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  • From Paul Cartwright

    My friend John Nesbitt, who has died aged 77, was one of a small group who designed and built large format cameras. These cameras slowed down the photographic process and enabled photographers to reconsider and deepen their own practice; in John’s case his enduring engagement with and understanding of the Welsh landscape so clearly evident in ‘Mutatis Mutandis’ shown at the Ffotogallery, Cardiff in 1987. In this exhibition John used multiple exposures on 10 x8 inch negatives to explore the ways natural landscape changes with the effects of light, atmosphere, and different weathers. The resulting images retain a profoundly haunting quality.

    John was born in 1946 in Carlisle, to Margaret (nee Chadwick) and Emmanuel, known as ‘Manny’. A couple of years later the family moved to Sunderland, where his father worked as a wages clerk.  John attended Southmoor Technical School, Sunderland, where he developed his interest in art, as well as useful skills in metalwork and woodwork. At 16 he left school and went to Sunderland Art School for a two-year pre -diploma course, followed in 1964 by the new Diploma in Art & Design at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, which is where I first met John.

    After graduating from Bath Academy of Art in 1967, John initially focused on still life and landscape painting, supported by occasional teaching and work in forestry. Following his marriage to his first wife, Jan, and the birth to their first son, Piers, the family moved to Mid-Wales in 1971, where John turned to photography using a range of camera formats. In 1983, dissatisfied with the limitations of the second-hand 5x4 MPP camera, John decided to design and make his own camera based on the classic cameras made by Gandolfi and Deardorff. Working in a disused blacksmith’s workshop attached to his home in Llanidloes, Wales, he built his prototype camera, initially using an old mahogany table-top from a skip for its body. Subsequently, John ran large format camera workshops which proved so popular that he teamed up with fellow photographer, Pete Davis, to run them on a regular basis; they also resulted in orders for around 150 handmade cameras.

    In 1985 John’s work featured in a survey of British photography ‘Image and Exploration: Some Directions in British Photography, 1980-85’ at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. A complete portfolio of his work on ‘The Old Metal Mines of Mid-Wales’ was purchased by the National Library of Wales in 1995 and in that year John exhibited another landscape portfolio, ‘Whispers’ at the Recontres Photographiques en Bretagne at Galerie Le Lieu in Lorient. In 1996 John held a retrospective of his work at Studio 13, Llanidloes and began funded work on a series of photographs about the Highland Clearances, ‘The Year of the Burnings’.

    In 1997, John and his second wife, Michelle, moved to an old farmhouse in the Vendée, France, which John refurbished together with the outbuildings. Although he continued to take photographs and exhibit his work, he no longer made cameras. It was during this last period of John’s life that he returned to his passion for Celtic music and began playing the bagpipes he had bought in an antiques shop in Bath in 1966.

    John is survived by his wife, Michelle, his two sons by his previous marriage, two grandchildren, and his elder brother and two sisters.


    John Nesbitt, born 8th June 1946, died 23rd November 2023







    John Nesbitt obituary
    Other lives: Landscape photographer who designed and made large format cameras
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