updating – February 2017
I was around 18 (1981) when I went to stay in Paris for a few days. There was a Pakistani guy in Bradford who had a restaurant in Paris. The first night I slept on the floor in the restaurant. I could hear the rats scuttling about in the night. After that night I stayed at the apartment of one of the workers. He made a nice okra curry one night. Then he read my palm and told me that I would die in my early forties. I am 45 today.
On the day before I was leaving I went into the subway with one of the young waitresses. She encouraged me to jump the barrier. I did. As I turned the corner there were two policemen who stopped me. They fined me on the spot. I have a few snapshots from that visit.
My first camera was a Ricoh KR10 (1983) which I still have. I think it was the European camera of the year in 1980. I carried it with me all the time but never really took many photographs. I have always been slow taking photographs. I will dig up some of those older images to put on this blog. I enjoyed photographing people. I also photographed flowers and landscape and anything really in that learning process. Once you start reading Amateur Photographer you’re done for and all the cliches creep into your photography!
My next camera was a Pentax LX (late ’80’s) which I bought from my friend Michael along with a 50mm and 105 or 135mm lens. Michael went on to marry to the Yorshire Ripper’s ex-wife. I photographed his wedding. I remember that day when press photographers were scaling the church wall to grab an image. They never managed it. After the wedding the press chased the newly weds by car and bike. One of the journalists booked into the same hotel as them.
After the Pentax LX I bought a Canon 500N autofocus (about 1992). Awful piece of plastic! Then a Canon EOS 600 which is nice and chunky.
I never got on with flash and never much liked artificial lighting. That’s because I didn’t understand how it could work to my benefit. I preferred working with available light. Harsh light, Bill Brandt. David Bailey and glamour. Lord Snowdon and respect. Lord Litchfield and curiosity. (When the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television opened in Bradford they installed a dummy which had a holographic projection of Litchfield’s face thrown onto it. He was talking photography. I had an exhibition in the same space in 1990 of images from my India trip, and my first publication of the work in the Telegraph and Argus.) Don McCullin and grit and the magical light in Yorkshire. Eamonn McCabe and that table tennis shot. These were the images that were around. Magnum crept in at some point, and politics and then my photographs started to look more interesting.
I turned up at the Magnum office in London one day (without an appointment) with a folder full of slides of India. Chris Steele-Perkins had a look at my work and pointed out one image that he liked. He told me to carry on shooting.
My first trip to India was in 1988/9. I read some V S Naipaul and cultural identity stuff. I had a crisis anyway. India gave me my finest emotive/personal photographs. Then I went 10 times in as many years. I regret not having good lenses. Being a photographer leaves you with a massive trail of memories. I need to see what images I have in that dusty box which hasn’t been opened for many years. Not everything gets printed. That visit took to my father’s village of Degam north of Bombay. I didn’t really know how to photograph it.
I worked on several books for children’s book publishers. There was something knaeve about the industry and its approach to commissioning photography. I didn’t really have the skills to get the photographs I needed but I got some great shots. Most of the later trips to India were just for my own work. The kids book photography approach is cliched and the stuff is used repetitively to illustrate dull written books by authors who have never been to the countries they are writing about.
People are difficult subject to photograph. I tried black and white and colour, transparency and negative films. I went to evening classes to print but it I didn’t learn much. Once I went out on a photography day with a group of middle aged men and a model into the Yorkshire Dales.
I produced some odd photographs. I smashed a milk bottle once, glued it back together and photographed it. I had an image of red socks on a white radiator! I sewed up a banana skin with red thread. I photographed it with the needle going through the skin and a red rose petal! I wore a pair of Italian slipper type shoes at work in the Inland Revenue office until my toes were sticking out the front. Then I photographed them on a velvet cloth backdrop. I liked Salvador Dali.
I am a self-taught photographer. I had no formal training. My first exhibition was in the Bradford City Library Gallery around 1984. The photographs were framed and in two big large wall to ceiling glass cabinets. It’s a vague memory now. The next exhibition was in the village of Thornton, Bradford at the South Square Gallery. I remember exhibiting some portraits of friends; an image of a bus ticket which I had copied and printed large; wheels silhouetted against water taken in Amsterdam were some of them. The local newspapers art editor wrote something like… I’m a talent to watch out for!
Before one trip to India in 1991/2 I met with Jon Tarrant editor of Professional Photographer magazine. He offered me a series of double page spreads even though I didn’t have any writing experience. I’ll dig up a few and put them on the blog as PDF’s. They published images and text. I went on to write a number of articles meeting industry people like Michael Marten of the Science Photo Library, Steve Mayes of Network Photographers.
Back in the mid 80’s I photographed projects in the voluntary sector in Bradford. Mostly black and white images printed to 10×8 inches. I wasn’t very good at printing, and the time I spent doing the work meant there was very little profit. They were down to earth images. Looking through them I have forgotten when and where I took them.
Photographing subjects you like is great fun. Photographing for money can change things. There is a pressure to create an image which is for a particular purpose and commercially viable. Sometimes it can mean working in a way that you don’t like. You have to find solutions when things are not right. The lighting may not be suitable, so you may have to use extra lighting, it could be flash or continuous. You may have to invest in more equipment and gizmos. If you are lucky enough to work in a particular style then it will be a case of selling that style. Then you can work in a way you are comfortable with. If you say yes to all different kinds of commissions then you have to have a flexible style and a variety of working methods, equipment and skills.
Shadowing professionals, working as an assistant are good ways to learn working methods. See how different equipment is used, lighting techniques, problem solving… There are instructional books but there is no better way than to experiment and learn from mistakes. Certain techniques and solutions help you to reach shooting solutions quicker. There are part time courses at colleges which can give you access to a variety of equipment.
I spent a lot of time in libraries looking through all the photography books. Initially, I was interested in how-to books but never had the equipment. I wanted a Nikon, a view camera, a Leica… Robert Mapplethorpe talked of an ”overload” of images. I think that’s what happened to me over the years. You look too much and not get on with creating images.