Meet PoetsIN Ambassador, Peter Watt

We are proud as punch to announce our new PoetsIN Ambassador, photographer and all round nice chap, Peter Watt. Want to know more about him and what clicks his shutter? Check out this awesome interview and take a peek at his profile on our Ambassador page.

Hi Peter. Who are you and what is it that you do?

My name is Peter Watt and I am a portrait, music and events photographer based in North Hertfordshire. I have been a professional photographer for approximately 30 years.

What journey led you to where you are and what you do?

After Art College in the 1980s I freelanced as a photographer, which included a full time freelance position with the BBC in their photographic studio at TV Centre. There was a major economic recession in 1990 that made me realise I needed a ‘permanently employed’ job as opposed to freelance, so I began looking around. I saw an advert in the British Journal of Photography for the position of photographer within the Metropolitan Police Service. I didn’t know anything about the type of work involved (although I could kinda guess), so I applied… and was successful. I was one of twelve photographers employed to join a huge photographic department of approximately 100 photographers.

The work was extremely varied, hard, exhausting and rewarding. It was mainly involved with crime scene evidence, although it also included areas such as video production, hand printing, studio photography and learning and development. Over the next 24 years I travelled all over the world, learned new skills to a high level, undertook more personal education and learning and generally developed my skills as a photographer, leader and educator. I ended my career whilst Head of Forensic Training at the Met’s Crime Academy. Since 2014 I have worked as a photographic demonstrator at Central Bedfordshire College before ill health forced me to resign. That is when I decided to go full circle and back to my roots as a freelance photographer. I decided to focus on what I loved (pun intended), photographing people. I can honestly say that after all of these decades, I still love what I do.

We’re excited that you’ve been kind enough to be a PoetsIN Ambassador. What is it about what we do that makes you picture helping us?

I am a humanist, a believer in the judicial process and a lover of anything creative. PoetsIN plays a key role in the rehabilitation and development of people who are willing to engage and to tap into their inner creative self, which often lies dormant. The one person any of us can ever rely on is ourselves, and occasionally we just need a little push and support to open up our minds to a huge amount of thoughts and possibilities. I suppose today it would be called ‘mindfulness’, but self-awareness is nothing new. We all need help in deciding on how to help each other and ourselves which then leads to self-belief, pride and the understanding of the importance kindness. I am proud to support endeavours such as PoetsIN that simply puts the wellbeing of people as their top priority.

What is your opinion of what PoetsIN do and their impact on those in need?

PoetsIN opens up new possibilities for individuals to explore their own minds and creativity. They provide the support and energy that some people need assistance with. From my observations, the charity’s endeavours are extremely well received and are supported across the board, because the value of what they do is recognised.

What have you done with us, and what are your future plans with PoetsIN?

After several meetings to help me to understand what PoetsIN is, I was honoured to be invited to one of their sessions at Peterborough Prison, to photographically document one of their many creative writing sessions. The aim of the images is to illustrate a PoetsIN book that will also be supported by a small exhibition. I am excited at the prospect of undertaking more of these photographic projects for PoetsIN that supports them and pushes my own boundaries. I also hope to forge more contacts and supporters for the charity that will help it grow.

You’ve seen some of the darker sides of humanity. How has that affect how you approach life?

When I left the MPS after 24 years I simply wrote on my leaving do invitation: ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. My job was one of extremes…. Of cruelty and kindness. I witnessed the worst of humanity, but also some of the best examples of what makes us good. Kindness, love, humour and endurance. My main emphasis with others is to be as kind as possible. Kindness to others who you interact with, which ultimately is kindness to oneself, is often overlooked and under valued. If you treat people poorly you can only ever expect to be treated poorly in return. At the heart of PoetsIN is kindness. I like that.

How did you capture subjects and scenes where you can’t be entirely candid?

Be as professional, discreet and kind (there’s that word again) as possible. I did my job to the best of my photographic and personal ability. Which wasn’t always easy I hasten to add. Sometimes I failed but endeavoured to realise why I had failed. Sometimes though, stuff just happens that cannot be avoided and is nobody’s fault.

What is your relationship with photography and how has your style evolved over time?

One word I would use to describe my photography is ‘dark’. Now, no doubt some psychologist would say that it reflects my experiences. It doesn’t. My images have always been dark…. Moody skies, silhouettes, shadows, low light etc. It is simply a look I like. I would also say that I like to capture the real person when doing portraits. I seem to be able to put people at ease that then allows the inner them to appear. I just like talking to people and learning about them. I did fall out of love with photography for a few years because I was just exhausted. That said, I have always undertaken my own photography (other than work). I photograph things that please me, and these days I am quite selective in what I choose to photograph.

