As a photographer I always get excited when I’m offered the opportunity to dip into new community-based worlds, seeing how other people live. I recently landed a commission to work with the Time to Shine team, documenting some of the projects they fund and providing some new publicity material for the website etc.
I’m a photographer with over 25 years’ experience. I actually started my career in Leeds working as a photographer and printmaker for a local community magazine – Leeds Other Paper/Northern Star. So in some respects I was going back to my routes looking at Leeds from a grassroots society level. I’ve also worked with the Lottery Fund over the years and have always loved the ability of a fairly simple community project to absolutely transform the life and wellbeing of individuals in society. It’s such powerful meaningful work and I was hoping to capture that in my photos, the relationships built, friendships made and overall health and happiness of our society.
The commission involved a list of groups, a time and place, and not much more information; so it was a case of turn up and see what and who is there.
The first thing that struck me when I started to meet the groups – we are talking about ‘older people aged 50 plus’ was “hang on… old??”. I’ve just joined that age bracket and certainly don’t think of myself as old…but then again who does? So a lot of the participants looked young to me!
As I got a feel for the projects and staff I concentrated on taking positive images of people involved in the group activity, enjoying themselves, having a laugh mixing with all the different members and very aware of my composition and how an image can reveal how people fit together.
One of my favourite sessions was Float your Boat. This project aims to connect older men who are socially isolated on to canal boats, working and running them on the river Aire, travelling into Leeds picking up others along the way. As soon as I climbed on board I was immediately drawn to an older ‘Captain Birdseye’ lookalike. This guy obviously knew his stuff about boats and sailing, dressed in a traditional fisherman’s white jumper and sailor’s hat he certainly had some tales to tell of his life in the Navy.
The other men all bounced funny banter off each other, obviously hugely enjoying themselves. I soon became part of the crew and they forgot about my camera, as we chugged along the calm January waters spotting herons and wildlife. We picked up a school group for their weekly boat handling lesson. I loved seeing the generations all mucking in together.
Another group that I loved photographing was the iPad group at the OPAL Centre, Cookridge (as part of Health for All’s Connections project). I loved capturing the keen faces as they grappled with new online concepts and technology, embracing and determined to grasp and understand their new machines, helping each other out.
All the people that I met in the groups were clearly benefiting and enjoying themselves, sometimes in such a simple setting like a coffee morning in a community centre. Lives are being enriched through a common interest.
Paula Solloway, Photographer