For as long as I can remember I was surrounded by photography in one form or another. My home was filled with photography books and both my parents were involved in the profession which meant I was able to witness it first hand when I would follow them to their place of work when on school holidays. 
My father worked with Terence Donovan who made a name for himself in fashion photography during the sixties, but who also directed over 3000 commercials and music videos. I have fond memories of the red leather button backed sofas and wooden floors in his office in Bond Street. The best thing was being allowed to play with the old telephone exchange switchboard that his secretary used to direct calls with. Clearly installed to entertain 7 year olds like me.
My mother worked in front of the camera as a model. I remember finding her portfolio which included various glamorous photos of her, but the one that sticks out was a red London bus with a pair of legs down the length of it. I later found out that this was for a well know brand of tights.
In my early teens I worked for Gary Bryan who used to be an assistant of Terry’s. One of the nicest guys in the business with the biggest smile. On one of my first days I was asked to go and “pick up the trannies”. I had to ask what they meant, but at the time there was just one definition: transparencies. Film processed via E6. If you were lucky you got a lift in Gary’s Mercedes. The year of the car always changed, but the model was a near constant.
It was there that I got my first taste of working in the darkroom and printing black and white photos. This was a magical experience, a perfect balance of science and creativity. I was immediately hooked. I found myself unpaid work as a darkroom assistant in a business local to my home in Hammersmith and was soon processing prints for paying clients. This was fascinating as you got to convert the work of professional photographers into the final image and your chosen exposure or amount of dodge and burn (light hidden or focused on certain areas) was what they took away with them. Today this is done via software, but at the time this was a variety of chemicals, timed light exposures and a number of artful hand gestures under the enlarger all conducted in the dark. 
At this point I was confident of the profession I wanted to be involved in. How and when I got there was immaterial. The decision was aided by Vaughan Emmerson, my English teacher at school who like me had a passion for photography and encouraged me to pursue it. I took his advice and ran with it. After my final GCSE exam (history) I got into a cab in Notting Hill and went for an interview in Piccadilly for a second assistant position with an advertising photographer called Tony Bowran. The interview went well and I started the following week. Tony had a great little studio in Swallow Street in Piccadilly and from there I picked up where I had left off and quickly got back into the fun of working in a studio.
A little while later I was working for James Cotier, another ex assistant of Terry’s and good friend of Gary’s, and Tony's. This was clearly a mates game. We started in the West End near Tottenham Court Road and then the studio was moved to a couple of knocked together mews studios in Notting Hill. Jim had them converted so the studio was below and the offices and darkroom was above. I worked there for two wonderful years covering all aspects of photography, medium and large format, detailed lighting techniques and even exercised my passion for printing. Jim also loved printing but at higher standards, it was here that I experienced platinum and palladium printing. Typically you buy your pre-coated print paper from Ilford or Kodak etc. But this was an older process used by the likes of Fox Talbot where you have to make and coat your own printing paper. We used exact amounts of platinum, palladium and zinc and then coated high weave cotton paper using especially made glass rods. Then exposed the paper following similar techniques to standard printing. Each print could cost upwards of one hundred pounds so you had to get it right first time. The net result was a book called Nudes in Budapest which was published in 1992. I loved my time working for Jim, I learned so much and experienced everything from photographing cars to people and even a live panther.
I had wanted to go back into education and at the age of 18 decided to do a post graduate in professional photography at the London College of Printing. I was only allowed into the course as I had proven experience vs past coursework. This was a fun year where I converted my bedroom into a studio and my parents garage into a darkroom. Somewhat ironically I found the course to be slow as I had more working experience than those around me, but I enjoyed the course all the same whilst making routes for myself taking photos in my makeshift studio. 
I completed the course and focused on getting back into paid photography work. My home studio was now busy with work. I had made friends with Sarah a makeup artist who lived in Chiswick near me and we would do all sorts of work from z cards for new models to real pieces that even made it into Vogue. A fun day was when Kate Moss’s brother Nick was sent to my home by his new agent to have a few shots done. He’d been asked to shave his chest before the shoot which he had duly done, but several days before so Sarah had to try and cover up the stubble. Best quote of the day was Sarah explaining what an avocado was to him in the post shoot pub lunch. Fun times!
The studio lighting kit I owned (four Elinchrom mono heads and more) combined with my past meant I was recommended for some interesting jobs with photographers who had booked work but needed a trained assistant with kit on demand. 
I worked a lot with Jake Chessum who at the time was making waves with the likes of Face and ID magazine. We photographed all kinds of people from David Bowie, Eddy Izzard and Dave Stuart in his home in Covent Garden after a late night with Bob Dylan. Best memory of that day was the black carpet in the living room with fibre optic cables poking through that made the black carpet twinkle like a night’s sky. Apparently very cool when you’re enjoying something home grown. One of the craziest shots we did together was of Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as the Ab Fab girls. We turned up to the studio as requested and expecting to do a shoot for a magazine. Typical portraits of the actresses etc. But no… the ladies were in full character post a rehearsal session. That shoot was like herding cats!
At the same time I was working with Brian Jaquest who had this great studio and darkroom in Portobello Road. It was there that I was working on a shoot that needed some overtime work one weekend and when Brian asked how much he owed me I asked if I could be paid in the form of a print, a photograph he had taken in the same studio when it was being borrowed by a friend for another shoot many years previously. This was an album cover shoot for Debbie Harry where she was adopting the Christine Keeler, Profumo affair chair pose. Brian’s photo is of the moment the iconic photo is being taken and the blur of her agent turning around to say, no photos! I wanted to own this piece of history and Brian was kind enough to make me a print and sign it. The handmade frame cost me more than I would have charged for the weekend and the print still hangs in my hallway today.

