By Emily Axel, MAECare
The Mind and Body Project at MAECare aims to improve the mental health and emotional wellbeing for adults over 60 in Moor Allerton, Alwoodley and Shadwell. With such a broad goal of emotional wellbeing, and thanks to a generous grant from the Big Lottery Fund, we have had the flexibility to try a number of different approaches. Since our members had requested a photography workshop on a few occasions, now seemed like an opportune moment to give it a go.
We were very fortunate to work with the incredibly talented Lizzie Coombes. (If you’ve seen photographs of any community events that have taken place in Leeds in the past couple of years, chances are you’ve seen her work.) She wanted to give people the opportunity not only to increase their photography skills and learn the basics of using a digital camera, but also to open people’s eyes and minds up to how photography can change the way we see the world and ourselves.
Ten of our members, aged 60 to 87, signed up for the workshop. The group included some who were very fit and some who had limited mobility; some with various experiences of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. The common thread was everyone’s willingness to try a new trick, no matter how much like an old dog they might have felt.
Lizzie suggested bringing along Peter Spafford, a local poet and musician, for this ride. Peter met individually with everyone to craft a poem about themselves, whilst also supporting them to do their own writing. Lizzie managed to turn the meeting room at the Moor Allerton Library into a professional portrait studio and spent one session taking photographs of all of us—definitely a new experience, but the initial self-consciousness melted away in the warmth of Lizzie’s laughter and a group of supportive peers. The result has been the creation of beautiful Poem Portraits, which will be displayed as part of the Love Arts Festival.
During our final session, everyone reflected on what the journey had been like, sharing that while they thought it was going to be about their cameras, it turned out to be about them. The process opened people’s eyes up to new experiences, new friendships, and new ways to think about who they are and what they can be good at. A common thread returned in that all ten wanted to keep going, keep growing, and keep exploring this new lens on the world.
The White Cloth Gallery will be displaying the Poem Portraits, along with work by each of the participants, from 24 September to 1 November.