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In the blink of a shutter

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

"From tragedy, I found my passion for pictures"

I thought some of my followers might be interested in how my love for photography came about and how I owe it all to one man.

Man with a pair of handmade wings strapped to his back, ready for takeoff
Dad's homemade human wings caught the attention of the Daily Telegraph in the late 1960s when he tested them out in a park in Taunton

It all started back in 2001 when I lost my dad to cancer.

Michael James Walton was the backbone of our family, and will of course be forever missed. Dad had a vast breadth of interests, ranging from antiques collecting, inventing (once he even created a pair of human wings), clocks (or horology if you want to be precise), aeronautics, astronomy, painting, metal detecting, French polishing, calligraphy and even photography.

Pentax slr MEF camera on a table.
My dad's old Pentax MEF camera

When I picked up dad's Pentax MEF camera, which he'd left me, my interest in photography was born. From tragedy I had found my passion for pictures and I've never looked back. Out of something so horrendous, he gave me the best gift he could have given. I made it my mission to learn everything I could about the art form. At the time, I didn't have a clue about SLR film cameras or how they worked, but I loved technology (and taking things apart and putting them back together again!).

"It was the best job ever. I was out taking photos of everything and anything"

While working at my local Waitrose for six years, I took up some evening photography courses and I was hooked. I had the chance to process film photos onto paper in a darkroom and I was transfixed by seeing an image appear in black and white from a piece of paper in a chemical bath. I just had to set up my own darkroom at home. When I came to the end of my stint at the supermarket I applied for a job as a staff photographer with my local newspaper and I was hired. It was a fantastic job. I was out taking photos of everything and anything from the local fete and football match to dramatic news stories, such as a fire at a derelict hotel and a failed bombing attempt in Exeter.

Photographer looking through a camera with a long lens attached
My press days gave me the opportunity to photograph a vast range of subjects Picture: Apache Tramp

But in the blink of a shutter things turned on their head. Change is the only constant in this world and learning how to adapt is the way we all survive and move forward. After nine years of doing what I loved my role as a press photographer was made redundant, but I managed to stay on at the paper in a picture desk role (getting the public to take pictures and send them to me). However, it felt somewhat degrading to ask readers to do what I had been trained to do for so many years, so I started to freelance in my own time, which was one of the best decisions I've made. I can photograph what I want, when I want and even make a little money while I'm at it!

"I felt that a big part of my life was being neglected"
Man holding a newspaper to the camera
My first newspaper that I edited

In the early days of the pandemic, change happened again at work and my picture-desk role looked to be in jeopardy. Another restructuring of the paper saw many journalists leaving the company and, getting twitchy myself but still wanting to stay with the press, I applied to become an editor, not really expecting to get the job at all.

To my astonishment, however, I was chosen and all those years spent in the company of journalists and learning the technical aspects of putting a picture spread together had paid off. Now I was editing my own paper and helping out with two sister titles.

Despite my pride in achieving my new post, I felt that a big part of my life was being neglected. I had gotten into the press industry because of my desire to take pictures but now I found myself with no time at all to venture out with the camera to quench my creative thirst. With far fewer colleagues to work with and a steep learning curve to meet the press deadlines, my stress levels had increased exponentially. My job with the paper had become all-consuming and was having a detrimental effect on my mental health.

After 14 years in the publishing industry, I left in April this year and joined a wonderful local charity as their Visual Content Coordinator, managing pictures and videos (and helping to take them) on a daily basis.

The one question I'm asked the most as a photographer is also the hardest to answer.

I am often asked: 'what do you like taking pictures of the most?' It's a difficult one because I simply love all aspects of photography. I have learnt to adapt my approach to taking pictures (from when I was with the press) to whatever situation I'm faced with. I have gained many skills and an affinity with most forms of photography. Like my dad who had many different hobbies and interests, I enjoy dabbling in multiple areas of photography. I've experience with event photography, editorial, magazines, weddings, baptisms, property shoots, gigs, animals, nature, portraits, storm chasing, macro, astrophotography and of course landscapes.

Man shining a torch upwards with stars in the background
Always reaching for the stars. Like dad, I like to dabble in many forms of photography, such as astro

But I am at my happiest when I'm at a great location that I intend to revisit at the break of day to capture a sunrise - there is still something very magical when witnessing the birth of a new day. More often than not it can take many return visits to the same spot to get a photo I like - perhaps a winter sunrise would prove better when the sun rises from a different direction, or there wasn't quite enough cloud in the sky to make a colourful scene, or I was just too lazy and got out of bed a little too late - it all adds to the challenge and fun of chasing down that perfect dawn shot.

"Somehow I always manage to find something to focus on"

Photography has gotten me through some dark times, and if I'm feeling particularly low I will usually head out to my favourite locations (often Sidmouth where dad used to take me and my family at the weekend), often without knowing what it is I want to photograph. But I somehow always manage to find something to focus on - and that is the beauty of this passion of mine. Like a famous Mr Gump once said: "life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get".

Since leaving local news, I'm once again doing what I love the most and I don't intend to stop anytime soon. Looking back on my career and how I got to where I am today, it all comes back to my dad's old Pentax - it's almost like he knew there was a purpose in leaving it to me. Sometimes, when everything comes together and I have that perfect shot lined up, and the hairs bristle on my neck with excitement, I like to think that my dad is there with me looking in the viewfinder through my eyes.

Thank you dad x

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