Life behind the lens of a North East photographer

Helen Gildersleeve speaks to award winning North East photographer Chris Booth to find out about his life behind the camera and his passion for the region.

Flying Scotsman and Royal Border Bridge, Berwick upon Tweed. Photo: Chris Booth
Flying Scotsman and Royal Border Bridge, Berwick upon Tweed. Photo: Chris Booth

Esteemed American photographer, Ansel Adams once famously said: “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” In our fast paced and image focused world, good photography has become more potent than ever, with the average human seeing up to 4,000 images daily.

Darlington based Chris Booth has an extensive background in press photography and has worked for some of the North’s leading newspapers and magazines. With more than 12 years’ experience at The Northern Echo, Darlington & Stockton Times and Living magazine, his lens has captured everyone from pop stars to politicians, royalty to rogues and lots of beaming brides.

Photographer Chris Booth
Photographer Chris Booth

How did you get into photography?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a serious profession while growing up and it wasn’t until I was about 24 that I thought about being a photographer. I had always enjoyed taking pictures as a youth, and enjoyed having a go on my dad’s Canon T70 when given the chance. He was quite a keen amateur as was his father before him. In addition, I always had a keen interest in travel and politics and made usage of the fact that my sister worked on a newspaper to get my first bit of work experience as a press photographer on the Keighley News in West Yorkshire near to where I grew up. From there I successfully applied to get on the NCTJ photography course at Norton College in Sheffield from where I gained my first staff photographer position on the Scarborough Evening News.

Actress at Kynren, Bishop Auckland. Photo: Chris Booth
Actress at Kynren, Bishop Auckland. Photo: Chris Booth

What images are you most proud of?

This is a hard question to answer as I cover a wide array of subject matter and find it hard to compare or rank one against the other. I feel extremely fortunate enough to have covered the whole of the London2012 Olympics on behalf of The Northern Echo, and I believe I made the most of the 2 weeks I spent down in the capital. From this period to name but a few, I captured images of the iconic opening ceremony, Usain Bolt crossing the finish line in the 100m final and Kat Copeland becoming the first EVER woman from the North East to win a gold medal in her rowing event.

Beach bathers, Redcar. Photo: Chris Booth
Beach bathers, Redcar. Photo: Chris Booth

Where do you think is the most photogenic area of the North East?

I don’t think there is one particular area or place in the North East which is best for photos, rather there is a wealth of choice of many places. Clearly there are popular locations known to many such as Newcastle quayside, Durham Cathedral, Gunnerside in North Yorkshire, Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, much of the coastline including Robin Hood’s Bay, Staithes, Whitby, Seaham Harbour. The list goes on, however as primarily a news photographer, if I am photographing a landscape there needs to be a news element involved such as extreme weather conditions or an event going on at that location.

Do you have any tips for taking a great local photograph?

It always helps to know a location well – to know for example how the sun might fall on a landmark at different times of day and where the sun sets and rises in relation to that landmark. Patience and enthusiasm are two more important characteristics especially for landscape photography. I would also encourage creativity – looking at different angles photographically on a subject matter and possibly trying to take a picture in a way that hasn’t been done before. This isn’t easy however.

Wolsingham Show, Weardale, County Durham. Photo: Chris Booth
Wolsingham Show, Weardale, County Durham. Photo: Chris Booth

What do you think makes the North East so great an inspiration for photographers?

I think the North East has an amazing amount of subject matter from iconic buildings in urban areas to beautiful yet wild landscapes both inland and along the rugged coastline. It’s difficult not to be inspired by such a wealth of choice!

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If you’re a talented photographer, artist, crafts person, poet, musician, film maker or performer based in the North East and would like to be considered for a feature on the England’s North East website we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us here 

Brewing up a Great North East Book

Award-winning beer writer ALASTAIR GILMOUR has just published The Great North East Brewery Guide, a book that celebrates the region’s proud tradition of brewing and those who contribute to its fine reputation for great beer. Those people are what make the drinks we enjoy so special, he writes…

People talk about gardeners having “green fingers” but it’s a description that could readily be applied to brewers. Leek-growers rear their plants like their children, dahlia experts talk to their blooms, and carrots don’t perform unless their rosettes are fondled regularly.

