Image courtesy of Keith Jersey's family.
An impassioned campaigner for photography for over 30 years, untroubled by ego or personal ambition, Keith Cavanagh was a loyal, long term friend and supporter to very many photographers, and particularly young practitioners looking for help in achieving their work's first public airing.
Eldest son of Jeannie (ne Mackintosh) and Lewis Cavanagh, he was born and spent his school years in Edinburgh. On leaving Preston Lodge High School in the early 1970s he moved to London, beginning his working life at Barclay's Bank. Although best known for his work in photography, Cavanagh had a lifelong passion for classical music and, as a schoolboy long wanted to become an architect. Arriving in London he felt increasingly drawn towards the arts, and particularly photography, at a stage when, in the UK, the medium was far from universally recognised as an art. The early 1980s found him involved with Four Corner Films, from where he was appointed administrator of Camerawork in Bethnal Green (at that time called the Half Moon Photography Workshop). Experience gained at Camerawork empowered him to establish arts projects throughout east London. In the late 1980s he worked at the Island Arts Centre on the Isle of Dogs; and then in 1992, by then working as an arts worker for the local authority, he set up the Docklands-based, Dash Gallery, further igniting a passion for curating that would inform his future career. In 1994 he worked for the National Campaign for the Arts, promoting the visual arts, with a particular emphasis on photography, at Parliamentary level.
Cavanagh is broadly known for establishing The Tom Blau Gallery at the Camera Press agency in Shad Thames and named after its founder. At the outset he was responsible for generating his own salary, with Camera Press providing the space, along with free use of a desk and telephone: an arrangement that developed much closer links with the agency as Cavanagh built the gallery into the internationally recognised space it was to become.
He left in 2001 to build a new career as a freelance curator, dealer, and consultant, at the same time acquiring a near derelict cottage in Deal on the Kent coast that would become his much loved principal home. In the past 10 years he has been increasingly sought after as an advisor at national, and international conventions, and events such as Birmingham's Rhubarb Rhubarb. He was also a valued friend and supporter of the Royal Photographic Society, sitting for eight years as a member of its Awards Committee until his resignation in 2009. Cavanagh was also a member of Chelsea Arts Club and more recently founder, with his business partner Ian Irvine, of Arts Associates Ltd.
He survived Polio as a child, and was lucky to be one of the first batch of children to benefit from surgery using traction. The disease left him with a limp as an adult, but his lack of physique in no way diminished his acute sense of social justice, dogged determination, or great sense of humour, all of which characteristics can be evidenced in an attempt to resolve a dispute with his local authority freeholder for money clearly owed not forthcoming. Having sued and still not received payment, Cavanagh eventually instructed bailiffs, who duly arrived at the council offices to seize goods to the value of the debt owed. The threatened rise of the BNP in Millwall, in the 1994 local elections, was another time he felt impelled to resist, leading to incidents his brother remembers as "both humorous and otherwise".
Cavanagh was troubled with intermittent ill health in recent years, diagnosed in 2010 as liver failure. Hospital stays, endured with a stoic disdain for his illness and constantly positive outlook, featured increasingly in his final months. Despite accelerating decline over the second half of 2010, he managed visits to his elderly father in Sheffield and, in September, to The Royal Society in London to receive his Honorary Fellowship of The Royal Photographic Society, an honour he might have been awarded years previously but for his membership of the Awards Committee.
A fighter to the end, Keith remained determined to regain at least a measure of his former health; but in January was re-admitted to Margate Hospital, where his condition rapidly deteriorated. He passed away at 6am on 28 January, survived by his father, Lewis, 82, and brother Russell, 49, a Sheffield-based journalist.
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