Author Archives: PftNE

The Willdora,

Built in 1901 out of Baltic Larch in Scotland, the motor fishing vessel Willdora, answered the call to go to the shores of Dunkirk in 1940 to help rescue the trapped survivors of the British Expeditionary Force.  As time passes fewer and fewer of these vessels survive, the Willdora being an example.  Rescued from total disintegration, she is now receiving the care and attention that such a brave and exceptional lady should, at the hands of a dedicated group of men and women, the Sunderland Maritime Heritage Trust.

The Willdora rescued 200 men from the beach and carried them back to larger vessels waiting off-shore.  Returning for more troops she ran aground and remained there, an enforced sojourn in France for the remainder of the war.

Working with great care and integrity, the Trust is keen to reuse as much of the original material as possible.  The first picture shows details of the hull of the boat.  Using thin laths of larch to fill the gaps between the planks the hope is to make the Willdora ready to participate in the 2018 Tall Ships visit to Sunderland.

The members of SMH are a welcoming group of people.  They are keeping many of the old shipyard skills alive and willingly share these skills with younger apprentices.  Tony Griffiths, Dr John Clarke and I visited the site twice.  The second image shows Tony talking with Martin Dent, the Trust’s treasurer.  The third, fourth and fifth images are from Tony and show the other two members of the troika seeking out the best places from which to photograph the boat.

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Essays

Forthcoming venues

Now that the Witham Exhibition has finished, where do we go next?

After negotiations with the powers that be at various sites we have bookings at the following venues:

We have been offered the Pottery Room at Sunderland’s Museum and Winter Garden.  This is a magnificent space complete with cabinets full of Sunderland Lustre pottery.  Another big plus here is that we should be exhibiting at the same time as the prestigious Taylor-Wessing Portrait Exhibition is on display at the same venue.

See the photographs below.

To add to our good fortune, we have arranged for the exhibition to be on view at the Ushaw College; once a seminary for Catholic Priests, this magnificent Pugin building is now part of Durham University.  The potential here is enormous and the venue is in the process of being made suitable for exhibitions.


For July and into August we will be exhibiting at Washington Arts Centre.  This has a purpose-built space with superb lighting and crisp, white walls.  There are also pictures attached below.


There are other venues we are pursuing and they will be detailed on the website as and when appropriate.

Posted in Web Site Updates

Out on the Road

Tony Griffiths and Joanne Clarke travelled north, to Hexham, to photograph the acoustic guitar and mandolin maker, Stefan Sobell.  Stefan is one of those magicians who produce musical instruments of superb quality whilst making it look easy, which it certainly isn’t.  There are samples of photographs from that shoot below.

Dr John Clarke was amongst the group who went to photograph Marv at Muddy Fingers potters.  There, Marv makes unique items for high-end restaurants and Michelin-Starred chefs.

Dr John Clarke at Marv the potters

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Posted in Behind the Scenes, News

Up Running

For the past month, we have been exhibiting some of our portrait panels at the Witham Gallery in Barnard Castle.  Fortunate indeed to have been given the chance to open at this modern gallery, recently refurbished with many facilities that make viewing any exhibition a pleasure.  This is the first of our touring exhibition, and from the reception we have had, it would seem to have been a great success.  There are several photographs below showing the exhibition and some of the visitors.

Here is how we were introduced at the Witham Gallery:

“Craftspeople of the North East is an uplifting and optimistic welcome to 2017. This exhibition of contemporary photography features portraits of eminent craftspeople from the North East of England, and has been put together by a group photographers from the Durham region who have made it their mission to photograph local people who have made an impact, in whatever way, upon life in the North East. In the case of this exhibition the photographers have focused their lenses on the talents of regional craftspeople.”

There are other venues where we will be exhibiting: in March we will be at Seaham Town Hall.  Washington Arts Centre has committed to exhibit our full collection throughout July and into the first week in August.

