Sunday, 9 June 2013

John Bulmer's photo album - An Interview

John Bulmer, Photographer and filmmaker, famous for his gritty depictions of northern life in 20th Century Britain, was born in Herefordshire, UK in 1938. A great admirer of Bresson, Bulmer studied engineering at Cambridge but his love was for photography and while still studying he published photos in 'Varsity', 'The Daily Express' and 'Life', in fact it was the article on Nightclubbing for Life that saw Bulmer expelled just six weeks before his finals, but by now he had established himself as a photographer and sky was the limit. Bulmer also worked as a cinematographer, using his talent for the visual image to create programmes for the BBC and the Discovery channel.

What camera did you first use? And what do you use today? What are the parallels -if any- between the formats? Are you a traditionalist or do you embrace new formats and techniques? 
            "I used Leica’s and Nikons.  Leica M2 or M3 for wide angle lenses and Nikon F for longer lenses. I never liked the square format of a Rollei- I felt I needed to compose the frame as I took the picture.  I was not going to find a composition later in the darkroom.
I am not at all a traditionalist. Now I use a Canon 5D MkII and a Fuji X10 and also an IPhone I have always believed in using the latest techniques."

 A lot of your images portray the youth of the 60s and 70s, what was your childhood like?   
"I had a secure good childhood in the country, which was then shattered by being sent away to boarding school. I think the misery at boarding school may have given me the determination to succeed at my own thing."

           What made you want to be a photographer? Did you parents influence you in any way?
 "Photography was the last in a line of childhood crazes, like toy trains, Mechano, radios etc.  It stuck as I found the imagery an added dimension to the technique.  My parents wanted me to study engineering which I did, but were supportive when I became a photographer."



            Where there any times you recall that you thought 'if I only had 
             my camera!'?

            "Yes, though on the whole tended to separate Assignment time from Off duty 
             time, and I am not one of those photographers who always had camera – 
            Till now when I have an IPhone in my pocket"




           Which photograph do you think is your greatest work? And why?
            "Possibly this one...
            It was a very difficult thing to capture – pitch dark and a very human situation. I solved the problem by bringing a banana leaf into the hut, tucking it under the roof poles and bouncing a flash off it."


            What do you think makes a good photograph/photographer? 
            "It needs an interesting subject, a good composition and decisive moment so that the photographer has something 
            to say."

            Do you think you can learn to take pictures, or do you believe it has to be in your blood?

            "Like being a ballet dancer, you need natural ability and training.
I don’t mean you have to go to college – you have to work at it to learn and understand how to make pictures that move the viewer."


            If you could photograph anyone, dead or alive, or any time or place in history, who or where would it be?
            "Phew that’s a hard one.  I’d rather look into the future, but how do we know what is going to happen for that great picture."



 What do you think of mobile phones and 'instant' 
            "I’m a great believer in ”Instant” photography, my great 
            hero was Cartier Bresson. The problem with mobile 
            phones is that they are not instant enough, and all phones with electronic viewfinders suffer from image delay.  
            In some ways we have moved back more that forwards."



            Who do you see as a great photographer? Is there any picture that you think "I wish I'd taken that"?
            "My heroes were Cartier Bresson and many photographers who took pictures for “The Family of Man” – quite a long list.
For me most photography has lost the immediacy it had and become to contrived and static."

For more information and works go to: and


  1. Inspirational!

  2. Envy you! Is he still taking photographs ? - Ian via Twitter

  3. I rate his work very highly - inspirational !