Broadcast: News items

This Sussex Life: "I'm often at the centre of what's happening."

Stuart Robinson

Professor Maggie Boden

Holi, One World Week 2016

Stuart Robinson, the University of Sussex’s photographer, has been visually capturing the life and times of the campus and its community for 32 years.

I’ve had a life-long association with the university.  My dad worked in the boiler house and used to do weekend shifts, so I would come in with him, and bring my bike or a football. We lived outside Newhaven, and I just remember the architecture being completely different to anything I had seen before. It was like a big playground to me.

I decided I wanted to do photography when I was 13.  My dad arranged for me to do work experience with the photographic unit here when I was 15. I left school at 16 and, after doing a Youth Training Scheme placement in a portrait studio, I got a job here as a trainee photographic technician. We used to have three photographers and a secretary in those days. Now there’s just me. 

It was a real eye-opener when I started working here. I’d gone to a big comprehensive in Newhaven, but here it was so multicultural and cosmopolitan, and people were so confident.

In the early days I would spend five or six hours in the dark room, learning skills that we don’t use any more. But when the polys became universities in the early 1990s and the promotional publications side stepped up, the more mundane work trailed off and there was this shift from the technical to the creative.

I don’t really know how good a picture is until I come to edit them.  Sometimes you think you’ve got a great photo, and then you’re disappointed. Other times you think things haven’t gone so well, and you find it has worked. It’s the one thing you can never tell.  These days I think I take pictures more instinctively, but we’re always trying to keep it authentic, in a reportage style. You want to give people an idea of what it’s really like here.

I’ve enjoyed photographing some amazing people, such as the former Vice Chancellor Asa Briggs for the University’s 50th anniversary in 2012, and Professor Maggie Boden - huge names in academia who have been ground-breaking in their fields - as well as some of our illustrious alumni, including Ian McEwan.

I had to dash out to photograph Harry Kroto when we heard he’d received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996. His phone was constantly ringing, with journalists wanting to talk to him, so I had to take a picture of him with the receiver to his ear, and holding up a model of a buckyball.  That picture has been used everywhere.

I met my wife, Jude, when I did her graduation portrait.  We had a studio in those days for those who wanted a portrait before graduation. I didn’t usually date students, and I had just got back from Glastonbury and wasn’t looking my best, but we hit it off. I said I was going for a cup of tea in a “would you like to join me” kind of way.

I love graduation. It’s the highlight of my year. I don’t think I’ve missed a single one since I started the job in 1987.I never tire of it, even though it’s a physically and mentally exhausting week. I love the enthusiasm, and the fact that it is the culmination of all the work that everyone here does. Everyone working should take the opportunity to help at graduation. You’re really missing out if you don’t do that.

Working here inspired me to go back to studying. I did a part-time degree with the Open University in history, which is a subject I love. I was working full time, and would spend the evening writing essays rather than watching telly. I graduated in 2007 at a ceremony at The Dome.  It was completely flat compared to the Sussex ceremonies.

I have never woken up on a Monday and thought “urgh, work”. I didn’t plan to stay here for 32 years, but the focus of the work has changed. No two days are the same. I’m often at the centre of whatever is happening – whether it’s a news story, or a VIP visit. And I never get tired of campus or the cycle of the year. I love the buzz of welcome week, particularly when we have good weather and everyone is out on the grass. And I like the warm days in May when everything looks new and fresh. Every job has its dull bits, but when I am out and about with my camera, then I’m happy.




By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 12 April 2019