100 Years Of Photography At Newport
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Jay Williams

April 27, 2012  by admin  •  Alumni

For me, as for so many others, going to the Documentary Photography course in Newport changed my life.

In 1985 I was working for a high street photographer in my native Ireland, and it was clear to me that I did not want to do that work forever. The magazine ‘Amateur Photographer’ is better known for breasts and behinds, but an interview with David Hurn about his work in education caught my attention. I made a visit to David in Newport and a few months later was offered a place. Neither the Irish nor British government was prepared to give me a grant or pay my tuition fees so I lived on tomato sandwiches and the odd beer for two years and weighed probably two-thirds what I do today. I should try that diet again.

The course was great, in all the ways you’ve heard before. Having really kissed the Blarney Stone, I was never shy about talking to strangers, but I learned a great deal about how to make the most of my photography. The tutors were all working photographers and visiting speakers opened up our minds. I had a go at Martin Parr for sneering at his subjects, but happily he took no notice. Another visitor, Alun John, then picture editor of the Independent, was encouraging and when I graduated and took the short hop to live in Bristol in 1987 I did the rounds of all the Nationals with my pictures. No-one ever asked to see my ‘certificate’ and indeed I’ve never collected it. Only one of the newspapers gave me a try.

That November, the Daily Telegraph gave me my first assignment, to photograph the last ever public school boxing match. It made the front page and I was off. I’ve worked for them ever since, and have had pictures in every UK National daily and Sunday newspaper. Some were very silly. A front cover of Sunday Sport had the headline ‘Baked bean freak’s bum explodes’. The photos of ‘Captain Beany’ naked in a bath full of baked beans were shot in a very cheap hotel in Port Talbot. I would imagine they scraped the beans out and served them up later. Photography has let me meet heroes and villains, the newly born and the dying, I’ve been punched outside court, stood in a small room with Nelson Mandela and his very grumpy staff and being a big kid at heart I have enjoyed flying and floating in every kind of craft.

Once, when doing a recce for a shoot in the late Eightees, I picked up a hitch-hiker. She is my wife.

All of this happened because of a couple of years as a Doc Photter in Newport, crossing the town bridge in the bone-chilling greyness and living on Stow Hill over the vets. I will always be grateful.

JAY WILLIAMS. www.jaywilliams.co.uk