Kiss the Past Goodbye – Peter Turner

Album was terrific, for the time it was a fine production. CC in comparison was trying for a mass market even though it wanted to be uncompromising. Album had very expensive production costs, CC was more moderate. Now enter two more characters – David Hurn and Tony Ray-Jones, both photographers with a sense for how magazines tick. Tony died from leukemia in 1972 but David has done better and is still trotting around Wales (where he lives – he is a Welshman) and the world taking pictures. Although different in temperament they both gave Bill Jay ideas and support. And both were wedded to an idea of excellence in photography. Me too, but that came a little later, after all, I was only a kid with enthusiasm. I had to prove myself. Album lasted for 12 issues before the money ran out – there simply were not enough people interested in paying the price of a high quality magazine which contained no advertising and was being produced on a billiards table in David Hurn’s London flat. Bill eventually went to the USA where his talents were more valued. He has written a number of books – the latest is Sun in the Blood of the Cat (Nazraeli Press, Tucson, Arizona, USA, ISBN 1-59005-022-9). I love the title and have bought a copy for my cat, even though it’s photographic and contains nothing remotely feline. I am still in awe of Bill’s enthusiasm and tenacity.

Before Bill came two South Africans; Sylvester Stein (publisher) and Jurgen Shadeburg (editor) and a magazine called Camera Owner. Jurgen resigned in 1967 and returned to being a photographer. Stein was going to close the magazine. Enter Bill Jay who wrote for that magazine (‘turned a trick’ in common parlance) and contributor Colin Osman. Colin was an intelligent person who had fallen in love with photography while running a family publishing business which produced a weekly newspaper for pigeon fanciers. It was highly profitable if somewhat surreal for non pigeon people like me. Colin, while relatively wealthy, was not afraid to use his money for things that captured his imagination. Between them he and Bill engineered a name change and co-opted Colin’s wife, Grace, to take on much of the administration. Meanwhile the pigeons continued to flutter and lay money on the table. Creative Camera was effectively subsidised by a bunch of birds. And Osman largesse. Colin was and remains a most remarkable person who put his money where his mind was. He embodies my idea of a grand socialist. Given the incongruity of the circumstances (I mean, can you imagine hanging out with a bunch of pigeon fanciers who were more deranged than any photographer?), my years working with Colin were memorable. He was more like a father than an employer. Photography has had few better friends, other than photographers, who are necessarily self obsessed. Colin’s ideas were to put those obsessions into broader circulation – because he thought them to be worthwhile. He used photography to explain himself to himself and others too.

So, exit Bill Jay to make Album and enter Pete Turner. I had been working in commercial photography but found it lacking in substance. So I became a magazine journalist. It is a twist of human nature that I will write crap for money but refuse to take or publish indifferent photographs. I was once described by the Director of the Tate Gallery, London, as ‘a nice guy but too much of a purist’. He was right and I am not ashamed of my stance. I mean, who wouldn’t like to be called a ‘nice guy’ by the boss? I love the Tate and its collection. It taught me the history of art. As did three others; a resigned monk, Paul Harris, an Australian film-maker, Paul Cox and an academic, Ian Jeffrey. They were maniacs with a profound sense of dedication to the visual and the stories pictures can tell. Going to art school was possibly the best thing I ever did – it opened my mind and made me feel capable of anything, even if I wasn’t much good at some of the ‘anythings’ that came my way. Like talking to bank managers and anybody who worked for the Inland Revenue. I also found ‘political correctness’ which surfaced in the late 70s to be troublesome in its pedantry. Of course, It could have been the drugs, but I think not as I got through that stage quite quickly and stopped using them in 1968.

I went to CC with a genuine sense of respect. At the time it was one of four magazines with international circulations that tried to address the notion of ‘photography as art’. Or, as we put it, ‘photography as a medium of personal expression’. The others were Camera from Switzerland, Aperture from the United States and Camera Mainichi from Japan. We were a happy little union of like-minded souls. We wanted to try and tell a truth in photographs. Sometimes it was big tits, sometimes big guns but always big ideas. There were other magazines, of course. Colin made frequent visits to Eastern Europe to conduct ‘pigeon business’ and would return with prints, magazines and books from a very active photographic culture. Which is how we were able to be the first in Western Europe to publish Alexander Rodchenko, now acknowledged as a wonder of 20th century Russian modernism. It would be wrong of me to present Mr Osman as the personification of perfection, for example he disliked my admiration of Bill Jay, but he was a genuinely kind man and I miss the pleasure of his company.

In retrospect I can see that I was an arrogant young turk and not afraid of my opinions – a trait I have carried with me into middle age. Time and experience has tempered my arrogance, but not my opinions. It was opinion that drew the picture of my life. And I got mine from photography.

I am writing this because CC was so personal, though not individual to me. It would be impossible to list all the people who influenced the magazine. Over the years we published an extraordinary number of people; some famous, many not. We loved young photographers, and old and ignored photographers, as well as classicists and iconoclasts. It was a wonderful time and we meshed with a burgeoning international interest in the medium. I once travelled across the United States from the border with Canada to the border of Mexico, meeting dozens of photographers. CC was my passport. I met just about everybody who was anybody. The same was true of Europe – I went from Sweden to Spain. It was a lucky life made possible through passion, hard work and a sense of conviction. As well as all the photographers I knew, I met poets and painters, architects, anarchists and art historians. I was even introduced to members of the Royal family and got to photograph Yul Brynner, a keen pigeon fancier. I mention this not for self aggrandisement but to give some context. My employer, a very straight business man, was once spied at a Janis Joplin concert, and I once took the afternoon off to go and see ‘The Longest and Most Boring Movie in the World’ which was being shown in a basement in Doughty Street, just opposite the house where Charles Dickens had lived.

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