The Diary: Tea and photography

Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner
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IT was a project about human nature, about the importance of family and about the fundamental similarities between supposedly different cultures on opposite sides of the world.

But the one moment of enlightenment Jonathan Turner really remembers from a two-year photography assignment carried out in Sheffield and Sri Lanka? Yorkshire tea has nothing on what they serve over there.

“Does that make me a traitor?” he asks. “It’s true. Tea is grown there so it has this freshness. They serve it with ginger.”

The 40-year-old was offered plenty of brews during his project.

Over 24 months he photographed dozens of families in their homes, firstly in South Yorkshire, then in Sri Lanka. For each picture taken here, he snapped a corresponding one there.

The results are a remarkable collection capturing the fact there may be 8,000 miles between the two places but certain fundamental truths remain the same: people cherish their families, are proud of their homes, and if a bloke turns up with a camera they tend to accommodate him.

“I shot one family in Pitsmoor,” notes the 40-year-old. “I ended up being given a chicken dinner.”

The assignment was carried out for an MA in photography which Jonathan is currently doing at the University of Bolton.

But the results have so impressed they have now been exhibited in Sheffield - at the Huttton’s Building in West Street - and will next month be shown at prestigious Leeds venue the White Cloth Gallery.

“It seems to have touched a nerve,” says the father-of-two. “I don’t want to get too philosophical - it’s too early in the morning - but I think they show there are certain things which make us human; that love of family and where we live, and willingness to help strangers. I think when there are so many conflicts in the world, that makes people quite optimistic.”

Not a bad result, all in all, for a project which came about almost by accident.

In 2011 Jonathan, who lives in Leeds, was commissioned by the Millennium Gallery to take pictures of Sheffield families. He took most in the Pitsmoor and Burngreave areas.

And that would have been that. Except with those duly done, he travelled around Sri Lanka with his girlfriend where, in a moment of inspiration, he decided to snap corresponding photos there.

“I don’t know where the idea came from,” he says. “It was just a light bulb moment.”

And now? He reckons he might go global.

“You could take matching pictures all over the world,” he says. “Maybe I’ll do South America next.”

One wonders what the tea will be like there.

Jonathan’s work will be shown at the White Cloth Gallery in Aire Street, Leeds, February 21 to March 6.