From Broad Street to Fleet Street

Derek Evans’ studio spawned a generation of photographers. Arguably, most famous among them is John Bulmer, scion of the cider family, who went on to enjoy extraordinary international success as a photographer and film maker.

We met him this week at his sumptuous 14th century home in Monnington-on-Wye to talk about his early mentor. In his study he is surrounded by a life-time’s work. It could all have been so different if he had followed an engineering career as he had been expected to.

Instead, inspired by the work of Cartier Bresson – of whose work he remains a huge fan – the schoolboy Bulmer took himself off to Derek’s studio offering his services. And so it was a stellar career in photography began.

“I was probably about 16 when I first went in. I knew by then that I wanted to take pictures and Derek was the only photographer in Hereford at the time I wanted to work for. As a ‘stringer’, he was working with news agencies across the country.

“I remember him as a huge character and I liked him very much. He was also a very heavy smoker, and when I first walked into his studio on that first occasion, the air was thick with smoke. Ash would go everywhere.”

Derek either showed enormous trust or confidence in the young John’s ability, because it wasn’t too long before he left the schoolboy completely in charge of the studio while he was out chasing another story.

“I was alone in the studio when the telephone rang. It was the News of the World.

”They were on the scent for a local vicar who was living with his housekeeper, allegedly. They wanted a picture of him so I grabbed my camera, jumped in the car, and hid in bushes until I got it.

“It was an exciting start.”

And the beginning of an international career.

After studying Engineering at Cambridge, where he took photographs for the university magazine, ‘Varsity’, he moved to London and pursued a career as a photographer.

He was offered a job as a staff photographer on the ‘Daily Express’, and further supplemented this income by shooting stories for ‘Town’ magazine, a publication that prided itself on the quality of its photography.

He developed a reputation for photographing picture essays about deprived communities in Britain, particularly in the North of England becoming equal in stature to his friend and competitor, the legendary Don McCullin.

In 1962, ‘The Sunday Times’ published its first colour supplement, and one of Bulmer’s photographs featured on its cover. This led to a permanent contract in which Bulmer was commissioned to shoot sixty pages a year. Over the next decade, he travelled to over one hundred countries on assignment for ‘The Sunday Times’.

During the 1970s, Bulmer moved into documentary filmmaking, with a particular focus on the world’s more remote tribes. These were shown on the BBC, the National Geographic Channel and the Discovery Channel.

Today, John is mostly retired from photography, but does have the occasional foray, including that of the christening of his grandchildren. A quick glimpse of the images and it’s clear, the old magic is still there.