Remembering the work of photographer Nigel Hunter
PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 April 2019
When Nigel Hunter died he left a remarkable legacy of landscape and real life photography. Jane Watson spoke to his widow
There's a delicious irony in the fact that Nigel Hunter's disastrous wedding pictures set him on the path to becoming an outstanding photographer.
His widow, Debbie, explains: 'His brother, Ian, agreed to take the photos at our wedding at Gretna Green and it turns out he committed the classic schoolboy error of forgetting to put any film in the camera!
'We managed to cobble together an album based on everyone's casual snaps but this sparked an interest for Nigel in “real” photos rather than posed shots. Nigel went on to photograph many weddings and he always captured people informally – shots that you wouldn't expect. That style of photography became his signature – people in their natural environment. One of his favourite places for real life characters was around Morecambe.'
Nigel was a bobby on the beat for 30 years but was diagnosed with bowel cancer in February 2016 and he died the following December. He left behind a legacy of pictures that reflect his love of the outdoors and demonstrate how photography helped him and Debbie through the toughest part of their lives.
'Nigel joined the Greater Manchester Police in 1979. Prior to that he was in the cadets, going off to the Outward Bound school in Eskdale, and discovered his love of the outdoors.
'Every spare opportunity was taken up climbing mountains and exploring. His job was based in Rochdale and he led a police social group arranging walking trips away for everyone to enjoy the local fells and countryside.'
He retired in October 2009 and that was the catalyst for developing his photography. Debbie adds: 'Nigel was a great believer in living life to the full. He would paraphrase the late mountaineer Alison Hargreaves' famous quote “It is better to have lived a short life as a tiger, than a long life as a sheep.”
'Wales, Scotland, the Alps and the Lakes were all our 'go-to' places. Great Langdale was a firm favourite. We'd camp here, handy for the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub.'
Lancashire was already a favourite place as the couple lived in Littleborough and spent a lot of time on Blackstone Edge – the brooding millstone-grit edge that sits above the Lancashire mill towns.
There, they discovered quiet, peaceful walks and got to know the area very well.
'We then started to explore the beautiful coastline around Silverdale and Arnside. We loved it so much we bought a static caravan, which became a real bolt-hole for us and our dogs to explore this inspiring area.
'It was also a fabulous base to continue our love affair with the Lakes. Jenny Brown's point was one of our favourites, and Nigel took many different photographs here in all light and weather.'
Nigel was a member of the Littleborough and Rochdale Photography Clubs where he proved to be an inspiration to less experienced member.
When he died, he left all his camera equipment to Debbie's brother, Michael, but she is teaching herself to use one of them. 'It is the one he used for his street photography of real people so it means a lot to me.'
Nigel and Debbie, who shared a love of border terriers, had many favourite places and Nigel is revisiting them all! 'I'm in the middle of scattering his ashes in 42 different places,' says Debbie.
'Some are in Scotland, then there's Ireland, the Alps, Cornwall and, of course, Lancashire and the Lakes.
'Nigel, his brother and friends on an annual skiing trip and last year the lads took some of his ashes with them and hey scattered him in the snow.
'I imagine it will take me the next five years to finish off putting a bit of Nigel in all the places we loved, but there is no rush, and each pilgrimage is a small part of my healing.
'After I lost Nigel, browsing his photo collection helped me such a lot with my grief. I have my favourite shots on the walls in my house which look amazing– and I've often thought it would be nice to stage an exhibition of his photos one day.'