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Those of you that have read my articles here on Light Stalking will probably realise that I have been around in photography for quite some time.
I was born into a photographic era where memory cards were made of celluloid, instant photos were called polaroids and to go “mirrorless” meant you would probably have a bad hair day.
Recently I wrote an article on why you should take up photography. It struck me that maybe it might be an idea to tell you why I took up photography.
While it might not be a story or great romance or intrigue, it might be a useful guide to how the passion for photography can bite you.
Perhaps the most romantic part of my story into photography was that it happened on my sixteenth birthday. It was 1983, and although I had never really had any interest in photography, I had always had a fascination for gadgets.
For my 16th my stepfather promised to buy me a camera. When we arrived at the camera store (remember them?) I was confronted with two possibilities within the budget. First was a rather sleek looking Olympus Trip (apparently used by David Bailey) The other was a large hunk of pig iron with more knobs than a door factory.
It was called a Zenit 11 and it was an import from behind the Iron Curtain. I was immediately infatuated.
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Not Cats But A Dog
Its a common source of amusement that the internet is full of cat photographs. The stereotype suggests that every new photographer will take pictures of their prized feline. In my case, it was not a cat but a dog.
My first ever photo was of a boisterous black Labrador owned by a friend. It was to be the photograph that hooked me into photography, although I didn’t realise this until a week later when the prints eventually arrived back from the developers.
Why should this single image have hooked me? Quite honestly I have no idea. It was sharp, it was colourful but beyond that, it was really nothing special. The composition was non-existent, it was slightly underexposed, in short, it was a snapshot.
But something in my mind snapped too and from that moment on I was devouring every book at the library, spending much of my meagre wages on Amateur Photographer magazine and joining a camera club. I was also lucky enough to have a mentor in the form of my Uncle Pat. A highly talented photographer who took amazing photos from a Hasselblad that he carried in a supermarket shopping bag.
It was he that introduced me to the world of camera clubs.
Progress And Setbacks.
My experience of camera clubs is mixed. As a 16-year-old with a cheap Russian camera, you are both a source of mirth and disdain.
Sadly this snobbish element of photography exists even today. The club, however, was a fantastic educational resource. Not only did they bring in studio sets up and models, they also had some excellent lectures from dare I say world famous photographers.
Two that stuck in my mind were Eamonn McCabe and Heather Angel both of whom brought along a selection of their work to show us.
In a few short months, my photographic abilities improved immeasurably to a point where I felt confident to enter one of the club's esteemed photographic competitions. The subject was silhouettes and the winning image would go on a tour of the UK’s photographic clubs.
I entered a picture taken of my family on the beach, backlit by low sun with deep ripples in the sand. When the results were announced, I had been given 10+ out of 10 and was the winner.
The elders of the club were not impressed, a 16 year old with a £40 camera had trumped years of experience and thousands of pounds worth of Nikons and Canons.
Sadly very few spoke to me after that and a few weeks later I decided to leave.
Finding Work Against The Odds.
There were only two people in my world at the time that truly believed I could find work in the photographic industry. Myself and my college careers officer.
It was he that found an interesting position, perhaps the only photographic job in my area. It was a research and development apprentice at the famous darkroom company Durst. He put me forward for an interview and against even my own expectations I got the job.
One year after picking up a cold war relic in a camera store, I was working in the photographic industry. Some 34 years later, I still am.
So there you have it. Not the greatest story ever told but hopefully one with a moral. That moral is, to believe in yourself, be confident in your abilities and take photos that will silence your critics.
You don’t need a Nikon and twenty years of experience, you need a keen eye and a bucket load of passion.