Philip Townsend: My Thirty Minutes in the Presence of Genius

Philip Townsend at the Photographers Lounge
Philip Townsend by Kate Cross

Words such as “awesome” and “genius” are, in my opinion, used a little too freely. So I have given much careful consideration before using the word “genius” to describe Philip Townsend. For the moment you are going to have to trust me on this, but I intend to back it up – the man is pure genius!

As a child of the Sixties and the youngest of four siblings, I recognize many of Philip’s images and recall the excitement they brought about; my sister going all dizzy over The Beatles; my elder brothers getting all rebellious and growing their hair like the Rolling Stones. Having been fortunate enough to be invited to the launch party of Philip’s new book “Sorry You Missed the Sixties” at the Photographers Lounge in Swanage, I relished the opportunity to study some of these original prints up close. I spent a lot of time (and money!) honing my own darkroom skills, but it still gives me the shivers to see the product of a true master.

I converted to digital quite a few years ago and confess to being completely happy with the qualty I can achieve (although I didn’t confess that to Philip when we were chatting – sorry). However, there is undoubtedly a quality, a warmth and a depth to silver gelatin prints from film that just isn’t there with digital. Digital is, perhaps, a little too perfect sometimes; a little too clinical. Philip’s prints are not all technically perfect (it’s okay, this is something we did discuss!) and I feel this is a big part of what makes them so brilliant; they are real and warm and deep and fascinating and packed with charm, life and character.

Then there is the man himself. As Kate Cross of the Photographers Lounge put it:

“And what an incredible man he his… full of the most unbelievable anecdotes… we are trying to persuade him to write his autobiography, it would be one of the most informative, entertaining and colourful memoirs ever..! Was there really anyone he didn’t meet/photograph in the 60’s?! “

I couldn’t agree more. I only got to speak to Philip for quarter of an hour or so, but what a privilege. My favourite moment was when I asked him how it feels to have photographed the Rolling Stones before they made it big:

“It was interesting. I had to drive them everywhere in my car. And buy them chickens.”

All without a hint of irony.

I am really pleased that Kate managed to secure the book launch – on the surface it would seem surprising that a small, ordinary gallery in a little seaside town in the south of England should be able to host such an event. However, spend ten minutes in the gallery talking to Kate and you will know that it may indeed be small, but it is in no way ordinary.

I believe there are still some signed first editions of Philip’s book at the Photographers Lounge so get along there and get one if you can.

Best of all is that Philip and I discussed the possibility of an exclusive interview for The Decisive Moment and he agreed it should happen. I really, really can’t wait.

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