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Here Laurie G talks about his experience on Morley College’s Contemporary Portrait Photography: Studio and Location course – taught by tutor Lydia Evans

Laurie discusses how his personal project resulted in an intimate portrait of his 95 year old Granddad.

I have always enjoyed photographing people and saw the course in Contemporary Portrait Photography at Morley as an opportunity to further develop my skills. Having been a secondary school teacher for the last 15 years it was a nice change to be on the other side of the learning experience.

When photographing people I have always found that I get the best results when I have an emotional connection with my subject. Towards the end of the course I visited my 95 year old grandfather and saw this as the perfect opportunity to put what I had learned into practice.

My grandfather has lived by himself since my grandmother died 12 years ago. While he has many visitors and carers who check on him several times a day, I always get the impression that he feels somewhat alone. Confined to a wheelchair for the past couple of years much of his house remains unchanged from when my grandmother was alive. In the upstairs bedroom, no longer used, my grandmother’s dressing table becomes a memorial to her absence.

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The brief for our final project was to produce a cohesive series of shots around one central theme. With this in mind I wanted to ensure that I had a variety of shots of my grandfather. I took some photographs with a wider lens to show him in his surroundings, resulting in more environmental-style portraits. For the close up head shot I followed our tutor Lydia’s advice to “fill the frame”. Using a long lens and large aperture I created a very shallow depth of field to draw the focus on my grandfather’s eyes. I also included a shot of his hands which, given their importance during his working life as a surgeon, I felt added to the story.

Lydia also talked about how portraiture doesn’t always need to show the person. The photograph of my grandmother’s dressing table, along with the photograph of the notice board that bears the phone numbers of my grandparents’ friends (many of whom have also passed away) and my grandmother’s obituary, say as much about my grandfather as the photographs directly of him.

I really enjoyed the course at Morley. It was a good mix of technical information and art theory. I most enjoyed the opportunities to put all we had learnt into practice and make portraits of people in a range of situations. Remembering the correct camera settings, fully considering lighting and thinking about composition, all whilst engaging with and directing the subject was a real challenge, but with practice it did get easier. There was a really supportive atmosphere amongst the students and everyone was open to ideas and suggestions. I found the group feedback sessions particularly useful.

Since finishing the course I have continued to put all that I have learned into practice and hopefully will continue to improve.

Laurie G. 2017

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