Sefton Samuels - A life on film

PUBLISHED: 16:25 18 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:25 20 February 2013

Sefton Samuels. Picture by Dr Roy Sharma

Sefton Samuels. Picture by Dr Roy Sharma

Sefton Samuels has spent four decades photographing hundreds of famous faces and major events. Emma Mayoh reports

Sefton Samuels may have retired several years ago but he has never been busier. The 80-year-old photographers career has spanned more than four decades and he has captured more famous faces that youll find in Madame Tussauds.

Everyone from Winston Churchill, Cyril Smith and Sir Bernard Lovell to Nick Faldo, Ricky Hatton and David Dimbleby have been snapped by Manchester-born Sefton. But it is only in the past few years, according to him, that things have really taken off.

Sefton, who now lives in Bowden, said: Im busier than Ive ever been. Its absolutely crazy at the moment and this is the time that I should be slowing down.

But to have people interested in my work still is just incredible. I just cant believe that people are still interested after all these years.

Seftons images have been exhibited in prestigious galleries and venues including the Barbican Centre and Proud Gallery. He has pictures in a collection of 70 images at the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum have his work in the National Collection of Art Photography, his image of George Best was used on the cover of Paul Wellers album Stanley Road.

He was also the winner of an international photographic competition which attracted entries from more than 17,000 photographers across 164 countries.

But one of the high points for Samuel was getting the rare opportunity to photograph LS Lowry at his home in Mottram. His portraits are said to be the artists favourites and they were later shown at The Royal Academy. He got to spend quite a lot of time with Lowry, a period of his life he remembers fondly.

I repeatedly pursued Lowry, sending him letters going to his house, even trying to catch up with him at a hotel he used to stay at in the North East. When I arrived, the owner said I had just missed him, said Sefton. But my patience paid off. One day I went to his house and he was there.

The solitary figure of this well-known recluse appeared in the doorway, stooping towards me. He told me to come back the following Tuesday and incredibly he was in. When I showed him photos I had done he was really pleased. He kept asking me how much he owed me. I just said it was my privilege to have photographed him.

Im sure if I could have put something towards one of the little pencil sketches on his table he would have told me to pick one out for free. It was, perhaps, one of the biggest art-collecting mistakes of my life! He did autograph two of my big prints though and drew one of his famous dogs alongside. This remains one of my most cherished belongings.

The anecdotes and stories Sefton can recall are numerous. From the time he sneaked into a press conference where he said he caused a riot trying to photograph the fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, to capturing the performances of numerous musicians, including members of the Halle Orchestra and English conductor and cellist Sir John Barbirolli.

But his route into photography was far from conventional. He used to work in textile mills in Yorkshire and played drums with a jazz band that toured the region, including with musician Karl Denver. But he always had a camera in his hand and, gradually, he built up his portfolio working as a freelance for national newspapers as well as the BBC and what was Granada Television. He also ran his own photo library until the 1990s.

In July, a special commemorative book featuring 250 of Seftons photographs will be released. It will feature some of his gritty photojournalism images including several taken in Manchester.

Some of his Lowry collection from the 60s and 70s is also being exhibited at Sams Chop House in the city, where the artist was a regular. Some of the images were also used to create the new statue of Lowry, created by sculptor Pete Hodgkinson, which is on permanent display at the venue.
Another sculptor Sam Tonkiss also used Seftons images as inspiration for a bronze of Lowry that was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery.

Sefton said: I am so lucky to have done what I have done and Im really excited about everything. The book will be the first one where it is just all my images, which isnt bad going for someone whos retired.
Ive had a lot of fun taking all of these images and I love that people get enjoyment out of them. I still cant quite get over it though.

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