John Nicholas Stoodley is a celebrated art photographer. He studied Eastern philosophy and metaphysics in Paris, and completed Art College in London.
Throughout his career he worked with renown names in the world of art, fashion and philosophy such as Picasso and Valentino. He has lived and worked in over 50 countries worldwide. He currently lives and works in the Philippines, writes books of philosophy, and among them are those dedicated to children. John and I talked of his truly impressive life and career, and his plans for his company « Nicholas Stoodley & Associates »
What would you be, an explorer, adventurer or successful rebel?
I am a bit of all of those three. I am extremely curious and this often leads me into territory where angels would fear to tread. This attitude probably had a lot to do with my upbringing which was far from normal ⎯ paranormal even! I quickly became acceptant of the abnormal, discovering that I had obviously inherited some of my mother’s psychic abilities which allowed me to connect with our collective consciousness with relative ease. I was therefore able to get an objective overview of our often disorderly and confused situation in life to the extent that I could literally step back and view existence in its entirety ⎯ all the diverse elements working together.
I had called this experience: sitting on the edge of the universe. It had been a mixed blessing though since I became very much aware of the general state of unease and anxiety that is apparent in the world. That aspect had unsettled me greatly.
I had found school similar to a prison ⎯ not at all an encouraging environment.
I wanted to learn, be charmed, enthralled, and excited. Instead one quaked in anticipation of the mordant stare and consequent humiliation before the class that was exacted if some totally irrelevant piece of information had not cemented itself well enough into one’s neural pathways. Was it so very important to my future that the capital of Mongolia was Ulan Bator and that it was so unbelievably cold in winter ⎯ the chill Siberian winds sweeping in from the North? The frigid winds were akin to my despair, and I had wilted from sheer boredom.
What a waste of opportunity!
Education, or so I had thought, should have been inspiring: a time of passionate involvement in our potentials. Instead, mine had been grey and uninspired ⎯⎯ so often merely rote. Strongly suspecting that I could do a far better job of educating myself, I had subsequently announced that I was leaving school to do exactly that!
My mother was initially stunned, but she had quickly recognised my dedication to do just what I said I would and mercifully left me to my own devices.
Albert Einstein had once said “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” I completely agree. In general, I regard our educational system as being one of the greater problems of humankind: we teach entirely the wrong subjects at entirely the wrong times in entirely the wrong manner. But then I’m obviously a bit of a rebel.
At an early age our schools teach reading, writing and arithmetic but then exclude subjects like philosophy, psychology and social anthropology that would better explain the generally anguished reality that we are born into. It is far more useful, as an example, for an eight year old child to understand the precepts of tolerance and understanding of our differences, than to be able to spell a complicated word that they will probably never use throughout their entire lives or, perhaps, solve a perplexing mathematical problem that a calculator can so easily do in an instant!
Even a six year old can understand that some people are not as fast, clever or normal as others. Rather than teasing or merely confining them to the peripheries of life however, our children need to be taught that all of us must be embraced as aspects of our greater consciousness as each child has something to offer and we are all connected.
In this way bullying is negated and a greater respect and understanding for each other is engendered. If we could really do this then so many of the problems that crop up later in life could be easily eliminated! But that sounds completely naïve doesn’t it? It shouldn’t, but it does. There are calculators for math and dictionaries for spelling but no accessories for understanding who and why we are as we have become. Our children badly need to know that though!
You’re born Londoner. London offers great opportunities in science, education and culture. How is your birthplace formed you as a professional photographer?
I think that if you have a generally adventurous and questioning nature then you have to immerse yourself in a creative environment where there is a lot going on: the energy and opportunities of a big city.
London certainly overflowed with the opportunity to explore my potential and although I would often long for the serenity and solitude of a mountain top monastery in Nepal, the bustling alchemy of London was extremely stimulating: full of creative free thinkers all also exploring boundaries.
Photography developed as an offshoot of my general desire to do something creative, though I was never exactly sure what. I studied architecture, general design, clothing, fine arts and even used to write freelance articles for a magazine on interior design when I was at college.
That was the problem ⎯ I wanted to do everything!
But in general I was very lucky to be in London since you get such an objective point of view because there is just so much going on … and it is in those areas where science meets philosophy and philosophy meets educations, the arts and spirituality that I was interested in … this is where true creativity flourishes!
What was it like to work for a Picasso or Valentino? Tell us the details of that part your life.
My opportunity to design for Picasso was by chance. A friend of mine had a small shop in central London that imported silks from India. When I went to visit him I always saw a large pile of small off cuts of the most amazing silks, so I would ask if I could have them. I then sewed them together to make large pieces of patchwork silk that I then made into shirts that I would sell to friends.
As a student I needed the money.
Vogue magazine saw one and published a photograph of it. By pure luck Picasso saw the photograph, loved the shirt and sent someone to London to have me make one just for him.
I worked for Valentino by accident. I had gone to Rome to work with the Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli, but was refused a work permit since the government decided there were too many outsiders engaged in the Italian Film industry. A friend was working as an assistant to Valentino in Rome and told me that he was looking for another assistant at that time to design fabrics, furniture and home accessories for his Valentino Piu shops.
“Have you ever designed a chair?” he asked me at my interview. I had told him no and he had felt this to be a very good answer since he didn’t want me doing just anything “as usual”.
I was there to be creative!
I had lived on the top floor of a seventeenth century building overlooking old Rome and lived a life that people dream about … but the problem was that it wasn’t a real life at all ⎯ it was as though I was part of a very glamorous film: all gloss but little substance! I was far more interested in substance, so I left and, via Australia, went to study metaphysics in Manila.
You have been traveling around the world court. Where did you find the meaning of your creativity?
I have lived in England, Italy, Australia, the Philippines and France and this has given me a very broad-based background that has obviously influenced my creative impulse. I am a natural adventurer and I am quite sure that I will again shortly move on to another country.
At the moment I live on a small tropical island about 800 kilometres south of Manila, but I am not cut off in any way at all … and that is what is so good about this particular period in our evolution: our ability to digitally connect with each other. I look out of my window as I answer these questions and see palm trees, the sea and a small island.
The sun shines, tropical flowers bloom as if on fire with passion and somewhere in the distance children are singing, yet merely by pushing a few keys those words are instantly in Europe or, in fact, anywhere on this planet ⎯ even the Moon if necessary.
But on another level … It is so easy to be seduced with the idea of our interconnectivity, yet nothing replaces actual contact between people: the type of contact where your subconscious reads the invisible signals that other people emit in conversation and, in this manner, you get an increased perspective and understanding of a dialogue.
This is why I must travel ⎯ to make contact as often as I can.
You’re in philosophy ⎯ How do you find the refractive thread between philosophy and art?
Philosophy is basically seeking to understand. Art is one aspect of understanding: the creative expressionism involved in translating a feeling or understanding onto a canvas, piece of paper or computer screen, etc.
You, like art is a form of visual philosophy since it attempts to explain a situation. We so often try and make things complicated and talk for hours about existence ⎯ the how and why of it all ⎯ but in the end analysis we probably talk too much and ask too many questions.
Zen teaches us to be more accepting, to merely let go and drift with the current rather than continually wasting so much energy swimming upstream, only to inevitably fail in reaching your destination. And then, to realise that there is, in fact, no destination since you are all ready there.