Love of art sparks romance for Derbyshire photographer and painter

Lockdown caused loneliness for some people and gave others a new focus in life.

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 7:50 am

Photographer Tony Fisher encountered both aspects as he gathered material for his latest exhibition Only The Lonely?

His collection of 30 photographs, which are now on show at the Peak District Mining Museum in Matlock Bath, were taken before and during the pandemic and will continue to evolve until April next year under his Arts Council funded project.

Tony, 66, who lives in Riddings said: “The circumstances are pretty grim with Covid but for me it’s been a more positive time than I would have imagined.

A romance developed between Tony Fisher and Fi Marks during lockdown afterthey bonded bonding through their love of art.

"During the lockdown and before that, I was photographing people and those who I was photographing said it really lifted them. When you weren’t allowed to drive very far I managed to find people who couldn’t go out of the house as they were either shielding or were looking after someone.

"I got one guy holding up two model campervans and there were clouds floating over the roof so it looked like a dream. There was a guy who was an out of work circus performer who did some fire-eating behind the window and there was a woman knitting for the NHS who was shielding her 80-year-old father in Matlock. The really exciting thing that I got involved with was the Belper Moo – people mooing outside their house every night at 6.30pm. That kept me going and I made many new friendships.

"I went every day to my local park and woods photographing the landscape. You’d think after a year of going into the park, I’d be bored but it’s all about the light and different seasons.”

In November, just before lockdown, Tony met Kilburn based artist Fi Marks and the pair bonded over their love of art. Tony said: “Meeting Fi was magical. She is an amazingly positive person and she has changed my life.”

Jeanette Jackson blew a lorry's horn to launch the Belper Moo.

Fi said: “Both of us had been mixing in similar circles like the Belper Art Trail but we hadn’t actually met. I’d like to think Tony wooed me. It was a very old-fashioned courtship, which was lovely.

“We discussed ways how we could combine Tony’s photography and my artwork. It started off with Tony taking photographs in the environment and then I started painting on the photos or canvases to create different stories from the original. One of the photos is of the Butterley train museum at Ripley and I painted a bohemian, sixties Biba-style woman on it; another is a black and white photograph of the Leeds-Bradford canal and on that I painted a Victorian couple.

"We started taking my paintings out on walks with us so Tony could photograph them and we put them on our Seekers of Stardust page on Facebook which is what we set up during the pandemic to meld our work together.

"Finding beauty, finding joy wherever you are is a positive mindset, something that Tony and I feel really strongly about and want to promote.”

Fi has 12 paintings in the Only The Lonely? exhibition which features two of the couple’s collaborations. She said: “We chose May 17 to launch the exhibition in Matlock because it was the very first day you were allowed inside a museum building. It was very exciting for us – two artists who got together during lockdown, then to have a joint exhibition on the first day it was actually allowed.

"It’s so important to get people to go out and see the arts and support the arts more than ever after the last 18 months.”

Tony said: “What is good is that people are going there that have never gone to an art exhibition before.”

The exhibition was scheduled to run at Ilkeston’s Erewash Museum before Matlock. Tony said: “Disappointingly, the only person who saw it there was Fi. The day after we put it up we went into the second lockdown – it was on over Christmas and no-one was allowed to see it.”

One of the photographs in the exhibition – entitled At The Boundary and taken in Sutton-in-Ashfield – has been accepted by Historic England for its national permanent collection relating to lockdown.

In the autumn, Tony and Fi will be going to Barcelona where two of Tony’s photographs will be shown in the Pollux Awards Exhibition at the FotoNostrum Gallery. One of the photographs shows two women laughing on a bench in Burnham on Sea and the other is of artist Seema Gill carrying her paintings underneath a pier at Worthing. They were selected for the exhibition in Spain after Tony was named runner-up in the Julia Margaret Cameron Awards.

Tony first became interested in photography as a pupil at Swanwick Grammar School, then studied at Derby Art College and later did a degree at Trent Polytechnic.

He said: “You don’t have to have the best camera to take photographs. I have a Nikon D-SLR camera but the big camera is heavy when you’re carrying it on long walks. I’ve taken a lot of photographs on a small Lumix compact camera and I’m increasingly using an iPhone.”

Only The Lonely? is running at the Peak District Mining Museum until June 27, 2021.

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