For future venues we are meeting representatives of Durham University at their Ushaw College site soon and then members of Sunderland’s Museum and Winter Garden for a chance to display there.  There are other venues in our sights so, please consult the website for further venues.

website the Lunn family panel at Witham Website the Witham Website Tony Griffiths and Heather Griffiths at Witham website visitors to the Witham #2 website visitors to the Witham

Posted in News

The year of the Crafts People

It seems hardly any time since we packed away the 100 Portraits of those significant people in the region and now we are half way through a project to record craftspeople in the North East. Not only is the photography going well but we already have venues interested in exhibiting our new photographs.
We started slowly with a couple of crafts men: James Mason laying a hedge and Joe McElwee working at his wood turning. With the visit to Stephen Lunn and his daughter Ashlee at their 300 year old smithy we had a sense of where the project might go and what we needed to photograph, so that we could best convey the sense of each craft. This would be a departure for us as we would need to produce a portrait but also capture the work practices and the end products of each crafts person.
After those tentative early days we photographed a wide range of activities including the restorative work of Harrison and Harrison (the Durham Company that rebuilds and restores organs). Whilst there, our two photographers were fortunate to witness the finishing of the massive pipe system that lies at the heart of the famous King’s College Cambridge organ.
Amongst other crafts we discovered a Corn Dolly weaver; a craft more readily associated with East Anglia. Travelling further afield we photographed wood carvers and bespoke furniture makers even a small company in Northumberland that hand makes the finest artist pastels. We were, and still are, welcomed everywhere we went. The two photographers who visited Hardy’s of Alnwick (makers of top fishing equipment) spent several hours being shown every aspect of the building of fishing reels and bamboo fly rods.
As with our portraits project, we have been able to witness the work of fine crafts people, producing the most amazing items. As with our previous Portraits Project we have tried to use only natural light which, being confined to the crafts person’s work place has often meant low light and difficult shooting angles. Each challenge has only pushed our photographers to produce better work.

Posted in News

Portraits from the North East still up and running

After a successful month at the Blyth Arts and Leisure Centre and then a further month at Sunderland’s Museum, Arts and Winter Garden we have arrived at our fifth venue.  On Friday, 15th January last Brian Blake and I, with the able assistance of Kate from the Museum and George (her boss), assembled the Portraits from the North East’s exhibition of 100 notable people in the entrance hall of THE Bowes Museum, in Barnard Castle.  It should be there until Sunday 31st January.  Not that this is the final venue, far from it!  We have a promise of Ushaw College (Durham University) for later in the year and are still hoping for a venue in Gateshead.

Bowes Museum is a magnificent building and every element, from the façade to the monumental staircase to the various displays, marks it out as one of the great museums of the country and one of the many jewels in the crown of the North East, (

Our exhibition is to the left as you enter the building.  To gauge what is looks like and how it arranged please see the illustrations below.

For all those concerned with the project, no matter how you were involved, a big “thumbs-up” from the man who helped put together the highly successful YSL exhibition and many others.   Oh, by the way, we did float the idea that we could well have other exhibitions of a similar high quality in the not too distant future and they, too, might need a venue.  That suggestion was positively received.

As for those exhibitions; we have the core of the Veterans’ of World War Two ready, having been displayed at St. Nicholas’ Cathedral in Newcastle.  We are, however, continuing to photograph veterans to provide a more definitive collection.

Throughout 2016 we will be recording the activities of various crafts people who live and work in the North East.  Already, we have nearly two dozen volunteers.  More of these two projects in the weeks and months to come.

Posted in News

Latest news about our Veterans Project

So far the project to photograph World War Two veterans is going well.  Having a deadline by which to have everything ready does add a sense of urgency.  As I write this we have two months to get everything processed and printed.

How have we done up to now?  More than a dozen veterans have kindly allowed us to photograph them and listen to their stories.  The results are pure gold!  We have stories of humour and comradeship, of near death experiences and pride.

