I bought my first camera in the late 1970’s. Back then the summers seemed endless, the fashion senseless and the music a mad clash between disco and punk. I got so much joy from that cheap plastic Halina and the rare good photo amongst the Triple Print dross fuelled my belief that here was a path that I could follow … should follow. I was 15 years old and that was it, I was hooked on photography.
I saved for an age and invested in a camera that many a photographer cut their teeth on: a Zenit E. It was a beast of a unit that was built on the dark side of the Iron Curtain, from the remains of tanks, or so I presumed. Sleek and sophisticated it wasn’t; cheap and heavy it was. Trust me, if this camera fell from a low shelf and landed on your dog, well, you’d probably need to get a new dog.
Following a futile attempt at A levels – my educational wilderness years – I fell into a brilliant job with the local paper, The Tenby Observer. Initially I was employed as a reporter, but as soon as the editor realised I had a photographic eye I was bought a Pentax ME to capture all the varied aspects of small community life; burning hotels, horse races, Carnival Queens, lifeboat adventures, centenarians and smiling babies, heroes and villains. It was a good place to hone the technical side of image making, but the job taught me a lot more about how to frame a picture.
I was keen to go to Journalist College to further my skills, but the newspaper was too small to fund the placement. So I made a left-field decision and joined the Royal Air Force as a Ground Photographer, which basically meant that I took pictures of things from the ground. I learned a lot more about the technical aspects, but the creative side of me was stifled: everything always needed to be nice and sharp with all the compositional rules stringently stuck to. I also played a lot of sport, learnt how to sail, climb, canoe and cave, and went to Guernsey for the day. Heady times.
In 1990, following six years of fairly uneventful service, I left the RAF and set up my own freelance location photography service based in Birmingham. Within the space of a couple of years I was working for clients all over Europe and as far afield as the USA. Memorable commissions included shooting architectural images across America, covering the Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Races for a decade, shooting the Dawes Bikes catalogue for several years and doing a series of lighthouse images for Trinity House. Essentially it was my dream job, following a hobby that I was passionate about and being in the great outdoors. The world was my studio.
In 2001 a sea-change in life saw me travel the world for 12 months – a kind of mid-life Gap Year. I crossed from New York to San Francisco in a seriously unsuitable sports car, hiking in a dozen National Parks along the way; noodled south down the Pacific line of South America; and finished with a quick dip into New Zealand and Australia. During that time I shot nearly three hundred rolls of Velvia film on a Linhof panoramic camera and a small mound of FP4 monochrome on a Bronica system. I also spent two months working alongside Stephen Fry for a book to accompany a BBC production, which was very interesting.
That Rubicon year changed the way I worked and helped shape a different life perspective.
Early in 2003 I moved north to live amongst the Cumbrian fells, a decision I have never regretted. I now split my time between commissions, self-set art projects and working with schools and community groups.
Within the past decade I have also become a mountain guide and have led some 60 treks to wild locations all over the globe. Wherever I go I always lug at least two cameras with me and have built up a stock of thousands of images from some truly beautiful locations. Check out the Wild World section of my portfolio for a small selection of the thousands of images I have shot along the way.
The one enduring quality that has carried me through my life as a photographer is curiosity. I still get a lot of pleasure from ‘seeing’ what will make a great image even before lifting the camera to my eye. Sometimes it is the sweeping panorama of a jagged mountain range, or it could be just a simple red mushroom besides a rushing stream.
My sage advice then: stay curious and enjoy life.
PS The glorious black lump of Zenit E still sits on my bookcase as a timeless reminder of the joy that I got from making pictures when I was a teenager. And my dog never walks under it.