Peter Aitchison, travel photographer

cat doorLike a cat with nine lives – that’s travel photographer Peter Aitchison.

He has faced challenges that would see most of us crumble, but he just brushes himself down and heads on to the next hurdle.

He has been dodging and dealing with what life throws at him since he was a small boy – a Geoffrey Archer novel has nothing on the stories he has to tell.

“It’s been one heck of a journey that’s for sure. Highs, lows, a lot of luck, hard work and always my camera,” said Peter who is the joint owner of Buxton’s Gallery 23.

The 53-year-old was brought up in a Scottish children’s home during which time almost died from meningitis and with no-one to mentor him managed to evade gaining any qualifications from mainstream education.

With no idea what he wanted to do with his life and no family ties he headed for the bright lights of London, bought a camera and set himself up as a wedding photographer.

“I had no experience of weddings in fact I don’t think I had even been to one but just thought ‘I can do this’. I managed to get a booking and spent ages checking out the venue ahead of the big day so I could get it right,” he said laughing at the sheer audacity of the situation.

“But… they were impressed with the job, and on the back of that I picked up more weddings and marketing work,” he said with some pride.

Needing to hire a studio for some commercial photography later led Peter to meet a photographer who eventually took him on as an assistant.

“He was the most brilliant exceptional photographer and he gave me a chance. That’s where my real education began. Everything I know I learnt there with him.

“Eventually I was able to use the studio to develop my own ideas and was like a kid with the keys to the toybox.”

When the time came for him to move on he started doing PR jobs and working for a press agency. His pictures were appearing in national newspapers and he even had a spell on the Royal rota.

He was earning good money and invested it in one of the first digital cameras and that gave him the advantage of being able to get his pictures to the newsdesk faster than anyone else and led to his first lucky break.

“I had been sent to take pictures of the outside of a London club and by coincidence Danniella Westbrook, who had just had a boob job, was about to arrive.

“As the paparazzi rushed towards her I stepped out of the way because I didn’t want my digital camera to get damaged in the crush and then she dodged them and stepped in front of me.
“I just aimed the camera and clicked and ended up with the picture they all wanted.”

His reputation was sealed and the processing speed of Peter’s new camera then won him a four-year contract taking celebrity pictures for TV’s Big Breakfast, which in turn got him a job taking pictures for the early series of Big Brother.

Eventually Peter and his wife of 30 years Debbie decided they had had enough of the London scene and moved north to Glossop. They were planning to live a comfortable less hectic life.

But that’s when Peter’s life fell apart. “This is the bit where you have to get your tissues out,” he said.

He was not only made redundant from a new contract with Granada TV but also diagnosed with cancer. As he struggled with chemotherapy their finances were in tatters and the couple lost everything including their home and Peter’s cameras.

“I rather lost my way at that point but I survived and am still here to tell the tale so it’s not all bad,” he said.

Ironically it was a car accident in which he was injured while recovering from the cancer that pulled him back.

I used the compensation I received to buy new camera equipment on eBay and started exhibiting my pictures in a community gallery in Stalybridge.

It was there that he met his business partner the artist Christine Ormsby and together they opened Gallery 23 in Stalybridge and then Buxton.

“The gallery was supposed to showcase our own work but it has rather snowballed since then,” he said with a smile.

Now Peter travels the world taking pictures of the hidden urban landscapes that may go unnoticed by others.

“I love architecture especially if it is old and textured. I can’t resist taking pictures of doors and am fascinated by the faces of the people I meet on my travels.

“People joke that my life’s just one big holiday but it is not as simple as that – although sometimes you just strike it lucky,” he said with a laugh, pointing to one of his most popular pictures of a cat sitting in front of a door in Marrakech.

“I was about to move her along let’s just say, when suddenly she turned her back on me and there was the picture. It has turned out to be one of most popular.”

I wondered out loud if she maybe had nine lives like the man who captured her image and Pete just gave me a huge Cheshire Cat grin in reply.

An exhibition of Peter’s pictures is at Gallery 23 from July 31-August 31.

Go to http://www.peteraphoto.com to see more of Peter’s photographs and find out more about his work.

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