IT'S THE WEEKEND: The Great Outdoors - Newport poet's camera lens captures beauty on his doorstep

South Wales Argus: (7340837) (7340837)

NEWPORT teacher and author John Gimblett has been taking photographs since he was a young boy - and he has found fascinating subjects on his doorstep in the garden of his city home. MARIA WILLIAMS reports.

EVERYTHING is a photographic subject for poet, novelist and teacher John Gimblett.

The 54-year-old first picked up a camera as a young boy taking pictures of his family, who lived in Bettws.

"I was six," he says.

"My grandfather was a keen photographer and had a darkroom under the stairs in his flat in Brynglas. He gave me his box Brownie camera."

He bought his first 35mm camera from Razza's second hand shop at Gilligan's Island and write to some top names in photography, David Bailey, Lord Snowdon and Patrick Lichfield, receiving letters back from them.

As a young man, he had an interview with renowned Magnum photographer David Hurn for the prestigious documentary photography course in Newport.

"I took in pictures of my sister's Girl's World, some advertising-type shots, which he liked, but the course was very competitive then - only 13 places and around 2,000 applicants a year. I made the reserve list, but had no idea how I would have paid for it."

A life as a war photographer - his aim in bidding for a place on the course - wasn't to be for John, who travelled widely in Asia, became a librarian and later a teacher. But his passion for photography continued.

And when he moved into his Malpas home in 1998, he brought a little piece of his childhood home in Bettws with him -planting flag irises which used to grow there.

"Wherever I moved I had those irises after I took rhizomes from the originals, and I planted them here," John says.

He planted a 60ft beech hedge in a bid to offset his carbon usage, and transformed the plot which had an old Anderson shelter in it and was infested with ground elder.

He has photographs which document that transformation.

And as the plants in his garden grew - and as the local wildlife visited it - he turned his camera lens on them too.

The garden has clematis,roses, foxgloves which spring up, spreading from a nearby wood, begonias, acers, a dicentra plant giving heart-shaped flowers, lavender, rosemary and mint.

There are also Buddhist prayer flags and, of course, a Buddha. It's a peaceful place, somewhere which has also featured in his poetry.

One poem, The Iris, describes a flag iris as "Canary yellow, its petals hung like a cormorant drying its wings upon a rock."

"I like pottering about the garden, wandering around with my secateurs," dad-of-one John says.

"I don't tend to grow vegetables, as I don't think it would make a big difference to my household. I could grow potatoes and they'd be gone in a week. I like things which grow all year round.

"I always had a plot of garden from when I was a child in Bettws. My stepfather gave me a part of the garden and i used to water it on my way to school."

John takes photographs of the flowers and plants and animals in his garden, of the sunsets - now using digital images.

"In the old days you'd get effects by using lens filters or smearing vaseline on a lens, now I add effects I like using a computer," he said.

And, of course, a number of those pictures involve the yellow flag irises which hold that special family connection for him.

"I like one photograph where I've used a glare effect on an iris picture. There's also one which makes the iris look like a landing spaceship," John says.

There is a photograph of an iris from above which looks at the plant's scultpural qualities.

Fungi also features in John's photographs, as do frogs, insects and other visitors to the garden.

* John Gimblett is the author of the Ed Wall detective series, We Go Down Slowly Rising and Watching For The Dawn, and the third novel is in progress. Updates can be found on newportnoir.co.uk.

All pictures by John Gimblett.

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