Robert Rhead - from tree surgeon to photographer
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 November 2014
Chester photographer Robert Rhead spent half his life as a tree surgeon, before falling into a career where his talent shines brightly
If you have visited Chester lately, you may already have looked into the lens of photographer Robert Rhead.
Since the start of September, he has been stopping people in the street of his home city and asking to take their portrait for his 100 Strangers project.
‘Mostly people take it very well,’ he says. ‘Only about five per cent decline. It’s been a positive experience.’
So positive, indeed, that Robert will be heading for Paris next year to repeat the exercise. Let’s see if the Parisians are as amenable to an impromptu photo session. Before that, though, Robert is learning French at Chester University, which will be his third language. He is already fluent in German, and thereby hangs a tale.
Brought up in Endon, Staffordshire, Robert, aged 43, began to study art and design but hankered for more excitement, even danger, in his life, and switched to a course on tree surgery.
‘I was a tree surgeon in England for 11 years and then decided to go to Germany because it was a well-known fact that English tree surgeons could earn good money,’ he says. ‘Germans were not allowed to do it; health and safety said they couldn’t climb trees with a chainsaw. It was a niche market for us.’
Robert intended to spend just a few months there, but ended up staying for several years in the Rhine Valley, returning to the UK eventually in 2010. Unlike many people in his profession, Robert never once fell out a tree and never once nicked himself with his own chainsaw. But the job did still take a certain physical toll.
‘Tree surgery is a young man’s job, and I had a few knee problems which caused me to hang up my climbing harness,’ says Robert. ‘It was a logical progression to go into what I’d been doing as a hobby for so many years, photography.
‘I needed a place to start a new life, and it was a case of opening a map and looking at places I’d like to live in.’
Chester won that debate, and Robert now lives in the heart of the city, where his business includes wedding photography, commercial work and photographic tuition. He loves Chester, obviously, and also loves to photograph the coast of Anglesey...though he’s not letting on exactly where, for fear we all take his recommendation!
The wintry shots Robert has shared with us here come from a trip to Iceland and from another of his projects, Chester After Dark.
‘I went to Iceland intending to photograph the Northern Lights,’ he says. ‘I was there for four days: on the first two days it was completely cloudy and on the second two days there were no Northern Lights. But I drove around doing landscape photographs, so it was a great experience.’
Why photograph Chester after dark?
‘Photography at night offers a perspective most people tend not to see, and that’s something I try to achieve as a photographer.’
To find out more about Robert Rhead’s work go to www.robertrheadphotography.co.uk