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John Liot: A life through a lens

John Liot

"What would transpire next would shape John’s future in a manner he couldn’t have predicted at the time.”

When John Liot left his course leader’s office he was a bit shaken. Not necessarily with the outcome of that impromptu meeting, but with the speed of it. He had expected some form of resistance, an attempt at persuasion to see things from another side. In his head he genuinely believed that it wouldn’t have taken a lot of convincing to reverse his decision in that moment. But this was not to be. On a train journey back to the north of England from London a few days earlier, John had made his mind up. He would drop out of University. He had kept this truth exclusive to him in those days, only to be shared just then with the head of his journalism course, someone he expected to at least take a disagreeable stance. Within two minutes John Liot went from being a bright-eyed fresher at the newly renovated Sunderland University, esteemed school of journalism with gateways to a life in America, to this new identity, John Liot – Person.

When he broke the news to his parents, they were shocked. This wasn’t the plan. Though confused and likely scared for what this new future meant, they were able to hear the reality and fear in John’s voice and understand he needed them to support his choice. The decision he could rationalise and speak to the benefit of, but it was still a big change he had just brought on himself and the insecurity of that decision wasn’t far from his mind. An odd sensation remained; he didn’t expect to have so much control over his life. He said he wanted out, they said ‘see you later’. He did want to go, but he wanted to be asked to stay.

Hebe, the dog in residence at Dolly's Gin Palace & Tea Room, Falmouth

What would transpire next would shape John’s future in a manner he couldn’t have predicted at the time. His Mum set the stage for this new chapter, ‘I’ve already bought your ticket home for Christmas, and your rent in Halls is paid for, so there’s no point in you coming home early.’ His reality was thus, a month or so left till his flight home, no more classes to attend, feeling more isolated than he’d ever felt before, unsure of what to do next. So he picked up his camera and went for a walk.

: Actress, author, BAFTA Fellowship recipient and national treasure, Dawn French

Originally a tool he had bought so he could shoot the pictures for a magazine he would create for his course, his £200 Lumix bridge camera was now his medium for self-expression. Though not necessarily a window to his soul, photography became a means for John to get out of his flat, explore the land where he lived and remain creative. By his own admission the photographs he took in that period in Sunderland, were ‘mostly awful, but they needed to be’. Exploring creativity without reference to other photographers, or what ‘good photography’ looked like, it was akin to a child fingerpainting and making a mess, but the fun of creation was all the same. He started at the bottom of the ladder, which meant he had nowhere to go but up.

An interest in photography continued to flourish when John returned to Jersey. He began working at a camera store in St Helier and started to learn more about the technical side of photography. He bought new equipment, tried new genres, discovered what he liked, discarded what he didn’t. A couple of years later he co-created a photography business, called Zenshot Photography with his friend, Dave Pearson. When Dave went back to live in the UK, John took on Zenshot and changed it to a brand under his own name. A desire to work within the photography industry existed, but the knowledge to succeed was difficult to nurture. In 2012 John went back to University. This time, he went South and ended up at Falmouth University, an esteemed arts school in Cornwall.

Guided by his various tutors and classmates, John laid the foundation for a new iteration of who he was as an artist. University this time round wasn’t easy, but it made much more sense; there was purpose. The room to expand was motivating, the limitless notion of creation was addicting. More than anything, there was a joy to be had in taking pictures, and a tantalizing allure in being paid to do so.

"It was like being a hitman! Turn up to a location, sometimes in a suit, scout out the location, find the target, and shoot them!”

Working as part of The Cartel, a photo-agency based in Falmouth, John established himself as a confident and talented portrait photographer. In the two years he worked as a freelance photographer in Cornwall he gained a positive reputation for his images, working with BAFTA winning director Tristan Anderson, Academy Award winning costume designer, Sandy Powell, best-selling novelists Lionel Shriver and John LeCarre, and UK national treasure, Dawn French. An ability to work quickly and competently under-pressure gave him access to highprofile shoots, where 5 minutes would be considered a glamorous amount of time to work with. He likened the role of a freelance photographer to being the protagonist of a bounty hunter; “At random times during the day you’d get a phone call, ‘there’s a job here, do you want it’, it was like being a hitman! Turn up to a location, sometimes in a suit, scout out the location, find the target, and shoot them!” There was always a palpable energy with this type of work, always a desire to be better than your last shoot; to make the mundane fun. One such shoot John recalls was when he was asked to document a Board of Directors meeting for the University. “It was 12 or so middle-aged men and women sat in a bland boardroom talking about bland boardroom things. I could’ve complained at the lack of inspiration, but instead I decided to have a laugh with it, try and make something so plain seem exciting. Being over 6ft makes it difficult for me to blend in in a lot of situations, I tend to stand out, so imagine me crouched down navigating the perimeter of this boardroom, peaking over people’s shoulders taking pictures. I’m sure I was a distraction to everyone in there but I really had a lot of fun shooting that meeting!’ He graduated Falmouth University in 2015, and though hesitant to leave the place he had garnered so much success, he headed back once again to Jersey. Since July 2015 he has lived and worked on the island, constantly looking for new opportunities against the status quo.

Recognisable for his ironically approachable 6ft4 demeanour and large smile, John finds himself constantly on the verge of new adventures with new people. His work has taken him around the world, from New York to Switzerland, from Romania to Edinburgh. He has won awards through his editorial portraits of people, as well as his introspective portraits of animals. A love of the still image means any day is a day for creativity and play, an ethos he abides by for living a fulfilling and enjoyable life.

OBE Costume Designer, Sandy Powell next to the dress she created for Disney's 2015 Cinderella re-make

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