early photographic awakenings
I've always been an acutely visual person, with an instinctive appreciation of the visual arts. My 'photographic' awakening came early when, as a child, I was given an old box brownie to play with and later a small Kodak roll film camera. While at school though, like many other boys, I didn't enjoy the rather inept 'Art' classes, but I worked hard at technical drawing, eventually gaining a Royal Society of Arts certificate.
I don't remember exactly when I consciously 'realised' my much deeper interest in serious photography, but I do recall various attempts at drawing figures during my early teens, sadly with little success, so I knew I would never make an 'artist'. Most of my teenage years were taken up with music, so I suppose it was in my early twenties that photography came to the fore. I was teaching guitar classes in the evenings at the time, to make extra cash, but feeling that I wanted to explore other visual art forms.
Reading photographic magazines of the day I had become fascinated by black and white photography, particularly in photojournalism, and had invested in a Canon FTbN 35mm film camera as a first step. I was very taken with the great photographers like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Cartier Bresson, who worked exclusively in monochrome, although I knew very little about it at the time.
To me, there was something deeply appealing about conceiving an image, in the mind's eye, finding the unique location or choosing the 'decisive moment', composing and exposing the frame and then working diligently from the latent film image all the way through to a beautifully printed, mounted exhibition print. I just didn't have the first idea how to go about achieving it.
So I decided to join a local Photographic Society and went along to watch various competitions to get an idea of what was involved. I was hooked on my first visit. What I found there seemed to me to combine all the fascination of both art and technology rolled into one immensely satisfying challenge. I felt an immediate rapport with the aspiring photographers there, who were all steadily improving their capabilities through regular competition, feedback from fellow photographers and expert help from the masters.
I struck up a friendship with one Peter Gant, an elite photographer at the club, and i have to admit I pestered him mercilessly with endless questions. For some reason he decided to mentor me. He generously volunteered to teach me the in-camera and film development techniques, the chemical formulations and workflow processes, as well as the darkroom, printing and mounting techniques, every part of which had to be thoroughly understood and repeatedly practised before I could even think of putting images in for judging and feedback.
into the darkroom then out into the light
This was a priceless apprenticeship. I was deeply fascinated, learned quickly and progressed rapidly under Peter's guidance. He was then a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society working towards his Associate Panel examination and had succeeded in having his work published in various magazines.
His style was similar to Bill Brandt, a world famous photographer known for his high contrast, intensely dark and brooding images, a famous example of which (The Nude) is shown on the right. Peter had a unique, dark sense of humour coupled with a superb eye, always capturing the essence of a subject in a way that made you think more about the story behind the image. I was fascinated by both men's work and diligently went about attempting to emulate it.
“Not as easy as it looks, is it?” he would say in the darkroom, pouring over his nth attempt to rescue one of my images after I had exasperated myself in my own darkroom and exhausted my skills, without success. Then he would produce a print that would just leave me - well, speechless.
Peter was a true Master. He is greatly missed.