Back around early 2010 I said to myself one day ‘I need to do something with my life’ and that something has to make me happy. For some unexplained reason at the time when I picked up a camera and fired a few frames with it for the very first time in years, it felt like I had been pulled out of the dark murky waters I was sinking into with my life and going know where. The first few conversations I had with my Dad that it was photography I wanted to pursue, my Dad’s reaction at the time was not all inspiring to quote “just stick to computers!”, after telling my Dad as a kid that I wanted to be a Ghostbuster to a Manchester United striker to Bill Gates he took my statement of ‘being a photographer’ brushed it under the carpet, of course in his eyes I was just going through a faze of ‘finding myself’
You see my Dad was a construction worker as well as a computer geek like me. However, he was an amazing photographer and even went to a photography school. He told me his photography started when he was a young solider in the Army serving under the ‘Royal Green Jackets’ regermint (today named as the Green Jackets) where he was stationed in Germany, Saudi Arabia and served in Northern Ireland. However, whilst in Saudi Arabia he started photographing marine fish in the Red Sea. The earliest memory I have of my Dad was when we as a family went to air shows in Duxford and watching him use his Cannon SLR and a series of roll films, at this time I was about 10 years old. He would (with a watchful eye) let me use his Cannon and I would go off snapping away not knowing at that age what I captured. A few days after the air shows, my Dad and I went to a local camera store to get the rolls of film developed.
I still remember him saying to me often in that store, “look at the pictures in the books and don’t wonder off”. Thanks to my Dad this would be my first couple of times going through photographs in book, knocking over tripods and holding many different old cameras with again a watchful eye from the store staff. When my Dad collected the developed film, he would ask me to give him a hand in constructing a large screen in the living room where a projector would be placed to show what my Dad captured, and one of those first moments I was star struck by photography. My Dad would even point out my photographs, mostly of my own shadow, my tiny feet, flair from the Sun and if I was lucky an actual air craft for which my Dad would point out with pride “see you got one”.
Many years later around 2010, photography especially sports, was more of an attraction then fixing computers. So when it looked like I was more interested in photography then computers, Dad would on occasion would be a little encouraging with me using a camera, but still wanting me to stick with computers as he thought it would be a safe bet then changing careers and leaving the safe-bet world of computer engineering. However, that safe-bet theory would go out of the window with the recession hitting our families hard. So when the first spark of passion for photography came into the fold I bought my first camera and lens and started out with landscapes, as most of us do. My Dad eventually noticed me having more fun and experimenting with a cameras that he could not help himself but be involved and encouraging me to keep capturing and study pictures in photography books and how the natural & artificial light reacts to your subjects. Although both fully knowing that this was at the time just a small hobby to start off with, I got strong impression that my Dad was…preparing me for something big.
Awaking the sleeping giant
During a number of career rough patches my Dad during those dark times I was in with finding work, being broke and in a state of depression, my Dad gave me encouragement and positivity not matter how hard a rejection was to come for me. However, in 2011, I asked myself ‘who do I want to be’ and ‘what makes me happy’ it soon came to me just by holding a camera and taking a few photos that ignited a bright spark of passion only by the ‘enjoyment’ of taking pictures that I knew what I wanted to do. My Dad took notice that I was spending all my weekends at my local part (Stockley Park) covering amateur football for hours. Despite him still saying that computers were a safe bet to stick with as a career, he would still show more encouragement when I held a camera and captured in ‘his eyes’ some great shots, all thanks to him for teaching me it at an early age. It just took a very long time to awake the sleeping giant.
From the first kick to the last:
From the very first game I covered to the last he saw me cover, my Dad was my ‘chief photo editor’. He would critique my work the day after every game and every event I covered. There would be times when we argued about images I wanted to submit to my blogs and laughed about them. My Dad striked on what he wanted me to submit and what he wanted me to throw away, I like to think this striked attitude towards critiquing my work made me a better photographer. Even during my worst times (outside photography) finding work, being broke thus not being able to afford better photographic equipment, my Dad would always give me that confidence and ‘kick up the ass’ to make better images with the amateur camera equipment I had at the time. Eventually with time I captured better and bigger games mostly around the ‘Non-League’ scene for all the time I was with my Dad and built up a reputation and a working portfolio that got me work more from local newspapers and publications.
My passion for sports photography grew rapidly and into my second year of it I got the opportunity to cover the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield for three days, although still using amateur photographic equipment at the time, to which my Dad was stunned and told all his work mates. It was the first impression I saw of my Dad that he noticed that other publications noticed something in me and wanted to hire me for my photographic work. Another favourite memory I have of my Dad was when I made The Sun newspaper in the ‘Goals’ pages showing my AFC Wimbledon winning shot photograph, he was so pleased he gave me a big hug, bought loads of copies and could not stop talking about it on Social Media and at work, to quote “your on your way my boy”
You see ever since the World Snooker I’ve always wanted to photograph the biggest games and events in the country but due to a lack of photographic equipment I was always turned down by major editors, although the local one’s said I had a great chance of making the ‘big time’. However, at the time, now finding more regular 9-5 work I saved up for months and ought more professional photographic equipment which resulted in better photographs. My Dad would also say ‘Your time will come son, I promise you it will, they do not know what they are missing’ and ‘you never know what’s round the corner’.
On November 2013 my Dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer to the brain called “Glioblastoma multiforme grade 4″, and thus became ‘inoperable’. For the four months I had with my Dad, his condition got worse and worse but he would always yell out when he could whilst sitting on the arm chair “Take fantastic photographs for me”, and when I got back he would be the first one to say “how did you get on son”. If I made the paper especially the front cover what would light up his day. Three of the last things he gave me was one, a Sunday Times 2014 Sports Calendar for which he signed up for as a gift surprise for me, secondly his last peace of advice.
‘You take the top 10 sporting photographs ever taken. You will never ever be able to recapture them again because the moment was there for that photographer. However, you can “try” to recreate it, but adapt it to your own style and thus producing a better photograph…do you understand?’
On Saturday the 15th February 2014 at 01:00am my Dad John Kenneth Fletcher passed away whilst being surrounded by his family. We all sat with him, I held his hand on my cheek and watched him take his last breath. The most difficult thing I have had to do was just before he passed away, was build up the courage with a broken heart to say “Thank you for everything Dad, thank you for giving me the value of ‘hard work’, teaching me computers and photography”. His strong heart kept him alive for a few more minutes until one last breath…
The third and final gift:
Two days after my Dad passed away, on Monday the 17th February a photographic agency contacted me based on finding my portfolio on Twitter asking if I was interested in covering local football matches for the remainder of the football season. After a week of negotiations and waiting to find out what I thought was another non-league match to cover for this agency, my first game for this agency was…Arsenal vs. Sunderland, a Premier League game!.
I must be completely honest that of course I was thrilled but could never express it at the time of the delight that this opportunity came my way. So I covered the game with massive butterfly’s in my stomach but was thought-out the match crushed that I would never be able to tell my Dad that I am finally photographing for an agency covering top flight football and watch face light up that I’ve made it into the ‘big time’. There were moments that I was in tears during the game trying my best to cover it, but as you can imagine my Dad was with me from the very start of my sports photography career and now that I have in his words ‘made it’ he was not there to see it.
Today, I think back to when he was “preparing me” for something big in the future, I guess this was it. His last gift to me.
John Kenneth Fletcher – Dad and my Chief Photo Editor
1954 – 2014