Influences and the greatest 'gift’

As we get older we definitely reflect far more than we ever did. It is obvious we have more to look back on and as Christmas time approaches, I, like many of you, review the year and look forward to the new one that is just around the corner. However, this time I have been thinking more of how fortunate I am to have this job, I am lucky enough to call work.

We all ponder on ‘what ifs’ and ‘could have beens’ but this year it is about my arrival at this point in my career, More importantly, who or what influenced my decisions to move into this direction? I know it is nothing new.

What is?

I also ponder about “where is it leading?” I know what I would like but I can only do my best to get there. I can’t predict what can happen but i can make a good attempt at that. If I could predict, I would have already won the lottery!

Influences come in many guises. It could be a person or a situation that flicks the switch to motivate but I think it is probably people who are more influential upon us.

It is fair to say that we are all influenced by someone, something, events, good and not so and these will have a bearing on who we are.

As a professional photographer I do look at other bodies of work and respect photographers no matter how or what they photograph. It is about choices.

Someone I have the utmost respect for is Ansel Adams. I regularly refer to him but he is not my biggest influence.

I can stand in awe for hours on end and look at his amazing landscapes. The way he thought about his photography and its delivery shows a person so in tune with the art form he came to love.

Adams understood the science, the mechanics of photography and coupled with his abilities as a music maestro and teacher, helped shape his thinking and direction.

His is a body of work that covers many genres, reflecting a total understanding of light and the darkroom. He utilised techniques, when he saw fit and exercised his right to implement them. Some of the ‘meddling and manipulation’ he used wasn’t for me but it showed his creative side and deep understanding of how to harness light and change that as he ‘made’ his pictures. He was so adept in the darkroom that he used to ‘create’ images that were far removed from the originals. However, he was always happy to declare as such. I have never had an issue with that. Honesty is always the best policy.

His abilities with the camera, coupled with his love and mastery of music allowed him to express himself freely and present his work in many different ways.However, it is his ‘true’ images that stand out for me.

A master and his craft.

Whilst he sits there in my ‘all time’ list it is to another man I turn to and say is my greatest influence.

My dad.

I am proud to say that it is without doubt my pop Eric Gilligan. I did everything that a son should do with his father and I am grateful for that. He took interest in my hobbies and was always there for me. Whether that be cheering me on, stood by the side of a footie pitch on a cold, Saturday morning or taking me out on his ‘work mobiles’ as they were known. I loved being with my dad. His work allowed access to situations and people that many would love to have experienced.

There was always a camera around and pictures regularly being taken. He showed me how to load film into the camera and was always encouraging when I showed him snaps that were my first efforts.

it is funny now how some things lodge in your mind. I recall the little leather pouches that dangled from the camera strap containing small screw on lenses. They were the different coloured filters that were placed in front of the lens to bring out the best in the black and whites. Nowadays they are simple sliders on a software package. I used to like taking them out of their cases and just looking at them. How on earth did they do what they did?

He had so much to offer and now as a ‘young 80+ year old man’ he is still spritely.

I was very lucky that he worked on the photographic side for two national newspapers and although it wasn’t landscapes he loved, he put the first cameras into my hands and let me see what could be done. Never a ‘don’t do this or that’. It was about finding out and encouragement.

Because of his job I was privileged to go with him to work and see the darkrooms in action, watching how the process was completed.

He let me take snaps with his Minolta twin lens reflex camera and ‘we’ used to take photos of my ‘Action Man’ collection (I was six dont forget !!! ha ha). Seeing those set up, photographed, then presented to me later that day in a shiny, black bag that smelled of chemicals, introduced me to this magical world. Whilst the setups had gone, the memories and images were there. In my hand. We could capture images simplistically and bring joy. The beauty of photography. Capturing moments!

He worked with some great pro’s of the industry. Day to day togs with street and sport as their speciality. I would regularly receive images that either didn’t make the cut for the papers or had been used in print and I would just stare and look at them. Sometimes though a special one would arrive. I was football mad and my heroes were Denis Law and George Best. I was born within spitting distance of Old Trafford so United has always been my team.

I recall ‘KING DENIS’ scoring an amazing overhead kick against Spurs one Saturday and my dad managed to print a fantastic copy that was on my wall for years. It captured the moment perfectly.

That started to become important to me.

Capturing moments.

This was a different kind of photography to the one I would eventually take to my heart but it taught me the discipline of being prepared for the unrepeated situation. The skill of the street or sports photographers and as I began to spread my wings many years later, venturing into weddings and functions, I used the same readiness, that ‘reportage’ style to capture instances that presented themselves before me.

As a teenager, I became a ‘goffer’ at the Daily Mirror. You know ‘Go for this and Go for that’ in, the buildings that would later become the film sets for ‘CRACKER’ and ‘PRIME SUSPECT’ and I continued my education by getting into darkrooms and print rooms as often as I could.

I also met many journalists and began to see how they used the written word.

Whilst I am not a ‘tabloid writer’ or ever aspired to be one, you can now see how my formative years shaped me and it is all down to my dad.

I took several twists and turns in my work life and if you want the full story then you can hear it on my talk ‘A BIT OF A JOURNEY’ which is the first in a trilogy that I deliver.

Consequently photography, imaging of various mediums and media became my life.

Life isn’t always plain sailing and like any parent child relationship we have had our differences (what father and son haven’t?) but you cannot take away the times and memories that we have together and I refer to him in my talks as my biggest influence. He is and always will be.

It is to be hoped that when my kids are much older they too will reflect and realise just how much we have done together and what it meant to us all. Hopefully they will have that bond with their children too.

Like people, situations change and as far as work was concerned it was the move from film and analogue to digital and non linear TV that has been the biggest in my lifetime.

I recall when digital photography came in and I was discussing and showing him how we could ‘do’ many new things with Photoshop and Lightroom. Of course they weren’t knew to him. They were just quicker. No more chemicals, red lights and blackened out rooms but the sanitised office with a desk chair and screen. I have to say that those dark room days had a mystery to them and were magical as you dashed in, carefully removed the film and set about processing and printing. Agitating the chemical and seeing your images being brought to life before you created an anticipation that you cant experience with the new ways. Actually that is not strictly true as there is one way to ‘simulate’ that. Go take a very long exposure and wait for the noise reduction to finish. It will give you an idea. As you stand there, the ‘have I got it right’ syndrome will kick in. I am sure you get my drift.

Don’t think we always got it right either. Many is the time it went wrong when the image finally came through the chemical but like all experiences, you take that disappointment and learn from it.

As we are now approaching the end of 2018, I can honestly say that I have embraced the ‘new world’ totally. I love working with digital and as always, I strive constantly to deliver the best I possibly can. I know who taught me that.

I love looking through the lens and I see photography as my greatest gift, my best ever present.

Age encourages reflection and we change. There are situations where you hear yourself saying, ‘I am turning into my dad.’

I have no problem with that.