Graham Portlock is a landscape and architectural photographer based in East Anglia, England. Although I have never
met him, in all the photos I have seen of him, his eyes seem to hide a certain intelligence behind their tinted glasses and he has a certain
air of wisdom when surrounded by others. Portlock is popular in East Anglia and has some recognition in the rest of Britain, but hopefully this
can bring him to wider attention.
At school, Portlock's interests were mainly creative, but he focussed on line drawing and architecture. His father, however, was an enthusiastic
photographer himself, and during the time of the war took many photographs to record the social changes of the time. Over the next
few years, Graham absorbed his father's love of photography and ultimately took a job in London as assistant photographer at the V&A. The first
two years of this simply involved learning to print from glass plates, but Portlock saw this as a firm stepping stone to a furthur career in
photography. As part of his training, he was sent to the London College of Printing, where the values that so permeate his current work were
impressed upon him; a perfect control and understanding of lighting in pictures, and the ability to make a perfect final print from his film.
This was all in the 1960s, of course, and at that time the two driving forces in photography were fashion shoots and records
of pop culture - Portlock, with an emphasis on the grand structures of man and nature, could never achieve wide interest.
Even the now-legendary Ansell Adams had only a minority following. However, in the absence of public recognition, Portlock could at least
experience a wide range of photographic endeavours - among the best, he says, helping to establish a photographic unit at the University of Khartoum.
He also had a large number of different publishers, finally ending up with Longman in Harlow. To Portlock, born in Croydon and raised in
Hampshire, Harlow was something of a system shock; as he says, "At the time, Harlow felt like remote countryside, with seems ridiculous now,
but my heart certainly wanted to be in a moer rural environment." Portlock enjoyed this new environment and refused to be pushed around by the
need for money, "I went to Bury on an architecutral assignment, liked it and moved nearby; there's actually some very good light. Although it's
harder to get commissions and you're earning less, life is certainly better."
Much like my other favourite rural artist Mark Palin, Portlock's art feels like something of a two-way interaction. Portlock himself feels
he can connect with the countryside of Norfolk and Suffolk through his art, and at the same time, the viewer can appreciate something about
it and about him. Portlock has shunned photography of more traditional venues like Derbyshire because they have simply been done to death, there
is nothing new to capture. He'd rather find his own secrets and share with an audience: "The Suffolk landscape isn't obvious, and that's its
beauty. When you find it and the light's right, it can be magic - an intimate drama." To Portlock, there is no difference between the creations
of nature and our own creations, a view which I share myself. He puts it very succinctly, "There's no difference in any form of photography;
it comes down to having a clarity of vision which allows you only to see what's important. You've got to keep it simple and, whether it's a
building, a tree or a wide open sky, know when there's good light, a strong shape or a subtle colour."
Portlock is greatly enamoured with the evolution of photography as an art form in Britain, especially since mainland Europe has always seen
it as such. He explains, "People don't ask what you used; they ask what inspired the shot, and that's great. There's no longer the feeling that
if you buy a certain lens, you can do the same thing." Clearly he has high hopes for furthur evolution in the artistic community's appreciation
Portlock's most recent portfolio was constructed on a trip to Italy, where he captured the deformed trunks of olive trees that are
so intricate they appear to be hand-sculpted. These creations are now on display at Blackthorpe Barn in Rougham, the latest display from Artworks -
an iniative to display many local artists together, founded by Portlock himself.
And what of the future? Portlock is keen to avoid formulaic output, and aims to make each display both progressive from the previous one while
also fresh and original. As for another display, "I've been concious of wanting to move on to different interpretations - semi-abstract,
conceptual pictures, but still based on the same landscapes. I'm lucky to have my Bury base and a whole nwe challenging area to discover - my
only problem is time."
Sources for this write-up
Numerous magazine articles and interviews with the big man himself.
Looking at his art!