By: Harrison Linklater Abbott
I was in the library at high school and was hovering over the aisles. I wasn’t much interested in novels. But when I got to the magazine section I came across these mustard coloured mags which caught my attention – because I could see this impressive photo on the front cover of one of them. It was a picture of a tornado whipping up a field, which was darkened beneath its manic blow. It was real. I picked it up and started to leaf through the pages. And was quickly caught by the images. Photos. The terrain (wherein the tornado(s) had struck) was totally different to where I lived, and now stood, in this awful high school by a provincial town, twenty miles outside the city, wherein fields and hills separated a string of other sickened nowhere towns, the precursor and template for the rage of the one thousand children and fifty adults assembled here for daily mayhem and gruel. It was in America. A place I’d literally dreamed of going to for a long time. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this magazine before. National Geographic. Because most of it was imagery as opposed to words I was suddenly interested. I moved onto the next magazine. The front cover was a picture of a canyon or mass desert expanse. And I ripped into the photos … These were just as sublime. And a little subconscious twelve year old glimmer mumbled maybe I could be a photographer and be in a magazine like this when I’m older. And seconds later my name, “FINLAY!” was screeched. It made me jump. It was the librarian, goose-stepping towards me. … The librarian was called Mrs Wren and she looked like a penguin and was ferocious and constantly angry with her life. The magazines had taken me out of the class context and I’d forgotten that I was supposed to be looking for a fiction book to read and do an essay on. Wren was irate about this. She snatched the National Geographic out of my hand and zipped it back up on the shelves and gave me a rattly row. All the other kids in the library heard it and stared. I blushed. Because I was a kid I couldn’t yet stand up to an adult – still fixated in that naïve mentality whereby kids think adults are correct and that they should follow their directions, even somebody as sad and talentless and defeated as Mrs Peggy Wren … So I went to the fiction section and I picked a novel. (It was actually a good choice: it was Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Because I was so slow with linguistics it took me ages to finish, but because it was so good I got to the finish-line.) Anyway, yeah: that brief episode in the library, it hooked me on photography. That weekend, the following weekend after the Wren-row I mean, I went down to the local library, to see if they had any National Geographics in there. And they did. And I got inspired by all the brilliant work therein. … Later in the year my Mother asked me what I would like for Christmas. A camera, I said. She was dubious whether I would do anything useful with a camera and keen not to waste money on something I wouldn’t succeed with. She wanted to get me a football strip instead. But I persuaded her. She bought me this cheap single-use Kodak. (This was back in the early noughties, by the way, when people didn’t have smartphones etc. and cameras were still regularly used.) And I still have my first camera, and all the photos it took too. It was what started my career. … I still haven’t been published in the National Geographic, and I don’t make much money from my work, but it’s just what I am: as a man of 30 I live and earn as a photographer. I’m not famous or particularly likeable and I don’t think everybody likes my stuff and I have a whole list of other problems. But all I want to do is take photos and that’s what I do. I (now) thank Mrs Wren for her snappy intervention when I was a kid. Because that rejection made me persevere.