Photography is such a powerful medium; it can transform lives. And it’s not just images that have this power, it can also be the act of taking – or learning to take – those images. In late 2011, Travel Photographer of the Year founder Chris Coe was privileged to play a small role in a fantastic photographic project in our home county of Suffolk; a project which has made a big difference to those who took part in it.
JumpstART! is a series of modular arts courses for people with learning disabilities, aimed at increasing creative skills and work opportunities for its participants. One of those courses is on photography, and Chris was a guest tutor at one of the photography sessions in 2011.
We spoke to JumpstART! Project Development Officer Fran Speight about this very special initiative, which resulted in an exhibition – ‘Sea of Shapes’ – in the Pond Gallery at Snape Maltings in January 2012.
Tell us about JumpstART!
JumpstART! is run by Suffolk Artlink, an organisation that works to improve the quality of life of disadvantaged people through taking part in arts activities. It’s funded by the National Lottery.
Photography guarantees the total involvement of the student – it’s a wonderful form of self-expression. And the pictures don’t have to be technically perfect for the participants to feel a great sense of achievement and self-esteem.
How does the course work?
JumpstART! runs a series of two-hour taster sessions in community venues, colleges and resource centres, followed up by one-day Explore sessions in photography, leading to the course.
The course ran at The Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft for 15 weeks. The tutors were professional photographers James Fletcher and Albert Robb, and guest tutor Chris Coe.
The students had the opportunity to explore colour, shape, texture and pattern in their local environment and looked at portrait, landscape, macro and reportage photography. They also visited the Atlas Photography Gallery at Snape to view pictures by Elliot Erwitt, Nick Brandt, Ernest Haas and Robert Capa.
What were the challenges for tutors and pupils?
Many of the students had never picked up a camera before, so had to learn the basics of handling the camera. Many have physical disabilities, so the tutors had to consider the right type of camera for that person. For example, some of the compact digital cameras are just too small to handle. SLRs provide better grip and larger display panels, however the weight of the cameras was also an issue, so we used tripods – some of which could fit onto wheelchairs.
Tutors had to use different methods of explaining the different aspects of photography in an easily understood manner – which can be tricky when explaining depth of field and the rule of thirds! The students however were able to see the differences between a brilliant picture and one that was merely OK, and explain why.
What did the students get out of the project?
They gained knowledge and experience from the practical workshops in a supportive environment. They have developed a real interest in photography and since starting the course most of them have brought their own cameras.
Tell us about the ‘Sea of Shapes’ exhibition
One aspect of the module is to have a public performance or exhibition at the end of the course, to celebrate the participants’ learning and to invite a public audience to view their work.
The Pond Gallery is a beautiful exhibition space, in a really busy environment, and the students were thrilled to see their pictures framed in a public gallery and to hear the positive comments made about their photographs.
The reaction from the exhibition visitors was also extremely positive, and members of the public were genuinely interested in the background of the project. The enthusiasm and self-esteem of the students was noticed by the visitors. who joined in with the celebration of their work. Comments from the visitor book included
‘Lovely exhibition, brilliant photographs, lots of creative ideas.’
‘This has been my first time to something like this, very interesting and very well done’
‘There are some really really good images here, exhibited in a wonderful place. What a fantastic project and what a fantastic result’
The project also ran in Bury St Edmunds, and the images from that project have been exhibited in the cafe in Debenhams department store.
What’s the next JumpstART! project?
We’ve just started a 15-week course in film-making and animation. This will culminate in an ‘exhibition’ in the form of public screenings in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich.
Students’ image captions from top: Crimson Cloth (photographer – Erik), Station bench (photographer – Winston), Globe (photographer – Vicky), Happy Car (photographer – Vicky), Train (photographer – Mark).