Bleak beauty of West Norfolk

EMMA LEE West Norfolk’s desolate beaches, dramatic landscapes and maritime heritage have inspired EDP photographer Matthew Usher’s first solo exhibition at King’s Lynn Arts Centre.


“If you look at the image, it draws you in, that's why I like it so much. I am fascinated by this structure, I go there a lot,” says EDP photographer Matthew Usher.

He is talking about the centrepiece image of his first solo photographic exhibition, which opens at the Red Barn Gallery at King's Lynn Arts Centre on Saturday September 17.

The structure in question is a decaying former jetty on Snettisham beach in West Norfolk.

Obviously battered by the elements and with clouds hanging low in the sky, the resulting image is moody and bleak.

“I think I took it in February. I do not go out much in the summer because there's holidaymakers about. When the sun is lower in the sky you get more interesting shapes and shadows and textures,” he says.

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Matthew, 28, joined the EDP's photographic team in 2002, where his assignments have included going on the trail of an escaped rhea and photographing an enormous litter of puppies, the results of which both made it into the national papers.

He has been working towards the exhibition in his spare time for the past three years.

A talented painter, he originally planned on going to art college. But when he was 15, during an activity day at King Edward VII School in Lynn, he tried photography and his career took a different direction.

“We were shown how to use an SLR camera and then had to go out and take some pictures. I had been useless. I had had a point-and-shoot camera when I was little and nothing ever came out,” he says.

He went on to study for A-levels, including art and as part of that did GCSE photography.

From there he decided to specialise in photography and went to the College of West Anglia in Lynn to do a BTEC course. It was there Matthew met the late John Hansell, who went on to become one of his mentors.

“He's a great inspiration on what I do,” he says. “He was in a different league - he was so skilful. It was a privilege to be able to learn from him. There was not much he didn't know about and he helped me develop my career. When I had a problem he normally knew the answer.”

While studying he joined the twice-weekly newspaper the Lynn News, where he started out as a darkroom assistant.

“In my press career I have had other people who have helped me - Paul Marsh, Alan Miller and Roy Williamson at the Lynn News and John Hocknell, whom I worked with at the EDP before he retired last year,” he says.

“They have all spent years in the industry and have all helped me at different times. They have helped shape how I am and what I can do.”

He is also grateful for the support he has had from his mother Christina, formerly an artist, and his brother Alan, who often accompanies him when he is shooting his landscape photographs in places like Brancaster, Thornham, Old Hunstanton and Heacham.

He says he feels lucky to have such inspiring landscapes on his doorstep.

“I like the area so much - there is so much beauty here. Why would you want to leave it? There's so many things people don't notice.”

Any reporter or writer who has accompanied Matthew on an assignment knows what a perfectionist he is - he will not go until he is certain he has the shot he wants.

“I need to keep pushing on and go further, I definitely do. I feel I owe it to the people who have supported me to get better because they have all done so much for me,” he says.

“I may have an exhibition but that does not mean I'm happy with my work. I still want to improve. I'm my work's biggest critic.”

t Matthew Usher's solo exhibition runs at the Red Barn Gallery, King's Lynn Arts Centre, King's Lynn, from September 16 until October 22. He will be at the gallery on the opening day to explain his work and answer questions. To check gallery opening times phone 01553 779095.

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