In the late 1960s, I joined an Inner London Education Authority writing class. That was in those halcyon days when education for adults of all ages was cheap and plentiful and the tutor wasn’t obliged to worry about learning outcomes and evaluations, and could be there for the students in a way that was perhaps more perceptive, spontaneous and direct. Our class tutor was Bernard Miller, and he later married Anita, one of the students. Forty years on, I’m still in contact (intermittently) with Bernard and Anita. My close friend Olivia who was aged over sixty at that time is no longer around, though we met frequently for a number of years. Other members of the class, namely John Massey and Kranti Nandanwar, have remained two of my most consistent friends, keeping in touch through house relocations, job changes, and the making and breaking of other relationships, and I don’t think our friendship would have lasted so long if it happened been for the creative energy that united and motivated us at that time.
After a couple of years of bringing our work together, we produced a book called People Like That. Everybody who was in the class at that time had work included in it. I wrote the title poem, among other offerings. (My name then was Janet Gardiner.) The artist Natalie d’Arbeloff – not a member of the group but a friend of Bernard – contributed the illustrations. And the excellent cover was photographed and designed by Colin O’Brien (who doesn’t appear in the photographs).
About a year after the publication of the book (in 1970), I moved from London to Kent. Some of us, as I said, managed to keep in touch. Colin however seemed to drift off the radar, for me at any rate. Until last Thursday.
Our meeting resulted from my sudden impulse a few weeks ago to check out (via the internet) whether he was still taking photographs. I don’t know why I didn’t do this ages ago. He is
still taking photographs, of course, and very successfully. While I, over the many years, have been dabbling in all sorts of things, from community arts to counselling courses, and from unfinished novels to unfinished paintings, Colin has been faithful to his first and lasting passion. And I’m aware that it was Colin talking to me all those forty years ago, showing me some of his photos, and pointing me in the direction of my first Cartier-Bresson exhibition, who sowed the seeds of my own love of taking photographs, though it took a while before this surfaced.
If anybody reading this post would like to know more about Colin O’Brien’s photography, I suggest you check out his website, and also spitalfieldslife.com. And some of his early work is on display until the end of December at the bookshop Pages of Hackney.If anyone would like to respond in any way please feel free to send me an email via the contact box on my website. To get to my website from the blog, click on ‘News, Views and Stuff’ at the top of this page.
Photography v. painting, colour v. black & white, small v. large, laws of chance. Reference to Hans Arp, Kertesz, Peter Doig, Emil Nolde.