John Walmsley, 2010
John Walmsley

I’ve always been a freelance documentary photographer interested in people, learning and ‘la vie quotidienne’…

Working from home meant I had a lot to do with my sons growing up. My work is in 1,000+ books worldwide. Having ordinary people enthuse over photos of themselves, making a difference. Having images in the Permanent Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, London, and la Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.

The road taken.
While a student at Guildford School of Art (1965-68), I was fascinated by A.S. Neill’s democratic school, Summerhill, where you go to lessons only if you want to. ‘Neill & Summerhill: a man and his work’  was published in 1969 as an Education Special by Penguin Books with a text by the writer, Leila Berg.

At Art School, we students felt the quality of our courses was poor so asked to speak to the governors about our ideas for improvements. They repeatedly refused to talk to us so we had a sit-in, the longest ever at an educational establishment in the UK. As well as taking part, I photographed it start to finish from the inside. The governors even took some of us, including me, to the High Court in London to regain possession of the building. They never did listen to us but, immediately after the sit-in ended, the Minister for Education issued instructions that, from then on, all schools, colleges and universities must have students and staff on their advisory boards. Progress.

Leila and I worked together for the next 35 years on numerous books for or about children and how we treat young people. Some were early readers based, unusually for the time, on everyday subjects familiar to low income families. They could now cuddle up and read books about people like themselves and their own experiences.

For 5 years in the 1970s I lived and worked in an Artists’ Centre with potters (including Elizabeth Fritsch), painters, film-makers, musicians, dancers etc., where I built a public darkroom and ran courses. At the same time, I was a part-time lecturer at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, a most productive period there with exceptional staff, Cedric Price, Peter Cook, Walter Segal, and students, including Zaha Hadid.

My own projects which have ‘lasted’ were all self-started, self-financed and now are historic documents of times past, much of it, no-one else has.

Apart from shooting new projects, I’m working through the old negs and uploading them to my Flickr site. Plus, I give talks to student and professional groups about what to do when someone infringes your copyright, how to have your ‘ducks in a line’ so you could successfully pursue cases if you wanted to. When I have to take infringers to court it’s in the same building where I was a defendant during the sit-in. Funny how things turn out.