The multi-million bestselling author

An interview with Donna-Lisa Healy, the professional photographer who captured our North East Heroes.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into photography?

I think of myself as a Durham lass. I was born there and my favourite place in the world is by that river, in all seasons. The Wear on one side, the Cathedral on the other, under a canopy of trees, is just beautiful. A few years ago I swapped the Wear for the Tyne, and moved to Ryton. I love it here too. My grandparents had a holiday on a houseboat in Ryton when my mam was little, so because of that I feel close to home here.

Where did you study photography?

In my late 20s I decided to go and do a foundation course in Fine Art and Photography at Sunderland College in Shiney Row. That’s where I fell in love with photography.

I was taught film photography. Printing my own photographs in the darkroom, it was like magic watching the image appear on the paper. I still love using film. I loved photography because as a single mam I found that I could photograph and be with my kids. It was fun. Both of my children loved being photographed: why they’re not now models, I’ll never know. I then went to Sunderland University.

On the first day of my MA in Photography there, in 2010, by coincidence I went to see David Almond speak at the Lit and Phil. The head librarian at the Lit and Phil, Kay Easson, got up and explained that any and all contributions would be going towards paying for disability access to the library. This inspired me and I went up to her and introduced myself and asked if it would help towards fundraising if I photographed all their visiting writers, so that she could sell the images. Wonderfully, she agreed.

How did you get involved in the Northern Photography Prize?    

During nearly a decade at the Lit and Phil, one of the things I photographed was the Newcastle Noir crime writing festival, hosted there and created by Dr Jacky Collins. And in April 2017, at Newcastle Noir, I had the great pleasure of photographing LJ Ross, as she was on one of the panels.

A new seed was sown. LJ Ross was creating her own blog on North East Heroes, and asked me to take portraits of a range of people making important contributions to North  East life. Furthermore, she asked me to help judge her Northern Photography Prize, which was a great compliment. 

How did you feel when LJ Ross commissioned to take the portraits of her North East Heroes? 

LJ Ross has been a crucial and generous mentor of a whole new stage of my career. She has asked me to take portraits of a range of new subjects and wonderful people. She has extended my practice to include events photography of the many contributions she herself makes to North East life: events to celebrate and give back to her readers. And now she has commissioned me for North East Heroes, which is an extraordinary honour. This project brings me so much joy, capturing the kindness and generosity of the people of the North East. Each person in this exhibition gives of their time and of themselves, to give to others. Each has inspired me in some way.

It’s been very humbling being involved in the North East Heroes project. It’s made me think about what service I give to the world. To be more giving, to be kinder, to volunteer, to give of myself more freely.

Do you have a favourite portrait in the exhibition?  

I don’t have a favourite portrait, because each and every person gave me something precious and unique. They’re all my favourites.

Why should people come and see the exhibition at the Biscuit Factory?

It’s a celebration of people doing extraordinary things. Even with the very accomplished, they are all just people.

Why do you like taking pictures in black and white? 

It goes back to my first darkroom days. As you begin, you have to print in black and white, tones, shades of grey. Colour is a completely different process. I was taught to see in black and white. All the photographers I love print in black and white. Julia Margaret Cameron is my absolute favourite.

What do you think makes a good portrait photograph? 

The secret of taking a good portrait, for me, is for it to be a collaboration,  a conversation. I like to talk with the person I’m photographing first, just to get a feel of who they are and put them at their ease. I like to think of each portrait as a snapshot of a conversation. You can only take what a person gives, I feel. I don’t like “stolen shots”, unless the person can give permission later. I love people, I love their stories. I’m one of the lucky ones, I’ve got one of those faces people talk to. I feel it’s a privilege to hear someone’s story, whatever part they wish to tell me on that day. I ask a lot of questions, being naturally inquisitive (some would say nosy). I just find it such a joy, such a pleasure, to hear someone’s story, and that’s why I love portraiture.

What kit do you use?

I’m actually between cameras at the moment but I’ve always used Canon, and had a little dabble in Fujifilm. For film, it’s always Hasselblad. I love the square.

What advice would you give to someone starting out on their photography journey? 

Study the greats.

What do you love about the North East? 

I love our people and landscapes. You can’t get a more beautiful countryside than Northumberland.












Photography by D0nna-Lisa Healy 

Latest release

Death Rocks

When the body of a talented photographer is found on the rocks beneath the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, DCI Ryan and his team of detectives immediately suspect the worst. But, since none of their potential suspects seems to have a motive, the case runs cold.

Then, when another body is found dead on a lonely stretch of road near Hadrian’s Wall and their only suspect has an airtight alibi, the team are faced with another crime without a perpetrator.

With the number of unexplained deaths in the area increasing rapidly and only a series of coincidences to work from, Ryan and his team must find the invisible link between them to crack the case—before it’s too late.

Can Ryan solve his most dangerous case yet?

Murder and mystery are peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced crime whodunnit, set amidst the spectacular Northumbrian landscape.

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