For my twenty-first birthday my parents bought me a 35mm, single lens reflex camera. A Fuji, I think. I was taking a degree in illustration at the time and they thought:
Simon > 21 > artistic > art school > camera
It was very generous of them but I wasn’t very interested in photography. I hated fussing changing rolls of film which were always, (of course, I was an arty-farty young man), black and white. I didn’t really know what to do with the camera or what to take pictures of.
I gave up drawing before I was thirty and became a graphic designer. In my late thirties I spent six weeks in New York and, on a whim, bought a disposable camera. New York, as you are aware, is a photogenic city. Something began to stir. For the first time I enjoyed taking pictures.
For my fortieth birthday I was given an Ixis. It was small and silver and slipped in my pocket, easy as. You pressed a button and it would come to whirring life as the lens extended and retracted. Press another and a door would open and the film, enclosed in a shiny case, would slide out and I could slip a fresh one in just as quickly. It had a panorama setting which cropped the top and bottom from the picture to give an elongated rectangle. I loved that panorama setting more than I love cheese, (which is a lot). This is when I started taking photographs en masse. I took hundreds. I spent hours studying the pictures I took.
I bought a Lomo. It was cheaply made and Russian and unsophisticated. It was like this but a third of the price. It was also cool and hip, marketed as much, anyway. It was more about atmosphere than precise ‘photography’. Pictures were blurred and grainy. I had them cross-processed, which distorted and intensified the colours and contrast. I still increase contrast and saturation in my pictures. The Lomo‘s great line was that you should shoot from the hip, that’s how cool it was. I learned to take pictures without looking through the viewfinder. I’d point the camera in the direction of something and click. It added something spontaneous and unpredictable. It added emotion and atmosphere to pictures. There were odd angles and odder crops. I have hundreds of boxes of Lomo pictures under my bed. I loved that camera, too.
I bought a bigger and more expensive camera. Then digital cameras became more affordable and I bought one of those and then I really started taking pictures. It was liberating not to have to pay for processing and printing. They were pretty low res compared to the camera I’ve bought most recently, but I could load them onto my computer and manipulate them in Photoshop.
With my next camera, I began a project, 999 Faces, that meant I had to approach strangers to ask if I could take their photo. I did this in several countries and more than one language. The project is complete. Now I’m not designing as much as I used to and need other work. I love writing and taking pictures. That’s what I want to do. Working as a designer for so many years taught me about balance and composition. I no longer take black and white pictures. Colour is one of the glories of life. Sometimes, though, I like colour pictures that look almost monochrome. We all contain paradox.
My friend Andrea owns a gallery in Belsize Park. Her assistant, Dani, is also lovely (and a talented singer, too). I often distract them from their work with my witter. A sculptor asked them if they knew anyone who could take pictures of her work. They suggested me. Me! I took a test shot and she asked me to take the pictures. One of the final pictures is below. It’s one of those colour/monochrome picture that I like sometimes. Here’s a link to where my work has been published. I’m a professional photographer! I’ve done one paid job, so that’s what I am now. I’m ready to work. This website is my portfolio.