Photographer Charlie Phillips tells Morpeth pupils of his colourful past in black-and-white

Charlie Phillips and his original Kodak Brownie camera

Charlie Phillips and his original Kodak Brownie camera - Credit: Morpeth

Acclaimed Photographer Charlie Phillips took centre stage at Bethnal Green’s Morpeth Secondary during an exhibition of his work in the Portman Gallery, the school’s pop up art venue.

Charlie Phillips and his original Kodak Brownie camera

Charlie Phillips and his original Kodak Brownie camera - Credit: Morpeth

He told pupils about his colourful past and how he became a photographer, known for his urban street photos that chronicle life in London.

“I’m self taught and part of the old school, long before digital cameras came along,” he said.

“I bought a book from Boot’s on how to take pictures and learnt from my mistakes.”

Phillips was given a Kodak Brownie by an American serviceman when he was 11 and started snapping friends and neighbours, mostly in the Caribbean community, using black-and-white film.

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He developed the pictures using chemicals in the bath at home, late at night, when his parents had gone to bed.

He snapped slum housing, children on the street, churchgoers, traders, funerals, and people just going about their everyday life.

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The young Charlie also followed the celebrity trail and took pictures of stars such as Omar Sharif, Mohammed Ali, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.

His work eventually found its way into the prestige glossies like Stern, Harper’s Bazaar, Life and Vogue. Some of his more iconic shots have even been acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Pupils asked Phillips his views on colour photography versus black-and-white.

“I personally think colour is sometimes overdone, it’s too perfect,” he told them. “I bought a digital colour print of Medusa and it looked better than the original because of the use of colour.”

On the ‘selfie’ phenomena, he said: “Photography has become accepted as an art form—but technology makes it easy for anyone to take photographs of themselves. So we have to see how long the trend lasts, but I’m not convinced it’s an art form as yet.”

He gave advice to the pupils studying A-Level and GCSE photography that if they wanted to take it beyond exams, they should “be more creative and more artistic”.

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