Writing about Images

Encounters with a photograph by Daniel Meadows

My first encounter with the photographic work of Daniel Meadows was quite a close one. I was in my final year at university in Coventry, studying biology. Still, I continued my interests in drawing, thanks to my art teacher at Greenhead Grammar School in Keighley, Yorkshire. Mr. Clarkson, who we students endearingly called Pablo, kindly allowed me to take his classes, even though I was in the science program. He taught me a great deal about perspective drawing, composition and an appreciation for the arts that fundamentally influenced my work as a photographer.

I was captivated by a photograph made by Meadows and spent many hours creating a pencil version of his image seen in an article in The Observer magazine that came with the Sunday newspaper. Earning a Token of Self Respect, written by Alan Road, was concerned with mental health. The image showed long-term psychiatric patients from Prestwich Hospital walking in the streets in Manchester as part of a “care in the community” program. They first had to learn and show good behaviours consistent with living “on the outside,” for which they were rewarded with tokens to buy food, drink, and tobacco. That was 1978. My drawing spent a while taped up on the wall and then was bundled away in a box, staying there for decades. 

Second encounter

My second encounter with Meadows was in 2020 via the excellent podcast A Photographic Life, hosted by Grant Scott. Each episode of the weekly show includes a feature with a photographer talking about What Does Photography Mean to You? A compilation of extracts from those very personal insights into the lives of photographers and their relationship with the medium is in a book with the same title published by Bluecoat Press. It’s an inspiring collection about contemporary photography and a required text for students in my Writing about Images course at Mount Royal University. 

Daniel Meadows gives a particularly memorable response to that question in the podcast. It comes in two parts: the first begins with respect for Bill Brandt, whose work he saw as a schoolboy in an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, which “blew my socks off.” 

Part two of his response comes as a list of ten points of advice; his “rules of engagement” for documentary photography. Here is rule six: “Make a habit of engaging with strangers, particularly with people whose attitudes are not your own. Be polite, don’t argue, listen, be curious and respectful.” The complete list is recommended reading to all photographers, whatever stage you are in your career.

Third encounter

The third encounter, which closes the circle for this story, came through purchasing a box set of books by Meadows published by Café Royal Books. The eight volumes feature some of his assignments in the North of England during the 1970s and 1980s.

Eight Stories + One by Daniel Meadows, published by Café Royal Books, 2020.

I opened the 36-page volume of black and white images titled Clayton Ward 1978 and turned to the final double-page spread. I stopped in my tracks. “I know that photograph!” I said to myself, loud enough to be heard through the house; a punctum moment for me. I hurriedly dragged boxes of stuff out from under the stairs in my basement to find my old artwork collection. There it was: the drawing I crafted in 1978 based on the photograph Meadows made in that exact sequence. Serendipitous connections!

I express my appreciation to Daniel Meadows, who kindly provided me with a copy of his photograph and article written by Alan Road, published in The Observer, October 15, 1978, and reproduced above.

Betula Books

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