In my latest post I chat to photographer and gallery owner Kev Pearson. I learn not to call him the ‘Glastonbury Tor Photographer’ or make him go out in the rain. I find out why he dreads the full moon and thinks photography is more dangerous than riding motorcycles.
Kev Pearson has photographed Glastonbury Tor basking in the Summer sun and covered in a blanket of snow, he’s captured it in the dawn light and at twilight, with the sun shining through the archway of the tower or with the full moon peeking out behind clouds. His pictures show Tor Hill obscured by Autumn mists from the wetlands of the Somerset Levels, or the view from the top. His photographs are a wonderful celebration of this iconic landmark, looking at them you are immediately transported to Avalon.
The second of December 2018 marked the first anniversary of Kev opening his photography gallery Kev Pearson Photography in Glastonbury’s Gauntlet Arcade, where he sells prints of his wonderful photographs. I caught up with Kev in the Gallery and asked him how he came to live in Glastonbury and what he’s planning next.
“You can be anyone you want to be in Glastonbury”
Kev was born in Glasgow in Scotland but grew up in Carrickfergus, a seaside town ten miles from Belfast in Northern Ireland. He discovered Glastonbury in 2008 when he started dating Jane, who was later to become his wife. Jane was living in England, he was in Northern Ireland, Jane suggested they met up in Glastonbury, as they were both interested in paganism and mythology.
Kev tells me “We liked the relaxed atmosphere, you can be anyone you want to be in Glastonbury”. They kept finding themselves being drawn back over the next three years. They asked themselves the same questions I recall obsessing over twenty six years ago, before my own move to the town: “Each time we visited we wondered what it would be like to live here? Is it just a nice place to visit? Would the magic of Glastonbury be destroyed for us if we moved here?”
In 2010 they were handfasted in the Quantocks by Georgina Sirret Hardy from the Goddess Temple, and formally wed on the same day, Kev wearing a kilt for the occasion. They lived happily in Northern Ireland until 2014 when they decided to move here. Kev had been working for an Aerospace manufacturing engineering company for the 23 years since he left school, they were offering voluntary redundancies, so he took his chance.
Sadly, Jane’s mum died, so they had to move to her house in Wokingham to get it ready to sell. They had their hearts set on a house in Glastonbury, but it sold, three months later it was back on the market the sale having fallen through. They weren’t in a position to buy it as Jane’s Mum’s house wasn’t ready yet, but they worked hard to get it finished, put it on market and it sold three days later. “That was the universe telling us it was time! You have to sacrifice something to be where you want to be, it was unfortunate circumstances that brought us here, with Jane’s Mum dying, but coming here was the silver lining”.
I’d assumed that Kev had been practicing photography for years, but it only became a hobby after he got married. Before that motorcycles were his passion, but as he says: “I got all sensible”. He assumed photography would be a safer hobby for a married man, but it’s led to a couple of accidents. He got badly injured on a beach, failing to jump over a water channel, nearly snapping his Achilles tendon and was unable to walk for three weeks. He’s also fallen down some hills, dropping all his camera equipment.
He got a ‘proper’ camera for Christmas in 2010 and started taking photos of seaside, sunrise and sunsets. Discovering Facebook, he started sharing photos with friends and family, but had no plans of turning it into his livelihood. His interest grew and he learnt more about the technical aspects of photography. Strangers started taking an interest in his work on Facebook, he even got a few followers from around the world. He thought he was just taking a break from engineering – a few months out to sort out the house, then he’d get a job in Bristol. He started taking photos of Glastonbury and people started pestering him for prints.
On the 29th of September 2014 Kev took a photo looking east through the doorway in the tower on the Tor. The setting sun was perfectly positioned at the top of the arch, its rays illuminated the worn stones of the tower to stunning effect. He posted it up on Facebook, titling it ‘Divine Light’ and it went viral. Later, a friend mentioned that it was taken on Michaelmas ‘Feast of Michael and All Angels’. This image, taken on the day that once marked Harvest Festival, signifying the end of the old agricultural year and the beginning of the new, was to launch Kev’s new life as a photographer.
Kev had never run a business before, he’d never even had any of his photos properly printed, so it was a steep learning curve. He started stocking prints in Glastonbury Galleries, then in other shops in town. He got a stall at the weekly indoor market in Assembly Rooms so he could meet his customers. He started to understand people’s connections with Glastonbury, and how photographs tied them to the town, how important it was to them to see these images of Glastonbury. He got frustrated that shops only opened five days a week, or could only stock a few prints, he wanted stuff on sale seven days a week, to sell to people directly. Hence his decision to open the shop in December 2017.
Kev really enjoys meeting customers, people who really connect with his work, “They see things in my images – faces in clouds, strange shapes, orbs, moods and feelings that I don’t necessarily see. People feel the Tor is home to them”.