Every visit has results in splendid portraits, an hour or so of recordings and a group of people happy that they have been involved.  Amongst those that have sat for us are veterans of D-Day, men who sailed with the Arctic Convoys to Russia, a Durham Light Infantryman who was captured whilst trying to reach Dunkirk in 1940 and spent the war as a POW, mostly in Poland, and a WRNS who worked on the famous bombe at Bletchley Park.

This project is intended to be as inclusive as possible.  Included in this collection will be a couple of Bevin Boys; those who were conscripted into the coal mines.  It is still a matter of some bitterness for at least one of them that they were given no choice and were not allowed to join one of the services.  The process of selection was simple: one of Ernie Bevin’s secretaries picked a number at random from a hat.  That single number determined if you were to go down the mines or not; if it happened to be the last number on one’s call-up papers.  The Bevin Boy scheme lasted 1943 to 1948 and amongst those so conscripted were the footballer Nat Lofthouse, the actor, Mencap president Brian Rix and the comedian Eric Morecambe.

Knowing that there are others out there who served and yet we have no knowledge of we have enlisted the good offices of Sam Wonfor at the Journal to help spread the word.

To all those who given of their time willingly, a great big THANK YOU!

Posted in Uncategorized

North East MPs Part One …

John Cogan ARPS

We have a full set of portraits of Sunderland and Newcastle Members of Parliament; all six of them.  After so much negative press concerning salaries and expenses claims for this, that and the other; it has been refreshing to meet, and photograph, MPs who are generous with their time and seem genuinely committed to doing a good job, to making a difference.

 Of the six Members only one is male.  Of the six shoots the locations were sometimes “interesting”… Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central) was photographed outside Newcastle Civic Centre, under the barrel vaulting.  Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle South) sat in the garden of Victory House and stood amongst the tangle of rigging of a pirate ship in a children’s play park.

 With the exception of Nick Brown (born in Kent) the others are all very local, born and bred within sight of their constituency offices.  Perhaps one should not be surprised that, considering their urban constituencies, they are all members of the Labour Party.  Nor should we be surprised that their obvious talents have been rewarded with shadow ministerial posts.

Pictured, clockwise from top left: Sharon Hodgson, Bridget Phillipson, Catherine McKinnel, Nick Brown, Julie Elliott, Chi Onwurah

 Sharon Hodgson MP. jc Bridget Phillipson MP. jc Catherine McKinnell MP. jc

Chi Onwurah MP. jc Julie Elliott MP. tg Nick Brown MP. jc

Posted in Behind the Scenes

“Is that who I think it is …?”

Kat Copeland

by John Cogan ARPS

“Is that who I think it is?”  John Clarke listens whilst the young Paratrooper quizzes him about the young blond who holds the attention of five photographers.  All he can do is affirm that this slip of a lass, this slight, svelte young woman with the bright blue eyes and long tresses is, indeed, Katherine Sarah Copeland MBE, known universally as Kat… the winner of the Women’s Lightweight Double Sculls at the 2012 London Olympics.  Her partner then was Sophie Hosking.  Who could forget Kat’s response when told they’d won?  That was one of the highlights of the games.

On a dull day in September we stood on the banks of the Tees, by the Tees Rowing Club and enjoyed her company… Gold medal she might have but her youth and simple joy of being alive, the quizzical expressions that crossed her face and her willingness to stand, lean, run or whatever when asked made the morning.

Was she planning to go to Rio in 2016?  She didn’t know… it depended on selecting the best at the time and there was a lot of competition.  The Team GB success in 2012 had started an avalanche… Dr John and I had seen this phenomenon the previous Sunday when photographing Jessica Eddie, the Durham girl who has represented Team GB in the Women’s Eights (2014 European Championships – Silver, and member of the record-breaking women’s crew that won this year’s Head of the River) and who was mobbed by the youthful beginners at the Durham Amateur Rowing Club.

Kat  Copeland 5 by John Cogan Jess Eddie 1 by John Cogan

Eventually, Kat’s gold medal came out of the back pack and was held for prying lenses.  A profound silence fell amongst as the medal was passed from hand to hand.  Back to Kat and we can see: hands surprisingly only a little calloused by hours of rowing.

