Hi John. Thank you for taking a little time out of your day to answer some questions for me. How did you come to find yourself a photographer?
'Long, long story. I’ve always been a creative soul, painting, drawing, singing and song writing. Back in the eighties my old man was made redundant and joined a retraining scheme to train as a CCTV controller (new tech back then). For the course, he had to buy a DSLR and a selection of lenses, he bought me one too and it became a new conduit for my creative energy. I joined a camera club at Uni and got into Black and White darkroom stuff. From then on it was very much a hobby, but then in the 90s while working as a Road Safety Officer I started producing original artwork for publicity and advertising using my photographs, a scanner and Photoshop (version 3.0 I think, that’s pre-layers!)
For the last 10 to 15 years I have been teaching photography and Photoshop part time and making up a full salary by freelancing as a commercial fashion and product photographer.'
Is your teaching in a school/college type environment or workshops and 1-1 tuition?
'Mainly photography qualifications in an adult college with some 1-1 and workshop style sessions as well.'
With the exception of one still life image, all of your work that I have seen up to now is people-centric. Was this the focus you knew you wanted from the start or did you try your hand at various things first?
'I have always been interested in people and portraits, right from day one. I experimented with self-portraits, friends at school and Uni and anyone else I could coerce. Product shots are the bread and butter these days but when I get people involved I always enjoy it more. I never engaged with landscape or buildings photography, I respect those working in those fields, but it’s just not for me.'
Was there any particular reason you didn't take to landscape photography? Something such as the super early mornings? The unpredictability of the British weather? Maniacal sheep trying to push you off a hillside?
'No real deep or traumatic reason, just not as engaging or entertaining as working with people'
You've had various projects/exhibitions based on issues such as gender, mental health, sexuality, people's perceptions etc. How and why do you select the issues that you do?
'My arty projects centre around the concept of “identity” which is a natural component of portraiture of course. I started by thinking about identity in purely physical terms. Say a dead body was found and had to be identified, they would first look at gender signifiers then so called “identifying marks” e.g. scars, tattoos etc. That drove me initially to think about scars, tattoos, gender and other facets of identity and personality: the nature of the content of my photographic projects from 2011 onwards.'
You must have seen some badass tattoos during your projects, what's the one you found the most impressive?
'Impressive in terms of coverage has to be the guy i met up in Manchester who posed for the "most tattooed" circus poster, for content is has to be a young lad from Birmingham with "Fuck it" in 6 inch high letters on his belly! The most fascinating are always the custom designs with a story and significance rather than off the shelf pastiche.'
|Model - Boykitten|
I've asked people in the past who they'd love to shoot, I'm possibly making it a bit more difficult for you by amending it a little, but... If you could shoot anyone for one of your projects, who would it be?
'That’s a tough one. If we are allowed living or dead, Elvis. If not, then David Coverdale, (Whitesnake, Deep Purple vocalist) either way it has to be a celebrity, think of the publicity!'
You've shot for a while now, assuming your PurplePort information is correct. Of all the work you've produced do you have a favourite? Or one (or a few/set) that mean something extra special to you?
'It’s always the latest one, the current one. It tends to be all consuming when it’s in full flow. Also when projects are completed they are “gone”. It’s a cathartic process I think?
I do have a soft spot for the 2013 Circus project, lots of good memories from that one. I travelled the country from the South coast to Lancs, via South Wales and Cambridge, met some fab characters and made some good friends along the way.'
Without maybe giving too much away, unless you want to give me an exclusive, have you got any new projects in the works?
'I have recently got back into the singing, song-writing and performing so I am working along more musical themes at the moment. Guitars fascinate me, I have a collection of about 20. A female shape but an obvious phallic connection, very sexual, intimate objects. Watch out for guitar themed erotica next!'
Quite possibly the tossiest worded question I have ever asked... What's your sound? Rock? Country? Synth-pop? Thrash metal? God, it's not a Nickelback tribute act is it? (I assume people still ridicule them!)
'We are playing original music, an 80s vibe I guess, rocky, poppy. Not as heavy as I would like but still great fun!'
As well as your projects you also shoot commercial work. Have you had to shoot anything particularly peculiar for a client? Or something that you've thought to yourself "how on earth am I going to make a compelling image with that"?
'All the time. With the product photography, it really could be anything that turns up. I have had; body bags (seriously, the things they put dead bodies in), cat scratchers, bacon, chocolate, age-delay pet food, snail-slime face cream, “massagers”, toilet roll, a do-it-yourself will kit…. the list is endless and nothing if not eclectic.
Love the challenge!
Best part is, more often than not I get to keep the samples sent, so pretty much my whole wardrobe, furniture and fittings at home are freebies. Even the body bag got put to good use (don’t ask!)'
|Model - Annie Moya|
Even a "normal" person seeing the words "don't ask" would have to ask. So, as a person who is a few paces away from normal, and is nosey, what's it used for? Obviously disposal of someone will put a huge downer on the interview, so if you've murdered someone, lie to me...
'I did not murder someone, honest guv.'
I believe you're a Northerner but you now live down south. Is there anything you miss from back up t'north?
'God no. A few old chums perhaps, but certainly not the weather…'
If people want to check out more of your work, or possibly end up in one of your exhibitions, where should they go?
'Arty website is www.johnrae.co.uk I post up information about exhibitions there. My commercial work is featured at www.csace.co.uk but to be honest I use Flickr mainly, as I can quickly make bespoke albums for pitches.'
No pressure but some of your references do say how funny you are, so...what's your favourite joke?
'Anything with a pun, I’m a sucker for puns, saucier the better. I often quote the late, great Kenneth Williams, I think he was on Parky when he said “If I see a bit of innuendo in a script, I whip it out straight away”'
|Model - Thomas Peters|
I'd like to thank John again for taking the time to answer a few questions for me, be sure to check out all the links above for more of his work, as well as the links attached to the images for the other creatives involved in creating them.