Reflecting on the Shot
by Laura Storey
PHOTOGRAPHER AND GROUNDBREAKING GRANDAD MATT HENDERSON TALKS ABOUT SNAPPING TO CAPTURE THE SHOT!
A few years ago, it was rare that Matt Henderson posted on social media, he had to ask his children Jessica and James the point of a hashtag and barely knew what a vlog was. Now he’s in the running to be Neilson’s Active Ambassador – someone who inspires an active lifestyle and can provide motivational ideas, hopefully inspiring people to book active holidays with the company.
“They wanted an influencer,” Matt explains, “I had to ask my children what an influencer was! When my son showed me I thought, ‘look at them with their lips and their abs and their tattoos – what’s that about?” Matt laughed.
After seeking out the more adventurous side of Instagram, Matt decided, as the social media underdog, he’d give it a go
It certainly wasn’t what he was going for, his photos were more likely to include scrambling up a muddy hillside than lounging on a sunbed, luckily his son explained that he didn’t have to resemble a Love Island contestant, nor take selfies like one. “He told me that, whatever you are into – your fell running and your mountain stuff and your snowboarding – there are people that do these things.”
After seeking out the more adventurous side of Instagram, Matt decided, as the social media underdog, he’d give it a go.
So just under two years ago he started posting pictures and entered the Active Ambassador competition. Neilson had nearly 1,000 applicants, and despite Matt’s lack of lip fillers, he was chosen as one of 20 finalists, alongside a self-declared cowboy, a professional triathlete, and a lifeboat crewmember.
The public voted and whittled the finalists down to three and Matt gained the most votes on social media. Now Matt is waiting to be interviewed in Brighton for the final stage, if he wins, Matt will represent the brand and their partners, travel with them in the sunshine and on the snow, sharing his adventures through his lens and encouraging others to get active too. “They’re looking for their own modern day Judith Chalmers,” Matt laughs referencing the long-running television series Wish You Were Here…? And like Judith, Matt doesn’t seem to have aged since the nineties. As his pictures on Instagram make apparent, he seems to be constantly flinging himself down an alpine slope strapped to a board or rambling through the Yorkshire Dales with his camera always close at hand. Yet Matt never wanted to be a professional photographer, and, despite winning a prize for his photo of the Natural History Museum through Cottages.com and The Amateur Photographer Magazine, he still doesn’t consider himself one.
“I’ve always leant towards art, but not in an academic way. I don’t like visiting art galleries and I wasn’t very good at school! I got expelled and all sorts, I wasn’t ready to take it seriously, I think I fooled around. My lack of attention to my education really narrowed my future prospects. Both that and the Falklands war led me to join the army.” Matt explains.
Matt joined his local regiment – The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (now The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment) – in the 80s and his time in the army inspired a taste of adventure. As well as serving operationally in Germany and Northern Ireland, Matt spent time cross-country skiing in Norway, as well as caving and climbing all over the world.
Be in the moment, take notice and stand still to look. You need to be able to see, properly see what’s around you
“It was a really positive experience for me,” Matt stresses. “I had a really good outcome from that army life. It was part of forming who I’ve become with my fitness and with my resilience too. It led me to appreciating the outdoors.”
When he came out of the army, he began a long career in the police force in East Lancashire before retiring a few years ago. He has also spent years volunteering for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, leading and teaching both young people and adults aspiring to be expedition leaders.
“My career had nothing to do with photography, it wasn’t artistic.” Matt has no photographic training and uses an iPhone to take all of his pictures, making them even more incredible. His snap of St Mary’s Church at Kelbrook was included in the March/April edition of Northern Life, which he took after a rain storm left a small puddle, providing a beautiful reflection of the village church. For Matt, it is the content rather than the camera that provides a perfect picture, and he seems to have a knack for spotting and capturing moments.
“There is a recent picture of a guy who had been internally displaced on the island of La Palma after the volcano. There were about a hundred people in our hotel who had been displaced and he’d sit outside in the same place at the same time smoking a cigar,” Matt explains. “He was in his own world and he was in his own little headspace. Their lives had been so dramatically changed and I think that picture captures that.
“My favourite tree up Harden Clough, Kelbrook. I take a picture of this almost every time I run or walk by, I love how it sits in the landscape and reflects in the beck.”
Despite having been around the world, Matt loves to photograph his own county of Lancashire. “Lockdown made us stop and look at what we had on our doorstep and actually, you don’t have to go that far.” Matt is the perfect example to budding photographers that you don’t need artistic training, nor a jet-setting lifestyle, just a camera and a lust for adventure. For Matt his ability to spot the perfect moment has been more important than any professional kit.
“Be in the moment, take notice and stand still to look. You need to be able to see, properly see what’s around you. You can tell when photographers try to make a picture, you can tell they’re set up. It’s important to appreciate the place and the moment as I do now. Generally, most people my age have very few pictures of the beautiful things we saw. So always carry a camera!”
You can see more of Matts photography and follow him on instagram normski.h (Matt – Home Van’daway)
NorthernLife July/August 2022