Pope John Paul ll: The story behind the photograph

Pope John Paul ll making his way through crowds in the Popemobile. © Greg Vivash  

Pope John Paul ll making his way through crowds in the Popemobile. © Greg Vivash  

This image of Pope John Paul ll was taken in May 1982, during his visit to the UK. The preparation for my getting access to the press area at Coventry airport began some months before the pontiff arrived. Even 34 years ago, security was tight and getting media accreditation was tough, especially for a young photographer based in the Midlands. The first stage of the process was to complete the appropriate application forms, including providing a passport and the details of the agency/publication sponsoring my coverage. In my case, it was a London picture agency, Barnaby’s. Once I was notified that accreditation had been approved, I had to collect the large laminated press pass in person from the Catholic Church press office in London. (Unfortunately, in recent years I’ve disposed of this card, which included my photograph. I certainly had a lot more hair in those days!) The press office wouldn't post it for security reasons. Again, for a young freelancer on a budget, the trip was all part of the essential prep. work. 

On the day the Pope was due to arrive in Coventry, it was a 5am start, in order for me to be well in time and go through security and get a good position on one of the two photographer platforms.  On arrival, I found the press tent and proudly handed over my accreditation card to the awaiting representative of Warwickshire constabulary, whose job it was to verify the details and issue another signed and rubber-stamped pin badge, for access to one of the photographer areas. To be honest, there was a temporary hiccup at this point, where my name was missing from a list of all those expected. I gulped, thinking after all this; I was going to be chucked out. But, after a little shuffling of papers, all was well. 

 

One of the photographers press stands at Coventry © Greg Vivash 

One of the photographers press stands at Coventry © Greg Vivash 

I made my way the press stand. There was no designated spot, like many of these things; it's a case of the earlier you get there, the better position you get. From there on it was a waiting game. The Pope was due to arrive at 11am. There was plenty of banter between the photographers present and some of them even lay down to take a short snooze on what was a very warm sunny day. I met some interesting characters that's for sure, including a young Mike Moloney from the Daily Mirror, who went on to be their Chief Photographer. A really nice guy, who shared some interesting stories.

My personal favourite image of the day © Greg Vivash 

My personal favourite image of the day © Greg Vivash 

Like most of the photographers there, I took many typical record images of the Pope arriving and taking mass, adorned in traditional red robes. All pretty much of a much. However, my favourite image was later in the day, when he travelled around the attending crowds in the famous popemobile. As he passed by, I got several frames, some were against the bright sunny sky. A couple of images presented me with a silhouette of the Pope. To me, there is no mistaking that this is the outline of John Paul ll. The glow of his white robe, the outline of his hand, as he gestures to the crowds, giving his blessing and in particular, the highlight from the papal ring, I feel,make this a more symbolic image. 

It was a long day, but a really great experience and one that I’ll never forget.