I met Eric Lockrane at Colchester School of Art in the early 1960s. We were both slightly older than the other students, me coming off a building site and Eric being invalided out of RAF flying training due to an injury. We were there together for a year before he went off to The Royal College of Art and I to St Martins. During this year we both became obsessed with photography and started to discover the benchmarks (Penn, Avedon, Cartier-Bresson, Klein) that would inform our tastes forever.
I soon discovered that Eric had a superb eye, not just as a photographer but also as an illustrator. A great draughtsman, he had a knack of finding the graphic elements in everything he drew or photographed. He was accepted into the Royal College as an illustration student but, ever a maverick, he started to use the College’s darkrooms and left prematurely to pursue a career as a photojournalist.
In this he was very successful. He became a protege of Bruce Bernard at the Sunday Times Magazine. At the same time, he was photographing cars in his inimitable graphic style for Car magazine, something of a leader in editorial design. He freelanced widely and I remember memorable images from the famous Grosvenor Square demonstrations and wonderful shots taken in the Clydeside shipyard. One of his clients at this time was a magazine called Industrial Management and in 1971, Eric and a journalist went to Iran to cover the signing of a trade/oil agreement between the UK and Iran. Eric was the only European photographer present. His portrait of the Shah inspecting his ministers was an important picture to Eric personally and also important given the history of Iran in the past 40 years.
The picture was used along with others and then Eric lost the original transparency. I think all photographers know the feeling; the lost neg or tyranny you hope will turn up. Eric was never the most organised person when it came to taking care of business, and he found that the expenses and day to day funding necessary to cope as a photographer wore him down. Film and processing costs got in the way so he decided to return to Illustration which he did with equal success, immediately finding work for his witty drawings in magazines as diverse as Oz and New Society. He was a generous friend and introduced me to several of his own clients, helping me to start my freelance career.
As life went on, Eric, with a growing family, decided to teach and became Head of Illustration at North Staffordshire School of Art. He was a great teacher but teaching full time in Art School can steal your soul. Eric continued to produce masses of photos and drawings but the work somehow never got seen beyond a small circle. At one time frustrated with the amount of pictures he was taking and not showing he decided to cut his production of photos by taking only photographs that had a ladder in the picture, which he called “Ladderscapes” .
Eric satisfied his creative instincts by turning to jazz, becoming a jazz flautist as well as playing amplified harmonica – and found an audience with jazz lovers all over the North of England. I used to see Eric two or three times a year and we talked mainly about important things like photography, drawing and jazz. Always at sometime during the conversation Eric would wryly say to me, “You know I lost that picture of the Shah”. Eric died suddenly about 18 months ago. He had retired and was settling down to begin painting. In our last conversations we planned to meet more often to discuss the lifelong interests that we shared. And then he was gone.
Two months ago Eric’s widow Maggie received a small parcel and in it were five 6×6 Ektachrome transparencies. Two pictures of the Shah and some local colour. They had been sitting at the back of the cupboard belonging an old girlfriend who, on finding them, and hearing of Eric’s death, thoughtfully sent them on. Eric left a wife, Maggie and two children: Beth, a doctor, and Gareth, who is now one of Britain’s top jazz flute players. He lived long enough to see their success even if he never found his missing pictures.