Ron Smith

Most of our members will know Ron Smith who used to give us many fascinating and informative talks on pushing the boundaries of photography. As you may know he’s now blind and bed ridden in Belong Care home with his wife, Bonnie who’s 96.

With regard to his upcoming 100th birthday at the end of June the RPS magazine are planning to publish an article about his life. They have awarded him their Hood medal twice for his services to photography.

From the information I’ve learned from him over the past few years of my twice weekly visits to him and with some help from John, I’ve written this article to pass on to the RPS so they can produce their article from it. I’m also making a card for him and Sharon has kindly offered to do so as well.

Here’s my notes on Ron’s life:

Ron Smith 100 years old on 26th.June. 

Ron Smith was born in London on 26th. June 1920. He was an inquisitive child and loved to experiment with new discoveries. He took an interest in sports and at the age of eight was bitten hard by the photography bug. Ron left school at 14 as a self taught photographer and a keen cyclist. He went everywhere by bike and combined it with his love of photography to record the beautiful countryside he toured. He regularly cycled 200 miles over a weekend and considered 25miles a sprint. The second World War put an end to his cycling and his last race was in 1939.

Ron’s first camera was an Agfa Isorette which he used to hide in his cycle cape and smuggle into the Port of London to document life there. He later progressed to an Ensign Selfix and later a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye which used 120 roll film. When Ron turned digital he quickly mastered his Leica Digilux 1 and the last camera he used was a Nikon D90. When he was young he used to develop his black and white films in the family toilet. His father frequent banged on the door wanting to use the lavatory!  He made his prints with a homemade enlarger from a Sanderson plate portrait camera.

Ron joined the TA in 1937 and during the war he was stationed in Yorkshire. He married his lifelong sweetheart, Bonne in 1942, but they were unable have a honeymoon because of the war.  While Ron was serving in Yorkshire his London home was bombed. His wife Bonnie survived with baby Michael by sheltering in the Anderson shelter in the garden. They were able move to a fruit farm for temporary accommodation. However, the army refused to grant Ron 48 hours leave to visit Bonnie so he went AWOL and hitch-hiked down to see her. Their house was uninhabitable, but Ron and a friend from the wet fish shop were able to recover some belongings including a German built upright piano which they moved to Bonnie’s mother’s house. When he returned to the army he was punished by having his upcoming promotion rescinded.

Ron and Bonnie were now homeless and in desperation to find somewhere to stay  he arranged to have a leaflet drop from an aircraft asking for some accommodation. His appeal was answered by a doctor who had two spare rooms in his surgery. Ron and Bonnie moved in with baby Michael. Unfortunately, the baby’s crying upset the doctor during surgery and when Bonnie was taken ill Ron left the door open so he could see her across a passage. The patients had to walk through the passage and the doctor’s wife ordered Ron to close the door, but he refused. There was an argument and they struggled over the door. The doctors wife fell and hurt her leg. The doctor called the police and Ron was charged with assault. He went to court and was bound over to keep the peace and told to leave the doctors’.

During the war Ron also had a spell in the Orkneys which didn’t see much action. As the weapons were in more need in the South of England the Orkneys were protected by life size wooden replica guns and tanks!  Enterprising Ron quickly established a photographic business there. He took portraits of the troops in their uniform and also hand tinted black and white prints for them. The weekly ration boat soon became a source of photos sent from the mainland to be skilfully colour tinted by Ron.

 After the war, in 1947 Ron worked at a teachers training college and later taught at the new Holland Park School in London between 1958 and 1983 with an enthusiastic and engaging style. It was the first school in the country to have a dedicated photography department. One of Ron’s pupil’s was Peter Dazeley BEM FRPS who progressed to become a successful fine art and advertising photographer. Whilst at the school Ron also found the time to become an excellent badminton player.

In 1976 Ron was awarded the Hood Medal by the RPS for his services to photographic education. He was in good company as the previous year the renowned nature photographer Heather Angel won it and in the following years it was won by Jacques Cousteau, Lord Snowdon, Sir David Attenborough and Harold Evans. Ron was even awarded it again, thirty years later in 2006!

When he retired Ron and Bonnie moved to Crewe nearer his brother. Once he settled there he became an active member of Crewe Photographic Society in 1999 where he gave many entertaining and hilarious talks. Ron always like to push the boundaries of photography. Much to the then Secretary’s horror, during one of his practical and interactive talks to Crewe Photographic Society he was photographing without a camera. He used a flatbed scanner to record coloured dyes in a glass tray of water. The Secretary was terrified that Ron might blow us all up! He donated a trophy to the club which he wanted given to the member whose work showed outstanding creativity in a particular year. Those who remember Ron knew exactly what he meant and the selectors always feel him looking over their shoulders when they make that award at the season’s end. In gratitude for the service Ron contributed to Crewe Photographic Society they awarded him a life time membership. Ron missed teaching so much that he also joined the U3A and started giving photography classes there. His total service to education must have been well over 70 years!

Ron was full of engaging stories, his memories of his pupils were still fresh, showing real compassion; it is easy to see how he earned their respect and attention. Along the way the audience had the privilege of seeing items from his personal museum of analogue photography, just at the cusp of the digital take-over. Not that Ron was stuck in the past, he was investigating the digital world with a youthful curiosity that quite shamed his contemparies. He was adventuresome and independently minded with his own work too and shunned any form of following fashion.

Sadly, by the time Ron reached 95 his glaucoma had progressed to the extent that he was blind and he gradually suffered a loss of mobility too and became bed ridden. Ron and Bonnie have now been married for 76 years and they both live in the Belong Care Home in Crewe. Although Ron is blind and bed ridden his mind is still bright and he can remember remarkable details from his past. Even his seeming endless list of jokes! One joke he told me was about his own blindness. He said he was playing blind man’s buff and won three times. Then he got disqualified for not wearing a blind fold.  Bonnie is now 96 and on 26th.June 2020 Ron turns 100 which is an amazing achievement.