Transforming the Ordinary

Dorset-based photographer Nigel Lord is fast forging a national reputation for startling images that have the ability to make us look twice. Words Stephen Swann

The images which illustrate this piece positively demand our attention because they excite the eye and stimulate the imagination. The man whose images they are is photographer Nigel Lord. I had the pleasure of talking with Nigel at his home in Briantspuddle recently, and I began by asking him about his approach to photography. This is what he had to say.

"What I am trying to do as a photographer is to get people to look at objects and situations in a way they wouldn't do normally, using light, angle or the coming together of a particular group of objects. I believe this is one of the important things about photography - it's a way of changing people's perceptions of what is worth looking at.

"At a recent Arts Awards exhibition at Bridport, I watched several people get up close to a photograph I had taken of a steel bridge stanchion, examining every detail of the rivets, the flaking paint and the rust patterns. They wouldn't have dreamed of studying an actual bridge support in that way."

Nigel came late to serious photography. He was born in 1953 in Rochdale, a mill town in the north of England, and after leaving grammar school with, in his words, "the kind of dismal qualifications that follow from the best education the state could offer in the 1960s", he went on to study electronics at college, did various jobs, including carpentry and renovating houses, before he gravitated towards the music business.

"Music was my first obsession," says Nigel. "I've spent a good part of my life writing and recording songs - though few people have ever heard them. Rather more successfully, I've also written about music in several magazines I've edited and contributed to over the past 25 years. But the ubiquity of music and the sheer scale of the industry have combined to make it a much less attractive place to work over recent years, so I decided it was time to do something else."

Though Nigel still writes, that 'something else' was photography. As for how he came to live in Dorset, they moved here was because his wife landed a job with NHS Direct in Winchester, but they found house prices beyond their reach in that area so they kept looking west until they found something they could afford.

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Here's Nigel again. "I suppose I've always had a good eye for a picture, but several years ago I started to sense that my creative balance was shifting from listening to looking, and I began to take much more interest in the visual arts and photography in particular. I started taking photographs seriously around 1995 and bought my first decent camera in 1998."Listening to Nigel talk you are left in no doubt as to what interests him when it comes to subject matter. "Living here in Dorset there isn't a huge amount to photograph if you're not interested in wildlife, which I'm not, or the coastal features, which are being steadily eroded by the tripods of countless other photographers. So, the interesting stuff tends to come from holidays and trips abroad.

"I began working digitally but having been immersed in technology for much of my working life, I was determined not to let it interfere with the creative process of taking photographs. I enjoy not always knowing exactly what my camera is going to do. If it's possible to leave it switched to auto I usually will. I'm happy to lose out on technically perfect shots if I capture images which surprise me," he explains.

I ask Nigel what distinguishes a great photograph from a good one, and why some photographs can lay claim to being regarded as art. It is a big question, as Nigel is quick to remind me. Then he says this: "I think there's an inherent sadness about most photographs which relates to the passage of time and the fleeting moment. It is as if by capturing that moment you highlight the sense of loss of its passing. It is in areas like this that photography becomes an art - providing it also reveals something about the person behind the camera, which the best photography does."

Now look at Nigel's picture of a tall building cutting diagonally across the frame. The sky is full of clouds which are reflected in the building. On one level there is nothing extraordinary about what Nigel has chosen to point his camera at - it shows, after all, merely a building and some reflected clouds. Look again though. There is a painterly quality here. By allowing the image to cut diagonally across the frame and by cutting out both a foreground and a horizon, the image teeters on the edge of abstraction. Reality has been recast to conform to Nigel's conception of what a picture should be like. The result is an image which positively demands our attention and which remains lodged in the mind's eye long after you have ceased to stand before it. In a world awash with images, images which we look at but only rarely truly see, and which leave not a trace on the memory, it takes a very talented photographer to come up with an image like this. Nigel Lord is such a photographer.

For more of Nigel's work, see

"What I am trying to do as a photographer is to get people to look at objects and situations in a way

they wouldn't do normally"

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