Obituary: Colin Jarvie, photographer, lecturer and traveller

Colin Jarvie
Colin Jarvie
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Born: 9 February, 1962, in Glasgow. Died: 29 December, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 50.

No-one who had the privilege of meeting Colin Jarvie, whether as a schoolboy holidaying in Iona, a chronicler of Edinburgh and London’s club and fashion scene in 1980s, a lecturer at one of the UK’s leading arts colleges, or as one of the many subjects he photographed around the world, would be likely to forget the experience.

Colin’s energy, humour and larger-than-life persona was matched with a creative and committed passion for his profession and a kind, generous and caring personality.

His ability to make an authentic connection with people from any background was a huge advantage in his work, but it was an asset that was appreciated more by the many friends he made throughout Scotland, the UK and farther afield.

The younger son of engineer David Jarvie and the late Margaret Jarvie – a lecturer in psychology and a leading authority on counselling in Scotland – Colin Jarvie was brought up in Edinburgh.

He attended Craigmount High School and James Gillespie’s High School in the 1970s and first picked up a camera in his early teens, quickly learning to create and develop his own prints.

The roots of his professional work grew from the post-punk music scene in 1979-80, photographing bands associated with the Edinburgh-based independent label Fast Product, with work published in New Musical Express and other style publications.

Although he made a memorable contribution to Aberdeen University drama society, to the huge relief of the creative arts world (and possibly the scientific community) an initial venture into biochemistry was aborted in favour of an arts foundation course in Derby.

From there, he moved to London in 1982 to study photography, film and television at London College of Printing (now London College of Communication, University of the Arts, London).

Colin’s outgoing personality and love of a good party quickly resulted in him becoming a well-known and influential face on the mid-80s London club scene, forming many long-lasting friendships with like minds in the fashion and music 
industries. Following a meeting during their graduation year at LCP in 1985, Colin set up Avid Images with David Scheinmann, forming a partnership of skills to provide a “full service” solution to users of modern photography that aimed creatively and technically to push the limitations of photography to the full, both in camera and post-production.

Over the next four years, the pair blazed a trail in the London commercial photographic world with award-winning campaigns for Harrods and Max Factor, among many others. They discovered actress Rachel Weisz, then a 16-year-old model, casting her as the face of Rimmel in 1986.

Their work was featured in Creative Review and on the cover of the British Journal of Photography, celebrated for its bold innovation and technical excellence.

The collaboration reached its zenith in the summer of 1988 with an exhibition at the Special Photographers Gallery in London’s Notting Hill.

Following an amicable split in 1989, the pair went on to pursue separate careers. An exhibition of much of the Avid output was held at the Netherbow, Edinburgh, in 1990.

Between 1989 and 1992 Colin worked freelance on a variety of projects, and during this period met his wife-to-be, Catherine, before taking up a senior lecturer position at LCP, where he taught until 2006.

The LCP remains one of the most successful academic sources for creative talent, and during Colin’s time there, alumni included Sophie Rickett, Tom Hunter, Dan Holdsworth, Dan Tobin Smith and many more who continue to make international impact.

Colin was a vital part of that success, combining his accomplished technical skills with his aesthetic sensibilities. For Colin, camera and lighting were simply devices to realise ideas and he was brilliant at demystifying the photographic process – allowing students to push on and surprise themselves.

Former student Tom Hunter said: “Colin started teaching when I was in my second year at the LCP and it was like a huge breath of fresh air when he arrived with his energy and his dynamism and his experience in the photography world. One of the first things he ever said to me when I was doing a project was, ‘Where’s your voice in all this?’

“Before I’d been doing these photography projects, just observing. He challenged that. He really made me think about my voice and my passion, where I was coming from and that was the thing that really triggered me off on my quest as a photographic artist.”

Hunter went on to win numerous international photography awards and in 2000 became the first artist to have a solo photography show at the National Gallery in London. He is known for his beautifully staged large-scale portraits and photographic tableaux – a method of working that he attributes to being directly inspired to pursue by Colin.

His tenure at LCP included a sabbatical in which Colin was appointed director of photography at Fabrica in 2004, based in Treviso, Italy, a commercially funded operation which provided a bridge for high-achieving students entering the world of commercial photography.

Colin continued to develop a large body of work, much of which he incorporated into his first major solo exhibition – My World, My Wife, My Camera – in 2003 at the Back Hill Gallery London. A large number of these exhibits was recorded on an SX-70 Polaroid, which became a particular favourite, even as the film for it became more difficult to obtain.

The SX-70 was used exclusively on his next major project, The Road Trip, which recorded a five-day overland journey from London to Greece in August 2003.

While travelling with Catherine in Mexico, Colin had become fascinated by the personalised cabins of local bus drivers, and revisited the journey to document these in a series titled Juan y … (The Bus Drivers of 

On his return, he produced a stunning set of huge prints, which showed at the Inspired Art Fair in 2005.

In late 2010, having resettled in Edinburgh following his divorce from Catherine Jarvie, Colin formed a creative partnership with German-based artist Elaine Jeffrey.

The pair built up what became a combined body of work known as The Dialogue 1 – wish you were here, sending images back and forth between their respective locations. This collaboration resulted in an exhibition in Stuttgart in 2012 and led the pair to work towards a second exhibition, The Dialogue 2 – I now believe.

At the time of his death, Colin had been planning to open gallery space at Summerhall in Edinburgh.

He is survived by his father David and brother Grant. Much of Colin’s work can be viewed at his website Colin Jarvie Photography

Colin’s funeral service takes place at the main chapel in Mortonhall Crematorium, Edinburgh on Monday at 2pm and all are welcome.