Photography for Feminists! Centenary City Ambassador Training

By Venice Fielding, Centenary City Ambassador

Ambassadors gathered for the Centenary City photography workshop with photographer and teacher Laura Deane on a sweltering day in July, fans blasting in what was once the Pankhurst family’s front room. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the session. What experience would the other participants have? Would it be quite technical? Or more practical and hands-on?

As it turned out, we were all coming from different levels of experience – some were very knowledgeable and came equipped with SLR cameras. Others, myself included, knew little and brought just an iPhone.

To begin, we explored some of Laura’s work and her progression as a photographer, as well as the work of other notable Mancunian photographers.

The evolution of Laura’s photos really struck me. She talked about starting out capturing landscapes and human interaction with nature, often without any people in the shot. From there, she moved slowly towards creating portraits, and she discussed just how much confidence she had to build in herself to be able to take those pictures.

This progression resonated with me very strongly. Whilst travelling abroad, I’ve been drawn to pictures of jungles cut through by bridges, a house nestled awkwardly in the nook of a craggy cliff, a single lane winding through rice paddies.

And yet, interesting faces started to catch my eye. I still remember, in a small town in Southern Vietnam, spotting a barber, just hanging out on his motorbike by the roadside, waiting for customers to drop by. The backdrop a tall, flaking white stucco wall with a small mirror screwed to it, a creaky-looking chair by his side. One leg up on the handlebars, his face distant and serene.

I recall this scene vividly, but it now exists only in my mind. As much as I wish I’d taken his photograph, I didn’t want to intrude by just snapping away. I lacked the confidence to walk right up to him and ask.

So, how is my reverie relevant to the workshop at hand?

Well, after looking at and discussing photography in the classroom, we went out to try some ourselves. We started off taking portraits of each other – a friendly setting, but images of almost perfect strangers, nonetheless.

Once we were comfortable getting a camera in other people’s faces from the workshop, we moved out into the general public to try our skills out in a slightly less nurturing environment.

It was a little daunting to start out, to say the least, but we didn’t meet anybody who was negative, or who refused to be photographed.

I started off taking pictures of inanimate objects:

Moving quickly to foregrounding those objects while covertly capturing the people wandering by in the background:

It was a bigger step up to actually asking people if I could take their picture, but it was beyond worth it. While some people asked, “why?” (which I felt they might be less inclined towards if you look the part more, as opposed to approaching them with an iPhone), they were also pretty friendly about it.

And the confidence boost given to me by the workshop allowed me to get my two favourite shots of the day!

 

What better way could there be to preserve the incredible work of feminists and women’s rights activists in this city, than to capture them in their natural element? If we want to leave a legacy for future generations of feminists, we have to be brave enough to go out and document it.

Thank you Venice! We want to know what Ambassadors think of the project and of any events you attend at the Pankhurst, or elsewhere.  Please submit posts to curatorial@pankhursttrust.org.uk.

We’re still looking for Ambassadors for the project. For more information, click here or contact curatorial@pankhursttrust.org

There’s a second chance to attend Laura Deane’s training on the 12th August. The training is free, but you need to book.

 

 

 

 

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