Len Wesney

‘I realised that if I was going to be a photographer I would have to look a little more at life around me.’

– Len Wesney

Len Wesney, interview extract from ‘Young contemporary: Len Wesney’, Creative Camera magazine, Feb 1968, United Kingdom

‘It was while studying art in New Zealand that I became interested in photography. During the year I spent at art college I found painting so frustrating that in the evenings, when I was supposed to be studying the history of art, I would tinker around with a few photofloods and an old view-finder camera. I learnt very quickly how important a single lens reflex camera can be when exact composition is needed. So with the last few pounds of my grant I took the plunge and purchased a second-hand Miranda. My interest in painting virtually ceased but I never regretted my year at art college, for it has taught me to simplify my vision into basic shapes. I failed my history of art examination anyway for a better cause by far.

The obvious move next was to get a job in photography. Then I realised that if I was going to be a photographer I would have to look a little more at life around me. I had an urge to travel so I worked at some odd jobs trying to save enough money for my passage abroad. A slaughterhouse was the worst job, but it gave me a great insight into the type of people employed in this sort of work. [...] After a lot of saving and some soul-destroying work I at least had enough money to travel. With high hopes and a lot to learn I left home for England.

[...] Then came the lonely times. No friends. Nothing except a camera which is the only thing that has kept me here. Gradually I have made friends, taken a trip to the Continent and learnt a lot about myself and photography. Far, far more than I ever would have if I had stayed in my secure nest at home.

[...] Pushing and forging ahead is one of the hardest things to do, as it can be very lonely at times. You are on your own all the way.

The first two shocks I had on my arrival in England were the living standards of the average person compared to home and the lack of photography exhibitions in London. All the galleries were full of paintings or sculpture. If there is a lack of good photography exhibitions how can the public be made aware that photography is as important as the other arts? Maybe photography is such a new medium that there is not enough to show. Perhaps London is too large or I didn’t look hard enough.

One must show one’s work to others, otherwise there seems no point in taking photographs. After a period of time you begin to wonder if what you are trying to say in a photograph gets across to people other than yourself. It’s the communication barrier you have to break down, and breaking this barrier builds your confidence. It is very satisfying to show people what you feel and see about the life around you. I want people to see what I see.

When photography means so much to me it will be difficult in the future to apply it professionally. But it makes hard living worthwhile. Perhaps one day prints will sell for the price of a Picasso. I do hope they are mine.’

Hear more from Len Wesney in the book The New Photography, available at Te Papa Store on Level 1.