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Photo montage - Hackney man overcomes paralysis to take beautiful photographs

PUBLISHED: 12:30 22 October 2011 | UPDATED: 13:08 22 October 2011

Photographer and war veteran Ernie Taylor. Photo credit Rob Baker Ashton

Photographer and war veteran Ernie Taylor. Photo credit Rob Baker Ashton

Disabled war veteran Ernie Taylor’s life story is a true tale of triumph over adversity.

Suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PDST) after serving in Ireland and partially paralysed following a brain tumour, Ernie’s determination in life has seen him pick up a camera again despite only having the use of one arm and one eye.

The remarkable 55-year old ex-professional photographer was housebound in his London Fields home for two years.

But now he can regularly travel as far as the Olympic Park site on his mobility scooter to capture magical shots of Hackney – which finds “as beautiful as the Riviera,” especially in the peaceful early hours of the morning.

Ernie joined the 3rd Battalion, The Light Infantry, in 1971 when he was just 15, and was posted in Northern Ireland and the height of its troubles.

Tragically he was injured in 1974 by a milk churn bomb, and not long after a terrible experience of being unable to save two children inside a burning house.

He was left suffering with PTSD and shell shock, and retired with honours from the armed forces.

“They put me through the army psychologist and asked me if I wanted to leave,” said Ernie.

“I had to agree my time in service had ended - I still want to be a soldier but physically I couldn’t do anything any more, I just couldn’t handle life,” he added.

Facing a crossroads in his life, he pursued his life-long passion for photography and enjoyed a successful career taking snaps all over the world, as far away as Sweden, Morocco and the snake-infested jungles Sierra Leone.

A photographer friend eventually encouraged him to move to Hackney - but four years ago his world was turned upside down.

“I had only been in Hackney a few years and I had the stroke, it was like the eagle had landed,” said Ernie.

“I just woke up one morning like this - paralysed.”

Somehow he made it to his doctor’s surgery and he was rushed to Homerton Hospital, where a CAT scan revealed a tumour on his brainstem.

Part of his brain was removed which to this day affects his memory, and sometimes leaves him struggling to get his words out.

He also never regained use of the left hand side of his body.

But on top of this, the PDST which he had been able to control for so many years, returned with a vengeance.

He suffers nightmares, sleepless nights, vivid flashbacks and distress when reminded of his past trauma.

“My nerves are not good anymore, if a person pushes me too hard I either get very verbal or try and fight,” explained Ernie.

“It’s so severe, just a loud bang, or people arguing can trigger it, I just need one incident and I turn into jelly for the next couple of days.”

The Hackney riots in August have compounded Ernie’s trauma, and left him considering moving away from the borough.

“The riots here woke me up, it’s very poignant as to how and why I had to leave the army in the first place,” he said.

“If you think the riots in Hackney were bad, not really - we were being shot at and bombed all the time in Ireland.

“The police here were on the front line and having things thrown at them - that used to happen to us day after day after day, but we were being shot at and petrol bombed at the same time.”

Sadly tragedy struck Ernie’s life yet again last year, when his nephew Steven Campbell was killed in Afghanistan while serving in the 2nd Battalion The Rifles.

Ernie had been housebound for over two years, but needed to find a way to pay his respects to his much-loved nephew at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.

Mobility product providers Motability and TGA Mobility were so moved by his story, they fast-tracked him a scooter in time for the march in November.

That day represented a new beginning for Ernie, as he regained his independence and was able to pick up his passion for photography once again thanks to his new wheels.

“I’m not as proficient as I used to be, I know what I want but I have the obstacle of being disabled,” said Ernie.

“I take all the pictures with one hand, because the left hand of my body is kaput, I’m partially sighted in one eye after my stroke so I’m one hand, one leg, one eye.

“I still have my determination, that’s why I go out and take photos, I try to make something positive out of something that’s negative,” he said.

“It’s elating, it lifts my spirits to get a good shot.”

Ernie has already held an exhibition at the Off Broadway Gallery, in Broadway Market, and would love to put on more.

“Showing my work is a break for freedom in a way,” he said.

“It’s me getting out of my broken body and the home where I stay 99 per cent of my life.”

Ernie has accumulated over 20,000 images in the last year, so finds it hard to pinpoint his favourite one.

“Not long after the riots I started taking photos of grass in the sunrise,” he said.

“It’s very dramatic but it’s peaceful as well, it actually says to me there is calm before and after the storm.

“Unfortunately storms come and go all the time and that’s life.”


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