New Exhibition For Award Winning English LDS Photographer
by Anne Bradshaw
‘Bingo Hall, London, England,1969’
From Europe to the United States and beyond, Reg Wilkins’ striking photographs have been seen in glossy magazines, advertisements, and exhibitions since 1964.
Opening 14 October to 2 November 2002, Reg Wilkins’ work will be on show in a new exhibition in central London. The exhibit will take place at the AOP Gallery, the Association of Photographers, 81 Leonard Street, EC2, the largest exclusively professional body representing fashion, advertising, and editorial photographers in the United Kingdom. In this instance, the work in the exhibition will be available for purchase as collector prints.
The exhibition will include previously published and unseen personal work taken over a thirty-eight year period much of which Reg is planning to use in a photographic book of his life’s work that he is presently compiling.
Born and raised in a working class family in South East London, Reg’s artistic talents were recognized by his parents and schoolteachers from an early age. “I’m not exactly sure when the urge to use a camera instead of a paintbrush began,” Reg says, “But I have vivid recollections of being totally absorbed by documentary images of the First World War in a photographic book that my grandfather shared with me.”
By the time he was fifteen – the average age to leave school in those days – it didn’t look as though Reg’s future career would make use of his talents. When aged fourteen, he followed his father’s suggestion to train as a racehorse jockey, and had interviews with the well-known trainers, Sir Gordon Richards and Charlie Mitchell. But during his final school year, after a bout of epileptic fits, and weight gain, this plan had to be abandoned.
It took several years of job changing before Reg finally found his niche. His younger brother, Victor, another photographer, informed Reg that there was an opening for an Assistant Photographer to David Montgomery at his studio in Chelsea, London. Reg trained and worked in this job for seven years, traveling the globe extensively on varied and exciting assignments, producing work for such magazines as Vogue, Harpers & Queen, and the Sunday Times.
“One of my first experiences of working for a fashion, advertising, and editorial photographer, was unforgettable,” Reg comments. “I walked into David’s dark studio and was struck by the black walls and ceiling, which was unusual in those days. The huge strobe bank-light was angled to pick out a giant white shoebox, which sat inside its own lid. The box was upright and diagonally suspended in the air. Inside, was the stunning-looking model Jean Shrimpton, surrounded by white shoe-wrap tissue paper. The camera shutter triggered off the vast flash, seeming to leave a shimmering spiritual version of the subject hanging in the air as well as recording it on film. The entire atmosphere was absolutely magical – I was hooked.”
Another memorable experience working with David, one of many, came immediately after the Six-Day War in Israel. “I assisted on a fashion shoot for Vogue magazine which entailed shots in various locations there,” he says. “After getting some great fashion shots in city scenarios, a day was set aside to travel out into the desert region in order to include some dresses shot against the backdrop of the red rock terrain found in that remote area. It had been timed so that we could take advantage of the late afternoon sun. On arrival, we all became engrossed in finding a suitable spot and waiting for just the right light, but our local guide and driver was getting more and more agitated. He was concerned about getting us back to the city safely before dark. He carried a gun but had warned us beforehand that this was for his protection not ours, and that many people had been killed on this particular route – usually by bandits who would sneak over the border at dusk, create a road block and then shoot the occupants of the vehicles they stopped.
‘Busmens’ Outing, Newbury, England, 12 June 1974′
“As the time ticked by,” Reg continues, “and the sun sank low enough to produce the desired effect. We finally had the pictures we came for. We hurried the models into the vehicle, cleared the location in record time, and started back to the city. We sped along the now almost dark desert road. Suddenly, our guide slammed on the brakes and pointed to a roadblock dead ahead – with guns. Our hearts almost stopped. Our guide said we had two options – either we stop when we reach the road block and take our chances or – we drive at speed straight through it. He recommended taking the latter course.
“It was agreed, and with terrified thoughts rushing through our minds we sped through the roadblock. Once through, the guide gave a relieved chuckle, then informed us, ‘Ahhh – they were Israeli soldiers – it would have been safe to stop! But better not to take a chance’.”
