After being incredibly jealous of the likes of Joe Wright, Valda Bailey, Tim Parkin and others who have all previously been on the John Blakemore book making and image sequencing workshop, I made sure I was eventually in line not to miss out on this wonderful opportunity to spend time with one of Britain’s artistic treasures. I genuinely didn’t know what to assume but I was told to “expect to examine your photography in terms you have never considered before”. They weren’t wrong.
For those that are not aware of him, John Blakemore is described by many as a master photographer in the UK. In truth he’s much more than that, somehow even a description like that doesn’t quite capture his stage. Having been highly privileged to have spent a whole weekend in his company, I’d say he’s more an all-round creator and artist than ‘just’ a photographer and I’m not even sure he knows how to classify himself…“When people describe me as a photographer, I tell them I’m an image maker” he said. But John is really all about his books, the presentation and arrangement of it all, he’s an institution, a whole art college wrapped into one person.
“I haven’t quite found the text for this page yet”
And then there is the accompanying text. I loved the way he lingered on the word text every time he said it in that softly spoken yet confident manner of his. Magnetic hours. He occasionally found the words to match his art, borrowing what he needed from others, not always quite discovering those illusive lines that described what he wanted his photography to say though. There were a lot of empty spaces in his books; “I haven’t quite found the text for this page yet” he would say, describing a book he made some 15 years ago…
Forget the workshop, books, sequencing and photography though, because I could have just sat listening to John for two days and happily come away in the knowledge I had an alternative view of photography, art and just generally seeing things differently. He’s such a charismatic individual – a shortish unassuming man complete with mandatory artist’s sandals, he wore a green body warmer style jacket like he was about to go fishing or something, and those glasses which hung from his neck by the rope chain he cursed occasionally. It all fitted his disposition so well. His words were almost crafted in their delivery, he could have whispered all weekend and everyone would still have heard everything he said, such was his command of the room. When John spoke, everyone strained to listen.
Best of all, his words were not as meek and mild as his physical appearance might have suggested. For me that was the most refreshing part because there were definitely barbed edges to those words from time to time. Those that know me will smile when I say I’m hardly the shy and retiring type, I’ve got an opinion, I like discussion and I enjoy challenge – I was in good company as it turns out, John certainly wasn’t there to placate people or be accepting of any plaudits, he was there to challenge, to shape, to break perceptions and open horizons. You don’t do that unless you’re going to scramble some eggs occasionally and there is no doubt that he had one or two in the group, including me, tripping over our words somewhat once he had set us straight on things like using ‘landscape’ and ‘portrait’ to describe the orientation of paper – it’s vertical, or horizontal, and that is all. Needless to say John’s church walls didn’t stop there either.
After some reflection, I’d decided against turning this piece into another review of what his workshop fully covers, others like Joe Wright have done that rather well already (take a look here: https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2015/04/john-blakemore-book-binding-and-sequencing-workshop/). Suffice to say by the end of the weekend I had made a one-off book and I had an insight into sequencing photographs led by a true artist. I’m not going to forget those skills anytime soon and I’m now planning my next project when I have some time. What did I take away from the experience most of all though? Park perfection, be more accepting of yourself, be less accepting of convention, try to think differently and carve out your own voice, tell stories not moments. I imagine if John ever reads this he’ll consider it a load of clap trap, but I’ll leave you with one final golden Blakemoreism, and I know exactly how he feels:
“I’ve lived my whole life inside my mind, occasionally I let myself out”
If you get an opportunity to go on his weekend book making and sequencing workshop, don’t pass it up, if you want to discover your inner creativity, you’ll never regret it. Some web resources on John are listed below:
Library Of Birmingham: http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/article/aboutjohnblakemore
Your best chance of getting onto a workshop is here: http://www.photo-parlour.com/jb-book-making-workshop