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It’s the same with beer, it has to be treated with devotion at every stage. Brew it from the finest ingredients possible on the best equipment available with heaps of inventive muscle and brains and the results will speak for themselves. Craft brewers are fanatical about their choice of hops, the malt they order, the mashing-in regime, the conditioning, the ageing and attention to every detail. It’s what makes great beer – and here in the North East of England we have some of the most inventive, knowledgeable and skilful brewers in the nation, working on gleaming kit that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie.

Our breweries range from cramped units such as shipping containers to huge and impressive structures lined with Italian marble. The process of making beer is much the same in all of them but honesty and flamboyance come out at the other end – and that’s beer’s beauty. The region’s brewers are a dedicated lot, a set of charismatic people with individual traits that influence the beer they brew. And we don’t half brew good beer here – which is what The Great North East Brewery Guide celebrates.

Latest figures tell us that there are now more than 2,000 breweries operating in the UK, taking growth rate over the past five years to 64%. The North East has enjoyed a similar percentage rise in craft brewery start-ups, many of them by former home-brewers inspired by a public demand for adventurous flavours and the realisation that now is the time.

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We’re all reaping the benefit of better quality beer and more choice, plus the altruistic notion that we’re in our small way contributing to a fiercely independent movement and doing our bit in the growth of the local economy.

Beer can be as simple or as sophisticated as we wish it to be. Breweries produce it, but never forget, it’s people who make it and people who drink it. Cheers!

ALASTAIR GILMOUR is a freelance writer who previously worked for The Journal and The Northern Echo. His work has also featured in national and international media, such as The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, Prague Post, Brewers’ Guardian, Eastern Airways in-flight magazine, Food & Travel magazine and – once – The Church Times. He founded and edits Cheers, an award-winning pub and drinks publication (www.cheersnortheast.co.uk), as well as having contributed to several books.

The Great North East Brewery Guide is published by Offstone Publishing.

Follow Alastair on Twitter @CheersPal

The past is a wonderful place to visit but it’s not a place to permanently stay

DAVID SIMPSON reflects on finding a balance between looking back and looking forward in defining the future of North East England

The Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland
The Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland

I love history and especially northern history and I love nostalgia too. Old Photos and memories are wonderful to share and enjoy but I’m not one of those “everything was so much better in the past” types. The past is simply part of a journey; an eventful journey that brought us where we are today. It teaches us what we may achieve and features important lessons too, but that does not mean we should be limited by our past. In fact for me, the present is everything.

Some may say the “past is not important”. Now, I don’t hold with that view either. Just try going for a job interview or writing a CV without saying anything about your past. It would be pretty hard to do because to some extent your past defines you and what you can do, or at least it defines you as you are now. You will almost certainly fail if you have nothing to say about your past but you will also fail if you have no vision of your future.

The same goes for regions, cities and towns that are marketing and presenting their best attributes to the world. An ability to look back to the past with pride but build with a vision towards the future was one of the most impressive aspects of Sunderland’s recent City of Culture bid. It was one of the great reasons why, despite missing out on that title, it has been such a massive success for the city and for the region too.

That past is simply part of a never ending journey of often surprising events and opportunities. The past is merely the early chapter or chapters in an exiting book that is being continuously written. There will be wonderful twists and turns and new highlights as the story grows with each new event and opportunity.

I still love the past though, and like thousands upon thousands of people up and down the land I love to reminisce and look back, occasionally. Being from Durham I often visit a Facebook group called ‘Old Photographs and Memories of Durham’ one of many such groups that feature compelling black and white snaps of towns and cities up and down the land that are passionately followed by locals and exiles.

It does frustrate me though sometimes, when I hear people who want everything to stay the way it was, who wish to go back or who wish for things to remain unchanged forever, like Miss Havisham in her wedding gown. Now even if it was possible for everything to stay exactly the same as it always was, where would the joy be in that?

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