(1939 - )
To paraphrase a timeworn saying, some photographers are born great, some
acquire greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them! John
Chillingworth continues his series, having re-met Thomas Patrick John Anson,
5th Earl of Lichfield, arguably the epitome of all three accolades.
You may have noticed; breeding is not a prerequisite for success in
professional photography. Proof is in the regrettable near misses and abject
failures of countless aristocrats to make their mark in the arts and, for
that matter, commerce.
When they do, they succeed in a big way. Working under his professional
name, Patrick Lichfield is not an exception - he has made it the rule.
From the day in October 1964, when he stepped onto the professional scene,
his drive and enthusiasm has evolved and matured.
Unashamed of capitalising on his royal connections Patrick simply revelled
in the challenge, as he soften the self-imposed formality of most of the
royal portraiture that had preceded him.
The launch of a portraitist
The inevitable ownership of a simple camera at an early age helped sow
the seeds of creative ambition. It was accelerated at Harrow, where a bossy
senior confiscated the film in his camera, when Patrick’s cousin (HM Queen)
had visited his public school.
That anonymous monitor had no idea that he had served to galvanise ambition,
rather than punish his impertinence.
Probably by family tradition, at eighteen, he joined the Grenadier Guards,
spent two years at Sandhurst and a further five years doing what Grenadiers
do. It was hardly a creative move, but resigning his commission in 1964, he
plunged headlong into the world of photography.
Conforming to his mother’s strict condition, “Stop smoking Chesterfields”,
he accepted her generous allowance, changed his brand of cigarettes to
Gitans and took off for Paris to learn darkroom printing techniques.
Glossy magazine editors on both sides of the Atlantic encouraged him,
publications like Life magazine warmed to “a real, live ‘oirl”, whilst
advertising commissions accelerated his steep learning curve.
Those outside his circle
of professional acquaintances may believe that his social standing smoothed
his road to success. It did him no harm, but the truth is that he quite
simply likes people, works like a demon, takes his hereditary and social
responsibilities seriously and is an intelligent, articulate, responsible
Piling up the accolades
As official photographer at the marriage of his cousin, Prince Charles,
to Lady Diana Spencer, he attracted wry professional comments, but the
quality of his work spoke for itself.
In the past twenty-six years, his work has appeared in 56 international and
national exhibitions, seventeen books in the past nineteen years and has
made twenty-one appearances on TV and video.
His photography, from society and celebrity portraits to the ‘wholesome’,
pink-bottomed eighteen-year-olds he has transported around the world on his
annual assignments for the Unipart Calendar has an interesting mix of
spontaneity and creative ideas, seemingly without the lighting formulae and
composition clichés so adored by some of his competitors.
What is more, Patrick Lichfield has move forward with technology, investing
in digital image capture, both for his studio work and on location. He also
plans to dig deep into his 4m negative archive, to identify images for
scanning. He will then design a web site to market digitally printed limited
edition images to collectors.
At sixty, pacing himself carefully, he gives time to teaching his teenaged
children to appreciate his passion for scuba diving, to the upkeep of the
family seat, Shugborough Hall and his duties as Deputy Lieutenant of
Staffordshire. He has also given his name as patron to a number of deserving
causes, including the Julia
Margaret Cameron Trust at Dimbola Lodge on the IOW, where his current
exhibition ‘Retrospect’ can be seen. It will also be seen in London later in
Raconteur, workaholic, lover of photography and beautiful women, Patrick
Lichfield is, without reservation, a 20th century great!