A Whaley Bridge photographer who went from A-list celebrity snapper to broke taxi driver has told how a car accident turned his life around.
Celebrity photographer Pete Aitchison’s life went rapidly downhill in 2001 when a job fell through and then he was diagnosed with cancer - resulting in mounting debts and bankruptcy.
Within the space of a few years Pete found himself going from ‘Royal rota photographer’ to taxi driver while suffering the side-effects of chemotherapy.
The former Big Breakfast and Big Brother studio photographer sold his house and all his cameras to make ends meet while driving a cab ‘ten hours a day, seven days a week’.
However in 2010 in a bizarre twist the hapless snapper was hit by a car while waiting in his Mitsubishi Delica at a T-junction.
Pete - who was at ‘rock bottom’ - took a chance with the £1,500 whiplash compensation he received ‘which was not going to change anybody’s life’ - and bought a camera.
After starting out shooting weddings Pete - who snapped the stars for more than 20 years - discovered travel photography during a weekend away in Amsterdam.
Now his work - described as ‘bold yet honest, proud and vulnerable’ sells for up to £1,500 and is exhibited at prestigious galleries around the country.
Pete - who grew up in a Scottish children’s home - told how throughout the 1990s he took photos of huge celebrities including Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Britney Spears and Samuel L Jackson - which would often be featured in national newspapers.
However in 2008 - after deciding to leave the capital behind and buying a house in Glossop ‘on a whim’ - he was told he had Lymphoma after complaining of a ‘lump in his throat’.
Pete and his wife Debbie’s successful life had started falling apart in 2001 as a Granada TV job offer came to nothing and she was made redundant from her job of 20 years.
The couple sold their house and rented a small cottage and then he was diagnosed with cancer before spending six months on ‘chemotherapy, radiotherapy and God knows what else’.
He said: “That just destroyed us - I was driving a taxi ten hours a day in the middle of chemotherapy.
“The treatment made me feel wasted most of the time and I was thinking ‘not that long ago I was a Royal rota photographer’ - now I was driving a taxi.”
Four years later Pete was told his cancer was in remission - however all the debts he and Debbie built up living in London came ‘crashing down’ on them - so they declared bankruptcy.
However in an unlikely twist of fate in 2010 when Pete really was at ‘rock bottom’ his fortunes reversed.
While waiting at a T-junction in December 2010 another driver ploughed in to the back of his Mitsubishi Delica - leaving Pete with severe whiplash.
Pete used the £1,500 compensation for his injury to buy a Nikon camera complete with two lenses and a flash gun - having sold his cameras a few years back.
He started photographing weddings for £200 a time while accompanied by Debbie with an ice pack to cool down his hot flushes - a side-effect of the chemotherapy.
Then during a trip to Amsterdam with Debbie, Pete started taking photos of the city.
He said: “I did a few pictures and thought ‘I quite like this’ - so I started going to more European places and bit-by-bit started selling pictures.
“I’d never really taken pictures of what I wanted before - my TV work was all about getting the shot that would make the papers the next day.
“I was having to think about catching celebs in unguarded moments rather than using my eye to find form and composition.”
Pete started selling much his work at an artisan market in the well-heeled Cheshire town of Wilmslow - the proceeds of which helped him buy Gallery 23 in New Mills.
The most he has sold a piece for is £1,500.
In the last few years Pete has clocked up thousands of miles with his camera in pursuit of pictorial perfection.
Recent trips have included India, Myanmar, Cuba, America and Turkey. Recently Peter has been practising his art closer to home - producing a series of distinctive images of Manchester.
He said: “I’ve always had a confidence that the work was good but there’s a balance.
“If you go to New York people expect to see pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge and Times Square - you have to take those crowd-pleasers but you need something different that will catch people’s eyes.
“My favourite sort of thing is portraits in places like India but I do a lot in old parts of Manchester.”
Pete will be exhibiting his work at the Gateway Gallery in Hale, Manchester, from May 18 to June 1 - which will feature a combination of old Manchester shots and portraits from India and other locations.
For more information, visit gateway-gallery.co.uk.
To see Pete’s work visit www.peteraphoto.com.