I often get asked how I started in photography so I thought I would write a blog post detailing all my previous experiences and influences which have helped me to get to where I am now.
I studied photography in school in Colchester and when I finished my A levels I was determined to move to London. As I had not much interest in anything else and my previous ambition of being a professional footballer like my dad had long since died I figured that photography was as good as anything to go into. I must admit that my main motivation in moving to London was to be near my goth girlfriend Wendy and to be the scariest goth in town, seeing as this was 1988 and the only things that really mattered to me was listening to Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cramps, Bauhaus etc.
And yes this is what I looked like in 1988.
My first job was at a darkroom called Matchless B/W in Clerkenwell run by Danny Pope. Here I learned how to process black and white film and produce contact sheets for many photographers including incredibly Eve Arnold who at the time I was totally unaware of who she was. I just remember Danny giving me some rolls of 135 Tri-X and saying “don’t fuck them up.” I didn’t.
The darkroom went through a few changes and in 1991 JohnO Driscoll moved his darkroom in to the space next door and I soon started working for him. I did not know this at the time but JohnO would become one of the biggest influences for me in the photographic industry.
I worked for JohnO for about 15 years and it not once did it seem like a day at work. Working here was a non stop stream of processing high quality fashion, advertising and portraiture for huge photographers like Nick Knight, Elaine Constantine, Craig McDean, Rankin (not a fan personally), Solve Sundsbo, Corinne Day and Albert Watson, who where shooting campaigns for clients such as Yohji Yamamoto, Calvin Klein, Levis, Jill Sander and magazines like The Face, ID, Vogue, Elle etc.
This was interspersed with non stop runs to the bookies to place a bet for John or trips to the pub. Rarely did a day end when we where not in the Bricklayers Arms or The Horseshoe until well past closing time. It was here that I met lots of photographers and my ambition was to be the next biggest thing in fashion photography (the goth look had gone by now). I started assisting photographers that I knew from the darkroom like Elaine, Sandro Sodano, JP Mascelet, David Eustace and others, I also started shooting for myself. One of the best bits of advice I was given was to shoot what you are interested in. At the time I was watching a lot of Colchester United who where languishing in the old 3rd division, so I had the idea of shooting 3rd division football fans. What I was interested in was the fans from say Hartlepool or Darlington who would travel to Gillingham or Colchester on a cold Wednesday night. This I did for about 3 years and culminated in an exhibition at The Blue Note in Hoxton Square in 1996.
Sadly JohnO died of cancer in 2012, but I will always remember fond times working with him. My whole work ethos comes from JohnO, I never earned a lot of money there, but I never paid a penny for food or drink and I had a lot of fun. This is how I treat my assistants and I hope its as fun working for me as it was working for JohnO. His obituary can be read here, its written by David Secombe and yes that is Harry’s son.
The following images where printed by JohnO and formed part of my 3rd division football fan exhibition.
I was also going to a lot of illegal raves around this time and immersing myself fully in the culture that surrounded it!!!! I knew a lot of people that organised such events so had access to shoot in a lot of squat parties, illegal raves and traveller festivals. This also resulted in a lot of published work via the PYMCA agency and I also had, a few years ago, an image published at an exhibition at The Royal Albert Hall on youth culture an image of the police raiding a festival and taking the sound system.
Shooting raves and festivals led me to start work as a freelance photographer for music magazines like DJ Mag shooting DJs and raves across UK, Europe and USA.
Also around this time I fell into working for a lot of teenage magazines like Smash Hits, J17, Bliss and also football magazines like 442 and Shoot and again spent a good few years travelling across this country and overseas shooting pop stars and celebrities.
Things started to grind to a halt around 2001/02. Smash Hits and J17 went bust, other magazines I worked for changed art departments and the onset of digital photography was starting to make its presence felt. These and other circumstances led me to believe that my career as a photographer was coming to an end. After much soul searching I was persuaded by my partner to have a total change of career and go into teaching as she was also retraining to be an art teacher at the time. So the obvious next step was to retain as a PE teacher!!!
I worked as a PE teacher for two years in London and hated it to death. In the meantime I married my partner Dagmara and we had our daughter Ivy in 2005. As we where living in a 1 bed flat in Hackney it was time to move on. To cut a long story short we moved to Boston in Lincolnshire as my wife got a job teaching there. I was determined to somehow resurrect my photography career and weddings seemed the obvious route to go down. I had photographed a few friends weddings in the past without too much passion, but I felt I had what it takes to be successful.
If JohnO was one of my biggest earlier influences I would soon meet someone else that would be a huge influence on my career. After a year in Boston I had photographed two whole weddings, my wife suggested I go on a training course, so I enrolled on what was to me at the time, an unknown entity in Annabel Williams Photography Training. The course was Fine Art Weddings with Stuart Cooper and it was here that I met Catherine Conner and what would soon be Aspire. Little did I know at the time how influential Catherine and her team would be on my thinking and how I would operate in business and it is no exaggeration that I would not be where I am now without their training.
I must say I arrived on that first day thinking “what can they teach me? I have photographed pop stars all over the world.” But after spending the day there I soon realised I was a million miles off, I looked at Stuarts work and could honestly say I do not know how to produce that and I do not know how to run a business like you are. I took on board all I had learned and slowly started to improve. The following year Aspire was launched and I enrolled on The A-Z of Weddings. Again a huge learning curve ensued and not only did the quality of my photography improve, but my awareness of business, branding, marketing and sales improved also, all essential components of a successful business, but elements that I had been unaware of or even knew how to do prior to my training.
Two years ago I moved to Lincoln with my family as my wife got a job at Lincoln Uni teaching fashion. My business is currently looking better than ever, although I still have many targets to hit and improvements to make. Last year I shot nearly 30 weddings and won The Dave Routledge Award at The SWPP awards night in London. I am looking forward to progressing things, consolidating the wedding side of the business and introducing more family and baby shoots this year.
So that is how I got to where I am now, thanks for taking an interest.