Polite, warm and full of such generosity… like so many of those we have met during the course of this project… she has to fly to another meeting.  A water-sprite in faded blue jeans disappearing into the distance, leaving five photographers whose lives had been touched by her kindness.

A complete list of Portraits from the North East subjects can be found in The Story so Far on the About  page of this website

Posted in Essays

Another North East Portrait Blog…

By John Cogan ARPS

The team of photographers who make up the Portraits from the North East Collective is a varied one.  We have a smattering of street photographers who favour the instinctive approach and a similar number of more formal photographers.  Fortunately, the mix works well.  Going on any shoot together is always a learning process.

Julie is our landscape photographer; her ability to assess a static scene and wait for the light she wants doesn’t quite fit in with our working methods where we may have only 15 minutes to capture the essence of our sitter.  Therefore, when she went on her first outing to The Alnwick Garden to photograph Her Grace, the Duchess of Northumberland, there was a degree of trepidation.  Ah, yes!  Nothing quite like being thrown in at the deep end.  But, Julie is not unique in this.  Faced with meeting a stranger in their “territory” and having to photograph them is daunting for us all.

Our usual method of working is for one of the team to engage the subject in conversation while the others gently and discretely photograph the distracted subject whilst managing to keep the Project’s interlocutor out of the frame.

Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland and John Cogan by Tony Griffiths

Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland and John Cogan by Tony Griffiths

Her Grace is one of these people who put you immediately at your ease.  She has the looks of a film star, the sangfroid of Queen Elizabeth and the sparkle of the best Champagne.  I was the talker that day and I never took one photograph!  Like a rabbit in the headlights, I was mesmerised.  Fortunately, the photographs taken of our conversation show what a star Her Grace is… she actually looks interested in what I’m saying!  Yes, well, Oscars all round!

Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland by Tony Griffiths

Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland by Tony Griffiths

No matter who the subject is there are always points of contact.  In this case Julie and Her Grace, the Duchess, talked dogs and children.  When we explained our aim: to photograph people of significance in the North East… whether from direct input or example… and to publish the skill and talent we have in the region, she not only agreed with us but offered to host the exhibition.  Hence, our opening date of 5th May at The Alnwick Garden.

And Julie?  She’s very critical of her work, and that is good.  Portrait photography was a break with her traditional practices and way out of her comfort zone, but that’s another aspect of the Project.  There are others who feel the same way:  for Joanne working with the CEO of Caterpillar Trucks UK was a challenge.  Joanne is an experienced and very empathetic portrait photographer but having to produce work that would fit in with the practices of other photographers was a new experience.

No two sessions are ever the same.  The recent shoot with Bishop Paul of Durham took place in the Chapel at Auckland Castle, a venue full of light and white walls… a photographer’s gift.  Not so when it came to Rev Glyn Evans, the City Chaplin for Newcastle.  Photographed in the body of St Andrew’s Church the light from side windows allowed the grey day to creep in.

Bishop Paul by John Clarke ARPS

Bishop Paul by John Clarke ARPS

Rev Glyn Evans by John Cogan ARPS

Rev Glyn Evans by John Cogan ARPS

The past months have been a classroom for all of us.  And it is to the credit of all those involved that any and all assignments have been approached with a sense of professionalism and with skills of the highest calibre.  It is the commitment and photographic sense of my fellow Project members that have ensured the growing collection and the high quality of the portraits.

John Cogan

Posted in Essays

Visiting the Lord Barnard

The Lord Barnard by Julie Ferry

The Lord Barnard by Julie Ferry

By John Cogan ARPS

We were told this was a portrait session too far.  Sorry, but he won’t agree!  Still, the request reached The Lord Barnard and we waited.

In the intervening days we continued to contact others and went on photo shoots: Roberta Blackman Woods, the MP for Durham City was photographed, as was the CEO and Creative Director of Newcastle’s Dance City… Anthony Baker.  Then we heard that The Lord Barnard had agreed.  He would see us and be photographed.

