Berkshire College of Art campus was on the back lot of Reading Tech College. My sister's old mini was long gone, I was now driving a red Renault 5. It was a 30 minute ride to Reading. I was made up, I had my own wheels and I was studying photography. The BTEC National Diploma in Photography was a practical course. Over the next two years I learned how to work in the photography studio - how to use studio lighting, medium and large format 5x4 cameras. Initially we (photography students) would photograph each other.
Contact sheet of student Steve by myself & myself by Warren King
5x4 contact sheet of student Deryck & fibre based print of student Toby
Neg. scans of student Emma
The first famous photographer who work blew me away was Irving Penn
He had a unique approach to the photographic portrait. The sitters' poses were theatrical and structurally strong, staring straight down the barrel of the lens. Lit by daylight, coming in through his studio windows diffused by the city grime. His unorthodox portrait of The Ballet Society taken in 1948 is a stroke of genius. I watched a documentary on Irving Penn, he was such a gentle, sensitive shy man. During some shoots he would have an assistant whose job it was to have a conversation with his sitter so he could concentrate on shooting.
Photography by Irving Penn
We were set assignments to create ‘Book Jackets’, ‘Film Posters’ and ‘Commercial Briefs’. The photographic skills I was learning though the commercial assignments were all good training to become a professional photographer. What I really enjoyed though was being in this creative environment, everything I had learned so far was self taught, now my eyes were being opened up to a whole new visual world of photography and film.
Gordon, one of the tutors, would take us down to the local pub for lessons. We had a young tutor who turned us onto Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 film ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ - music by Philip Glass. ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ is the first part of ‘The Qatsi Trilogy’ from the Native American ‘Hopi’ tribe means ‘Life of moral corruption and turmoil’ or ‘Life out of balance’. Our tutor watched the film in the cinema in 1982 when it came out he said "5 minutes into the film, everyone was lighting up the spliffs".
If college was about the assignments my time outside college was about photographing people and subjects I was interested in. One weekend I went up to visit my sister who was now living in London. One of her friends asked if I wanted to go check out an Acid Jazz session at Dingwalls in Camden - ‘Hell Yeah’. It was my first time photographing in a club environment. It was challenging trying to capture the dancers. I loved their style, commitment and energy in the room that day.
Neg. scans of Acid Jazz Sunday afternoon session at Dingwalls in Camden 1988
I was just passing through that day but photographer Adam Friedman captured this scene beautifully between 1988-90.
The thing I'm loving about writing this blog is the detective work needed in piecing together a timeline of my early photography years - through my archive of negatives. I wasn't always so particular in writing the dates and places on my neg. sheets. This next series of images are a case in point. I found this one roll of black and white film with ‘Acid House, 1988’’. That's it. I’ve no idea when in 1988 or where they were taken. It was my first time listening to Acid House and it would be another year before I would get into this kind of music with gusto.
Back then for my documentary work, my kit of choice was a 35mm camera and 24mm wide angle lens with small portable flash. Some people suggested that using a wide angle lens was cheating, as everything looked dynamic. There’s some truth in that, what I enjoyed with the 24mm lens is you had to go in close and engage with your subject - you couldn't stay back.
Neg. scans of Acid House club in 1988
If you want to see some great images from the Acid House era, check out Dave Swindells evocative work.
As students we took ourselves out on self motivated photo day trips. One of these was to Calshot a small coastal town near Southampton. I went with Toby, Deryck, Steve and Mike.
Top - Toby and Deryck | In the car - Steve and Mike
Due to unforeseen circumstances we ended up tripping that day, nothing heavy I think they were microdots? I hadn't photographed under the influence before. I'm still proud of this set below which I shot on black and white infrared film.
Fibre based prints of Acid-Scapes 1989
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, each time I blog I'll promo it on my IG
Next time I'll continue with more work from my time at Berkshire Art School..
Limited Edition Print Collections: HERE