Thursday, 23 April 2009

Meeting Oliver On The First Photoshoot

Today was my first 'Gifts of Life' photo shoot, other than William of course. Oliver is waiting for a kidney transplant and my also soon be assessed for a small bowel transplant. His bowel is behaving very similarly to William's own bowel did so his Mum and I had lots to talk about. One of the lovely things about this project is meeting people in different stages of their transplant journey. It is wonderful for us all to spend some time talking with others who understand our worries and challenges. You can read more about Oliver's story here and can see some of the (unedited) images in the 'Gifts of Life' gallery .

I was pretty nervous about this shoot. I feel such a responsibility to the participants to capture the very essense of their personality and their experiences of life. I had very narrow confines to work within for this shoot as Oliver was on his 24 hour TPN drip and was sitting on his dialysis chair. Unfortunately, his line had just failed and the photos were taken between being removed from the machine he was on and being re-connected to a different form of dialysis. The ward was busy with other children on dialysis and I had to be careful not to include anyone else in the shot. This limited the perspectives and angles I could work within. As I was shooting in the hospital and Oliver is a minor, there had to be a representative from the hospital communications department present. She had misunderstood the breif and thought she was to take some pictures so arrived with an identical camera to mine. This made me feel quite self conscious. I did make use of this later though and asked her to take some pictures of me taking pictures of Oliver that can be used in some of the project publicity.

Oliver is a wonderful boy, full of life and very cheeky. I found it a challenge to capture this within the parameters I was working in. William is only 4 and easy to shoot candid without him noticing too much. He has also got used to Mum's incessant camera clicking and ignores it to a point, before requesting 'No more photos!'. Understandably, Oliver was much more self-conscious due to his age at 8 years old and not being the son of a Mum who watched a large proportion of life through a view finder. I had to keep in close proximity to avoid capturing anyone else in the shot and because we only had a bed space to work within. The best way to photograph Oliver within these confines was to be semi-posed portraits. I learned a lot from him about capturing children in this way. You take loads of OK shots while they get used to you before a golden time of about 2 minutes while they really connect with you and let you connect with them. Just as you are really enjoying life and looking forward to loads of great shots, they get fed up and you have lost them. I hope I have captured Oliver well.

I went away feeling really quite emotional. I am used to life as a 'gastro mum' at Chelsea and Westminster and, for a time, I had stepped in and observed life as a 'kidney mum' in another hospital. I was reminded of lots that I had been through and felt the pain and anguish the Mum's I met were experiencing as they wait for that call to tell them a kidney has been found for their child. These feeling were extended to the other Mums I met in the lifts, atriums and corridors, their stories told on their faces and the children who accompanied them. I must confess to a brief spell in the loo on the way out, whilst I got rid of some tears.

Oliver seemed on great form this morning and I was sad to log onto Facebook later in the afternoon to read a status update from his Mum saying how worried she was as he had become very poorly during the afternoon. I am hoping he is OK. He needs his transplant and he needs it soon.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Planning, preparing and learning

Well, I started this blog a couple of weeks ago and it has been a bit quiet since. I promise it will be a lot busier from now on. It certainly hasn't been quiet because there has been nothing going on. On the contrary, a lot has been going on. I have been busy making plans and proposals, writing exhibition proposals, sorting out samples of my work, exploring avenues for funding and spending a lot of time playing with equipment and experimenting on Photoshop.

The plans and proposals are coming along very nicely and there are a few things in the pipeline as well as a couple of other potentials. There are some ifs and maybes so am keeping it all under warps for now but will have exciting news to announcing on here over the coming weeks so watch this space. It has been a steep but interesting learning curve for me in putting together exhibition proposals and a strategy for funding an arts project such as this. I am used to planning funding with my charity director hat on and so have some transferable skills but there are new aspects to learn.

