Guest Blog by Emma Salvato-Smith
We met at 10am at the Project Space, Newport, greeted with coffee, Welsh cakes and a pile of photography books. Jo Haycock welcomed us and we introduced ourselves in turn sharing something of our experience with cameras and why we had come. Some appeared to be confident and eager to help others who were more timid and hopeful of gaining some skills. The group quickly established itself as an encouraging, friendly and easy to be in space.
Jo, using her laptop, shared some of her own images, talking about the connections she had made with people and hearing stories. My first surprise of the day was that her emphasis was more about people and relationships than the camera and technical information. Relief.
She inspired us with work of the masters; Hetherington, Bresson, Mark Alor Powell. We talked about Occupy London, Bresson’s ‘Decisive Moment’ and the importance of time spent getting to know people and building trust without the camera. Jo led us through a series of images into a puzzle about flying cats, water and chairs. Halsman’s jump portraits were sneakily used to set our first assignment. With a horrified roar from the group, we knew there was no escape.
We had 30 minutes to persuade the people of Newport to jump. Any camera fears vanished, the focus had changed and the group triumphed with an array of images along with a collection of stories. We shared each other’s work and Jo showed us parts of her project documenting the work of Newport Women’s Aid. We talked about stories, sensitivity, ethics, process and the group asked questions and helped each other develop understanding which now included some photography basics.
We learnt to use a framework of different types of image to tell our story; Jo showing examples of establishing, detail, moment, relationship and portrait shots. I could feel the next assignment looming and realised my plan to escape into a green space somewhere was perhaps not going to suffice. This involved social skills.
I walked through Newport Commercial Street heading for the river, but keeping in mind a little park I really wanted to find again behind Charles Street. My natural disposition on weekends is reclusivity and so photographing the family of rats which live near the Wave somehow was more attractive than mustering a human conversation with strangers. My fast stroll was becoming a kind of resigned intentional hunt for a story and five images.
I came to a halt outside Strawberry Water Junk Company and instinctively took a couple of pictures. The owner came out and I felt caught. He was just filling his pipe and I threw myself into trying to get a portrait. He kindly appeased me but I still shudder with discomfort thinking about my apparent rudeness. I followed him into the shop and started asking customers if I could photograph them. I took pictures of lamps, clocks, glass paperweights and old cameras. I even managed to concentrate enough to experiment with different ISO settings; the ‘pillar’ I had learnt I was neglecting in my late and indignant transition from film to digital. Time disappeared; customers recounted memories, tried clothing on, bought gifts and haggled. My five shots were quickly achieved and I managed to purchase a trinket for £1 to ease my guilt. The gentleman and his customers had been generous. I enjoyed myself.
The group reassembled, selected ten images and presented their work. I think we all came away with added confidence, a well caught image, new people interactions and a pile of stories.
I’d go again, thanks Jo. I am richer for that Saturday.