Kenneth William Padley
FBIPP, FRPS, FRSA
Naturalist, Photographer and Wildlife Artist
Ken Padley’s expertise as a photographer developed very much as an extension to his primary interest in wildlife, but the wildlife subject always came first. As he explained:
“It has to be that way. Without a real fascination for and an understanding of your subject your chances of taking a good photograph are slender………There are times when the subject in the camera frame is so absorbing, I forget to press the shutter”.
His photographic career led him ultimately to his role as Senior Lecturer in Fine Art and Head of Department in Photography at Loughborough College of Art. His attitude to teaching was progressive. As he himself wrote in 1981: –
“The photographic tutor should free the teaching of photography from restrictive long-standing dogmas. He should appeal to serious photographers to question both their medium and their approach to it. The visual vocabulary of any photographer should allow a freedom in technique and imagination that allows him to comment unfettered by laws which have concealed from us a whole world of mystery and discovery. One should feel impelled to work not fearing to experiment. Constant innovation and creativity are essential to combat visual mediocrity. Let the inner needs of the photographer prescribe for the specifics of any photograph to determine for himself the best path, be it contrived, straight or whatever and above all to be free to express himself in his own way”.
Ken Padley’s minute attention to detail and a desire for absolute accuracy in his wildlife paintings ensured that every hair or feather was exactly as it should be, down to the counting the exact number of primary feathers on the bird for instance. This extended to every detail of the habitat in which his subject is placed. To assume though, that this was merely a desire to reproduce faithfully would be to completely misunderstand. His purpose was rather to enhance the experience for the observer and to present the essence of the subject in a way that even the highest quality photograph at the time could not. It was not unheard of for admirers of his paintings to comment that they “look just like a photograph”. This was often intended as a compliment but would unfortunately cause Ken considerable exasperation. The point for him was to produce an image of something that is not normally seen, or is taken for granted, and in doing so create something extraordinary from the ordinary – a technique we have become very familiar with in the digital age.
Troubled by the question often posed to him over the years about whether his work was or wasn’t “art”, he commented:
“I’m not interested in whether my work is considered artistic – it’s not even a phrase I like. I’m more concerned with the relationship between tonal contrast, texture and the balance of scale, mass and linear correlation. In short, the aesthetics of a picture.” “The imaginative eye knows more than the eye and the lens can see”.
For Ken, his photographs and paintings were not just about what he observed but about what he felt about the subject he saw.