5 Questions For Ann Shelbourne


The second of our 5 Questions series is from none other than @Ann Shelbourne, who has become one of Fotozones most prolific members since first joining in 2009. 


1. Why did you pick up a camera?


The first time that I ever handled a camera was when I was about nine: but I was cheated and only realised exactly how much later.


A Great Aunt, bearing a camera loaded with Kodacolor film, visited us. I asked if I could have a turn with her camera and was told: “Certainly you can — in a minute”. When she later sent us prints I couldn’t understand why none of my shots were included — the devious old so-and-so had finished and wound-off the film before letting me have my turn!


Someone must have noticed my interest because they bought me a Coronet box camera. I read the instructions and followed them very carefully and when all twelve shots on my first film turned out perfectly, I was hooked! (I still have all of those photographs.)


Soon dissatisfied with taking static snapshots (with the sun behind me), I tried action shots and indoors shots and, of course, the results were dreadful. The Coronet was not designed for those antics so a much better camera (with adjustable lens and shutter settings) was lent to me.
[Years later, when my own children wanted cameras, I remembered my frustration with that Coronet and bought them proper adjustable cameras from the start.]


Then I bought a book about Photography and discovered that it was possible to develop and print one’s own pictures — and my path forward was probably set in concrete (although the stained paintwork and towels in our bathroom-turned-darkroom were the somewhat unfortunate by-products of that adventure).


After School I was extremely fortunate to be granted a place on the Photography Course at the Guildford Art College where I could learn the correct way to do things and eventually I acquired a properly equipped darkroom of my own.


For me, it has always been the total hands-on experience of both taking and making my photographs which has mattered. I have consequently processed all of my own work from the beginning and have never used outside labs or photo-finishing services. It saved a lot of money too if I did the processing myself but, more importantly, doing my own processing and printing has always given me a lot of pleasure and a sense of achievement when I get the results that I am chasing.



2. What kind of photography brings you the most joy, and why that type?


Tackling any subject which is difficult or challenging; or which leads me to learn about the subject matter itself; or causes me to master a new technique; is the most fun and most stimulating.


It is the subject matter itself that fascinates me and makes me want to dive in and research it more deeply; and then I love being able to use the camera as a tool to portray its unique features and qualities and to tell its story as effectively as possible.


Projects of this kind have included the creation of several Museum exhibits where researching the subject, and writing the text, has been as much fun as taking and printing the photographs and then creating the supporting printed materials.


At one time I was deeply involved in photographing very fine antique silver, high-end jewellery and precious stones; bronze sculptures; and Middle Eastern antiquities. I consequently became fascinated by these lovely pieces and bought a lot of books on those subjects.



“The Sands of Time”: photographed for Topaz, Knightsbridge, London for a full-page ad. in Vogue



“The Last Golden Age of the Cameos 1890: ‘Satyr enjoying a nymph’ “.
One of many photographs which I shot for the Ad. campaign of Hancocks, London.



A Sassanian gold vessel (possibly an incense burner) circa 224-642 AD; shot for a London Gallery



Persian Ceramic circa 1000 BC. Translucencies formed by the glaze over burned-out rice-grains which had been embedded in the soft clay before firing.


I am always intrigued by how things are manufactured, in various industrial processes and in new technologies so I have been involved in many very varied projects for different industries. Most of them have been more pleasurable experiences than taking the photographs for the brochure which I created for a German manufacturer of Sludge Pumps.
[No, you do not need a graphic description of what Sludge Pumps do: suffice it to say that I felt that the Clients might find it appropriate to incorporate “Scratch and Sniff” patches in their brochure!]



Sludge Pumps in the Furnace Room in the Water Pollution Control Plant at Duffin Creek,Toronto.


Whether it’s about the unique aspects of a client’s product, his industry or a new technology; or whether it introduces me to the history and art of an ancient civilisation; or makes me want to know more about the plants and animals of the natural world; it makes no difference — I am excited by the mere chance to see, experience and learn about the new things to which the camera has drawn me.

I have photographed so many different things including complete ranges of products for catalogues and extended sets for editorials ranging from Horticultural supplies, operations in an Oil Exploration company’s Labs., Playground equipment, Wood-working tools, Hand-enamelled boxes, a unique hunting gun, Swedish glassware, and specialised machine tools — among many others.



Horticultural Products (one of a series shot while the growing-season progressed to Harvest).



“The Last Elephant Gun”: photographed for Holland & Holland in 1973 and now in a Texas museum.



A Transducer



Precision Machine Tool used for orbital head-forming and parts-assembling.


Perhaps my cameras have always led the way and I have just followed along; but those cameras have led both me, and my family, into some incredible journeys and global adventures in general. And (but only very recently and since the advent of fast and sophisticated DSLRs) into the pursuit of Wildlife photography and to fabulous expeditions to Africa and Asia.