I have, and will always have, lots to learn when it comes to the technical aspects of photography too. Over the last couple of weeks I have been playing with my flash gun, using it on the camera and holding it off. Thanks to suggestions from a fantastic American photographer whose work is a real inspiration to me (Steve Paxton) I have been playing coloured gels placed over the flash bulb. Some of my photos will be in the florescent lights of the hospital and the gels can take off some of the harsh edge from the light and some of the wierd colouring effects it can cause. Steve also suggested I used a 'Gary Fong Lightsphere'. I have never heard of such a thing so looked it up on the web to find it to be a kind of inverted plastic bowel that is placed over the flash gun to diffuse light and prevent shadows. There are different lids for different situations, such as low ceilings where the light can bounce off the ceiling and down to cause shadows under the eyes. These are not too easy to come by in the UK and was thrilled to bits to see one single one on E-bay. I placed my bid and kept a watch...until I got side tracked on the last 5 minutes and suffered that really annoying situation where you think it is yours and you are pipped by about £5 in the closing seconds!! A bit more googling found me in the midst of a forum discussion about this simple, yet amazing piece of kit where, thankfully, someone revealed the only UK distributer. My daughters, Hope and Ellie have been wonderful models for me while I experiment with different light balance set ups and various partnerships of a piece of coloured plastic and an upturned goldfish bowel.

Like I said, I will always have new stuff to learn in the technical aspects but I know that I want it is I want to capture. I want to capture something about each participant's own individual journey. I want to capture their essence, a moment, a second that reflects all of this in one of their actions or in their eyes. I have been looking through the pictorial record I took of William before his transplant and his journey through recovery. I think these two are good examples of the kind of thing I mean. Just look at his eyes. You can really see his fear, almost terror in the first one. It is actually uncomfortable for me to see and, if he had not yet had his transplant, they would be all the more heart breaking. You can also read his relationship with his Father, the comfort he is seeking in his cuddle and the way he find that comfort and is beginning to relax in the second picture. The look in his eyes were transient and could have been missed in a blink or moment turning the other way. That is what I love about photography. You watch and wait and, if you react quickly enough when you see it, you can capture these precious moments. Once you have them, they can be immensely powerful. This is what I hope 'Gifts of Life' will be.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Strong Reactions

The image above is one that I took when I started using photograhy to explore the journey I was on with William. It was one of the first I took after purchasing my first D-SLR camera. Technically, it could be better. It is a bit dark around the edges for example and I have come on a long way in my photography, especially in areas such as lighting, since then.
I still find this a powerful image, it is one of my favourite of this kind that I took to record William's experiences before his transplant. It shows him bound by drips when his intravenous access was becoming a challenge and his need for intravenous fluids and drugs very high. It was taken just a few weeks before he got his call for transplant.
Last week, I included this image in a digital round of internal competition at my camera club. I enter these competitions to hear a critique of my work to develop myself as a photographer and, thus, like to include a wide variety of genre. The judge did not like this picture one bit and not because of the technical limitations, in fact, he didn't even go as far as to comment on that. To him, the subject was totally inappropriate and he went as far as to say that why on earth would anyone put this image out into the public unless to shock!
Maybe I have become to used to seeing scenes like this but I didn't mean to shock. 'Gifts of Life' aims to stir emotions but I don't think shock is one of them, certainly not in the way this particular gentleman seemed to be. Of course, he did not have the context and I can understand it may jar a bit to have this image appear suddenly among the wildlife and landscapes. Others in the club know a bit about me now along with the photos I take and why. Some of these peopl told me in the coffee break that they liked the image and found it powerful and thought it deserved more than the dismissal it received. The wondered if I was OK at the reaction it got and worried I may have been hurt. I wasn't hurt. I was fascinated. The judge reacted strongly. To me, that is better than a luke warm response. He and others had their emotions stirred and that is what I aim to do in this project. I mentioned this briefly on my status report on Facebook. Since then, I have also spoken to others who have seen this image and find it to be powerful and moving. I am glad I entered it into the compeition. The responses I had that night and the conversations I have had as a result have shown me how powerful this project could be and have encouraged and driven me on rather than upset me.
I plan to invite this judge to the 'Gifts of Life' exhibition opening. I would love the opportunity to hear his thoughts when all the images are together in the context of the message and the stories they portray.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Welcome to the 'Gifts of Life' blog

Welcome to the 'Gifts of Life' blog. This blog will be my diary, log book and sketch book as I journey along. It will be my exploration of the impact the project has on me and how that, in turn, develops my work. I will talk about the practical and technical aspects of the project, as well as the emotional journey it takes me on. I will try and blog regularly so please do keep coming back.

Gifts of Life is an exciting project. Please have a look at the website to find out more and see how you can get involved.