A year and change ago I went back to my hometown in London, England. It is not only the place of my birth but the place that birthed my love of photography. As chance would have it, I had an opportunity to reconnect with my first ever photography teacher. The man who inspired me, encouraged me and taught me about "the eye" I had for portrait shooting. I have thought of him quite often over the years, but his name always escaped me.. but now I will never forget it, the award winning photographer and Professor -John Goto. Professor Goto has long since moved out of London but was returning to attend an exhibition featuring his book of portraits entitled "Lovers Rock" ( a musical sub-genre that grew out of the South London reggae scene around 1975). The book chronicles the lives of first generation children of immigrant parents (from the West Indies) in the late 1970"s in South East London, during a period when racial tensions were high. It is eloquently forwarded by Paul Gilroy, John Goto, Mark Sealy and Baronness Lola Young. These names won't mean much to people living in the United States but their writings give us some insight to the dress, culture, emotions and fears of the youth at that time. Shot during this period , the images have been in Professor Goto's "vault" since that time, over 35 years! They were recently discovered by Autograph ABP and published.
The night before the event my mother passed away and I wrangled about attending the event. Knowing it was a once in a lifetime opportunity I decided to go and was delighted to see so many of the people in the book in attendance, grown up now with their children and grandchildren in tow. Many of these people still living in the area. Even the Mayor showed up! I would love to tell you that Professor Goto remembered me after teaching thousands of students, but he didn't really. And he didn't have any idea of how much he had influenced my love of photography. He did, however, remember the class I was in and the circumstances under which he taught me and my fellow students and was amazed and excited to learn that I had continued shooting. After returning to the United States I became frozen by my mother's sudden death. I stopped shooting and began considering selling my equipment, until I came across this email a few months ago.
How very nice to receive your email. I too really enjoyed the occasion and meeting again after all these years.I looked at your website – You are obviously very good with people who look relaxed and at home before your lens. And you also have a keen eye for telling details and technical control over very diverse lighting situations. Impressive! This whole experience with reworking my old Lewisham pictures has made me realise a few things about portraiture that I had no idea of at the time. Mostly to do with the role and significance images take on long after they have left the photographer. I was saddened to hear that the handsome young man in two of the photos was your late brother. I received another email from someone whose estranged father appears as a young man in the series – again you get a sense of very personal investment in the portrait. Roland Barthes writes about this rather movingly in ‘Camera Lucida’..........
All best wishes
Needless to say Professor Goto's email not only made my day, but reassured me that portrait shooting will continue to be my life's work, because yes long after the pictures I take leave my camera-the images do become significant to someone else. Thank you Professor Goto for a great start!!
Professor John Goto: http://www.johngoto.org.uk/index.html
View the book Lovers Rock: http://www.autograph-abp-shop.co.uk/books/lovers-rock
Camera Lucida: by Roland Barthes