My dad was disappointed that I didn't go into the family business. He had built up a successful construction company in Fleet during the 70-80s. My dad went to a secondary modern in Kings X, London in the late 50’s. He told me some crazy stories of kids being locked in classrooms because the teachers couldn’t control them. One science teacher lost it one day and dangled a kid by his feet from a 2nd floor window. Dad left school with one O’Level in Art, he worked hard over the next decade becoming a surveyor, then moving the family to Fleet set up his own business.
In 1987 I left school with 2 O’levels (Art & English Literature). Dad had found a building management course over in Guildford that he wanted me to attend. I had discovered photography at school and really enjoyed it (read more here). I wanted to continue doing something creative. I felt bad, but photography was what I wanted to pursue. The idea that I could earn money from taking photographs - doing something I loved was a revelation to me. I was 16 year old and a job where I could also wear what I wanted, seemed important at the time.
17th birthday card and passport photo
There was a 2 year National Diploma course in Photography at Berkshire Art School in Reading. I really wanted to do that course. To get in I needed a few more exams and a decent photography portfolio, so I went to Farnborough 6th Form College for a year.
We had an old wooden shed in our back garden, dad helped me make it into a black and white darkroom. Dad located some old cupboards and a sink top from his builders yard. We plumbed some cold water and fitted some electricity. I bought a basic enlarger, processing trays, chemicals and paper. Over the next few years I spent hours in that darkroom through cold winters and summers. Martin, my school friend taught me the darkroom basics and continued to be my guide. There was no formal training in those early years, studying the medium and getting inspiration from the masters - that would come later. Everything I learned was through trial and error.
I was shooting intuitively, I was lucky my mum and dad supported my photography endeavours. My mum had a good eye, I would go to her with my new work and ask her which images she liked. They were often images I had a good feeling about.
Original resin print of Julian lit by his car lights
I didn’t have much kit - just a camera, film and lots of curiosity about the world around me. I was always asking my friends if It was ok to make a portrait, or if I could bring my camera along to a gig. Me and my friends were fresh out of school, we were going to 6th form college, we felt all grown up. We had survived school and were now discovering these newfound freedoms and meeting like minded souls.
Original fibre based b+w prints of my 17th birthday party - 70's fancy dress I think? Photography by Martin and myself.
Shortly after my 17th birthday, I learnt to drive. You needed a car where I lived. Fleet is a commuter town surrounded by countryside. We are 50min train ride to Waterloo, London. I got my sister’s old £150 banger of a mini to learn with. One day I was driving home through the countryside, the engine was making a very loud banging noise, whilst driving I had my seat belt off and the door open ready to bail out, I thought the engine was going to blow.
Neg scan of a portrait of John.
I’ll be honest my memories are pretty hazy of my year at Farnborough 6th form. This reinforces for me the importance of photography and the written word as historical documents of any given time, place, and people. I landed my first editorial post as staff photographer on the college's first ‘Year Book’. We met John at 6th form, he joined our motley crew. A few years before John had cancer. I remember him telling us that during his recovery in hospital he was encouraged to drink a few pints of Guinness everyday to help with his iron intake.
First Farnborough 6th Form Year Book 1987-88.
In no particular order this time was all about music, girls, drinking and photography. Friday nights at the Agincourt Ballroom Rock Club in Camberley. Cider, Snakebite (Cider & Lager) sometimes with a shot of Pernod for good measure. We saw Mega City Four over at The West End Centre in neighbouring Aldershot. We wouldn't linger too long in Aldershot on a Friday night for fear of getting our heads kicked in by the local squaddies.
Original resin b+w print of my friends at some local gig
Fleet was a great place to grow up as a kid with all the woods and countryside, but as teenagers we were seeking more and ‘The Old Smoke’ was a calling. We started following my sister's boyfriend's band Furore to gigs at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town and The Tunnel Club in Greenwich.
Scans of negs. of Kev, Clive, Julian, Jon, Sarah and friends at a Furore gig at The Tunnel Club, London.
We were going up to London more regularly by train to see bands like The Alarm and The Cult. Of all the bands we went to see though, for me the most memorable night that year was when we went to see The Cure play at Wembley Arena. The Cure were musically ahead of their time in my humble opinion. They also tapped into all those angst ridden teenage emotions, the stars were aligned - everybody I knew was there that night.
The Cure tickets 1987 and my doodle pad from early 1988
I finished 6th Form around June 1988. I applied and got into the two year photography course in Reading. More on that next time...