I first met Colin in I think 2000, but I can’t remember exactly when, which seems appropriate with Colin. It was a time when his work had been forgotten outside of his iconic images of The Who. There was no book of his work, and no exhibitions, in fact his precious prints and negatives where stored in the small attic of his small house in Barnes, South West London. We clambered up into the dark and dusty space so that Colin could show me how his archive was stored, and where he was making his own black and white prints. I bought some prints from him that day, but he had not fixed them well and they are now ginger toned. Not that this discolouration would make me hide them away. They are still hung in different rooms in my house.
Colin was a conundrum of a character. Softly spoken, delicate in form, and small in structure (if he had not been he would never have fitted into his attic darkroom/archive) and yet strong of conviction, brave, intelligent, and a bon viveur of some reputation. His life as a ballet dancer, who he married, and how he became a photographer you can find elsewhere, this is a personal remembrance.
I came across Colin through art directing a book on photography in London in the 1960s (one of a series I did on photography in London, Paris, and New York in that decade). The brilliant picture editor Suzanne Hodgart had suggested Colin’s Who pictures for the book, and suggested that we would get on together. Colin wanted a book of his work, and we talked about me creating a dummy for this. I spoke with a few publishers whom I knew, but no one was interested, and in a pre-digital world making a dummy meant a financial outlay that Colin did not have.
The portrait that illustrates this article was taken on the day we discussed the book as we walked along the River Thames along by Barnes Bridge, which he lived near.
I mentioned Colin to a journalist friend of mine, Pete Silverton. Pete knew Colin, and told me a story of how when he was a writer for the music newspaper Sounds, they both went to the United States to interview, and photograph singer/songwriter Tom Waits. Pete returned home as Colin and Tom disappeared for a few weeks adventuring. I gave Pete Colin’s number and they met up for lunch at The Groucho Club in Soho, London. Pete returned home after the lunch, and Colin disappeared for a few days of further adventures. The next time I saw Colin I mentioned both events, he said nothing, and gave me a smile with a twinkle in his eye.
I lost touch with Colin soon after, until his book Grafters was published in 2002. Colin sent me a print of his iconic image of Russian sunbathers taken the first time he started to make images, when he was in Moscow. A note came with it which was both personal and kind. It was very Colin.
The Michael Hoppen Gallery and my friend Lucy Bell with her gallery in Hastings staged exhibitions of the work that had not been seen, selling prints (presumably better fixed then mine) and raising Colin’s profile within the photographic art and collectors world.
In 2006 his book The Black House was published, another body of work that had not been seen for years, but that needed to be. I can imagine Colin fitting in anywhere, with anyone, and as his archive made its way out of his attic the evidence of this fact was available to everyone.
I wanted Colin to contribute to our weekly A Photographic Life podcast to explain what photography meant to him, and thanks to Lucy, it happened. It is clear from the recording that Colin was not well, and recorded in a busy cafe the sound is not great, but despite this Colin is steady and clear about his passion for the medium. You can hear that contribution here, stripped out of the original podcast.
Colin has gone missing again and on another adventure. I wish him well on his travels.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019).
Grant’s book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99 https://bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/what-does-photography-mean-to-you/
© Grant Scott 2021