Kev reminds me that many people have scattered their relative’s ashes on the Tor, that gives them a permanent connection to the town, it becomes the resting place of their ancestors. His photos remind them not only of Glastonbury but also their lost loved ones. It occurs to me that in that respect at least, Glastonbury is still very much the Isle of the Dead.
“I’ve done things in reverse, felt drawn here, but only learned about the myths and legends since I came here, often from my customers. I find things hard to put into words, but I can take a picture and other people verbalise what it means to them”.
Seeing Kev’s many pictures of the Tor in all seasons it appears that he lives in the field with his finger on the shutter button, he tells me ”Originally I was up the Tor practically all the time, hoping for a magical shot, but I started watching the weather forecasts and the sunrise and setting times, incorporated my engineering mind to my work, got more strategic and efficient, planned ahead rather than getting up stupidly early. Now, I see a certain light and I know that’s the time”. Plus, he’s built up such a back catalogue that he’s not having to get up every day and get out there.
“I have to be tuned into the rhythms and moods of nature to get the best out of it. I use science and technology, but I can’t pre-plan too much, it’s the instinctive photos that work, I feel there is something that it guiding me as to when I need to be out there, working the landscape. I know the light and the seasons, I’ve learned to read the weather and the landscape, I know when I need to be in a certain place to get the best angle. It’s not just being in the right place at the right time though, there is a lot of synchronicity involved, it’s something out of my control”.
The Frustrations of a Photographer in Glastonbury
Kev is wary of being pigeonholed as The Glastonbury Tor photographer’. “I’ve done commissions, portraits, weddings, interiors, I’m a more rounded photographer than what you see in the gallery. But I don’t want people to think of me as ‘Jack of all trades – master of none’, either. This notion of taking pictures of the Tor – some of my shots are taken a mile and a half away, I take pictures of the Levels, with the Tor not even in them. I’m slowly trying to get away from it, I don’t want to be a one trick pony. I’d like my work from other places and countries to get more exposure, recognition that I can do other things. My dream is to have a gallery that is a mixture of everything, but Glastonbury is a big tourist town and people want to see pictures of it”.
In his gallery in the Gauntlet Kev hears the comments of passers by “I hear all sorts, sixty percent of people say ‘Oh that’s a nice painting’ even though the word photography is everywhere, they still think they are paintings”. I suspect it’s the painterly quality and beautiful composition of Kev’s work that leads to this assumption – everyone can pick up a camera, most have never picked up a paintbrush, so they think great photography is somehow ‘easy’. Kev tells me “I had a couple come in looking for ‘something gothic’, when they realised they were photographs they said: “Oh anyone could have taken that””.
“Some people assume that my work is photoshopped, that I’ve cut out the moon and stuck it on later! People can be really cynical, you could really lose the will, you have to be really thick skinned. Even when people know I’m the photographer they say to my face ‘that’s a painting’ or ‘that’s been photoshopped’. Some people think it’s all to do with the camera, but all my gear is secondhand – not latest state of the art stuff. It’s all digital except for one film camera I inherited but I haven’t even finished one roll of film yet”.
Kev and Jane have become interested in Norse paganism, joining a couple of heathen groups. This has led them to visit Iceland three years in a row, they’d even considered emigrating to Reykjavik before we settled on Glastonbury. Kev tells me sadly “No one is interested in my pictures of Iceland”. Here’s his picture of Skogafoss Waterfall in Iceland, if you like it perhaps you should tell him!
“I feel a sense of duty – to people who feel connected to the town, not just the locals, people who visit a lot, people who used to live here, people who want reminders. It’s almost a public service, especially around full moon, my Facebook goes mad, everyone wants to see the full moon from Glastonbury. I dread it coming, I plan where I’m going to be weeks ahead. The weather always fights with me, it always clouds over, even during the long hot spell we had last Summer, it was overcast for the full moon. No long lens can compensate for rain at the last minute”. Kev hates rain, at any time of the year.
Kev has recently got into infrared photography, presenting Glastonbury in a whole different light, he’s also getting more into drone photography, so we’ll be seeing more shots from the air too. Also, as everyone who is a facebook friend of Kev will know, another of his favourite subjects is his dog, Ghillie, shown here in February’s snow in Glastonbury.
If you want to learn more about Kev’s photography techniques he runs workshops. I hope we’ll be seeing more of Kev’s pictures of places that aren’t Glastonbury (perhaps we should all get on to his Facebook Page and ask). Meanwhile, if you’d like a picture of the landscape that best expresses ‘Home’ for so many, do pop into the gallery, or take a look at Kev’s beautiful website kevpearson.com where you can buy prints mail order.
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This post was commissioned and sponsored by Kev Pearson. The photographs are copyright Kev Pearson. The text and photograph of Kev are copyright Vicki Steward. Would you like to commission and sponsor me to write an article about what you do, for Normal For Glastonbury? You’d be reaching thousands of readers who love the Town. Please click here for more information.