A photographer from Riddings will be the focus of continental attention this week, after being selected to represent Britain in a special exhibition.
Tony Fisher, 63, is showcasing some of his stunning shots at the PsycArt Gallery in Brussels, as one of 25 artists in show organised by the European Federation of Associations of Families of People with Mental Ill Health.
He said: “I’ve not really exhibited outside country before, so it’s nice to have the opportunity. I’ll be meeting MEPs and all the other artists, and finding out all about their work. I’m quite proud to have been chosen.
“It’s daunting too, but I’ve had plenty of help to get me there. ”
He was nominated for the exhibition by national charity Rethink Mental Illness, with whom Tony has worked on and off since the Ripley outreach service helped him begin to manage the effects of depression and anxiety.
An art student earlier in life, the charity’s services allowed him to reconnect with his creative side many years after a succession of heartbreaks threw him off course.
He said: “My mum, dad and wife died within a few weeks of each other, and my whole world collapsed - while I was trying to bring up two young children. Things spiralled out of control. I’d been making films for Channel 4, and then ended up driving a taxi.”
Having first sought help for depression in 1995, it was only around 2009 that he began attending art classes run by Rethink - but since then there has been no stopping him.
Tony said: “They helped me put together an exhibition, and one thing led to another and I ended up winning a national award.
“Since then, I’ve been getting support from the Arts Council, Derby QUAD and a few other places to put on shows and run projects all over the country.”
His work has recently been seen at Derby Hospitals and the University of Nottingham, and Tony has just completed a residency at the Art House in Wakefield.
In the New Year he will have a solo exhibition at Artcore in Derby, and is developing other ideas with the Arts Council.
Although his success arose from a mental health setting, and he is now a passionate advocate for charities and patient organisations, Tony resists his work being categorised simply.
He said: “I’m not a different person from when I started taking pictures in 1970, it’s circumstances have changed. I wouldn’t define myself as a mental health photographer – but it’s good to push out positive stories about it.
“I have a physical disability too, and I know how people get written off as they go through the system. It can be a very patronising view. I struggle, but I don’t give in - that’s the point. I just try to fit everything in around staying healthy.”
Tony’s work transcends boundaries. Between his live music photography, lifestyle magazines, documentary projects and more artful pieces, the unifying factor is an instinct for the spontaneous moment with emotional depth.
He said: “I don’t really have a style, I’m probably interested in too many things, but people can usually tell when it’s my work.
“I like things that are quirky, I’m not interested in tradition. All my photos are taken as I see them and there’s very little trickery involved.”
The exhibition is being held to highlight the often unsung role of family carers, and is themed around ideas of ‘home’ - both topics on which Tony has a complex view.
He said: “I don’t really feel like I have a home, despite living in the place where I was born. Our family house fell to bits after dad died and I had to sell it. I felt totally uprooted and like a refugee in my own community.
“Now I like in a one-bed flat in sheltered accommodation. It’s nice, but it’s not a home with memories and security.”
He added: “It gets claustrophobic, and I want to be out engaging with the world, meeting people and doing interesting things. The OSCARI charity lunches in Riddings have been a lifeline in that respect. People are trying to revive a community spirit.”
“But I can get inspired walking out in a park. Anywhere with light and shade could make a picture. I find it more difficult this time of year, but I always carry a camera and take photos every day.
He added: “It’s therapeutic too. I couldn’t just stare at the wallpaper all day. I want to do something creative or useful to society.”
His contribution has been repaid in preparation for his trip to Belgium. Royal Derby Hospital staff held a bake sale to fund his travel after Tony held an exhibit there, with further support coming from friends, family, the trade union Unite and Rethink.
He said: “I didn’t know anything about it, but one of the staff at the hospital said they’d stayed up all night making cakes.
“I’m very grateful. It’s important to find people who encourage you, rather than ignore you or put you down.”
To find out more about Tony and his work, go to www.anthonyfisherphotography.co.uk.