Image © Nikki Gibbs, print by Adrian Ensor
It’s hard to believe but I have been printing for other photographers now for nearly 30 years. The time hasn’t always flown by, but I have – and I really believe this – had fun for most of that time. And some of the best times were in the 1980s and early 1990s when I was fortunate to know (and of course socialise with), many great printers in London. Roy Snell, Klaus Kalde, Mike Spry, Steve Walsh, Ron Bagley, Adrian Ensor, Barbara Curtin and Debbie Sears amongst others. And of course, Bill Rowlinson. Sadly, I have just learned that Bill died last week.
When I started to print exhibitions and portfolios way, way back then, there were three printers who greatly influenced my career. Ron Bagley, Roy Snell and Bill. In their own styles, they were, and are, all great printers, but each of them gave to me something different.
From Ron I learned about the commercial aspect of printing. Not always in a this-is-how-it-should-be-done way, but sometimes more of a how not to do it way. And I think anyone who knew Ron will laugh and agree. I worked for Ron for about 4 years, although it seemed like 10, because we had so much fun and so much happened. And Ron’s handling of clients was something to behold. Whatever words were exchanged, amicable or unprintable, the clients usually left laughing.
From Roy I learned how to print. Not in the most basic sense, as I’d been printing for years before I met Roy, but he taught me how to make a print that had feeling. To watch Roy work and produce such stunning prints with apparent ease was so inspiring; suddenly everything made sense. It’s hard to put into words, but even today, when I have that gut feeling of knowing a print is right, that’s what I learned from Roy. A day in the darkroom (which was too infrequent) with Roy was always a joy and something to look forward to.
And Bill. He gave me the courage and advice not only to constantly strive to produce excellent, award-winning prints, but to really do what you believe in, do it from the heart and not sell out. And to go out on a limb occasionally, because “if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes”. In later years he became quite a private man, and I lost contact with him some years ago, but when I left London for America in 1996, Bill quietly gave me some advice and words of encouragement which I still treasure and follow to this day. Those words have always been very personal and special to me and I have never really discussed them with anyone else, but he was right. He always was.
UPDATE There’s an obituary in the British Journal of Photography by its former editor Chris Dickie, now publisher of Ag, here.