Pretentious or self-deprecating?
That’s the question I’m faced with when trying to explain my photography, and my northern genes tend towards the latter.
I’ve always loved photography and took it up again as a serious hobby in 2009, when I bought myself an Olympus OM1 and some film. I get real joy just looking at interesting things and photographing them, but have begun to push myself a little bit, to try to achieve something a little bit better than just photos of things which look nice. I should say at this point that, to me, “things which look nice” are generally old houses or other buildings from 1960 or earlier, that type of thing. In the tradition of many great photographers, I tentatively started to photograph *people* – which is a bit scary, because you either have to just take their photo, or talk to them and convince them they *want* to have their photo taken. I must say, hardly anyone has ever said no!
I shoot in black and white because then you capture people’s souls. In colour, you’re just photographing their clothes.
I really hope you’re still reading, because the preceding paragraph is a load of nonsense. I shoot nearly exclusively in black and white because I love the way it looks, and colour is another element I’d have to control, and I wouldn’t be very good at that. When the tones of a black and white photo are right, I can almost taste them – I just seem to drink them in. And, yes, that even seems to apply to some of my own shots! (“So maybe not so self-deprecating after all, eh, Chris?”)
I was asked to do an exhibition in 2018 and, as you can imagine, was really excited about that. It took place in a craft shop in Elland. The woman who offered me the exhibition (she offered – I didn’t ask!) confidently predicted I would sell all my photos. I sold about three. This told me that my photographs were either a) not very good or b) not very commercial. Or both, of course. I am reconciled to being non-commercial, but I don’t make a virtue (or a “fetish”, as my late dear friend Mick would have said) out of being unpopular – that would just be stupid. However, I have decided to continue ploughing my furrow and, well, let’s just see what happens. As Marcus Aurelius said, “All things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusion; life is warfare, and a visit to a strange land; the only lasting fame is oblivion,” so I’m not really bothered if people don’t like what I do: it’s important to me, so that will have to do.
As my photography progressed, I began to pursue things a little bit, and one thing led to another, so I began to develop themes in my work. Now, there is nothing original about what I do and there are many photographers (and I could name a dozen, probably, straight off the top of my head) who have done what I do much better, but that doesn’t mean my work is without value.
These days, I try to pursue any ideas that occur to me, without allowing the “voice of hindrance” to get a word in first. This has meant that I have travelled to interesting places (Hartlepool, Skinningrove, Huddersfield, Castleford, Wakefield etc) and met interesting people, and generally had my idea of a great time.
I now want to create a website where people can see my work if they want to. I want the website to be clean, simple and classy. Yes, I know this isn’t it – I’m just beginning to work out some technical issues, then I will address the thorny issue of font. Ages ago, I got some business cards done cheaply, so I will now have to buy a pre-inked stamp with “21stcenturynorth.com” on it, so I can stamp my website on the back when I give these cards to folk I meet. I’ve had them for about ten years – and I’ve probably given about ten of them away.
Basically, I’m doing this website on the cheap. This is clearly a vanity project but there is a limit to how much I’m prepared to spend on vanity. Four quid a month, at the most.
If there is a point to my photography, then it is to celebrate, in a small way, the lives of ordinary people, particularly those who live in the northern part of our wonderful country of England. I was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and have lived in W Yorks for well over 30 years, and I think northern England is brilliant. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Yorkshire is almost as good as Scotland. And that’s saying summat.