John Claridge is a really successful photographer.
Gordon Smith told me about a job they once did in Paris.
They’d finished shooting and they were in a great restaurant.
The food was excellent, the wine was flowing.
Claridge’s assistant began talking to Gordon.
He said “I won’t be an assistant for long. I’m going to become a photographer soon.”
Gordon listened politely.
The assistant said “The kind of photography I want to do is from the heart not the head. I think real photography is about emotion.”
Claridge was also listening.
The assistant said “In a little while I’ll have my own studio and I’ll be shooting in London and New York.”
The assistant went on, and on, and on.
“I don’t want to do traditional photography, stuff that’s been done. I want to do something new and fresh, something original. Something that will really make people sit up and look.”
After about ten minutes, he poured himself another glass of wine.
Claridge said “You’re full of shit.”
The assistant said “Pardon.”
Claridge said “You heard. If you really wanted to do any of that, you’ve got all my cameras and all the unused film sitting in the hotel room. The best photographic equipment in the world just sitting there. And you’re in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Paris. You’ve got a chance to take the pictures you’re talking about. But no, you’d rather pour yourself another glass of wine and just talk about it. Like I said, you’re full of shit.”
Now from anyone else that would have just been plain rude.
But from Claridge it was true.
He’d lived it.
He went to school in London’s east end.
He knew he wanted to be a photographer.
So at fifteen he left school and got a job.
Not just any job.
He got a job as the lowest assistant in an advertising agency’s photographic department.
Somewhere he could work on his own photography, too.
And every chance he got, he took photographs with the agency’s cameras and equipment.
And, after work, he developed them in the agency darkroom.
And he found out the names and addresses of his heroes.
Bill Brandt was one of the country’s most influential photographers.
John went round to his house and knocked on his door.
Bill Brandt recognised a young man with a shared passion.
He invited John in and they spent all day discussing cameras, lenses, filters, film speeds, apertures, enlargers, photographic paper grades.
John was seventeen at the time.
After that meeting he knew what he had to do.
He left the ad agency and got a job as David Montgomery’s assistant.
David Montgomery was a really famous photographer.
John sucked up all the knowledge he could.
After work, he’d use Montgomery’s cameras, and equipment, and darkroom to do his own photography.
By the time John was nineteen he left and opened his own photographic studio.
Which is how he eventually became one of the UK’s most successful advertising photographers himself.
Winning over 700 awards.
But even then, he didn’t just do the work he was paid to do.
After the day’s shooting was over he’d do his own photographs.
Which is why John’s work is now in the V&A, The National Portrait Gallery, and New York’s MoMA.
And also why there are six books of John’s work.
What John told the assistant was exactly how he got to where he did.
When you’re on the way up, you don’t waste a second.
Everything’s an opportunity.
Or it’s just talk.