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Random thoughts and images from the photo archive:

Having spent most of my lifetime immersed in photography of one kind or other I have decided to go through the archive of images and give them a life outside the negative folders and boxes.

The galleries follow me from the start of my photography and cover the following periods: 1970s: My Cowley school images from St.Helens, 1980s: Photo College in Nottingham then London, 1990s: London then moving to Sheringham, 2000s: Before the transition to digital

Hand and Lightning T70L 243989-1

One of my stock images from the mid 1980’s.

I photographed my hand using my Pentax K1000 and its standard 50mm f2 lens. I held my fingers around a bare 15w light bulb that had a black piece of cardboard on top of the bulb so it would not flare into the lens. The lightning is a strike over Lewisham photographed at another time from the kitchen window shot on b+w negative film.

I made a high contrast lith positive of the lightning and put a blue gel over it. I then used the colour enlarger at the Tony Stone darkrooms to first expose the hand onto a 10″x8″ sheet of transparency film then exposed the lightning.

At the time I thought of it as illustrating “Creative Spark” the sudden creative process that creates ideas out of nowhere. I cannot say I planned to “think” this image into existence but this image was in my mind before I created the components.

Conceptual stock photography like this was not too common at the time and I felt it in my bones that it would sell well. It went on to be my best selling image generating enough income for me to move from rented accommodation.

It took on a life of its own. my concept of creative spark was not shared, it was used to represent power. It was even used  by the SNP in Scotland to promote the independence vote in 2014, I guess the idea was to have the power in Scottish hands rather than London.

I cannot control how my images were used but it struck me at one point that I was responsible for putting image like this out into society, lots of money but I wonder about how it may have been misused.

I did get permission from Tony to use the darkroom after hours and I paid for the film and processing of the film used.
Tony and his agents will have earned more money from the image than me but it was a fair split between us. I withdrew the image from Getty in 2017 after the split was weighed heavily in their favour.

Conceptual images like this can be created by anyone now for free using AI programs, good job I dont rely on picture sales any more!

Adam

A bag of raddishes, ideal for snacking on. Nottingham 1980-81. Adam was a fellow photo student at Trent Polytechnic.

A student of art 1980

Bernard in the kitchen at the first year student accomodation in Bayham street. I took the religious iconography as ironic but now I wonder.

Towards Cromer Pier

I had been woken up by our cat Tiger Lilly and could not get back to sleep so I went for a walk in the dark December night with a light rain falling.

The tide was low so I walked from Sheringham to East Runton on the beach, I had a torch built into my hat but when the going was smooth I turned it off and found myself in the greyness.

I could hear the waves to my left but only see a thin line of lighter grey of them crashing. I wasn’t so much walking through a landscape as walking through a tone scape.

When I turned the corner from West Runton I could see the pier at Cromer, bright in the night. It was 5:37am

iPhone not film. If I did have a film camera with me I would have also needed a tripod.

3 A2 Photographic prints rather than screen images

I will be in St.Helens my home town this Friday (14/07/2023)  to see the exhibition “Creative Roots” at the World of Glass Museum. I was kindly asked to submit some of my documentary photography work and it joins others across all media and arts that represent the creative output of native St.Helens people. Looks to be worth a visit. I will post the material from the exhibit once it closes on the 9th September 2023. Entrance is free.

Update: 08/11/2023

My A2 prints from the exhibition are back, nicely wrapped and undamaged. Many thanks to Kathryn Raven and her team at The World of Glass Museum for the opportunity to show them.
If you would like to read captions and the bio I sent to the exhibition then click here for a pdf: Stephen Johnson – Creative Roots

Guided by the universe

I dont show all my images here, some have meaning only for a small group of people.

Last week I was looking through some old pictures from my time at Cowley School in St.Helens and came across this picture of two fellow pupils enjoying a tea break in the sixth form centre. Not the best picture in the world but I was struck by the beautiful smile of the girl on the left. Her name is Jean Evans. Jean also went to my primary school.

I posted the picture onto the Old Cowleans facebook page for other to see and within an hour had a reply from someone who had the same day heard from Jeans husband of her death.

The news made me sad of course. The coincidence was striking. It had been a busy day and I should have been on a screen break, instead I looked through my old images and this one stood out and I wanted to share it.

I have not talked to or seen Jean for 43 years but in my mind I could have taken this picture yesterday.

Thank you for your lovely smile Jean.

Know your place!

An agricultural show in Somerset Mid 1990s. Canon EOS1 35mm camera, 50mm lens. Fujichrome Velvia film 50ASA.

As a small child growing up in the 1960s I saw around me echo’s of the old ways of doing things, a deference to Class, State and Church.

Part of the excitement of watching Monty Python on a black and white tv in the early 1970s was to see those corrupted institutions mocked for the thin charade they were.

A new Nationalism (National Conservatism) wishes us to return to a more hierarchical, passive and subservient mode based on a fictional “golden age” centered some time in the 1950s in which politicians are not questioned and everyone “knows their place”. This is dangerous thinking.

Swear an oath to a King? perhaps best not to.

 

The learning process

Euan Duff the course leader at the Photo Department at Trent Polytechnic knew I enjoyed documentary photography so give me the opportunity in my second year to work with a graphics student who had a project on schooling in Nottingham.

One of the schools I photographed was a small private primary. Entering the classroom was like going back in time to my state school in St.Helens, perhaps the floors were less dusty here but it flooded me with memories of listening to stories and the strict and not so strict teachers.

On the desk is a packet of sweets or munchies, not too sure if they are confiscated from a child or used to reward good behavior. Young minds informed.