set-up, the combination of smiling soldiers in their camouflage uniforms contrasting with little Yovela Li, proudly smart in her striking school uniform, all combined to make this a standout picture. It’s potentially even a worthy winner of a press picture award … or the solution if there is ever a need for a unique recruiting picture for this regiment of the toughest of all mercenary soldiers.

Just before I talk to Stent about his successful photography career, can I tell my own Gurkha tale from my army days in Malaya, 50 long years ago.

It was while serving with the New Zealand Regiment in North Malaya near the town of Taiping. On a very hot afternoon, I was walking from our battalion command post, carrying my portable typewriter and my Rolleiflex slung over my shoulder. My cap, which I should have been wearing, was back in the office. I was walking at an easy pace in the sultry high heat and 100-per-cent humidity, when the quiet serenity of the day was shattered as up roared an army dispatch rider astride a dusty Indian motorbike. The rider parked his bike, and as I approached, gave me a sharp salute which, with my hands full and not wearing my cap, I could not return, so I acknowledged his presence with a nod of my head. With formalities finished, the Gurkha dispatch rider then politely enquired where he could find our commanding officer (CO), Lt. Col. WRK Morrison. I indicated where the CO’s office was, and the words had hardly left my mouth when I heard a roar.

“Turn out the guard, turn out the guard at once.” There was our colonel urging the army office workers to find their weapons and form up as an honour guard. The colonel then asked me to take some photos of the amazed Gurkha, as he pointed to the faint purple ribbon on the Gurkha’s shirt. That ribbon of course was from the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour throughout the British Commonwealth — or the world for that matter.

Colonel Kim Morrison then insisted the humble soldier join him for afternoon tea — a case of a brave veteran officer entertaining a much younger equally brave soldier. Later I found out that the Gurkha had earned his Victoria Cross while fighting in Italy. 

Now, back to Stent still waiting in the wings with his career story. Stent, now 53, came late into the ranks of press photographers. After a few years knocking around on an extended OE, he did a year-long photographic course in Melbourne. On returning to New Zealand he first landed a position as staff photographer at the Levin Chronicle.

“Most of our work was run of the mill … that meant working that much harder for a news picture, but it was great working for editor Alistair Campbell — one of the very best,” Stent says.

Next stop for the ambitious photographer was a stint with the Otago Daily Times where, there in the deep south, he met and worked with photographers Stephen Jaquiery and John O’Brien.
After a year he returned north and went freelancing. In Wellington he picked up plenty of work with the Sunday Star Times and, because of the volume of work, he was very soon offered a staff job on the paper. For the next 20 years he worked for the big weekender.

It was about this time, at the dawn of the digital age and the new world of photojournalism, that Stent was issued with one of the very new — and very expensive — Kodak digital cameras, back then costing nearly $20,000. So with little instruction on the use of the new digital monster, off he went to cover a rugby representative game.

Somehow he coped with using his new toy even though, as he pointed out, the camera probably had less megapixel power than many of today’s cell phones. Warming to the digital world, Stent said that the new Canon 1D X, now used by The Dominion Post staff photographers, is a winner, especially when used in video mode. He is still coming to terms with its capabilities. Stent gives full marks to fellow staff photographer Ross Giblin, who has generously helped and shared his technical knowledge with the rest of the photography crew — I could probably do with some of his tips, too.

Now, much of The Dominion Post photographer’s day is taken up with a mix of video and still photography, including an increasing amount of time working for many other titles in the Fairfax group.

Back in his early days in Wellington, Kevin met and worked with photographer Margo Bramford. Margo was already a talented photographer, who went on to become an illustrations editor. They worked so well together that they later decided to marry. Their two sons — Logen, 17, and Hunter,15, who are both still at Wellington College — have yet to indicate whether they will follow in the family’s photographic footsteps.