I had signed-up for Dallas and Pepe’s very first NG Safari on the spur of the moment (which is the way that I am usually inclined to do things!) and then realised that I had absolutely zero experience in photographing wild animals and no suitable lenses either.

The first thing I did was to buy a membership-pass to the nearest Zoo; followed by the rental (and subsequent purchase) of my 200-400mm lens.
I practised diligently on the Zoo animals and was both surprised and delighted with the photographs which I obtained during that first trip to Africa and I think that I became hooked on Wildlife photography from that moment.


Wildlife photography has been particularly rewarding; not only because of the knowledge that I have accrued about the creatures themselves and the ecology and history of their territories; but also because of all the amazing and wonderful people from all around the World that I have met as a result.



Lioness and Cubs at Sabi Sabi in 2016,





Mud-wallowing Hippo on the Chobe River in 2015



3. If you were in charge of camera design at a major manufacturer describe the features and aesthetic of the flagship camera you would have made.

There would be nothing more for me to do: Nikon have already done it with their D5!

That camera is sheer perfection: it seems to be capable of photographing any subject, under any conditions, infallibly. Just handling that camera is thrilling. I have never owned such a superb machine before and I can think of nothing that I would change about its design.

On second thoughts, there is one small thing that I would change: that button on the back of all Nikons, including the D5, which is labelled “Quality”.
This dangerous button (which is not custom-programmable) is hazardous because it can lurch you into shooting JPEGs instead of RAW if you press it inadvertently in the dark—although at least on the D5 it is now illuminated at night.



4. What is the best photography assignment you have ever had as a professional?


One’s first big account always remains memorable and I was given the wonderful opportunity to roam freely around the huge Tate & Lyle sugar refineries in London in the early ‘60s photographing whatever I wanted in order to make a series of eye-catching colour cover photographs for their in-house magazine and for their Annual Report.



Unloading Raw Sugar from a barge on the River Thames in 1964.

When Tate and Lyle introduced new packaging, they asked to photograph one of their new displays in a Super Market together with some models. It was as a bit tricky because we could only have access to the shop during normal opening hours when we had to contend with customers who were trying to shop while we needed quite a lot of space for studio flash units, trailing electric cords, camera, live models and Tate & Lyle’s Product Manager.



A very confused two-year-old Julian being remonstrated with by his stage Mom for eating the sugar (which I had just told him to eat!). Nicola played the part of a superior Big Sister.


I always shot colour negative film and made my own colour prints which went totally against the accepted practice during the Film Era when virtually every other professional photographer shot all colour on Transparency film.


By working with prints I had total control over the final colour balance and, once the Separators and Plate Makers had been persuaded (rather firmly!) that this was the way it was going to be, my clients found that they got very accurate colour reproduction from my photographs so that is possibly why I was given so many great projects.


Another interesting job was shooting a series for the covers for a Lawyer’s magazine when I was given free rein to come up with whatever relevant ideas I could. These ranged from photographing Magna Carta, the Inns of Court in London and various accouterments which were part of the legal world.



The wig and robes of a High Court Judge. I arranged with his clerk to borrow them for photography but I am not sure if the Judge himself ever knew about it.

The book on the table was printed in 1599.


The wig and silk gown of a Queen’s Counsel Barrister.



Close-up of the top left corner of the Salisbury Magna Carta which lists the names of those present at the sealing of it by King John at Runneymede in 1215.


One extensive project involved me in photographing several hundred different historical objects which had been assembled for an exhibition in a New York Museum entitled “The Jewish Community in Early New York 1654-1800”.


A professional Exhibits Designers company had been hired by a prominent New York family to create a travelling photographic version of the exhibit and they commissioned me to take the photographs and make all of the colour prints — many of them as large as 30”x 40”.


The travelling version of this exhibition was first shown at the Hudson River Museum in New York before moving to Washington (where President Gerald Ford opened it). It then moved on to the Spoleto Festival and finally found a permanent home in Israel.


I learned so much about Display techniques from that company which later proved very useful when I was asked to design exhibits for museums and for Industrial Trade Expos.





Some of the panels in the photographic representation of the “The Jewish Community in Early New York 1654-1800” Exhibition.


I have been incredibly fortunate to have had so many very different projects over the years but the most satisfying have been those where I have been allowed almost unfettered control over the complete project from concept through all stages of production to delivery of the final materials.


This has involved me in complete advertising and marketing campaigns from the preliminary basics of designing the Logo and company stationery; establishing the marketing thrust; dealing with all aspects of publicity and promotion including the design and construction of booths for Trade Expos, preparation of press releases, building of web sites and production of Print materials together with all the necessary photography and copy-writing along the way.


