I never feel comfortable with being labelled as “a photographer”. That implies a degree of technical skill and expertise that I do not possess. I happen to use the medium, that is all.
I used photography first out of choice and since my stroke, in 2014, I have had to use it out of necessity. At the risk of pedantry, I have always referred to myself as “an artist that takes photographs”. This means that I work intuitively and take un-tutored “risks”. I am prepared for a high rate of unsuccessful attempts; I am happy to try and try again.
Since my stroke I have experienced significant cognitive issues and can only use my right hand so the “failure” rate is even higher. As a consequence I take hundreds of photographs each day, weather allowing. But photography, for me, is a continuous process of improvisation and experimentation - that is what I love about it. I feel very lucky to live in an age that makes this work possible through technical advances such as optical image stabilisation. I no longer have the manual dexterity to load a film spool, let alone manipulate a tray of chemicals in a dark room - I do not have to!
I had a nascent interest in art at secondary school where we had good facilities and an inspiring teacher called Howard Pickersgill. What held me back at that stage was a selfperceived lack of natural ability, especially with drawing. But I was very fortunate to spend my teens in The Hague in the Netherlands. I think it is fair to say that then, in the 1960’s, Holland was far in advance of the UK in terms of general public interest in the visual arts. There was also the opportunity to see art, which we are only really starting to rival in the UK now.
I lived within walking distance of The Gemeentemuseum, which I visited daily. It housed a display of early Mondrian paintings including early post-Van Gogh landscapes, such as “Church Tower at Domburg”, “Pier and Ocean” and the famous series of tree abstractions. This made it a simple step to understand the De Stijl compositions, of which The Gemeente had several examples.
After this initial introduction I travelled to the Stedlijk in Amsterdam to view more contemporary art. Here, I encountered Barnett Newman’s monumental “Who’s Afraid Of Red Yellow & Blue”. This was a seminal moment in my awareness of the possibilities and expressive potential of abstract painting and a key experience leading to my tentative decision to become an artist myself.
After leaving Holland I studied at Newcastle University, and later at Chelsea School of Art during Ian Stephenson’s tenure.
The thing I find surprising and amazing about my enforced transition from paint to photography is that I have encountered no dichotomy on the formal level. What has been a novel challenge - but one that is both welcome and stimulating - has been exploring photography’s narrative dimension.