I can’t remember a time when I felt the urge to pick up a camera and start taking pictures. I recall there were two cameras in our family when I was young, one was shaped like a rectangle and made a high-pitched noise when the flash was ready, the other a bulky thing with a leather case. Generally, if I picked them up, I was told they were expensive and to put them down, good advice, as they were about four seconds away from being broken.
So, it's safe to say that photography was not in blood from an early age. My working life started in the Royal Air Force at twenty years of age. Leaving school with many qualifications I wandered into the RAF recruiting office with fighter pilot aspirations that were dashed when they looked at my college grades. Off I went to RAF engineering college. It would be another eight years before my feet were off the ground.
After many amazing years as an Avionics Engineer on a front-line Tornado GR4 bomber squadron, traveling the world and working with some of the best people I've ever met, it was time to move on. Upon a complete turn of fate, I found myself sat in the back of private aircraft, testing landing systems, at airports, all over the world. Up until then, I have never loved doing something so much. It was seat of the pants flying, thinking on my feet, having the safety of thousands of flying passengers my in hands on a daily basis. When the pressure was off, I was flying over some of the most beautiful landscapes you could imagine. From circling the pyramids of Egypt to low level along Fjords in Norway. I felt humbled that I got paid to see such things. Then Along comes the iPhone. (other phones are available ;))
When chilling out in the back of the aircraft, admiring the view, I would take a few snaps on my new toy to show friends and family on Facebook. I found this was so much easier due to the attention span of my audience when talking about said views was normally about twelve seconds. I soon realised that I seemed to point the camera in the right direction and clicked the button at the right point, and to my surprise people even asked what photography courses I'd been on.
By this point, my flying career had taken me to Sweden. One of my best friends in this fantastic country was Marcus Kulman. A truly gifted photographer and an even nicer person, helped me pick out my first professional camera. He showed me the ins and outs of how to use it and how to use all the tools of post-production. I will say this now that this guy has the patience of a saint. Eventually, I was clicking away and editing my own shots. I was capturing the stunning landscape of Norway and Sweden. I always thought the landscape was stunning but seeing it framed in a camera viewfinder added an extra dimension.
I was now hooked. It seemed that everywhere I looked, even just walking around, I was looking for a shot, seeing things in thirds, seeing views and scenes that I’d never really noticed before. I couldn’t wait for my next flight, hoping it was up to the north of Norway, praying for some dramatic skies and epic sunsets. People were commenting on my shots and telling me that I should take it more seriously. I was still taking these compliments with a pinch of salt, although a compliment was about to come from a much higher station.
Whilst partaking in a pint or ten in the Northcote pub a friend suggested that I approach a Scandinavian coffee shop called ‘Blåbär’, in Putney, London, to see if they were interested in hanging some of my framed shots and seeing if they could catch a sale. With portfolio in hand of a went to meet the owners. Being 20 mins late I thought a touch Dutch Courage would calm the nerves before showcasing my work for the very first time. I took a side step into the local across the road to sooth my ruffled feathers and take one last check over my newly assembled portfolio. Whilst ordering I noticed a well-dressed chap perusing my photos while clasping a glass of freshly poured rose wine. I approached, mainly to make sure he wasn't putting fingerprints on my photos and probably subconsciously to find out if he liked what he was looking at. As I approached, he asked if they were my shots and to give me the back story of them all. As I gave him the story he seemed to nod and make positive noises between the odd sip of wine.
Eventually, the well-dressed chap asked for my details and suggested that he may have some contacts he could put me in contact with that could monetise my new venture. At this point, it dawned on me that I had no idea who this gentleman was. I kindly asked who he was and if he was in the art business himself. The answer he gave me was one I was not expecting. “Two friends and I set up Getty Images in the late 80’s”, he casually informed me. I was shocked to say least, not to mention the fact he'd rubber-stamped my new hobby and suggested now that I should be making a little pocket money from it. It was at this point that I thought about this chance meeting that had just occurred and how sometimes things happen that are so out of your control that it does make you wonder if someone is controlling these turns of fate.
