Our fortieth interview in this new series of intimate interviews enables talented mobile photographer and artist, Gerry Coe to thrill us with his answers which are brusting with chutzpah and laced with deadpan wit. Coe seemingly holds nothing back in this refreshing interview and rightly so. He has been rewarded for his skills to mobile photography and has twice received the Peter Grugeon Fellowship of the Year Award at the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP) awards. This is one of the most highly recognised of its kind.
We’re huge fans of Coe’s work here at TheAppWhisperer and it’s clear to see because whilst carrying out some research before publishing this interview, I discovered that he graces thirteen pages of our site, to date…You’re going to really enjoy this interview, I am sure.
To read the other published interviews in this series including artists, Adria Ellis, Rino Rossi, Mehmet Duyulmus, Alexis Rotella, Lou Ann Sanford Donahue, Irene Oleksiuk, Kerry Mitchell, Filiz Ak, Dale Botha, Lisa Mitchell, M. Cecilia Sao Thiago, Deborah McMillion, Rita Colantonio, Amy Ecenbarger, Jane Schultz, Anca Balaj, Joyce Harkin, Armineh Hovanesian, Kate Zari Roberts, Vicki Cooper, Peter Wilkin, Barbara Braman, Becky Menzies, Sukru Mehmet Omur, Sarah Bichachi, Michel Pretterklieber, Alon Goldsmith, Judy Lurie Whalberg, Andrea Bigiarni, Sean Hayes, Oola Cristina, Kathleen Magner-Rios, Linda Toki, Deb Fiel, Emilo Nadales, Lydia Cassatt, David Hayes, Jean Hutter, Frédéric Deschênes and myself, go here.
All images ©Gerry Coe
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
I suppose being a superhero, as I read all the Superman and Batman comics, but, when I discovered I couldn’t fly or drive, it curtailed that ambition. I do not think I had any idea as to what I wanted to do. I enjoyed drawing and painting (not very well). I was always fascinated by the blank sheet of paper. It had so many possibilites but, apart from bad paintings, I did not know how to fill it. We always had a family camera, an Ilford Sportsman, and when I was about 12, there was a competition on Blue Peter to photograph your pet. Well we didn’t have a pet so I used the last six or seven shots on the roll of film still in the camera from our holidays to photograph a neighbour’s dog. The photographs were all out of focus so, like any self respecting photographer, I realised that it was not me that was at fault but the camera and my father bought me a Halina 35x… This was about 1960/61. I joined a couple of camera clubs and even became my school’s photographer, taking pictures of the various school plays etc.I stayed at school until just before my 16th birthday and then went to work for a man who also ran one of the camera clubs I had been going to. See First Job
The first competition I ever won was Practical Photography Junior Challenge. It was for the portrait you see below and while I was working at my first job.
When I left school I went to work for a man who remained a life long friend, Lionel Salem, he owned along with his wife Joan, the Jaymar Studio, and they covered all aspects of photography, weddings, portraits, some commercial and lots of darkroom work. In fact, before Polaroid became widespread, we used to do “instant” passports.
Using a Mamiya C30 or C330 we took two shots on a roll of film, took the camera into the darkroom which was next door in another small shop, open the back and cut the film at the correct point and then, using the sticky tape which held the film in place, restuck it down again and had the film in place ready for the next client. The exposed film was then developed in the print developer for one minute and then a quick wash and into strong Hypam fixer for 30 seconds, (all this done in total darkness). Safelights were then switched on and the briefly washed wet negative was put into the enlarger and printed onto strips of cut up 10×8 paper. Prints developed, washed, and fast fix and a quick wash and dried with a blow heater, then cut to size and brought into the customer. No more tha 5 minutes in total.
While I was working with Lionel I enrolled on the very first photography City and Guilds course held in Belfast. It was mostly theory and history with not a lot of photography but all the science subjects at which I was average at school suddenly became more interesting as I could now see a purpose and they became much easier.
Private or State school?
All State school, Rosetta Primary and Park Parade Secondary in Belfast. I was an average student who enjoyed school but got a lot of “must try harder’ comments on school reports. At about P2 in primary school I was out in the playground with the rest of my class; my mother was at the school gates waiting to take me home; she was talking to one of the teachers and the teacher suddenly said “Do you hear that laughter?” My mother said “yes”. “That’s your Gerald, always laughing”.
University or Work?
Work, straight from school and worked with Lionel Salem mentioned above. After about two and a half years I moved onto Robert Anderson Photography, a commercial firm covering all types of commercial work. I loved doing every aspect of commercial photography. At Robert Anderson’s I was not only a photographer but was in charge of Giant Enlargements doing images 8 to 10 feet wide. The paper was about 40 inches wide and the enlarger was horizontal on rails. After exposing the paper it was hand rolled through the Developer and then a wash before being hand rolled again through the fix and finally into the large washing tray. You developed strong arm muscles with all the rolling of wet paper. Eventually I left Robert Anderson and worked freelance, then worked with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for a while before being asked to manage a commercial studio for one of the top portrait photographers of his day, Leslie Stuart. Along with top artist and graphic designer Rowel Friers, we ran Irish Graphic Services. Eventually I moved on as I wanted to be my own boss and parted company but remained life long friends with Leslie and Rowel.
After a few years I eventually started my own studio along with a picture framing business. I specialised in black & white portraiture and did not do colour. My speciality was a high key style I called “Pencil Portraits”
Who was or is still is your mentor?
Never had a mentor but I have taken advice and been influenced by many people over the years.
The person who got me started in mobile photography was Dan Burkholder. A few years beforehand I had arranged for Dan to come to Northern Ireland to give a workshop on platinum printing. When I saw Dan’s early iPhone images I was intrigued, and I asked him what he was doing with all these superb pictures his reply was “selling them Gerry” . So that started me off on a voyage of discovery.
How physically fit are you?
Not as much as I should be, spend too long at the computer and need to get out and walk a lot more but generally my health is very good.
Ambition or talent: What matters more to success?
I think you need a certain amount of ambition but, without the talent, you will either run out of steam or be found out that it is all bluster.
How politically committed are you?
Not very. I sometimes despair at the antics and narrow mindeness of a lot of our politicians.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
Nothing really comes to mind that I can think of.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
I don’t crave any new gear, I’ve got my iPhone XS Max which will last me a good few years, I suppose getting as many holidays as possible might come under this heading.
In what places are you happiest?
Anywhere as long as my family are all happy.
What ambitions do you still have?
I still have the ambition to be better and to that end I am still working on producing bodies of work that make me push more boundaries. I have one project on at the moment and I am about halfway through it.
What drives you on?
Just to try to improve and be a better photographer, I feel that no matter how many awards one gets they are in the past and one has to look forward to the next goal and not live on past glories.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
My family, my wife, my daughter and two fabulous grandkids.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
Probably the ones who see some youtube videos on how to take photographs and then suddenly they are experts and start “teaching” other people.
If your 20 year old self could see you now, what would he think?
Not too bad so far!!!
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
Some negatives I took in the early days of one of our now most prestigious theatre companies here in Northern Ireland. I was taking photographs of the stage sets for my art teacher Eddie Johnston and Rowel Friers, who painted the backgrounds for various plays, and sometimes the actors were on stage as well. These were some of the most well known local and future international stars. A piece of history gone..
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
Making sure we don’t wreck the Earth and kill all the animals, try to rid ourselves of the scourge of plastic and other pollutants.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
I would say 8 but I’m working to improve on that.
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