You love to capture changes in people. We’re obsessed with this, can you explain the process?

Most of us spend our lives ‘transforming’ to perform a task such as our job or hobby, or to behave a certain way with people. This process of transformation interests me. I suppose one of the things I learned from my crime scene photography days is that you never know what goes on behind closed doors! So, I like to photograph people in their normal environment (living room for example) but having gone through their transformation. For example: an image of a clown with full make up, ironing their trousers in the comfort of their bedroom.

Many of us within this group have experienced times where creativity has helped us overcome times of pain. Describe the first time you realised the true of power of a creative outlet.

I hated school! I wasn’t academic, didn’t really like the teachers and found ‘important’ subjects hard. But I loved art and technical drawing. Through these subjects I was able to go to Art College. At the time my only other option was to try and join the RAF. It was at Art College that I developed as a person, and discovered photography. My one defining creative moment was the first time I hand printed a photograph I had taken an hour earlier. To expose a piece of paper to light, stick it in a tray of liquid that smelt like vinegar and then to see my picture appear was…. Magic. The discovery of my creativity and being allowed to express it changed my life. This is why I loved teaching people photography and I understand the importance of what PoetsIN does…. Allowing people to experience and discover things they didn’t know existed within them. That’s just cool.

What is your favourite book and why?

Tough question!!!!! I don’t read. I can read, but I choose not to unless absolutely necessary (gasps from the audience reading this profile on a site that promotes creative writing). THAT SAID….. I go through phases. It can take me three years to read a book that I find enthralling (current book). I love military history books and have read all of Stephen Ambrose’s books (Band of Brothers author). My favourite novel is ‘The Alienist’ by Caleb Carr. It is a crime mystery set in New York 1899 at the turn of the Twentieth century (think Gangs of New York meets Sherlock Holmes). Ironically, in my humble opinion, Caleb Carr’s sequel ‘Dark Angel’ was crap. ‘The Alienist’ is extremely visual in its writing with very strong, human characters. As you may guess I am an extremely visual person and respond much better to visual representation than the written word. So for me a piece of writing must be visually stunning in its description and have characters that I can care about and believe in.

We all have moments where we truly connect with words we read. What quote inspires you the most. Why?

I’ll never forget a paragraph I read in the war photographer Don McCullin’s autobiography: ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’. He was covering the war in Biafra, Africa in the 60s. He had been injured and was recovering in a village full of orphans who were starving. He saw one boy who was isolated from the rest of the children because he was an albino. Don McCullin took a photograph and then gave him a boiled sweet. The boy removed the wrapper and licked it. He placed the sweet into an empty tin he was holding. His only possession. He then collapsed. Don McCullin just began crying because he knew there was nothing he could do.

I’m actually choking up even thinking about it. I read that book in 1991. At the time I highlighted the paragraph but I have never re-read it, nor forgotten it.

A quote that has inspired me is a factual account from the Stephen Ambrose book ‘D-Day’. It is the account of a US Paratrooper as he was about to jump out of his plane over enemy territory. Standing in the open doorway he could see aeroplanes exploding and enemy gunfire so thick it looked like a carpet you could walk on: ‘Len, you’re in as much trouble now as you’re ever going to be in. If you get out of this, nobody can ever do anything to you that you ever have to worry about’ – Pvt. Len Griffing 501st PIR, 101st Airborne.

At the time of reading this in 2005 I was recovering from an operation to remove a brain tumour the size of a tennis ball. I had been left with Epilepsy and was fighting an MRSA infection. That account really helped me to put my situation into perspective. I found a picture of a US paratrooper standing in the doorway of a plane and printed that paragraph onto the back of it. It still resides in my wallet and is always with me.

What is your favourite word?

TRUE ANSWER: I’m afraid to say none of my favourite words can be repeated in this forum. But they are bad. (PoetsIN – Adults only clue after the jump)  

ACCEPTABLE ANSWER: Value

Finish this sentence… “Photography is the epitome of…”

Photography is the epitome of the unique moment. (I had to look up epitome…. I told you, I don’t read much and I am not particularly academic)

Be sure to follow Pete for more gorgeous imagery on Instagram here.

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