‘Photography helped me stay alive’ says British artist Anthony Fisher

Artist Anthony Fisher has a talent for making the ordinary, extraordinary. Whether it’s a shop-floor mannequin, some urban graffiti, or a pet dog, he is able to transform the seemingly mundane into something beautiful. His journey as an artist started at Derby College in the early 1970s where he fell in love with iconic artists, such as Henri-Cartier Bresson, Man Ray and Salvador Dali, and has continued to this day. He is currently working on a Arts Council England project, exhibiting at a series of shows across the UK and will feature at EUFAMI’s ‘Home’ exhibition in late 2017. But achieving his goals as an artist was never easy and tragedy nearly derailed his ambitions.

The death of his wife from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and both his parents in the space of just one year put Anthony on a dangerous downward spiral.

“My wife dropped dead and my whole world collapsed. I was left with two little kids to bring up, got involved with the wrong crowd and ended up getting abused and losing a lot of money”

Anthony started to experience mental health issues, including anxiety and panic attacks, and struggled to find adequate support. He says he “saw all this tragedy in my past and art was the thing that kept me alive.” For 7 years, he worked as a taxi driver to help make ends meet but he never lost sight of his ambition to be an artist, using the opportunity to take photos from the window of his cab.

At times serious, but also playful with a rebellious streak, his art seems to be a way to connect his own intimacies and traumas to a broader public discourse.

His photos are also heavily inspired by a painterly tradition, such as his ‘Homage to Chagall’, an un-manipulated image featuring a watery blue ‘palette’ that could be part of the oeuvre of the Russian-French folk-inspired ‘Naïve’ art by Marc Chagall.

During a walk in Matlock Green park, Derbyshire in late 2014, he spotted something floating in a pond that stopped him in his tracks — and captured the scene with his Lumix compact camera.

“I was in my local town, it was a miserable day, I was feeling depressed and suddenly I found this bird floating in a boating pond with a shadow of a tree over it — and it was like magic. You can’t go out and expect the unexpected but when it does happen, it’s great.”
Homage to Marc Chagall

Several motifs run through his work, including dead birds, frames, and ‘portals’, but he says he does not set out to take photos about mental health. It seems his photography is more about probing, or even attempting to resolve inner conflict by capturing a spontaneous moment.

Despite travelling extensively, including touring Europe on a motorbike and a period living in Almeria in southern Spain, Anthony now lives and works in the town where he was born. He feels no special affinity to any one fixed place, saying his ‘home’ town has changed “beyond recognition” over the years. Inspiration, he says, can come from anywhere.

But he does believe in the importance of community and plays an active role within local groups to help people living with mental ill health. He campaigns through a series of associations, including Rethink Mental Illness. He says he wants vulnerable people to know that they do not need to suffer in silence — as he did for too long — and that help is at hand if they need it.

Anthony says he feels optimistic about the future and wants to continue taking photos as long as he is capable. Some physical ailments, he says, are slowing him down, but he hopes to be ‘working’ until he is 100.

Anthony is the director of the UK Channel 4 documentary ‘A Clearing in the Woods’ and has given keynote speeches at The Lowry Centre, Salford; SHAPE Stratford Gallery, London; Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, and Erewash Museum, Derbyshire. In 2016 he won the Rethink Pringle Award for poetry and he will take part in EUFAMI’s ‘Home’ exhibition in Brussels in November 2017. His work can be seen at various galleries across the UK. More information can be found on his website.

Interview carried out by EUFAMI Communications Officer, Paul Nolan.