That week, the first full one in August, was a busy one for the Project: on Wednesday we were sitting on the seafront at Roker photographing BBC’s Jeff Brown.  An amiable chat with a background of the Cat and Dog Steps and the redolent smell of crispy bacon butties.

Early morning on Thursday saw three of us sitting once more in the sun, drinking coffee and talking to the High Sheriff of Northumberland, John Carr-Ellison.  The garden is sublime and little wonder his daughter uses it as a venue for her Vogue fashion shoots.  Bees buzz and we talk of his red squirrels and their intelligent feeding habits and the fact that he has now stopped being the Latvian Consul.  It is a heady mix of good company and fine surroundings.  Eventually, we have to leave, but he has kindly lent us a book… a 1905 who-is-who of Northumberland.  Though there are elements of continuity in the families represented (his own included) in this book (some of those we have already photographed) not one female is represented.

The most striking is on the first page: the Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland is His Grace the Duke of Northumberland, a stern looking, semi-profile shot of His Grace complete with wonderful side-burns.  Our portrait session with the current Lord Lieutenant was very informal and has The Alnwick Garden as a background… and the Lord Lieutenant is Her Grace, the Duchess.

Friday, early morning, and we arrive at Raby Castle.  Access via the portcullis, following the sit-upon gravel-raker as it makes the already pristine pathway even more “formal”, we are taken into the private heart of the Castle, up stairs and along a wonderfully illuminated corridor to a door at the end.  There, in a comfortable room with a spectacular view over the deer paddock, is The Lord Barnard.  Though ninety years old he greets us warmly, obliges us by sitting where asked and turning this way and that.

Standing back and observing the shoot three factors leap out at me: Lord Barnard’s eyes are very alive; they miss nothing.  I notice his hands: long, fine and still.  They hold a stick, his favourite it transpires.  A hound’s head has been carved into the natural curve of the handle.  It has the patina of age and from much handling.  Both man and hound’s head become powerful elements in the photographs as both Lord Barnard and photographers settle into the shoot.

Relaxed in a comfortable linen jacket, The Lord Barnard is the epitome of casual sophistication.  Man and jacket are a partnership.  Allied to the hound-head stick, the whole is a personification of the man and the context.  The room and the man, and the very feel of things from the stack of magazines to the family portraits and the flowers on the round, Georgian table have the feel of a world apart, a well-loved, well-lived life.  This is the man as he is.  Vanity has little part in his life.

An easy chair is placed next to his laptop. In one corner are a couple of CCTV monitors.  Nothing is allowed to escape his interest…

We retire after a short while… rather more than our allotted time.  The images we have are good.  In fact, several have been submitted to the National Portrait Gallery for consideration by their September Assessment Panel.  Once more, the kindness and generous spirit of North Eastern people have gifted us with photographic gems.

John Cogan

Posted in Essays

Launch of our Website

from John Cogan ARPSThe Portraits from the North East website goes live! Thanks to Darren Pratt and the Team we can now share this exciting photography project with you and the wide world.

 The website covers all aspects of the Project from who we are to what we’re doing and how we do it.   Our HOME page has all the various metaphorical doors that lead to these sites within the site.  ABOUT describes our mission and there is a link to “The Story So Far” which shows an illustrated list of those already “in the can” for the exhibition.

 Welcome to the BLOG.  This part of the site is our way of keeping you up to date with what we are doing and how the Project is developing.  Hopefully, we will give you a chance to inspect the minutiae of how we work and who we work with.

 Go to our TEAM page to get to know we are.

Behind the scenes

 Go to GALLERIES for behind the scenes pictures and just some of the portraits


Behind the scenes 2

 Go to CONTACT to make enquiries and give feedback. We would love to hear from you.

 We hope you enjoy the website and follow our activities with understanding and enthusiasm… Thank you!

Posted in Web Site Updates