Highlights from this period of Reg’s life, included spending a day photographing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in and around Balmoral Castle, for a cover story for The Observer color magazine; and sessions with great artists such as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Barbara Streisand, Charles Bronson, Sophia Loren, Andy Warhol, David Hockney and many others.
At this time, Reg also appeared in Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic 1960s film about the London fashion scene, Blow Up, starring Vanessa Redgrave, David Hemmings and Sarah Miles.
“I had a small part playing myself as David Hemming’s assistant,” he comments. “The director wanted a real fashion photographer’s assistant, both in the film, and to advise on photography. I am told he toured all the well-known London photographers’ studios watching them work in the run up to shooting the film before making his choice. It’s still a mystery to me why I got both these roles. David Montgomery was good enough to release me as his assistant for six weeks whilst the film was being shot. Afterwards, I resumed working with him.”
Eventually, Reg took the plunge and went freelance. He was soon invited to be staff photographer for the magazine Management Today, a glossy business monthly using a free creative style. Reg adds, “This was a great arrangement as it provided a regular shop window for my work for many years, while at the same time allowing me to continue with other freelance photography. From this, other commissions began flowing in from magazines, corporations, and the advertising sector, resulting in a thirty-one year freelance career working worldwide.”
In 1972, Reg directed a color documentary film featuring the Brigham Young University Dance Team, which was shot at the Royal Albert Hall, and various other London locations.
He was also Director of Photography on a color film, Seismic Images, for a Norwegian oil exploration company. Filming, directed by Ragnar Lasse Henriksen, took place in Norway, USA, Singapore and the UK. This was followed by another Henriksen movie, for which Reg again directed photography – The Visualiser – shot in France, Thailand and the USA.
In addition to working in film, Reg has been commissioned by such prestigious magazines as Art & Antiques, Fortune, Money, Nova, the Sunday Times, and numerous major advertising agencies. He has also produced pictures for the Ensign, and the New Era.
Among others, Reg Wilkins has photographed actors, bankers, industrialists, politicians, and radio and television Personalities. His pictures have received nominations and awards from the New York Art Directors Club, The Guardian, and the Designers and Art Directors Association of London; and have been exhibited at the Association of Photographers Gallery, the New Kodak Gallery in London, and all the major cities in the UK.
Reg married Wendy Popple in 1962. They are members of the Whitechapel Ward, Hyde Park Stake, in London, England, and have six children – four daughters and two sons – and sixteen grandchildren, with more on the way.
Along with his photographic career, Reg has long been a public speaker on the subject of healthful living, promoting education in matters relating to health and longevity. He has been a member of the National Health Association based in Tampa, Florida, since 1985.
In 1969, Reg and his family were converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, following in the footsteps of his younger brother, Victor, and older sister, Pamela. This fascinating story will follow in a later issue of Meridian Magazine. Due, in part, to their miraculous experience, the Wilkins have always enjoyed talking to non-members about the gospel. Reg, in particular, includes a gift-wrapped Book of Mormon containing his personal testimony, a church pamphlet, or an invite to dinner or church, in his luggage while traveling around the world. He adds, “I just feel so grateful for the incomparable blessings that come from being a church member, and find that this quite naturally overflows into sharing the gospel with others.”
Reg has had his share of trials amid the blessings. One serious setback occurred on a commission for a major corporation on a 90-day shoot in multiple countries. He had an accident resulting in head injury after effects, which greatly limited his ability to work as normal. Consequently, Reg had to simplify his life and labor. Today, generally, he only shoots documentary pictures in black and white. Many of these, along with images from his archive dating back to 1964, he makes available as collector prints.
He adds, “I am trying to claw my way back following the accident but it’s enormously challenging as mild, but permanent brain damage has occurred. I only survive through faith, and the huge support being given by my wife, family, friends, the Association of Photographers, and a list of others. I am by no means out of the woods yet regarding my work, but keep soldiering on.”
Reg hopes to continue sharing experiences and values through his images as he searches for someone to collaborate with him in publishing the retrospective book of his life’s work and promoting his collector prints. For more information and access to some of his photographs, please visit the following sites:
Reg Wilkins can also be contacted by email:
Article by LDS author, Anne Bradshaw
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.