Obituary: Alastair Black, photographer and dentist

Alastair Black was stationed at RAF Kinloss for many years. Picture: Geograph
Alastair Black was stationed at RAF Kinloss for many years. Picture: Geograph
Share this article
Have your say

Born: 17 May, 1927, in Cambeltown. Died: 15 August, 2015, on the Isle of Wight, aged 88.

ALASTAIR Black had the knack of capturing with his camera a real sense of the drama and excitement of sailing and surfing. He covered the raw thrills of round-the-world racing and the billowing waves of surfing and pioneered the action shots that brought to the sport a higher, and much more realistic, image. He won several awards and often photographed many leading members of the sailing community – including Sir Edward Heath on Morning Cloud, America’s Cup skippers such as Ted Turner and Sir James Hardy and Sir Peter Blake, the round-the-world yachtsmen.

Alastair Black, an only child whose father died when he was a teenager, loved the outdoor life of the west coast of Scotland, spending many holidays and weekends at Machrihanish. The wild and beautiful coastline left a deep impression on Black, as did the ruggedness and changing light on the sea and shore. He also became a lifelong lover of golf and played the Machrihanish links as a boy. He often visited RAF Machrihanish, situated just outside the town, and became passionately interested in flying, joining the Air Cadets while in his teens. He attended the local school and studied to be a dentist at the Dental School in Glasgow. Black met his wife, Elna McCready, then a student at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

His career in dentistry was mostly practised with the RAF and for many years he was stationed back in Scotland at RAF Kinloss. His love of golf encouraged him to form a team from the station and there were needle matches held between RAF Kinloss and other nearby military units. In the late 1950s he left the RAF and set up a practice in Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire.

Black became fascinated by the sea and sailing and friends introduced him to the sport. He soon became an enthusiastic member of the Stokes Bay Sailing Club and initially began racing an Uffa Fox-designed Albacore class dinghy.

His dental practise had expanded rapidly but Black decided to pursue a new hobby: marine photography. He enrolled for a concentrated two-year course at London’s Central College of Art.

At the weekend he began photographing the sailing boats and sailors on the south coast and showed an expert eye in capturing images that made a strong impression on the page. These proved to be especially successful for commercial publishers of posters and advertisements.

Black was an adventurous photographer – nothing was ever done with comfort or ease. He was out on the water, wearing a wet suit, and very much involved in the action of a race – spray and waves everywhere. He himself said: “The wetter the better,” with his waterproof cameras at the ready.

Black’s ability to capture just the right image involved him swimming far out to sea amidst the pounding waves and photographing windsurfers in action. Such pictures greatly added to the real sense of drama and brought to the sport a feeling of daredevil thrills. This commitment and enthusiasm brought Black much respect from colleagues and he was twice given the sports photographer of the year award and was a sports picture of the year award winner.

His favourite location was the Rangiroa atoll in French Polynesia and it was there that he took some dramatic aerial shots of two yachts sailing at speed with the waves, spraying over the bows and the sails catching the wind to the full. He loved capturing the bravura surfers on the giant waves off Hawaii – particularly as his son Fraser was a professional windsurfer there before becoming a physical therapist.

Black’s inventive photography and skill in finding the correct location and angle to reflect the drama of a race – and the sheer skill of the sailors – had a big influence on marine photographers worldwide, none more so than the widely respected sports photographer Rick Tomlinson, who assisted Black when he visited the Isle of Man on a project. “Alastair inspired me to take up the world of professional yachting photography,” he said.

Black brought those skills to all the major sailing events including the America’s Cup, the Whitbread Round the World race, the Fastnet and Sydney/Hobart classics and dinghy championships. He loved them all and his enthusiasm never flagged. His gracious, kindly manner and relaxed good nature was much admired by fellow photographers, competitors and stewards.

In 1989 Black retired and bought a Victorian villa at Ventor on the Isle of Wight with a commanding view of the English Channel. He and his wife were keen tennis players and followers of the game and Black remained a keen golfer and swimmer. He is survived by his wife and their four children.