Capturing The Nostalgia of Norfolk
By John D.Adams
Matthew Usher has thus far spent his professional career as a news photographer for the “Eastern Daily Press” in Norfolk, England. Whether covering a Royal visit, a local fire, or a child’s interaction with a tarantula, Usher’s work has always held a signature beauty. He retains a clear expertise in the use of light of space, and he also possesses that little bit of magic that allows certain artists to convey emotion through a static image. Last November, Usher held a very well-received exhibition in his small, coastal home town of King’s Lynn. The pictures on display weren’t his commercial work. They were 24 carefully selected landscape images in Norfolk. Usher’s landscapes are filled to bursting with a zeal for the often overlooked beauty around us.
Finding his voice
John Hansell (1944-2005) was well known in Norfolk as a landscape photographer and fine printer. He had been featured by Anglia Television, and had held a number of one man exhibitions. He was also Course Director and Lecturer in Photography at the College of West Anglia where he became a beloved mentor to Matthew Usher. “I have a great love for my area,” said Usher. “A lot of my ancestors were fishermen right here in this town. I don’t know if that’s part of what inspires me. But the chap who taught me at school did a lot of work in Norfolk and that passion really rubbed off on me. He knew everything. He opened the door.”
Indeed, before attending Hansell’s class, Usher had decided to pursue a degree in painting. And while he could always draw and paint, the canvases never generated the feeling he was striving for. With photography, the flood gates of creative possibilities exploded. “In the two years he taught me, he made me work my backside off,” reminisced Usher. “I learned to take pictures with real film. I was also a black and white printer. And that has always stayed with me. It is important to me to try and keep as much integrity in the work as possible. My education with film and printing really taught me how to get things right, not relying on technology to do that job for me. Digital has changed some things, made some tasks easier, but my basic technique is still the same. The discipline is the same. You still have to understand the camera and how it interacts with light. But most importantly you have to have an eye for composition. If there isn’t a compelling composition there, how can you draw anyone in?”
The right tools for the right job
It took Usher five years to compile the 24 images which comprised his recent exhibition. Working full time while raising a family doesn’t leave a lot of time for photographic “hobbies.” But more than the time constraints, Usher is a proud perfectionist. “I had 24 images in that show and I didn’t want a single one of them to be weak. I wanted people to walk into that room and be transported. I wanted them to see what I was capable of.”
It is perhaps this tenacity bedrocked by a solid technical knowledge that enables Usher to imbue such a sense of wonderment and beauty in the often disregarded or ignored. “When I’m taking the picture, I’m already holding in my mind what I want to achieve with the final image. Then I go to the computer and work on getting what I want. I live with the piece for a few days to see how it feels to me. If I’m happy with it, then it will pass. If I’m not happy with it, I just discard it. If I don’t like something, I’m not going to use it again. I’m very strict with my own work. The last picture I included was shot just a few weeks before the exhibition opened.
“It is very important for me that the technical side is as perfect as possible. I don’t want anyone to ever accuse me of being technically weak. I put a lot of pressure on myself. But you have to be your biggest critic. You’ve got to work to set yourself apart.”
Usher’s mentor, John Hansell believed that “the image making process, by whatever means, should begin in the heart and the mind’s eye and be its creator’s chosen means of communicating visually to his fellow man.” In this sentiment, too, Usher agrees. “That’s the thing with making pictures. I’m not just creating them to keep them tucked away. I like to share them because people may not always see what I see. I see the world a different way through my camera. I’m humbled to be sharing my work with people halfway around the world.”
See more of Matthew Usher’s work online at: www.matthewusherphotography.com