Discovering Photography with Wiltshire People First
October saw a wonderful new project associated with Lacock Unlocked, and the chance for some of our staff and volunteers to work with Wiltshire People First, a group for adults with learning disabilities, and a professional photographer Jamie, to understand about photography; how to use a high-quality digital SLR camera and take good quality photographs. The three workshops followed different patterns and allowed the members to learn about different aspects of photography, experiment with picture taking and be creative. The project will finish with an exhibition of three images taken and chosen by each member; those which they feel are the most successful photographs they took. The exhibition will take place on Friday 28th November in the Manger Barn at Lacock, and I would recommend anyone who is able to go and see what brilliant pictures have been taken and the improvements made throughout the three weeks of the workshops.
The project fitted with Lacock Unlocked perfectly as it allowed us to work with a wider community of people and having Lacock as the venue was great as we could all imagine ourselves in the shoes of William Henry Fox Talbot, a pioneer in photography who owned Lacock Abbey in the 19th century and developed the first negative image actually inside the abbey itself.
The first day of the project, held on a chilly autumnal day in early October, started with a “welcome” session where the group members got a chance to meet Rachael, the National Trust staff member helping lead the project, Terry and Ally from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, David and Ronnie, our two volunteers, and Jamie McDine, the photographer. We also were able to meet Julie and Angie from Wiltshire People First. After some introductions, we went to the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock, where Roger Watson, the curator, spent some time with the group explaining all about William Henry Fox Talbot and his early developments with photography. He showed us a replica of the camera obscura which Fox Talbot had invented, and explained how Fox Talbot’s hard work eventually led him to produce the negative image which became so important in the success of photography.
We took advantage of the fact that it wasn’t raining and visited the abbey itself, stopping off in the giant camera obscura in the grounds, and seeing the cloisters which are always good inspirations for photography. We then went round the abbey grounds, where the Love Lacock photography competition was displaying its category shortlists. As the competition was still running, each member voted for their favourites from each category, and lots of inspiration was taken from those photographs.
The final part of the first day was spent back in the Manger Barn, where the members got into pairs and learned how to hold and use a digital SLR camera. It was new for most people, and if you’ve only ever taken photographs on a mobile phone or more straightforward digital camera these ones felt heavy and bulky – it was a skill even to hold it steady!
It was unfortunate that the weather only allowed us to take photographs indoors until the very end when some people managed to get outside and photograph around the Manger Barn. However, Jamie set up a studio light in the barn so that we could take clear photographs of each other as portraits and this was really entertaining.
The second day of the workshops took place just over a week later. Unfortunately not all the members were able to make it so it was a reduced group, but we did also welcome Matt and Mike from the History Centre who came along to help. It was a fascinating day because we got the opportunity to use the darkroom next to the Manger Barn, and learn how to use the really old-fashioned photography techniques developed by William Henry Fox Talbot. Just before this, we went for another walk around the grounds and picked out interesting-shaped leaves and flowers to do the images of. It was forecast to be a bright afternoon but sadly this didn’t happen, and so although the members used the chemicals and techniques in the darkroom, they didn’t react enough with the light to be able to see the results so Jamie had to stabilise the pictures and put them out again the following week. However it was a really fun afternoon, trying to deal with chemicals in the dark wearing gloves to protect hands and aprons to protect clothes. Suffice to say everyone enjoyed this workshop and it was great to see the difference in the production of photographs in the 175 years since Fox Talbot did his own experiments only a few minutes’ walk from where we were sitting.
The third day, held exactly a week later, looked like it was going to be sunny so Jamie quickly put the pictures from the last week outside to try and get them to develop. They did so and part of the afternoon was then spent helping Jamie clean the pictures and make them look presentable. They will form part of the exhibition, although because they might over-expose we’re going to have to take photographs of them so we can see what they looked like immediately they were developed. It was fascinating for the group to see just how much of a struggle Fox Talbot would have had in his time, experimenting with different chemicals and in different lights, to see what created the best image he possibly could.
We were pleased to welcome Angie Carmichael, the Director of Wiltshire People First, who had not been able to come to the previous two workshops so it was an opportunity to show off the work that had already been completed. We then split into groups of two or three and went back to the abbey grounds or the village to take photographs using all the techniques and hints that Jamie had provided over the previous two weeks. The intention with this was to take at least three images good enough to be shown in the exhibition.
The weather was good enough to be able to get some lovely pictures of the sun creeping through trees, some beautiful shots of Lacock Abbey itself and good close-ups of flowers, among other things. We then spent some time going through all the photographs and choosing the ones each member wanted displayed. The quality was so good that it was difficult to make the choice! These pictures, as well as a few from the other two days of the workshops, will be displayed in the exhibition. They show just how much each member has learnt and improved in just a short space of time.
I’d personally like to say a massive thank you to Rachael and the National Trust for letting us use the Manger Barn and the abbey grounds, Roger Watson for chatting to us at the beginning, Angie, Angie and Julie from Wiltshire People First, Jamie for his professional and enthusiastic help throughout, and David and Ronnie who gave up their time to give advice, help with wheelchairs and cameras. Terry, Mike, Matt and I from the History Centre all had a lot of fun and definitely learnt a lot about using these cameras as well. The biggest thank you has to go to the group from Wiltshire People First, though, for being so enthusiastic and interested throughout the three weeks and for making us look forward to each workshop coming. We are looking forward to the next time we’re able to work with Wiltshire People First.
If you’re in or near Lacock on the 28th November, please do call in to the Manger Barn and have a look at the exhibition.
Lacock Unlocked Project Archivist