Nearly everyone thinks they can take a decent photograph but can they really? Pop into an exhibition in Whitley Bay and you might think there’s more to it than meets the eye – even through a smartphone.
Shoot the North is a showcase for the work of professional photographer Neil Atkinson who has taught thousands of people how to take better pictures and leads by example.
In search of an arresting shot he walks in the hills, explores the urban streets and strolls around cemeteries. He carries a camera by day and night and the best examples of his work, often deceptively simple, can stop you in your tracks.
“I do a lot of walking in Northumberland and County Durham but I also like the built heritage,” he says.
“Just as often as you’ll find me in the Pennines or the North Tyne Valley, you’ll see me on the streets of Newcastle.
“I’ve lived all my life on Tyneside and I know there are plenty of places I’ve never seen.
“That is true of everybody and that’s the basis of my workshops, encouraging people to explore the nooks and crannies of our towns and cities as well as venturing into the countryside. That’s what I love doing.
“So many people have said, ‘I’ve lived here all my life and you’ve taken me to places I didn’t even know existed’.
“You have to be looking in a particular way. Lots of people walk around with their heads full of the pressures of their busy lives.”
Increasingly, he agrees, people seem to walk around looking at one of the aformentioned phones. They could be on Tyneside or in Timbuktu.
Neil, who lives in Whitley Bay, has been in professional photography for 30 years and his work has been published in as many countries.
He wrote and presented an ITV photography series called A Moment in Time which combined landscapes and portraits with the childhood reminiscences of 12 famous North East personalities.
Since gaining a teaching qualification 16 years ago, he reckons he has passed on the fruits of his expertise to 2,500 people across the North East, of all ages and abilities.
Neil is especially well known for his night photography skills. You can see an example of his work here, a Tyne Bridge garlanded in the ribbons left behind by the rear lights of passing cars.
His Night Lights workshops are understandably popular. “Every year, from November until March, I lead groups of up to 10 people two or three times a week, teaching them how to photograph Newcastle at night,” he says.
“It’s a really exciting thing to do because the results are so dramatic,” he says. “You can master the basics of night time photography in the first 20 minutes of the workshop but I can definitely help you to improve.”
Neil also leads Street Safari workshops, encouraging people to see a good photograph where previously they might have seen nothing much at all.
Cemeteries are another favourite stamping ground. Neil loves the Victorian memorials, regarding them as repositories of great craftsmanship.
Well-heeled Victorians, he notes, not disapprovingly, expressed their grief by digging deep into their pockets. The result is the wonderful and elaborate sculptures of angels which, in the older cemeteries, rise above the rows of plainer headstones.
If you want to see the full range of Neil’s work, visit his exhibition in the Big Local pop up shop at 82 Park View, Whitley Bay. It’s open Monday to Saturday, 12 noon to 4pm, until the end of the month.
If you want to see a truly fabulous example of his cemetery angel photography, make sure you buy The Journal next Tuesday when you will find it inside the free Culture magazine. For more on Neil, visit www.neilatkinson.com