The Photography Blog: Great shot! But what will you do with it now…?
I received an email recently from reader Peter Loud who took the time to tell me how he uses his enthusiasm for photography as a means to document his local community.
In particular, Peter photographed the Northumbrian fishing scene back in the 70s. Nothing remarkable at the time but now that it has all but gone as an industry, Peter’s photographs are a rare and enduring record of the people working in that industry before it dwindled and have much significance now as a historical record.
I’m glad Peter wrote to me because it provided an opportunity for me to write about something that means a lot to me; the issue of what we can all do with our photography once we’ve bought the camera, learnt to use it and been out and taken some interesting photographs.
I am somewhat fortunate in that much of my photography is seen by someone else other than my friends and family. Whilst my wedding or commercial photography has little interest to anyone else except the client or a prospective client, at least there is still someone enjoying and making good use of it.
So for those without a ready audience for their work, let’s consider whether specific, local photography projects are an opportunity for us photographers to use our skills to produce work that can be seen more widely and enjoyed by a local community. Now, whilst there’s nothing particularly novel in photographing a community with a view to some form of distribution of the photography for everyone to share in, there is always a new story with new people to be told.
Take Daniel Meadows for example; now a renowned photographer but back in the 70s, during his early formative photographic years, he took to his old double-decker bus with little more than his camera, darkroom kit and some homemade flares. Daniel travelled the country taking portraits of people and distributing the images for free. He was a one-man band documenting people’s lives in a way that proved very valuable to them, on a personal level but also now as a social and historic record of the times.
Now of course we have many more people with cameras interested in developing their photography, so rather than going solo, a community of photographers can join together to produce a body of work about an issue that affects them all. In turn, the work can have a very positive impact on our own photographic development as well as the community we are a part of.
Take these for example; community photography projects have been run involving school children in learning camera skills and documenting Cornish mining, engaging residents in the recently built community space on the Pankhurst Estate in Brighton to a photographer in Cardiff simply documenting the people he encountered on his way to Uni each morning. The latter has a wonderful simplicity to it and I asked the photographer, Tom, to tell me more.
Tom says; ‘it was a task set as part of my degree; to document our journey to Uni. I was surprised at how willing the people I met were to be photographed. Since the project [this style of street photography] has become a harmless pleasure I continue to enjoy.’
Tom added that the project had benefited his photography in that he was no longer apprehensive about approaching local people for a photograph. He found talking to them about his project and his wish to take their picture a very rewarding experience.
Aside from personal projects like Tom’s, larger projects can always be organised if there isn’t one currently running. My local one; A Year In The Life of Canterbury was one of three run in my area by a highly motivated and enthusiastic local resident called Nathalie Banaigs and I didn’t hesitate to volunteer some of my time and photography for the judges to consider. With lots of ideas for shots locally that had no particular commercial use there wasn’t anything to lose.
Now an exhibition of the work opens from the 13 October 2012 in a prestigious new civic library in the city centre for people to enjoy; a fantastic result for the photographers that took part.
So what’s the benefit of getting involved for both the photographer and the community in a larger project?
Organiser of the Canterbury 365, Nathalie Banaigs, says that the real value of the project has been to; ‘give local people an enhanced sense of place and community through doing something creative together which they can be proud of. They learn things about their community and local environment and each other which, they otherwise wouldn’t have done and it makes them proud to show off where they live to a wider audience.’
But what does it take to organise one of these projects? How expensive and time consuming is it and where does the money come from?
Nathalie says; ‘it costs more and takes more time than it may appear but it depends how ambitious the deliverables are for the project. We have a book, calendar and exhibition which involves a lot of management time and costs in terms of design etc.’
That said, it can be done fairly cheaply if these outputs are more modest and especially if private sponsorship can be added in with some public funding such as the local Council, Arts Council or the Lottery fund.
Of all the suggestions I’ve had for people asking how best to make use of their photography, from making their own birthday or greetings cards, contributing their images to local charities to trying for some print sales, for example, community photography has proven to be the most productive. I say that in terms of not just focusing a number of photographers into one creative direction but also in terms of the social enjoyment generated from it. It’s free, no pressure and has all the opportunity for having our work seen and enjoyed more widely for those photographers keen on taking part, be it a small personal project or as part of a larger community wide project.
Whilst we’re on the subject of advancing our photography experience, organisers of the Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) competition have organised a weekend of helpful seminars (Travel Photography Live!) for those of us that want to hear tips and tricks from the experts about how we can hone our own skills. The programme kicks off this Friday and events continue all Saturday and Sunday at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
What’s your view on community photography projects?
1. Have you been part of one and, if so, what impact did it have on your photography and the community you photographed?
2. Do you think it’s a worthwhile way for lots of amateur photographers to contribute their skills to something that can lead to their work being showcased and preserved for public enjoyment?
3. Are there any issues in your community you think should be photographed and documented before they are lost forever?
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