In 2015 Talenthouse (Talenthouse.com), a creative collaboration platform and community of photographers and artists, teamed up with TOMs, which has improved lives in over 70 countries by empowering developing communities with shoes, sight, water, and safe birth kits, to invite photographers and photojournalists from around the world to submit images that capture the stories of local heroes creating a positive change within their communities.
The selected photographer was given the chance to assist and learn from the lead photographer on an official TOMS campaign photoshoot, tell their story through a photo journal on TOMS social media and receive global exposure through TOMS social media channels.
Award-winning London-based photographer Jonathan Daniel Pryce (AKA GarçonJon) decided to get involved and nominated “blind photographer” Ian Treherne as his local hero. In this moving interview Jonathan talks with Ian about his photography, process and life with a degenerative eye disease.
I’m a big fan of astrology. What’s your star sign?
I’m a Piscean. That’s me through and through! Pisces is classic passion, obsessive, sensitive, artistic. A little crazy but all part of the package. I wouldn’t want to be anything else. We are work sometimes, mind you!
Give me 5 words to describe yourself.
Laid-back, wise, confident, cheeky and passionate. That’s me, passionate.
When you were a wee boy what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a carpenter. I would actually still love to work with wood now. When I was younger I built an electric guitar from scratch at school. I made it out of mahogany when I was 15. I draw and designed it inspired by Brian May from Queen because he did the same as a child. I thought ‘if he can do it, I can do it!’ I still have it hanging in my dad’s lounge. I spent 2 years doing that and I still got a bad grade! I put it down to the fact that the teachers were jealous. This kid had the balls to go beyond the world of can openers.
Speaking of music, do you have an artist you go back to time and again?
I love late 60s and 70s music. I’m a massive Doors fan. I love early Jimi Hendricks with his live shows and Bob Dylan. Jim Morrison has followed me through my whole life. He still inspires me. I love the uniqueness of the band, a bunch of musicians who met in certain places. They made a fusion of music to create something new. We take that for granted today, back then it was “try it and see what happens”. Morrison didn’t have vocal training it was just his talent. A deep, tortured soul. I tend to be drawn to that.
How did you get into photography?
Since I was a small child I always loved looking at pictures in magazines. At that time I had a ‘happy snappy’ camera and just document the world around me. It was never particularly artistic. I really got into it in 2007 when I was going a gig at The Railway Hotel in Southend. There was a photographer there with a digital camera and it was the first time I’d seen one that actually worked well. DSLRs before this time were quite ropey but when I saw these photographs I was really impressed. I’ve been drawing and painting for years and thought this was an opportunity to take my artwork into a new dimension.
How did you learn?
It was really a case of teaching myself how to use the Canon DSLR through Google! I hate sitting in a classroom and don’t like teachers telling me what to do. I like to learn and make mistakes on my own time. It goes in better that way. When you have a passion for visual arts I think your that just takes over and becomes an obsession. That’s why I’m such a lover of the visual work – watching films, questioning why the light on a certain building looks so spectacular. I love looking at everything.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a quiet village called Rochford. Now I live close by in Southend. There’s now a big creative community there which is very inspiring. Before the best place you could hope to exhibit work would be the local library.
Your story is so inspiring. What artists have captured your imagination?
I’ve always really loved Bailey, not necessarily for his technical ability but his persona and personality. He’s like a grumpy old granddad and I love what he’s achieved. Neither of us are particularly academic so I relate to that side of his career. It’s like sticking the finger to ‘the man’ and saying “well, I might not be academic but I can still go something with my life”. I also love Tim Walker for the fantasy he creates. That weird and wonderful world is a bit what the inside of my head looks like.
Is there anything in your photography that is influenced by your condition?
I love to shoot simple black and whites. I can’t really do colour as I’m colour blind, I have cataracts and I’ve got this retinitis pigmentosa. That means the colours all fuse so when I look at a picture it starts changing when you’re not even touching it. Black and white keeps it simple. The theme in my photography seems to always be elegance and grace. I like ‘noir’ style with moody light because I love cinematography in movies.