This was how the photo looked in Brian's darkroom. I had to have a copy. I love how the agent, the chap on the right is blurry as he moves to tell Brain to stop taking the photo.

I had also been working with David Preutz who had an amazing studio near the river. It was a bigger place, larger studio, darkroom and offices with an established history of good parties. Everything from pack shoots to large sets. David loved his profession and liked to own the latest and greatest kit. But it wasn't just the toys, David was a true craftsman or, in his own words, 'a great Smudger'. It was here that I learned about photoshop. David had bought the first version from Adobe which came on a CD rom as well as seven floppy discs. He was nice enough to give me the seven floppy discs he didn’t need (no doubt breaking some agreement in the licensing). I slowly installed the 7 discs one at a time in my Apple Performer and shortly after I was converted. Digital editing in my bedroom was to soon take over from my chemicals in the garage across the hall.

I was fortunate to work for a wide variety of people. Sometimes I would travel at a moments notice, you’d get a call asking if your passport was valid and can you get to Gatwick? On one such occasion I found myself and my lights in the south of France in Michael Hutchens’ villa. The shoot was actually for Paula Yates for some UK magazine and we made a day of it. By the end I was in the bathroom with Bob Geldof’s kids who were helping me cross process the negatives from Polaroids onto some cotton paper I had brought. An arty thing one did at the time and one that fit with the mood of the day.

For no particular reason I found consistency in working in Chelsea. First David Preutz, then Anthony Crickmay whose studio was closer to a home and whose portfolio was framed and on his walls. A staircase leading up to the first floor was lined with iconic images that any visitor would immediately recognise. Anthony is best known for his work in contemporary dance and the Royal Ballet and showcasing people like Darcey Bussell. I assisted on a number of fashion projects for a certain Scottish designer but his advice of wedding photography is what I remember fondly. In summary, let go and enjoy it, don't let the heat of the moment prevent you from capturing that moment.

