Peter Turner – David Brittain

This Peter Turner Obituary was written by David Brittain for Afterimage journal.


As a staunch advocate of photography, Peter Turner played many roles – curator, lecturer, critic, committee activist, lobbyist – but he may be best remembered as the longest-serving editor of Creative Camera (1969-78 and 1986-91).

The bare facts of Turner’s life – which tragically ended on August 1 (2005) – are these: born in 1947 near London, he was educated at the Guildford School of Art in Surrey between 1965 and 1968. Like most young photophiles, Turner encountered photography via the illustrated press. He began working at SLR magazine where he learned the journalist’s trade and encountered Creative Camera. In 1969, following the departure of founding editor Bill Jay, Turner became assistant editor to Creative Camera’s founder and publisher, Colin Osman. As an editor, Turner stamped his mark on the publication with inspired use of sequencing and layout. Despite their many differences, the pair complemented each other – Osman’s passion for the vanished world of the pictorial press matched Turner’s taste for the contemporary. Over the next nine years Creative Camera became a pillar of the support structure for photography in the United Kingdom and a byword for good taste. In 1978, at the height of his influence, Turner left the magazine and his “father figure” Osman to co-found the book publisher Travelling Light.

In the early 1980s, now established as the curator of “American Images: Photography 1945-1980” (exhibited at the Barbican Gallery in London in 1985), Turner joined an editorial panel at Creative Camera. Six years later, when Osman relinquished ownership of the title, Travelling Light was facing financial difficulties and Turner agreed to serve as editor again. In 1987 he published the book History of Photography. Spring 1990 saw Creative Camera relaunched as a bimonthly. In the summer of 1991 Turner left the title for good to make a new life in New Zealand with his partner Heather Forbes, a fine art photographer and publisher. Despite failing health, he kept in touch.

As assistant editor of Creative Camera, I got to know Turner during those final years in the loft of the Battersea Arts Centre, a shrine to a former era where keepsakes shared wall space with quotes by Walker Evans and Edward Weston. Visitors will remember Turner battling with faulty computer equipment and frustrated by contradictory funders’ demands. He seemed to play the editor with less relish than in former times, but thanks to him Creative Camera regained its identity as the champion of straight photography and won back the good will of core readers that had become estranged during the early 1980s. Although Turner could be sentimental for the 1970s, he kept the conviction that photography held a redemptive potential and must continue to be championed.

The last most of us heard from Turner the writer was an anguished “Epitaph for Creative Camera” published by the New Zealand Centre for Photography in 2002. It was aimed at the Arts Council of England whose withdrawal of a grant to Creative Camera in 2001 virtually ensured its sudden collapse after more than 30 years. The tone was angry and hurt and it betrayed Turner’s complex mixture of confidence, possessiveness and vulnerability.

I would prefer to remember Turner best by this anecdote. Just before he left London, he was approached by two young photographers who promised to get Kodak to sponsor an issue devoted to the work of an emerging generation of artists (among them Damien Hirst). He became so excited by the madness of it – by the improbable notion of these two mavericks talking postmodernism to the suits at the Yellow Giant – that he cast aside all doubts about content and heartily encouraged them. In my opinion that issue (October/November 1990) was one of his best. Turner fervently believed that the creative spirit existed (at least in part) to counter the establishment – whether it was big business or the Arts Council. And if that was un-PC, well then, all the better.

Editor of Creative Camera from 1991 to 2001.