Paul Messerschmidt obituary

·2-min read

My friend Paul Messerschmidt, who has died aged 66, was a photographer who used his camera to hold the modern world at bay. Distrusting digital manipulation, he practised old-fashioned photography using 35mm colour negative film, then scanned the images at the local public library and uploaded them to Flickr, where his portfolio has had a million views.

He took traditional optical photography to its limits. Using a hand-held light meter and working only with available light, he might plan a shot for months and then wait hours for the right conditions. The resulting images have a refreshing honesty and deceptive simplicity. He used an 180-degree fish-eye lens for architectural studies, and can sometimes be seen in the corner of his own shots, wearing a floppy sunhat and concealing the remote trigger in his folded arms.

Paul was born in Fetcham, Surrey, the first child of an English mother, Joyce (nee Elliott), and a Danish father, Helge (known in the UK as Louis), an insurance clerk. He passed the 11-plus and went to the Royal Grammar school, Guildford, at the same time as travelling on Saturdays to the Royal College of Music, London, on a cello scholarship. He studied psychology and modern languages at the University at Leicester and acquired a PGCE. A true European, he then spent many years working as an English teacher in a series of cities across the continent. He was a remarkable linguist, at ease in five languages.

In the late 1990s he gave up travelling and retreated to the family home in Fetcham to live a life of monastic simplicity, engaging with the world only through his photography and a laptop on his knees. He enjoyed interacting with other photographers online, and in 2008 struck up a professional dialogue with Marina Frasca-Spada, a university teacher, who became his most loyal friend.

He photographed for his own pleasure and never sought a commercial profit. He gave images away to be used as book illustrations, and then gave away the complimentary copies of the books themselves to charity shops.

Paul was an outsider artist who lived by his own rules and found visual beauty in commonplace things. He loved this world but did not want to grow old in it, and took his own life at the end of last year.

He is survived by his sister Anne.