John Malcolm Couzins

John was born in London on 1st July 1948 and died in Folkestone on 4th July 2009.

From 1963, at the tender age of 16, through to 1966 he attended a foundation course at Swindon College of Art & Design and later specialised in Graphic design and Photography. From those early days his work showed maturity beyond his years, producing some excellent pieces of artwork, one of which was selected for the Bath & West Summer show. But even when he had such success, he was often dissatisfied and always felt he could improve further. There was always a personal drive to achieve better.

From the outset, John showed a real passion not just for photography but for other art media. He developed a keen appreciation for a variety of art forms and admired many other artists. Rather than be critical of art he didn’t like, he would remain open minded and try to understand the artist in question. It was however photography that captivated him most. Times were tough in those days (nothing changes) and with little money available, he studied throughout the day at art school and then worked nights and weekends simply to earn enough to buy the photographic equipment he needed; such was his commitment.

After several years at Art School John was itching to get out into the real world of photography and in 1967 he was offered a job as a studio assistant and b/w printer with a local photographer, Gordon Young, specializing in portraits and weddings etc. John learnt quickly and made a success of his first job. However, after a year or so, John felt he had outgrown this position and longed to be away from Swindon which he felt had limited opportunities for creative photography. In fact, John never really felt at ease or happy in Swindon and had few good words for the town. London was the only place to be and in the late 60’s it was full of creativity within the world of arts with music, fashion, painting and photography all buzzing with an explosion of creativity. John simply wanted desperately to be a part of what was happening there.

In 1968 he departed for London and soon found a position as a photographer’s assistant and b/w printer. The Photographer was Ida Kar. Ida immediately recognized John’s potential. She understood not only his passion and commitment to photography but also his very limited financial state. As such, she very kindly offered him accommodation in her residence in Rex Place, Mayfair. John temporarily lived in a world of luxury and creative chaos which he found truly fascinating. He found himself engulfed by a household full of valuable paintings as Victor Musgrave – Ida’s husband and art gallery owner – stored many unique and original canvasses there. This environment proved to be of great inspiration. John spent much time simply studying the works of art he was surrounded by.

Ida was full of energy, vitality and eccentricity which John found very stimulating. This period was highly influential on his later career. He learnt much and was forever indebted to her teaching him, and the kindness she bestowed upon him.

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National Portrait Gallery

View a superb collection of John’s work at London’s prestigious National Portrait Gallery
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By 1971 Ida Kar had to vacate the Mayfair residence, and with her career also in a severe down turn, John could no longer continue as her ‘pupil’. From this time on he had to find his own way.

However, John soon found positions as a freelance studio manager and b/w printer to photographers including Mark Gerson, Sam Haskins, Anthony Crickmay, Theo Bergstrom, Graham Henderson, Edward Arrowsmith and Lester Bookbinder in the areas of still life, fashion and portrait. During this period he also gradually took on more responsibility of the creative aspects.

In 1975, John opened his own independent studio, initially in Smithfield’s Market, and thereafter re-locating to Limehouse Cut. He became firmly established in the areas of advertising, editorial, design and packaging, and portraits. Some of his most notable works during this period were within the bustling music industry with several assignments as tour photographer to the likes of Kiss/Bob Seger; Supertramp; Slick/Midge Ure; Led Zeppelin.

John had a very fine eye for detail and honed these skills and techniques on his much loved and favoured Gandolfi large frame camera.

He never lost his passion for photography – at times it seemed it was the only thing he lived for. He never tired of exploring new approaches and possibilities. Sometimes it seemed as though he viewed life through a view finder, often holding his hands in a framing position and commenting on an interesting composition. Other times, quite unexpectedly, he would remark on a particular mood of light.

Although John was very late to embrace digital photography, he was very keen to explore its possibilities. And had his life not been cut short it would almost certainly have opened a new and exciting chapter in his career.

On a personal note, John was interested in almost everything and everybody – very garrulous and knowledgeable – he loved to talk and could hold his own debating most any subject. He was a loyal and kind person and could, when the mood struck him, be exceptionally funny.

His meticulous eye for detail bordered frequently on the obsessive. Every object, however functional and banal, had to be aesthetically pleasing and represent the best principles of design. Even a small detail like a milk jug or door handle for example had to be agreeable and he would happily do without either for years until he spotted just the right thing. In fact, he only found and purchased the ‘right’ laptop in 2009, just weeks before his death.

He loved a good burger and chips, mechanical toys, rock music, cats, snooker, Matisse, rummaging in antique jobs and reclamation yards, and rainy day reflections of light.

His enthusiasms knew no bounds. Cooking and gardening were recent passions. His quest to create the perfect Singapore noodle dish and get his fig tree to produce fruit meant extensive research. His friends loyally ate their fill of noodles and would patiently wait while he interrogated garden centre staff.

He took life’s knocks on the chin and believed hard work and resourcefulness would ultimately generate just rewards. There was no room for self-pity and negativity – it was always onward and upward – a cuppa, a roll-up and a fresh start to a new day!

Surely ‘a man of his time’.