“You’d think Mike Tyson would be hard work to photograph, but he’s incredibly calm compared to Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, who just comes across as unhinged.”
Jon Parker Lee’s first ten years as a professional photographer are being celebrated in an exhibition at 2022NQ gallery, providing a great opportunity to see a body of work as broad as it is engaging. Having previously worked in PR, Jon decided to branch out into photography in 2003.
“I’d been doing a City & Guild for three years previously, so photography had always been the long-term plan. Part of my role in PR had been booking photographers, and there certainly was an element of ‘I could do that’ I’d started doing some photography within my role towards the end, until redundancy gave me the final push I needed.”
What were the challenges for a jobbing photographer back then?
“I was using film cameras, one dating back as far as 1957. In fact there are two or three in this exhibition which I shot on film. As the jobbing pros were moving into digital, I was still taking film to be developed, scanning the images and then emailing to clients. My transition to digital was pretty imminent.”
Are there any subjects who really stick out, either as being surprisingly difficult or surprisingly engaging?
“I knew Michael O’Leary was a controversial character, but as soon as I got in the room with him he was pulling faces, swearing his head off, generally messing around. All a bit weird.
“Most challenging subject was Peter Mandelson, no question. Often with politicians you only get 15-20 seconds, so I had set up the lights in a hallway and taken some practice shots with a stand-in. He wandered up and stood in position, I took one frame and he wandered off, calling out ‘Thank you…’ as he walked down the hall. He did it deliberately, just to show how important he was. Awful man.’’
I often see photographs and get jealous, thinking “Bloody hell, I wish I’d taken that”. It’s a fairly unpleasant trait of mine! Are there any photographs you wish you’d taken?
“When Glasgow Rangers took over the city centre for the UEFA Cup Final in 2008, things took a turn for the worst and the police began cracking down on the misbehaving fans. I took up position in the Piccadilly Hotel car park and started shooting with a long lens as the police kettled fans down Mosley Street – at one point a police dog went for one of the fans. Another photographer decided to get in the middle of it, walking just behind the police dogs. Obviously my shots from fifty yards weren’t quite as good as the one of the dog attacking the fan that he took from three feet away – his got picked up by all the nationals. I wish I’d taken that.”
Well, having known Jon for the past decade, I can safely say that I wish I’d taken all of his photos.
By Chris Payne
Where: 2022 NQ, Manchester
When: Nov 22 to Dec 8, 2013
More info: www.manchesterphotographer.com