In the very early days of Bradford's National Media Museum (then going by the unwieldier title of The Museum of Photography, Film & Television), I went to see an exhibition about which I remember very little, bar one exceptional image that caught my eye and which I stood in front of for ages. It was a black and white, social-realism-style shot with a witty title - something like 'I thought I saw Liz Taylor (and maybe Richard Burton) in the back bar of.... (and then the name of some pub)'.
The subject was a couple, drinking in a downbeat Northern bar, whose looks had a grainy film star edge. There was something majestic and poetic about it, in spite of its superficial pathos. It spoke to me of true working class glamour, but at the same time of wasted potential and how some people get all the breaks in life and others don't - and how fine the margin between them can be. The impression it made was so deep that the image would stay in my head for the next 30 years.
As I got more and more into photography as I got older, I remembered the image and thought I would inevitably come across it again at some point. If only I'd remembered the photographer's name or been more sure of the title! I went to so many exhibitions featuring this kind of British social-realism photography and bought books by the likes of Tony Ray-Jones, Roger Mayne, Martin Parr or John Deakin, but it never surfaced. I often wondered how an image that had got as far as the museum exhibition could just disappear like that?
On Instagram today, Guardian photography writer Sean O'Hagan posted an image by a photographer called Graham Smith. It wasn't MY image, but the sensibility was immediately similar. Something stirred. I looked for a Graham Smith book to buy, but there were none for sale (apparently he has withdrawn from photography out of respect for the people he photographed and doesn't want the work shown in galleries). I searched the internet instead and suddenly, on a blog post about photographers from the North-East, there it was. It actually brought tears to my eyes to find it again. There's something very powerful about quests that have lasted this long!
And it's just as wonderful as I remembered too. I'd got the Burton bit wrong - the full title was 'I thought I saw Liz Taylor and Bob Mitchum in the Back Room of the Commercial, Middlesborough'. The image date was 1984. It made me think how powerful photography is - and what an incredible impact it can have on our memories and retinas both.