Many year's ago, as a 'mature student' I considered taking a degree in photography. A window had opened in my life where it was possible. I went up to Manchester and it didn't float my boat. I then went to Derby and met John Blakemore, I can only imagine its like a TV fan meeting a celebrity. I felt honoured, he took my rather naive photographs and made connections and sense of them. What a wonderful human being. Imagine my surprise when I was offered a place at Derby. I didn't take it - in modern parlance 'I bottled it'. I never did write and say thank you. Maybe my 'no' has been permanently is suspension. Maybe this small tribute may in small way make amends.
I'd long admired John's (perhaps a departure from protocol to use his first name, but I use it as a term of affection and of a closeness to the great man's work) landscape and fine art work, although not a fan of the fine art genre, his attention to detail, to shadow and light is amazing. I can only imagine how exacting he must be, how much effort and time goes in to each shot. I'd never had the patience and tenacity for that kind of work. Over time I have learned these skills and the importance of planning, contemplating, preparing, adjusting in the iterative process that is ' getting the right shot.
John's work was 'overlooked' in the 80's often characterised as 'constructed', 'conceptual' or 'documentary photography in colour'. What wonderful labels although there intention was to sleight rather than approve.
He spent much of his time photographing Derbyshire's Peak District and his imagery is reminiscent of Ansell's dedication to Yosemite.
I once read that Blakemore (reverting to Protocol as a mark of respect) spoke of a wish "to be alone in the landscape....to feel one's insignificance....to experience that aloness with intensity...to feel its awe...." It's an emotion that I can relate to a deep level. This desire to experience nature is a core tenet
of Taoist philosophy. Creativity is highly regarding in Taoism. There is a Taoist belief that anyone can paint a picture of a tree, however, to paint the true beauty of a tree one must first become one with the tree. It is then believed that the tree will then reveal itself to the painter. It as also believed that the most beautiful pictures were painted by followers who had achieved such 'states'. There is certainly something in Blakemore's words and images that suggests he is working beyond the level of just seeing. Perhaps, again in his own words "....reflecting both the external world and my inner response to and connection with it".
His 'tracing' of the ebbs and flows of nature (wind, earth, water, rocks) links back to Talbot and Fenton and the pioneers description of Photography as the 'Pencil of Nature'. For me this again resonates with the yin/yang philosophy of dark & light, night and day, wax & wane and so forth.
Blakemore compares himself to none of these, instead he relates to the landscape art of William Blake and Samuel Palmer. He says he was an 'obsessional drawer' as a child.
It was the childhood influences of Coventry that were to influence his early work. With strong social and political views it was images of an impoverished Coventry that characterised his early work. He sort out books by Robert Frank and Eugene Smith for inspiration and traveled to London for a Carter Bression exhibition.
Following a traumatic break up of his marriage Blakemore sought solace in the countryside that he come to love as a farmhand in Warwickshire. He immersed himself in cataloging nature by the medium of photography. Later he traveled to Barmouth, Wales, that further ignited his kinship with nature. He was later inspired to try and photograph the 'invisible' wind.
The focus on still life fine art was perhaps first evidenced in his ' garden' photographs. Deciding that landscapes had become 'too dramatic' he saw them as defining the nature of conflict between man and nature. His image of thistles portrayed the plants as 'outcasts' in the tidy schema of the garden.