20 September 2021

Images of Nature – Exhibition

On Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 October, Mayfair’s Health and Wellbeing Centre will be displaying an exhibition and sale of works by local photographer Mike Gibson (ARPS).

Mike has lived in Shropshire since 2005. In 2012 he retired from his photography and craft business – but he didn’t quite down tools entirely. He has remained involved in the Stretton Arts Festival, helping to run the photography section. Over lockdown last year, he was finding creative purpose out walking the hills with a camera or exploring life through a close-up lens. Mike has now generously contributed the results of all this work to Mayfair, for a sale and exhibition.

We got talking to him about his work, about what inspires him, and what motivated him to support Mayfair in this way.

Tell us a little bit about yourself Mike, and about how you first got into nature photography.

I grew up in Hampshire, about three miles from the Solent. When I was young, I had a lot of freedom and was always out walking – mostly down the river Meon, which was close our house. I walked down the three miles along the bank of the Meon to the coast a lot of the time and played on the beach and walked back. So a lot of my childhood was spent out in the fields by the river. I suppose right from the start I had an interest in plants and nature and things around me.

I trained to be a science teacher in the late fifties, early sixties, and during that time I learnt how to process and print black and white film. I taught for quite a long time, but in fact my hobby was always with a camera.

And how did that lead you from teaching to running a successful craft business?

My wife had an old Victorian brooch, with embroidery in it. She said, ‘You could put a photograph in something like this, couldn’t you?’ That was one those statements which is easily said but that doesn’t work out to be as simple as it sounds. Over a period of time I worked out how I could actually bond the photograph to the back of a glass cabochon and mount it, like mounting a glass gemstone, on to pendants and brooches. So that produced something a bit different!

After experimenting for a while I took a stand at some craft shows – small local ones which were coming to be the ‘in thing’ in the early 80’s. Gradually it developed into a more significant hobby. We were then seen by someone from the Bournemouth Orchid Society who invited us to exhibit at the British Orchid Society’s Congress which was due to take place at the Bournemouth International Centre the following year. We didn’t really know what we were getting into. It turned out to be an international affair – there were orchid growers from Japan, Brazil, Peru etc. We were selling virtually non-stop and had a high volume of sales throughout the weekend. We suddenly realised that this could be more than just a hobby.

Over the next three years it became a part-time and then a full-time business, exhibiting at craft shows but mainly flower and garden shows, including seven years at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

So, do orchids have a special place in your heart?

They do. I’m just fascinated by them. They’re interesting. Some of them are a bit different, especially the odd ones like the fly orchid and the frog orchid. Some of them are also quite rare so you also have to find them in the first place. It’s not even to say that they’re all beautiful – a fly orchid looks like a fly to attract flies. The bird’s nest orchid is just brown – most people would think it was dead. It’s a saprophyte that lives on other rotting material in the ground, so it doesn’t have any chlorophyll.

What brought you to settle in Shropshire?

We had spent quite a lot of time in Shropshire. I first walked the hills here in 1958/59 and visited the area for holidays on numerous occasions. We decided we were going to move from Hampshire in 2005 but weren’t quite sure where we were going to go. After a visit to Church Stretton we quickly decided that it was the place we wanted to come to. It took us a while to find somewhere but it’s the best move we’ve ever made.

Now that you’ve retired from craft fairs, where do you focus your creative energy?

I started to develop a degree of arthritis, which makes making the jewellery quite difficult. I do very little of the actual jewellery now, but I still enjoy taking and printing photographs. I find that a printed photograph has so much more to offer than an image on a screen. Over the lockdown – 2020 in particular – I was out walking around the hills and taking photographs, I also spent a lot of time in gardens. As a result, I now have a lot of printed and framed photographs looking for a home.

What made you want to support Mayfair in this way?

Being aware of how valuable Mayfair is to the community, and the sheer number of volunteers and people that help it and, through it, others, it’s a great organisation and needs to be supported. Last year, realising that it was being affected by Covid, I came up with the idea of holding an exhibition and sale as a way to support it. Because of Covid we were unable to hold the exhibition last autumn.

What will people who come to the exhibition encounter?

There will be images of local scenes, images of many flowers, some butterflies, some semi-abstract photographs and a small selection of photographic jewellery. Hopefully anyone will enjoy it, but especially anyone with an interest in the natural world but who occasionally likes to look at things from a slightly different angle or point of view.

Images of Nature will be held in the Health and Wellbeing Centre on Easthope Road on Saturday 9 October, 10am – 4pm, and Sunday 10 October, 10am – 3pm.