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First Person: David Buzzard

Local photographer; international view
Dave Buzzard, South Africa 1996

Full name:

David Leighton Buzzard


Oct. 22 1968, Durban, South Africa

Astrological sign:


Marital status:

Getting married in October

Favourite colour:


Favourite food:

Kellogg’s raisin bran

Favourite drink:

Regular old-fashioned coffee, really strong.

Spare time favourites:

Doing the occasional crossword puzzle, snowmobiling, hiking, skiing, all the standard Whistler stuff.

Ideal pet:

A budgie. We have a whole cage full of them.

Favourite recipe:

Barbecued steaks on old-fashioned coals.

What’s the best place to live at Whistler:

Emerald Estates, for sure. As far from Whistler Village as you can possibly get.

Favourite memory at Whistler:

Skiing really deep powder on CBC North on Blackcomb the week before I left for South Africa.

Worst memory at Whistler: When the Citizen newspaper closed in 1993.

How did you come to Whistler?

My mom was born and raised in Vancouver and when she came back from Africa in 1973 she bought a place in Adventures West for $21,000 cash. She still lives there. In 1985 we opened the campground and I moved up full time from Vancouver in 1986, after I graduated from high school.

How did your mom, Ruth Buzzard, get from Vancouver to Africa?

She studied law at Cambridge and met and married my dad, who is South African. They split up around the early 1970s and then she lived in Kenya, shooting 16 mm footage of lions and stuff like that for a stock footage company that supplied PBS. It got used on Sesame Street and shows like that.

My brother and I were born in South Africa and she took us with her. We were semi-living in the bush in Kenya. She decided we were getting to the age where we needed to go to school, so she came back to Canada.

Your campground was the first one inside municipal boundaries. At the time there was some controversy around it. Tell us a bit about that.

It’s right where Spruce Grove subdivision is now. Council of the day thought that a campground was too low-brow for Whistler and was against it. It was a huge fight to get it going and keep it going. We got to know the bylaw enforcement officer really well.

You were a teenager when this was all happening. Where did you live?

I lived and worked at the campground in the summer when it was open, and at the same time I was working at the Citizen (newspaper) as a photographer.

Was that your first photojournalist’s job?

Actually it started with a magazine called Teen Beat when I was in high school. I was going to school in Vancouver, at Prince of Wales, and living in Vancouver by myself as a 16 year old while my mother was building the campground. I was taking pictures of all my high school buddies.

Where do you think this thing you have for taking photos comes from?

I think it’s a genetic thing. It’s just always been in my blood as long as I can remember. I’ve been really into photography since I was 10 or 11. My first camera was my mother’s old Nikon, a big heavy old metal Nikormat, so I learned on professional quality equipment.

What did you shoot for Teen Beat?

Stuff that was going on in Vancouver, and fashion shoots. One incident that stands out in my mind is that they used a shot of two teen girls I took at a rugby game and they ran it with a story on teen suicide, and that’s not what was happening at all. I got into a bit of trouble over that one.

How did you get involved with the Citizen?

Cloudsley Hoodspith (the publisher) came in to sell us an ad and I asked him for a job. He was a great old guy, just super. I learned a lot from him. The one thing he said is if you work for a community newspaper, make sure you try to get as many photos of the people in the community in the paper as you can. He used to say, everybody should have their picture in the paper once a year. He was never that interested in making money with it, he just wanted to publish a newspaper.

What ideals do you think should run a newspaper?

I think you need to take a bit of the commercial thing out of it. People who work there need to make a living out of it, but no one goes into journalism because they think they are going to become wealthy. They are there to tell a story, and a photojournalist does it visually, with pictures. Some of the best work I’ve done in my career was at the Citizen. I was chief photographer for it and the Squamish Times and we were winning awards for photography regularly.

Describe a shot that stands out in your mind.

