Dales photographer records life through the lens

PUBLISHED: 01:15 02 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:00 20 February 2013

Dales photographer records life through the lens

Dales photographer records life through the lens

Jo Haywood focuses on a photographer's memoir of life through a lens

Thomas Geoffrey Willey has seen a lot in his 99 years, most of it through the lens of a camera. It began when he was presented with a Kodak No. 2 Box Brownie on his 11th birthday and, 88 years later, his passion remains intact (if not stronger).
I have my father to thank for my first taste of photography, said Mr Willey, though perhaps he regretted this later when one of my prints, which Id left under a running tap in the bathroom sink during my homemade developing process, blocked the overflow and flooded the freshly decorated kitchen below. But thats another story.

This story, Ryedale In My Heart, is his life story, told to professional memoir writer Caroline Brannigan and illustrated with his own wonderfully evocative photographs that span an entire century.
His motto has always been get the shot no matter what the risk, which has resulted in a number of entertaining scrapes over the years including being suspended hundreds of feet up in the air by a crane, diving into treacherous, icy seas and balancing precariously on a half-thatched roof.
Many of his photographs and the greater part of his collection of cameras are on display at Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole, Yorkshire, but Mr Willey didnt just restrict himself to stills. His many hours of moving images have been used to great effect over the years in numerous television documentaries.
Despite the cost, I filmed anything exciting that was happening, parades and celebrations, fire and other dramas, and showed them to my friends and family, he said. Despite my fathers irritation at my obsession, he and my mother loved watching my films, which were black and white and silent, of course, because colour film was expensive and complicated to develop.
Mr Willey worked for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War, travelling the country showing people short films about life during wartime, which have since been recognised as little gems of social history. Although at the time, they were often less than well-received.
I went anywhere the Ministry thought they could reach people, Mr Willey explained. I even set up a screen next to the furnaces at Consett Iron Works and at the Tyneside shipbuilding yards of Swan Hunter.
Id go to their big canteens and put on a half-hour show during the dinner break. Some of the workers, especially down on the docks, couldnt have cared a monkeys. They werent impressed. They wanted their dinner and were annoyed when the lights were put down at half past 12.
He later went on to be senior photographer in the photographic department at Newcastle University, where he recorded major developments and events in the university and the city, including a visit by Harold Wilson.
Mr Willey remains a keen photographer to this day and invariably has a camera with him whenever he ventures out.
It is a disadvantage of a long life that so many of those I have cared for have gone before me, he said. I have the satisfaction of knowing though that my photographs will always be there.


Caroline Brannigan is a specialist memoir writer, helping people to record their life in a book to mark a special anniversary or simply as a historical record. To find out more, phone 01748 821041 or email info@carolinebrannigan.com.

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