Pre occupations

A small sample of a dress panel belonging to my great, great grandmother

I’ve reached that phase of life where family history seems to become remarkably engaging and despite paying scant attention for decades to stories held by my mother, a single snippet of unexpected information has taken root and grown in my head leading to fervent online archive searches to feed the growing tree of relationships.

Once statistical details of two or three closely related family members were established, those family stories came into their own by providing more specific identification and the stories began to fit together with the data – migration from rural Hampshire to London, hasty marriages and untimely deaths. This developing, and often poignant narrative fertilises the imagination until people who have just been names begin somehow to inflate into something more plausible, like the process of fleshing out characters in a book. Then with online access to archives of old maps, photographs and present day ‘travels’ on Google Street view, images merge to recreate Continue reading

Photographic employment in the 1980s – the wild world

It’s 1984 and three years into motherhood and although Orwell’s Big Brother hadn’t quite materialised we were five years into the reign of Margaret Thatcher, but here I’ll grudgingly admit she managed to do one good thing for our family. In order to camouflage escalating unemployment figures a number of job creation schemes were initiated by her government. I was employed on one as a photographer for a project based in the Natural History department of Bristol’s Museum. The schemes initially provided a year-long contract for Continue reading

Photographic employment in the late 70s – the commercial realm

1979 – The days of special hair and flares

In 1979 my partner and I moved to Bristol after some wilderness time in West Wales and I spent the first few days after our arrival in the neighbourhood phone box (no mobiles then and no phone in flat) calling every one of the 30 – 40 photographers listed in the Bristol phone book to try to gain a foothold in photographic employment. Towards the end of the list and close to despair one man finally agreed to meet me. A commercial photographer who mostly worked for advertising agencies Continue reading

Photographic employment in the 1970s – industrial territory

Sometime between the Yom Kippur war in 1973 and the three day week in 1974 – a consequence of the oil crisis following the war – I entered the industrial sector of photography working for the Building Research Establishment. It was part of the Department of the Environment and based at a sprawling site in the grounds of a one-time Victorian mansion with dozens of different departments housed in an odd mix of temporary buildings and high tech labs. Here hundreds of people (from stereotypically dull bureaucrats to truly eccentric types) worked on all aspects of research into building –  from brick packaging to acoustics; from construction in earthquake zones to how buildings collapse; and from studying wind on high-rise buildings to the immersion Continue reading

Photographic employment in the 1970s – a hand-coloured, discriminatory domain

From 1973 to 1974 my first real photographic employment was with an aerial photography company (no I didn’t get to go in the planes) in Hertfordshire run by a handful of ex RAF chaps – the last cohort to do National Service and who couldn’t quite leave flying behind them. The business was to take (uninvited) black and white aerial photographs of people’s houses, generally in affluent areas, followed up by a visit to the owners from a charming salesman who would show a black and white photographic proof and invite them to purchase, at considerable cost, a hand tinted, 20″ x 16″ canvas mounted print. The customers only got to see this unsettling Continue reading

Slow photography

Contact print from 6″ x 8″ view camera negative. Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn 1974

How long does it take, now, to take a photograph of say, an architectural gem, a skateboarder, or a moonlit river, and be able to see the outcome? Turn on the camera, find your subject, aim the lens in the right direction, press the shutter. You might remember to focus, look at the shutter speed or check for camera shake, but it’ll probably be OK even if you don’t. Then you can view the result – a positive (as opposed to negative) image, in just a few seconds, and for imperceptible cost – a real bonus for everyone in austerity world. But this ease, speed and low cost has led to the constant assault of digital imagery we’re exposed to every waking hour.  I’ve recently come across some of the images I’ve taken during a lifetime working in Continue reading