One was a picture of this woman whose son was killed in Mount Currie. It was a sad story because these guys ran over him in the middle of the night and instead of calling the police, they buried his body in the bush and told everybody he had gone down to Vancouver and was on skid row. The truth didn’t come out for four years. We went up to Birken to interview the woman, and that was a powerful shot– you could really see her sorrow. I also took a great shot of a guy upside down on a wakeboard on Green Lake, which won a Best Sports Picture award, so it goes to opposite ends of the spectrum.

What are you distilling into a great photo?

I think everything is in the eyes. I teach photojournalism now at Focal Point in Vancouver, and I say, the eyes of the subject always tell the story. You have to keep your camera on the subject until something happens that says, wow, that sums it up, that tells the story.

You’ve also worked for the Surrey Leader. Tell us about some of your adventures there.

The Leader was owned by the same company that owned the Citizen, and they called me to come and work for them. The office was in Whalley and there were shootings and knifings in the back alley right behind our office. The worst time was when a guy was cooked in a pizza oven. His buddies cut him up and cooked him in a pizza oven, and decided to go off to get a drink. The smoke detector went off and the fire department came, so that’s how they found out. The editor said, I want a picture of the pizza oven, so I had to jimmy the restaurant door to get it. I heard later that the pizza oven had been stolen out of the police evidence locker, and I haven’t had a take-out pizza in Vancouver since.

So what did you learn working there?

I just learned I didn’t want to work in Surrey.

How did you end up working in South Africa.

After Surrey, I went back to Whistler and worked with Randy Lincks (a local photographer) for a while. Then they were going to have the first free elections in South Africa in April (1994) and I went out for that. I stayed with my dad in Durban on the east coast. That was a big flashpoint where a lot of trouble was happening.

When I arrived, I walked into the Daily News in Durban, and asked if they were looking for any freelancers. I said, I’m an experienced staff newspaper photographer and I’ve got all my gear, and they said, will you go work in a township? I said sure, and they said, okay you’re hired.

They gave me a bulletproof vest and I met three reporters the next day and we all piled into this car, called the conflict car, that had bullet holes in the side of it and plastic sticky stuff all over the windows so you couldn’t shatter them. And it was HOT – it was humid and 30 degrees. No one would roll down the windows and the air conditioning didn’t work.

It was like a war zone. There were 15 or 20 people dying a day in the townships just around Durban.

Were you ever afraid?

I had a drunk 16-year-old kid hold an AK-47 on me – that was pretty scary. A gun looks really huge when you’re looking down the barrel.

You have a wonderful photo of Nelson Mandela on your Web site ( How did you get that?

He was trying to broker peace with the Zulu chiefs and the ANC and he was deep in Zulu territory in Natal. He came in and sat in this tent. It was really hot – it must have been 40 degrees outside. These guys were giving him a really hard time, jumping up and down and yelling. You could see that Mandela wasn’t happy at all. About two minutes after I took this, he just stood up and walked out.

You were so lucky to have to have been in South Africa at such a monumental time. Would you have gone had you not been born in South Africa?

No, probably not. But I really wanted to see the end of apartheid, because my mother had to leave South Africa because of it. South Africa in the early ’70s was hardly a beacon of hope and light, and she found it intolerable living under apartheid. She was under surveillance by the secret police because she was a member of the Progressive party, and being a liberal was entirely radical in those days.

Shooting weddings and commercial work is a far cry from shooting the first free elections in South Africa. How did that come about?

Wedding photographers are quite close kin to newspaper photographers because you tell the story of someone’s wedding. There has been a real shift in the whole wedding industry away from all these super-posed formal pictures. Now the style is far more candid. So I get to practise photojournalism. This is quite a scaled-down version, though.

But I love doing weddings. They are really happy occasions and people really appreciate the work. Plus the money is terrific. I’ve spent years sleeping on someone’s couch or the floor.

Who is going to shoot your wedding?

I’m going to shoot it myself, with a fisheye lens held out in front of me. I can’t wait to send a copy of that to the Professional Photographers Association.