Printing had remained a constant and one of my favourite printing gigs was for Tessa Traeger, another Chelsea person. Tessa was made famous for her incredible artwork of food photography (more a montage) but also well known for fashion (we had some fun times with Jasper Conran...). The printing in question, whilst commissioned by Tessa, was actually of her late brother’s work. Ronald Traeger was a photographer in the sixties, the photo that people remember is of Twiggy on a bicycle but he was renowned during that period for his exceptional fashion and street photography. The book: New Angles was initially a folder full of negatives that I helped turn into prints in Tessa’s darkroom as she curated what was to become a book. It was another one of those moments where you are given license to bring to life other people’s artwork. A real honour.

It’s funny how life takes you on a journey, but it was here that my path altered course. I met Tessa’s niece Chloe and through Chloe I met Cleia, who I am now married to. I’m fortunate that Cleia’s family were also from the arts, so money wasn’t the focus as assistants didn’t earn a lot! Both her parents worked in dance and their home included prints by Anthony Crickmay.

The photo below is by Anthony Crickmay and is of Bob Smith (my wife's dad) flying through the air above Robert Cohan (London Contemporary Dance Theatre) in1969. My wife and I would both be born 4 years later - in the same hospital... 
Bob Smith

Photograph by Anthony Crickmay 1969

Another similar event, this time a phone call asked me to be in Battersea for 8 am one morning. No more details. It turned out that I would be working for Mario Testino who had been asked to photograph Princess Diana for Vanity Fair. The vetting process for shoots like this is either lengthy, or last minute, the latter so you can’t tell your friends who you are going to photograph or worse, do something embarrassing like bring an album cover for them to sign. Probably more at play here.

The day was spent in an old school building with an abundance of natural daylight. A morning of make up and dress selection (Princess Diana was auctioning off her dresses) with a number of ‘getting into it shots’. Lunch was a classic Mario affair. He does this thing where he makes people walk up and down an imaginary catwalk and you have to guess which model he or she is pretending to be. A fun and engaging game, but only for those elite who go to the fashion shows in Paris and can repeat the walk of the moment from those on the catwalk. Importantly this exercise makes everyone equal and enjoy the moment. I shared a sandwich with Diana over lunch, and exchanged small talk about normal life. Her weekend had been to sneak the boys out - it was half term - to go to Ed’s Diner in Chelsea to have a bit of mother and kids time. In all the jobs I have done, everyone has always just been a normal human (except the Chemical Brothers, they were bonkers).

Post lunch the light was perfect and we set about taking what would become the last known photo shoot of Princess Diana. Mario is exceptional at bringing people to life. The shoot was filled with fun and laughter. I was furiously loading 120mm film into the Pentax 6x7 bodies that were being used. There was a point when we switched to white dresses and used a white sofa and so as to keep pace - 10 shots per role - I was lying behind the sofa feeding Mario with new camera bodies ready to go.

I caught up with Mario recently and he was kind enough to sign the book I bought from the day. I wanted to buy a simple print but the rights to these images are complicated!

Any money I made on these shoots went back into buying film or a new lens. It was a great period in my life when all that mattered was the art of taking or participating in a unique moment that could be captured by a photograph or a print, or ideally both.

Photography is in my DNA, it’s something that I experience every day. Even without a camera I see things that should be a photo. But the science behind the art has taken me down a different path. People wanted their photos edited and then published. Photoshop and later the internet changed that narrative. I moved from simple websites into functional ones that captured data. That created a new and lucrative business engaging with customers of a product and asking them what they thought of it via online surveys. Somewhat ironically Kodak was one of our first customers as they tried to understand customer adoption or lack thereof of new film formats.

When the data became more complex, I switched into application development. That lead to more elaborate projects for high street brands who wanted engaging websites hosted on enterprise level architecture. I ran a business building these applications for seven years and then found a fondness for ecommerce and APIs.

The rest is history.


Well done for getting this far. I wanted to write this down as I was beginning to realise I was forgetting bits of this and wanted a log of things my younger self got up to....
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