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Article: John Myers of Stourbridge

John Myers of Stourbridge

"Portraiture was the heart of his practice, simple slow portraiture of the kinds of people who were missed by more generic image making. Non-fashion, non-advertising, non-reportage: just plain people seen in their own environments. Today much of the initial appeal of these portraits lies in the details of the clothing and décor of the period, the 1970s now as irrecoverably distant as the 1870s...... The scrupulous refusal of the photographer to exploit his sitters is very clear. Nobody’s taken by surprise, nobody satirized by an unfortunate juxtaposition or a chance moment made to seem typical. The sitters are participants in the slow business of the photograph, near-equal partners in an approach to self-portraiture. Yet the photographer remains firmly in charge, presenting to us a world of people who don’t really know how to present themselves. Had they been seen in the magazines, these would have had just as much effect as Arbus. They’re unsettling, discomfiting in a British understated way."  - Frances Hodgson

John Myers - Andrea with Beano, 1974

I came to England in 1973 and went to school in Gloucestershire. One of my friends came from Stourbridge and by 1974 we used to hitch-up the M5 to spent the weekend walking round Stourbridge getting drunk, stoned, listening to lots of live music and generally having a pretty good time. It was different from rural Gloucestershire and very, very different from Germany. In retrospect it was a bit like coming from Mars to Leeds, or something like this, people lived, had ordinary lives, enjoyed themselves and it felt light years away from my middle-class upbringing in Essen, or rural Gloucestershire for that.

John Myers - Nicola and Donny Osmond, 1973

A couple of years ago we went to some photo event in Cardiff and Onny met this guy who lived in the same  road in Stourbridge where she grew-up called John Myers. I remember John told me that he took boring photos. That stuck with me in the same way as Stourbridge had stuck with me all those years.

John Myers - Mr. Jackson, 1974

I met John again at a Party in Bristol quite recently, we started talking and he gave me a copy of his new book which was pretty well, boring and full of ordinary dull pictures. Just the sort of book I like. And since we are beginning to have a reputation for dealing with forgotten Photographers from the seventies who are in their seventies I asked him if we could publish him. It took 10 minutes to agree, 43 years later, or something like that.

I spent my formative years in Gloucester in the seventies (and I am still looking for that book) so I did not need much of an introduction to John’s pictures. They made perfect sense to me even 43 years later in the same way as Michael Schmidt or the slow-moving photography from East Germany from the same period made perfect sense to me too.

“The World is not Beautiful” which came out last year has several bits of learned writings about John, about his importance in the history of photography and how history had forgotten him (there is also a RRB Photobooks exclusive and inexpensive special of this with a signed and numbered small silverprint). History or rather the writing of history can be like this sometime. There are all sorts of reasons why this happens or not and I am sure a lot more could be written about this and about John too of course (see the blog post by Francis Hodgson from which the opening quote comes which is rather good) but in the end I felt that the Portrait book we are publishing later this year does not really need an introduction or explanation at all, those portraits are there to be looked at and appreciated. Like Peter Mitchell, John’s world was just outside his front-door, he did not need to travel to find exciting narratives or projects but intentionally found enough stuff out there in Stourbridge -  you just have to look.

John Myers - Green Lane, Lye, 1973


RRB will publish John Myers - The Portraits in April 2018