Photographer profile - Jon Sparks
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 November 2017
A new book shows Lancashire in all its glory and showcases the talent of a gifted photographer. Roger Borrell reports
Jon Sparks has never tired of photographing the Lancashire landscape. Not bad for a man who has been seeing the county through the lens of a camera since he was a schoolboy. ‘It may not have made me rich, but it’s made my life richer,’ he says. ‘A lot of photographers head straight for the Lake District and I admit that I spend time there, too. But I really love what’s on my own doorstep. The attractions of the Lancashire landscape are more subtle and, of course, they can be far quieter.’
He has just produced his second book of images from the red rose county, previously unpublished work from his vast picture archive. Lancashire In Pictures is an impressive body of work from a man who is regarded as one of our finest landscape photographers.
Jon, 60, whose work regularly appears in Lancashire Life, has now published 50 books. His last landscape book featuring Lancashire was well over a decade ago and it was shot on film.
‘I’ve had an impulse to take pictures for as long as I can remember. I started off with an Agfa and progressed to a Zenit-E, an old Russian clunker of a camera.
‘I started when I was at school and then it became more than a hobby. I had wanted to be a writer from an early age but I eventually came to the conclusion I would do better if I could combine writing with photography. I was working regularly for rock climbing magazines and photography is an important part of that.’
He went to Cambridge to study for a degree in geography, became disenchanted with the course and switched to social sciences. Ironically, that early interest in geography has helped him in later life.
‘After leaving university, I did a lot of other jobs to pay the bills but then went into full time photography in 1994. I haven’t starved yet although, in some respects, this can be a precarious way to earn a living.
‘That has meant I’ve had to recalibrate my career several times. For instance, I did a series of guides to using Nikon cameras and travel books for Thomas Cook. That sort of work migrated to the internet so I’ve got into action photography – things like cycling and mountain biking.
‘I’ve always been keen on outdoor pursuits such as walking, cycling and rock climbing so this feeds into my photography.’
Jon remains a very active 60 year old but the rock climbing has come to an end.
‘I recently had an assignment to photograph a couple of people who were running coast to coast and I just about managed to keep up on my mountain bike!’
He’s travelled the world visiting and photographing many exotic places. ‘The place that stays with me is New Zealand. I’ve been several times because my partner’s sister lives there. It’s quite a contrast to Lancashire but a change in scenery is what keeps you fresh for when you come back.
While Jon’s pictures show Lancashire in all its glory, they have never been of the chocolate box variety. He won’t Photoshop out an inconvenient pylon from a landscape but will try an alternative angle to keep it out of the frame.
‘I believe in keeping it simple. A camera and two lenses can be enough especially if I’m on my bike. The advantage is that you don’t get bogged down with too much equipment.
‘I had what I thought was an equipment disaster when I was away trekking. I realised I’d only brought two lenses. I thought I was going to miss so many opportunities but it actually taught me a valuable lesson. It really concentrates the mind and it makes you work harder building pictures in your mind’s eye.
‘It’s easy to think that you are at a disadvantage if you don’t have a lot of expensive kit and that might be true for certain types of wildlife photography. But finding out just how much you can do with simple equipment teaches you a lot about photography and a lot about yourself.’
He’s philosophical about the Lancashire weather. ‘I’m one of those people who believes there is no such thing as bad weather. That’s the time when you start improvising.’
Lancashire in Photographs by Jon Sparks is published by Amberley Books, priced £16.99