Fred Johnstone: A Life in Photography

Fred at work

Fred Johnstone

Lancaster Photographic Society is sad to have to announce the death of their oldest member and Honorary Life President, Fred Johnstone.

Fred was a member of the Society for almost half a century, regularly attended meetings until a little over a year ago, and was an enthusiastic competitor and fine photographer until the end. After helping to form Prestwich Camera Club in 1956, he moved to Lancaster in 1964 and joined Lancaster Photographic Society. Since then his name has been repeatedly inscribed across almost all of the Society’s trophies. He won the Best Monochrome Print award 11 times since its inception in 1998, and the Photographer of the Year trophy on 7 occasions. Last year the Society unanimously elected him as its first Honorary Life President.

Fred began taking photographs 72 years ago, aged just 14, with a bakelite camera bought from Woolworths for one shilling and sixpence. Chemists did most of the developing then, but pioneers could develop their own work on paper which they coated themselves and exposed in bright sunlight. Young Fred had a go at printing on a handkerchief. He brought up the image but didn’t fix it, so it went black and ruined the hanky, to his aunt’s wrath.

A year later he bought a 620 Portrait Brownie. Then, after the war, colour photography became available, and Fred tried it using an American camera, the Argus C3. This was also known as ‘The Brick’ because of its regular cuboid shape. He started with Dufay film, then tried Ilford before settling on Kodakchrome, which he subsequently used for almost all his slide work.

Around this time Fred really began his love affair with the technicalities of the camera. It began with a second hand Leica and often extended to a collection of 30 cameras. He owned, and used, nearly 100 cameras including collectables such as the Linhof Technika and the Ensign Autorange, but his all-time favourite was the Contaflex Rapid, which he felt produced superior slides to any previous camera.

Fred began home processing monochrome prints in the 1950s. He first used the lens to make an episcope, then bought a Johnson enlarger and began to specialise in medium format monochrome photography. He soon began to complement this with colour slides, eventually amassing a collection of 50,000 slides, all stored in his own handmade boxes.

The coming of the digital camera did not interest him for a while. Kodak will have to go on making paper just for me, he grumbled. But Fred loved a photographic challenge, so at the turn of the century he installed a computer, the enlargers were moved out in favour of inkjet printers, and at the age of eighty he had a ‘state of the art’ digital set up and became adept in Photoshop. For several years he continued to produce award winning pictures, until declining health forced a reluctant retiral.

Last year Fred’s step-daughter, Joy Ahmed, organised an exhibition of his work in Lancaster, which Fred helped to prepare. A further exhibition is planned this year. With his passing, LPS has lost a good friend, a committed and enthusiastic member, a link to a previous photographic era, and a fine photographer.

We offer our sympathy and condolences to Joy and her family.