Simon Murphy

Words and images by Simon Murphy

The year was 2000. A new millennium and a turning point for many. One year earlier I had left my job as a postman and, inspired by some of the postcards I had delivered on my route, I took a leap of faith and decided to study Photography.


An old lady sits at a bar with her hand to her face, gazing into the distance.

One postcard in particular had captured my imagination. A photograph of the Beatles sitting on the stairs of Abbey road studios.

I loved music and as I trod barefoot (that’s another story) up the crunchy paths and driveways of Clarkston, reaching into my rain soaked postbag to stuff even wetter letters through letterboxes, I imagined myself in a multicoloured, paisley patterned, 1960s London. The realization that there was another who shared that instant with John, Paul, George and Ringo, another who moved unseen through some of the most notable captured moments in history: The Photographer, was nothing short of a revelation.


A Massai man standing in front of a white coloured wall.
Bobby Gillespie standing on a road dressed in a leather trench coat.

Bobby Gillespie
Primal Scream

College and in particular, my tutor, Christine Stevenson changed my life. She showed me pictures of Parisian streets by Jeanloup Sieff and Cartier-Bresson and a fire was lit under the red safelights of the darkroom that fuelled a burning desire to see the world and capture what I saw on a roll of Kodak Tri- X.

John Byrne

Another year passed and I found myself walking the streets of Paris, hoping to follow in the footsteps of my newly discovered heroes. Paris wasn’t the romantic postcard that I thought it would be though. It was winter and it was dreich. Grey and as damp as a Glaswegian blanket left on the line. I was tired and uncomfortable after enduring the soaking wet seat of a tightly packed 17 hour bus ride and having barely enough money to buy a baguette and some cheese to last for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I walked the lonely streets wondering what on earth I was doing here and why I had left my job as a postman.

The artist John Byrne sitting with one leg crossed over the other. The room appears to be his studio.

Chukuru Nacinyungu

I walked past a bar, somewhere near Pigalle, and from the corner of my eye I saw a woman, older in years and with a face full of character. In my mind I could see the photograph already. The fur coat, the little glass of wine, the windmill of the Moulin Rouge on the mural in the background, the reflection of the woman in the glass surface of the bar. She was magnificent. The greatest photograph that I had ever made, except, I hadn’t pressed the shutter, I had walked by. A feeling much worse than hunger instantly cramped my stomach. Fear. My ego told me that I was an artist, I loved the idea of it. I could compose well, I could focus and I could print, I was even in Paris but the truth struck me like lightening. I didn’t have what it took to follow in the footsteps of those great photographers that I looked up to because quite simply I was scared.

A young child dressed in a white top stares at the camera.
Two girls standing with towels on a beach.

Biba and Lola

Robert Capa’s famous quote crept into my mind: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. At that moment I stopped walking, turned around, went into the bar and ordered a beer. I sat my camera on the polished glass surface, looked down to focus and CLUNK! I pressed the shutter.

In an instant the feeling in my stomach changed to one of excitement. I’ve since read that both emotions are a product of the same chemical release and it’s all about perspective! Whatever it is, when the heart races, when an individual visualises the future, when the hands get clammy! Whether that’s anxiety, fear, excitement! It’s something that I have craved ever since. That image was a catalyst. It gave me the belief that I could make it as a photographer. The picture and the experience taught me a lesson that I needed to learn and whenever I doubt myself or get the fear, I think of that image, that lady sitting at the bar, and I turn back and put fear aside, and I make the picture.

A boy stands in front of a shop pointing a shotgun at the camera. He is wearing a black jacket.

Zain with Shotgun


A girl in a camouflage jacket blowing a bubble with her chewing gum.

Gary Gosse

That image shaped me. Since that wonderful moment on the streets of Paris, I’ve seized opportunities, I’ve learned new lessons and I’ve reassessed that which is important to me. These 10 images all represent turning points along an ever-twisting route. Moments of great joy, reassurance and profound sadness. Moments that have humbled me, made me cry but also given me the spark to create more. It's unlikely that little Parisian woman will ever know the difference that she has made to my life. Maybe one day I will be able to tell her.

A man dressed in a patterned shirt stares at the camera.
A man swimming on his back with the skyline of Istanbul behind him.

Galata Bridge