How We Met

By Greenstreet, Interviews Rosanna | The Independent (London, England), February 4, 1996 | Go to article overview
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How We Met


Greenstreet, Interviews Rosanna, The Independent (London, England)


SIR JOCELYN STEVENS: I bought Queen magazine on 14 February 1957 - my 25th birthday - and not long after, John wandered into the office, suggesting that he became our first staff photographer. I said that we didn't want a staff photographer: we couldn't afford one. John had just finished his photography course at Guildford School of Art and was very persuasive - within an hour, he'd signed himself up.

John was very clever and full of ideas and, unusually, able to carry them out. There was no assignment from which he didn't return with a wonderful set of pictures. Shortly after he joined Queen, John said that he'd met Henry Moore. I said, "Go and start taking pictures of him."

Henry was a shy, private man but John patiently got over that and became his young companion. Henry loved John and the feeling was mutual - they were like father and son. Henry's wife Irina also loved John and so he became part of the family - spending long periods at their house near Much Hadham in Hertfordshire and going with them to Carrara in Italy to choose Henry's marble. Someone taking photographs all the time can make the subject feel unsettled, but there is no feeling of intrusion in John's photographs of Henry - that's what makes them unique.

The pictures resulted in the definitive book on Henry Moore, and John asked if I'd like to ghost the words. It was one of the most interesting experiences of my life, and cemented my friendship with John. One night every week, I stayed with John - who lived near Henry - and spent the following day talking to Henry about his philosophy. During the year we spent doing the book, Henry's wife Irina broke her hip. For a long time, she was confined to bed in the room above where the three of us sat and talked and argued and explored the mystery of Henry's genius. When we started gossiping, she'd thump on her floor with a broom and shout, "Get on with your work!"

After I sold Queen in 1968, John stayed on for a few years and then went to the Royal College of Art, having persuaded the Rector Robin Darwin that they needed a photographic course. He literally built the photographic department himself. He was holed up in tiny rooms while arguments about where the department should be continued for months, so he found himself a place in the much scattered buildings of the College, and with a huge hammer smashed down the walls himself to make space for the department. People went to Darwin and said, "The new Professor of Photography is pulling down walls," but he was allowed to get away with it because the purpose was so admirable.

John and I kept in touch, and then in 1984, after the College had got itself into a muddle, the treasurer George Howard asked me to interview for the job of Rector. I wouldn't have accepted the job if John hadn't been there. For two years, John had been Professor of Photography and had held the College together as Acting Rector. He was able to tell me what the problems were, which meant I could get a running start at them.

We resumed the working relationship that we had at Queen, but in totally different roles. We had been editor and photographer; we were now Rector and Pro-Rector. It was a good working relationship. We share an impatience with bureaucracy; we hate hypocrisy and suffer fools not at all. To run the College, the Rector has to get the backing of the Senate for new academic policies. John and I used to hone our policies before these Senate meetings, where 44 academics would sit for hours, and won virtually every issue by a mixture of shouting, smiling and literally exhausting the enemy. We defended each other's backs instinctively; when you know somebody that well you can talk in monosyllables and don't have to finish your sentences. If you accept that the Royal College came out of the crisis fairly fast, then it was due to the partnership of two great friends.

John's lifestyle is rather grand now.

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