Connecting with people is always important to me. All the subjects I photograph are regular folks. I love pulling out the beauty in normality. When subjects come into the studio we sit down, have a chat and I get to know their personality. When I go to photograph them it means I know what makes them tick, their details, likes and dislikes. My main goal is to make the subject feel confident about themselves and have an image that someone would be proud to hang on the wall. It’s a strange time at the moment as the past few months I’ve had to take a backseat with work. I love doing what I do but knowing that I’m going to lose my eyesight gives me a love-hate relationship. Shooting just reminds me of the inevitable. I’ve got a few commissions coming up which I’m looking forward to but I’ve had to distance myself from other work. Last year I experienced the broken sprit. I have such a huge passion for the arts that learning that I would eventually completely lose my sight was overwhelmingly painful. It’s a miracle I’m still here really.
As a photographer I can completely relate to some of those feelings but it’s nearly impossible for me to understand how that much that would hit you. Can you tell me more about the condition? What do you actually see?
The rp condition is often called tunnel vision. Ironically the condition is a bit like a camera. You have the centre where the light comes and in an eye there are lots of mirrors, like a sensor on a camera. My eye sensors are all broken and there’s no cure for it. The research is so new that there probably won’t be a cure in my lifetime. I’ve lost about 70% of my vision. It’s just a small window in the centre I see, all peripheral vision is gone.
When we were walking down the stairs I could see you were looking all around. Is that to scan the area to see better then?
Yes exactly. If I’m walking on my own, my brain is working insanely hard. I’d like to keep my outside very calm and relaxed because when you get stressed it bounces off other people and they get pissed off. I’m always having to scan very hard meaning I get lots of headaches.
I first started losing my sight when I was 16 and I’m 37 now. There are three types of rp and I have type two which is connected to my hearing. I’m partially deaf also. Mine is a slow deterioration but the others mean you could lose your sight in as little as 4 weeks. I met a girl who was 12 recently, living life doing her thing, and within a month she was completely blind. Just like that. The fact mine is slow is good in some ways but it’s also like torture. In a way you want it over and done with so I can get on with life but I’m also really grateful I still have some eyesight. I’m trying to make the most of it.
How have you come to terms with it?
I was in denial for a long time, trying to hold onto my independent life. I was scared of being put into a box as “disabled” but when I did an interview with the BBC last year it was a turning point. It was hard at the time because the title was “deaf and blind photographer” which gives a weird, narrow description. There is a stigma to disability – people treat you differently. It’s just human nature but even in this day and age people can’t get used it. What I want to do is try to bridge the two worlds. I still want to be treated like a normal person, I’m just me. I’m registered partially blind and I’ve been partially deaf since I was a baby but that’s not all there is to me. Coming to terms with the condition is not my decision, this is natures way.
A few months ago I thought to myself ‘maybe it’s just time to give up fighting this thing I don’t want to be a part’ and just embrace it. Although I’d love to be just a photographer, that fact I’m partially blind seems to have more interest. The important thing is being able to do something good with it. I like to now see the opportunity. When you emailed me to meet up I thought ‘let’s do this’, plus I really love your photography.
What’s next for you on the art front?
I’ve got a few photography projects in my mind. One of them is a film or series that shows the way I see world the world with my condition. I’m also very into music and will be recording an EP this year. I’ve got my first solo gig in 3 years at the Peggy Sue Var in Leigh on Sea, Southend this Thursday which is exciting.
Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom.
When I went travelling to Brazil, I met a girl called Laura on Instagram. She took me to a spiritual place where you take medicine from the jungle. They have a mantra there: surrender, accept, trust, give thanks. Basically it tells me to surrender and accept my eyesight. Trust in the future as it’s obviously scary what is happening to me and give thanks to the universe. I’m not religious but I’m a believer in mother nature. Surrender, accept, trust and give thanks. That’s it!