Artist on File: Rosemary Cooper

Rosemary Cooper in her studio

This month Clare Kendal Bate met with St. Albans Fine Art Photographer, Rosemary Cooper LRPS, ARPS.

As soon as I sat down in the kitchen with her to share a coffee, I noticed some of her beautiful black and white photographs on the wall.

There is a stunning architectural study of a workhouse in Marseille, with the mid-day sun casting a diagonal shadow across the building; a view of the window seat with very typical French shutters of a Salon de Thé in Provence and a shot of the sun streaming through a Chichester church window.  My absolute favourite photograph is of the billowing lace curtains and handsomely proportioned window of a Budapest Spa hotel.

In his youth, Rosemary’s eldest son took up photography as a serious hobby and when he left for university his parents bought him a new camera so he left the old one behind.  That was when her passion for taking photographs started. ‘It all stemmed from there. I thought, if he can do it I can too.’  Rosemary tells me that she has always taken social photographs at weddings in black and white; ‘I often found that I would get requests for prints of the more off guard moments.’

Rosemary was self-taught and joined a local camera club for a time. However, she decided to take a course for mature students, which is held every Wednesday at the University of Hertfordshire.  ‘I have been going to the Wednesday sessions for many years and love having a day of all things photographic and working with like-minded people.’

There is some very smart equipment in Rosemary’s own darkroom to resize, manipulate and develop photographs. She uses fibre paper, made from cotton rag, and when it is used in some of the photographic treatments it can take a week to dry properly. ‘There is often much more work in producing a photographic image than people may think.’

I comment on how much I like the grain effect on some of the images. ‘The faster the film the more grain effect there is’. Rosemary explained that she uses 400 film speed most of the time. She has several cameras but mainly uses a digital SLR Nikon D80 and a camera using film, a Nikon SLR F80. ‘I prefer using film as I find the results more satisfying.’  

Rosemary and her husband have lived in their house close to the centre of St Albans for 11 years after downsizing when the children finally flew the nest. ‘I love living so close the bustling high street and the Abbey. It makes it so easy to be able catch the different moods the weather can make to the city. Although I have more or less taken every viewpoint I can in St Albans!’

Some wonderful moments have been caught by the lens whilst travelling to places like France, Spain, Italy, Bucharest, Prague, Sweden and the Greek Islands. Rosemary took this evocative image of a Greek lady on her balcony. She is in full gesticular flow, talking to a neighbour in the street.

I have very personal reasons to love the photograph named Paris Square. Elegant and full of charm, it is a romantic image of the alluring Place des Vosges in the Marais district close to where I lived once.

‘Every time I go somewhere new I find a quality that appeals to my eye, I look for atmosphere and love to highlight moods. I like the quality of light in Sweden and travel to Stockholm quite frequently to visit my son and his Swedish wife.’  

Rosemary was a little closer to home when she took this shot in Islington of a very retro street musician.

The image works brilliantly in black and white, giving an air of authenticity to the scene.

I also admire this unusual street portrait taken through the keyhole of a door in the Jewish ghetto in Prague.

Rosemary was born and brought up in Southgate, London.  ‘It was too expensive to buy a house locally so after my husband and I married we moved to St Albans.'  She did office work until she became a full time Mum to look after her two children. Once they were teenagers and had left home Rosemary decided to volunteer as a Basic Skills Teacher for Adults. ‘I think it began with a BBC scheme to help illiterate people and local colleges took up the scheme. Originally I was a volunteer but was then encouraged to be a tutor as I took to it very well.  I’ve been working with adults now for 25 years. I also teach Maths to students after school.’

Professional Links
Rosemary has been a member of the Royal Photographic Society since 1995. She has been awarded a Licentiateship and is an Associate of the RPS. ‘I had to submit 15 prints on one theme. Each print had to be individually strong to be judged. You sit in on the adjudication and a panel of 5 or 6 judges consult and pull your work to bits in front of the audience and announce their decision.’   Rosemary is also a member of the Herts Foto Forum.

Rosemary shows her work at numerous art fairs and exhibits with another photographer, Mary Davis, from Hampstead Garden Suburb, North London.  They have participated in 3 open studios together and take part every other year. ‘I converted and decorated my double garage as an exhibition space and it turned out to be very effective.’  They showed their work for two months from March last year at the Fotofilia Exhibition in Birmingham.
Last autumn the Herts Foto Forum held a successful exhibition of Rosemary’s work at the museum gallery in Hatfield Road.

Self-Published Book
Rosemary has compiled a collection of her black and white photographs in a self-published book called, ‘The People that you meet when walking down the street’. On each turn of the page there are facing images that have a connection but are in juxtaposition. The self-published book is created through the website Booksmart. ‘I recently went to a Royal Photographic Society course for an introduction to the website and how to use it.’ Rosemary has been compiling a selection of images and designing the book. ‘It will probably be just for the family, but I will see what kind of print quality it is. If I’m happy with it, well maybe I will do a larger print run.’  Apparently, getting the right and varied amount of tonal quality is quite difficult in black and white photographic printing, as there are many shades of black.

Admired photographers 
As a photo junkie myself, I was interested to know what photographers had inspired Rosemary. ‘I love the French photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Eugène Atget I have lots of books with their work in.  I also greatly admire the Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész. I have seen all their work in exhibitions in Paris.’

‘I recently saw an exhibition in London that I liked very much. It’s at the Queen’s Gallery and is called ‘The Heart of the Great Unknown’ and marks the 100th anniversary of Scott’s ill-fated journey to the South Pole. There are some marvellous photographs taken in the Antarctic’.

I found Rosemary’s body of work extremely engaging and would highly recommend a viewing. If you would like to see Rosemary’s fine art photography, please contact her on:

Tel no: 01727 751091