The Magpie Anthology

A Photo Essay: Sean Potter : Freshwater Bay

Sean Potter: “I’ve been making images with a camera since my teen years. I will be sixty soon. In the early 90s I was made redundant from the day job – then, a sensible alternative to scraping a living in the photography game – and with the ‘handshake’ money purchased some camera and darkroom equipment. In London, over the course of two years, I took pictures wherever I went whilst keeping an eye on an ever-evolving (back then) digital way of recording the world. I stuck with the basics and properly ‘cut my teeth’, developing and printing my own monochrome work using the washing machine cupboard in my Dad’s flat as a makeshift darkroom.

To make ends meet I found a job in the capital’s West End, working front-of-house at the Prince Edward Theatre on Old Compton Street. By day I would go out and ‘shoot’ events of all kinds and ‘hustle’ different newspapers and magazines for a sale of images they may have been interested in. Notably, these included: Notting Hill Carnival (published in Caribbean Magazine), Rubber Ball (published in Knave mens magazine), and Chinese New Year (published by The Guardian). Eventually, with the help and encouragement of my then partner, I put together a portfolio, telephoned many businesses, and subsequently hit the streets doing the rounds with my ‘book’ – a soul-destroying exercise due to any number of reasons I might care to mention; although I won’t. There followed a period, into the early noughties, when I undertook work as a freelancer, gaining several regular clients. Most of these were in the corporate sector. The majority of commissions were for editorial portraiture of one kind or another. One client in particular – Computing – became the mainstay of my business at that time.

Ultimately, disillusioned with London and the world of photography in general, I left the city for a more sedate pace of life on the Isle of Wight. That was in 2002. For a while, I continued to accept commissions from the likes of Carshalton College, for whom I shot much of their advertising and prospectus content in the early 2000s.In the mid-noughties, I put my cameras down for what amounted, with hindsight, to a lengthy sojourn – looking at starting a B & B business, but instead opening an Italian delicatessen in Cowes that I operated from 2007 to 2008. In the end, flat broke and soon to be bankrupt, I closed The Deli, retreating to my dilapidated home with my dog for company. My previous twelve year relationship with my partner had also come to an end.

A friend, Bob – also a photographer – visited me for Christmas 2010, and on a walk around the quayside in Newport took some pictures in the stark winter sunshine with his mobile phone. I took my phone out of my pocket and made a few images myself; it was the beginning of my return to photography. For several years I documented my life no matter what I was doing or wherever I happened to be. I unwittingly re-kindled my love of the medium, understanding it was this slow and personal ‘reportage’ style which suited my nature. I returned to work, taking several different jobs after, initially, engaging in various volunteering positions. On occasion, I made a photographic record of my employment from an embedded point of view within a job. A neighbour and close friend arranged for an exhibition of my images in her West Wight gallery – the highlight of a particular body of work born out of my regular journeys to and from work by bus; I entitled it ‘Babylon by Bus’. Also featured in the exhibition were poems I had composed during this period of my life.

I met my current partner in 2016, and in 2017 was fired from my job I had at the time. It turned out I no longer needed to work in order to make ends meet, so blessed with such luck I wholeheartedly embraced my passion, this time with real cameras. I’d previously sold the entire manifest of my equipment so needed to begin again from scratch, which I mostly did by sourcing second-hand gear online.

Now, I’m in the midst of a long-term project documenting the Isle of Wight and in particular its coastline. I’m not a big fan of people and crowds, preferring instead to be a fly-on-the-wall observer of life; and hopefully, in the fullness of time, to self-publish a monograph of this work. I’m currently also working on the final draft manuscript of a memoir describing my early life growing up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Its title is ‘The King of Port-of-Spain’. I continue to write poetry as and when the inspiration grabs me, and have incorporated some earlier, and some new works into this first book of mine.

I continue to learn and improve my self-taught craft, and as for the future; well, that’ll be decided by my fate!”

You can see many more of Sean’s photos and read his words on his INSTAGRAM account

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