The troubleshooter

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Peter Bush catches up with Dean Pemberton, the man who’s one-part local sports photojournalist and one-part globetrotting IT wizard

We had enjoyed a late-afternoon coffee at Clark’s cafe in the Wellington Library building when Dean Pemberton checked his watch, and said it was time he hurried off to the Chinese Embassy to pick up his visa for a coming visit. While I congratulated him on it, he in turn reminded me that he would miss the opening games of the ITM Rugby competition and the Wellington test between the All Blacks and Australia. My offer to swap places was met with a wry smile while he reminded me he was visiting China to work.

Dean is first an IT professional who travels widely, teaching the mysteries of the internet and allied technology in many emerging countries. This year alone his visits have included a rare one to Myanmar (Burma), a country that only recently lifted the bamboo curtain after 50 years of military rule, followed by Tonga, which despite being our Pacific neighbour has yet to access the submarine fibre-optic cable connecting the region.

Most recently he visited Tanzania in East Africa, as one of a six-member team sent to tutor and work with 80 students new to the IT world. He found it quite an exciting and different experience. The teaching staff was drawn from Denmark, Chile and the US, a real miniature United Nations.

In terms of a camera, Dean went with the bare minimum, a tiny Canon S100 point-and-shoot. A good photographer doesn’t let gear limit them, and Dean set out to document the trip with optimism. “I took inspiration from all the photographers to go before me and made the best of it.”

I think he and the Canon S100 make a good team, as the pictures here demonstrate.

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With all this international travel and technology wrangling you might get the impression of a lofty guru removed from the daily routine of the average photographer, but Dean is far from it.

A few days before our coffee-bar meeting we had both been at the Hutt Recreation Ground to cover a late-afternoon All Black warm-up game. Dean was harnessed up with his two Canon 1D Mark IV cameras, one carrying a 300mm f/2.8, the other a 70–200mm f/2.8, with a 16–35mm in his belt pouch. Despite being fully loaded to shoot Dean was helping sort out problems for both older and younger photographers, including myself, before the teams even took the field. This IT wizard gives freely of his technical expertise.

So how and where did this globetrotting IT pro /photographer start?

Dean was Wellington born and bred, and grew up in that singular valley suburb of Wainuiomata, where he rubbed shoulders at school with Tana Umaga, among other sports personalities. A diligent student, he was given his first small computer before he was a teenager, and had already inherited his Dad’s old box Brownie camera. In-between taking pictures with roll film and waiting forever to get the results back, he played rugby for a local high-school team and later took up skiing and snowboarding.

From school to Victoria University saw him graduate first with a science degree, later earning his Masters. His first job was with the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington, helping build its digital network, and making sure it all held together. He says it was a job he enjoyed, in a good environment, and it gave him the opportunity to travel around the country.

A move to Australia saw him working out of both Sydney and Melbourne as an IT troubleshooter for a US-based firm, and while he covered most of Australia he also spent a good deal of time outside the country working, also travelling to the United States for training schemes. Dean says he found it a very different, challenging experience. After a number of years he came home to New Zealand.

4 Pemberton  Sprinbok grazing on the open veldt.Pemberton Pic

As well as holding down a top IT job Dean slowly made his way into the world of the professional sports photographer, initially through old friend, Peter McDonald, who invited him to attend a course on digital photography he was running at Lower Hutt Technical School.

In short order he went from being a pupil to joining Peter, covering sporting events for the local Hutt News paper. His first assignment was an off-road bike race, and some of the resulting pictures were published in the paper — that was five or six years back, and they are both still covering the Wellington sporting scene for the Hutt News. Sports events range from First XV rugby games through netball to swimming.

When I quizzed Dean on his favourite sporting assignment he paused before answering. “Maybe I will upset a few fans when I say that netball comes out on top.”

He says he enjoys the game’s fast pace with few stoppages, that it involves loads of kids and, best of all, the great warm, friendly, family atmosphere at the big games. “I really enjoy it,” he states simply.

Of his rugby coverage Dean finds it a game of two halves; half the time he is a photojournalist trying for new camera positions, the other half he’s submitting and filing on the fly. He feels the latter comes as naturally as the former. “After all that’s my day job,” he says with a smile.

He loves the deadlines and the pressure that come with digital coverage of sport, especially rugby, and can comfortably have all his 20 to 30 shots fully edited and filed half an hour after the full-time whistle.

“I can then shut the lid of the Pelican case and go home to my family, always my first priority.”

Images: taken by Dean Pemberton on his trip to Tanzania