A Stone’s Throw from my Front Door.
When I think back to my days as a photography student at the LCP in the seventies, there are those personalities: Fred Cook, Roy Baxendale, Adrian Munsey, Gary Woodhouse (then picture editor of ‘The Observer’), Jorge Lewinski (whom I assisted on occasion), Anthony Blake, Peter Espe, and others, who have all left their mark on me as a photographer. But it was something that my tutor, Heino Johannsen, said to me that repeatedly resurfaces.
Heino was a master photographic technician whose knowledge of the subject was boundless. His demeanour was one of quiet patience, surrounded with the usual cloud of pipe smoke. He would give advice and direction in measured East European tones, all the while searching for that passion for photography within my young self. In one such tutorial, he removed his pipe from its usual position, and prodding the stem towards me, said,…
…‘One may travel to wonderful places, such as Mauritius, and return with stunning images ... this is not so remarkable, as places such as this have their own beauty, and will be very fresh to one's eye. But to be a true photographer, one should be able to realize great images on every occasion within a stone’s throw of one's own front door.' (or words to the effect)
His point to me … when I had an active interest in interior photography (due to my forays into the ‘real’ world when assisting Jorge Lewinski) and that dream of having my own still-life studio … was that I needed to take a step back from blinkered ambition, and just concentrate on achieving good images.
Although Heino’s words have stayed with me, his essential advice went unheeded for quite some years … the blinkered ambition remained, and, after some years as an assistant photographer to Jack Bankhead, I did achieve my still-life studio. And, dare I say, like many who follow this route, I became caught up in the world of commerce, chasing the advertising dream, and, to a certain extent, forsaking that original essence that drew me to photography in the first place … the spontaneous reaction to take images at any time and place!
All was not lost. So much of my time in the studio was spent, using large format cameras and artificial light, developing my lighting and composition to the point that they now come as second nature to me. This was a disciplined regime where, to compete, one had to constantly create new images to satisfy art directors and clients.
I consider myself fortunate in that, years ago, I was forced to review my situation, and decided not to continue with running my own studio; instead, I now rely on hiring studio space as and when the need arises. And, although I continued to do work for advertising clients (and still do), I was free to move around (eventually moving to Istanbul in the early nineties), and have had frequent changes in address in Turkey since then, dividing my time now between Antalya and Istanbul.
The stress of running a studio behind me, and with the words of Heino Johannsen still sitting just below the surface, my photography became freer. I have been able to treat places that were new to me … as with his Mauritius example … eventually as home, and have consequently had the special advantage to explore them in both lights. I use my home as a still-life studio from time to time, as a place to explore new ideas, and as a base from which to catch very local images. And, with special thanks to my good friend and great food photographer, Ahmet Ağaoğlu, I also have the advantage of having a second home at Elmadağ in Istanbul.
Looking back, I suppose if there is any moral at all in what I have experienced, it would be to never lose touch with that initial spark and sense of fun that draws a person to photography, beware the pitfalls of forsaking one’s art for capitalist ends, and learn to listen to the wise when giving essential advice.
Jonathan Stigner HDCP
(For further illustrations to this essay please scroll down under the 'Labels' heading on the right, and 'click' on 'Stone's Throw').