One example of that was when SSMC (Singers) asked us to produce everything needed to launch their new invention: a system for remotely monitoring the state of the batteries which are used to fire-up generators during a power-outage.


This very utilitarian product consisted of a distinctly unprepossessing black plastic box and a translucent white Tupperware container attached to a probe!


First,the product needed a name and then to be registered and trade marked. Once we had done that, we designed a Logo which could scale to be used on everything from Business Cards, letterheads and on the sides of trucks.


Next I shot night-time photographs of the sorts of places which must never lose power and which depend on reliable generators. Locations included a hospital, the control tower of an international airport, a shopping mall, a high-rise residential building and a high-security jail. (This series led to a few exchanges with security police who were very concerned as to why I was prowling around such places with a camera in the dark!).


We then designed and produced brochures, Direct-mailing pieces, press advertising, press releases and a booth for Industrial Expos.



Just two plastic boxes . . . with some fairly sophisticated circuitry inside them.



The PowerAlert Booth on set-up day at the International Electric & Electronic Expo at the Jacob Javits Center in New York.


It is fairly unusual for a photographer to be allowed that amount of freedom but for the past 40 years that has been the situation in nearly all of my commissions.


This came about because my husband and I always seemed to get ourselves deeply involved in the other one’s activities so it was probably inevitable that I got drawn into his work for the clients of his Advertising Agency.


I have always felt that it was essential to have a total understanding of the next man’s job so that I could hand-off my work in the way that best fits his requirements in the chain of production.


I soon realised that I needed to acquire a thorough knowledge of Colour Separations, Pre-Press production, paper stocks, inks and coatings, and the actual running of an Offset printing press because, only by understanding these things, could I be sure that I co-ordinated everything between the different trades and coaxed their very best work from them and could also ensure on-time delivery for the Agency’s clients.


That inevitably led to me to take responsibility for far more than just the photographic part of the job and consequently I have always made a point of being “On-Press” (with my 10x loupe in my hand and with my nose almost in the ink-troughs!) when my jobs run.

When Offset Litho Printing “went digital” in the late eighties, I quickly realised that I needed to master the new technology and that catapulted me into the world of electronics: first with computerized PhotoType-Setting machines and then professional Graphic Arts software. This was the catalyst for my continuing fascination with the industry’s on-going growth and development.


I continued to shoot only on film until 2008 because, until the arrival of the Nikon D3, digital cameras could not begin to match the results which I could get from Film.


The complication with shooting on film before the invention of Photoshop was that all of the objects and lighting effects had to be perfect when you fired the shutter as no compositing after the event was possible!
Most of the images included in this article were shot on film and are scans of the prints which I made at the time they were shot.



5. If for any reason you couldn’t take photos anymore, what would you do to occupy your time? 


I have so many interests, and have explored so many different tools and technologies over the years, that I cannot imagine ever being at a loss for things to do — although I would definitely miss being able to use a camera.


I love growing things, making things and fixing things. I am keenly interested in, and involved in, the development of software for the graphic arts.  I get enormous pleasure from the Visual Arts (classical) but I also follow new developments in the Sciences with considerable interest.


Distant countries (and their traditions and their cultures) have always been a magnet and I love learning more about them — preferably by actually going there.

I read a lot — not only technical manuals (although I do read a lot of those too!) but also anything factual (including biographies) although almost no Fiction.

I reckon that I am addicted to collecting what most people would consider to be “Useless Information”; and I also like to write.


I am one of those lucky people who are never bored — and no day ever seems to be quite long enough.


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It's wonderful how Ann's interest in photography merges seamlessly with her other interests and complements them.


This "5 Questions" is a great series. Looking forward to seeing more.

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Great stuff, thanks for taking the time to produce this.

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Well there's trying to fit War and Peace into a few paragraphs and illustrations! :)


Great read, I can well imagine if expanded to its full content it would fill volumes. Thanks for the effort in putting this together, Ann!

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What a fantastic little bio, it does communicate Ann´s passion for whatever she does

Read every single word, and enjoyed every single photo


Thank you

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Oh Ann ... what a wonderful article! I am grateful that I had the chance to spend many days together with you in SA and I hope that there are more such days to come ...


live long and prosper

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Thank you everybody for your extremely kind and generous comments.


"Trying to fit War and Peace into a few paragraphs" does encapsulate the extreme difficulties of the task which Dallas set for me so I am very pleased that you enjoyed the result.

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Always fascinating to see Ann sharing her passion and enthusiasm! I've always liked your stories, thanks for sharing a  bit more of your amazing journey.

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I've only really known Ann from her posts here, but it is great to get to know her on a deeper level...Her breadth of work over time and the quality she produces.


I love the fact that Ann gives us everything she has, holding no punches!  Love it!

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