Pictures were now hanging in the Scandinavian café and had started to sell. My new acquaintance was giving me mentoring sessions which also turned into wine tasting sessions and tales of him as a former marine. I was loving taking my new hobby forward. I had never realised that something I was doing on a total whim could sell. I was stunned that people were giving me money for my pictures, I was stunned. My small personal celebration was short-lived. On returning to Sweden from a week's holiday in London, I was summoned to the boss's office. I was told that taking pictures on a government aircraft was frowned upon and was not to sell the pictures I had taken on the basis that if it came out in the press that I was making money from government resources. If I continued to do so I would be at risk of losing my job. I was furious. I couldn't believe that this was happening. The people I was working with were so supportive of my new venture. My boss, who had delivered the news, was also very sorry that I had to stop. I eventually found out, a few weeks later, that it was a pilot who I had a run with a few weeks previous who had put a stop to it. I've never found out if it was an act of malice or jealousy, so I'll leave it there.
This was a total blow to me. I was crushed. Things just seemed to be going so well. Its times like these that you can accept a situation and roll over, or you can refuse to be knocked down and keep fighting. After a few days, I had an idea. I was a bit wacky but anything was worth a try. I decided passed the idea by Mr. Getty and my good friend Kate Bright, another girl instrumental to me taking my photography seriously. They seemed to be on board for my rebirth as Marcus Lancaster. I decided to have a pseudonym and why not? Thomas Cruise Maypother IV seemed to do very well out of calling himself Tom Cruise and I imagine Alexandra Archibald Leach wouldn't have been as successful if he had not changed his name to Cary Grant. Marcus Kullman is a very good friend of mine in Sweden who helped me choose my first camera and introduced me to photography post-processing. I was always envious of his name so it was an acquisition for my undercover forename. The surname for Mr. Lancaster came from my grandfather who was a rear gunner on Lancaster bombers in the late stages of WW2. So, it was set, Marcus Lancaster was now born and normal service could continue. Pictures were taken despite a moaning pilot. He could moan all he liked, I wasn’t selling the pictures, Marcus was.
Although Marcus was doing very well in his new role, it didn’t seem quite the same. I felt that I was deceiving people and I couldn’t share my work as widely and as easily as I was before because I was so fearful of being exposed at work in my day job. I started to resent my job and people in my workplace for almost stopping me from perusing my new found love of photography. It was making me realise that I was only continuing my flying career to take and share the images that I had started taking a year previously. I was deeply unhappy and a change was needed. I had stopped taking photos and concentrated heavily on finding a new job and moving back to London.
Eighteen months later and I was back in London with a new job and my photography had taken a totally new direction. Whilst searching and searching for a new career back in the UK I received an email from Ingo Fincke Gallery, in Battersea. I had been in and out of this place so many times, asking questions about everything under the sun about framing, printing, and pricing that I was expecting a restraining order at any moment. But my pestering and questioning had paid off. Kira, the gallery owner, called to inquire if I had any black and white photos of London for a possible client. I had a few in my portfolio but nothing to write home about. I was asked if I could produce some for the following morning. Off I went into the city evening air, three batteries in my bag and no idea where I was going. The brief was at least seven tradition shots of London.
Walking the streets of London frantically shooting anything that looked familiar seemed to be my modus operandi for the first twenty minutes. I didn’t think any of the shots were of any significance. As night fell the city and the lighting seemed to come alive. Non views became views. Its chalk and cheese from night to day. Views that are pretty uninspiring during the day seem jump out to be shot when day turns to night. Shadows appear, small corners are illuminated, trees covered in fairy lights almost beg for the rest of the landscape to be bathed in Christmas decoration. Light from tower blocks and bridges stretch and spread across the meandering Thames. It is a pleasure to walk around the city at night apart from the fact that I was constantly mistaken for paparazzi outside the Ritz and apparently, I was underdressed to use the bathroom.
All the shots I took that night, and more, are now displayed in various rooms in Arlington house, a luxury apartment complex just behind the Ritz. The contract was with a private interior decorator, seven per apartment. Again, I was stunned. Even now I am still humbled by anyone who buys my work. I take so much pride it what I do. I take work ethics from my engineering career when it comes to attention to detail, nothing is rushed, every last detail is checked and rechecked. This explains why I never take anyone on shoots with me, I can stand taking a single shot for hours, just to get each one absolutely perfect. I’d love to take my city scape photography to different countries around the world. Who knows where is next? All I know is that I love what I do and I never want to lose the passion and the hunger I have for photography.
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