Photo synthesis


To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and
when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can
make them come back again.
Henri Cartier Bresson, photographer

A hundredth of a second here, a hundredth of a second there –
even if you put them end to end, they still only add up to one,
two, perhaps three seconds, snatched from eternity.
Robert Doisneau, photographer

We’ve all trawled through photo albums throwing up
memories of mostly significant events and times – holidays,
birthdays, trips out. It’s usually all there – the
pleasure, the pain and the odd embarrassing moment. For most of us
photography is the strongest tie we have to our past. However, it
can be a lot more than a memory trigger. Photography can be art and
deliver unique takes on a moment in time. It can be a method of
expression or communication, and a powerful advocate. And there are
plenty of organisations which can focus their arts programmes for
service users.

Folly, Photovoice, Artlink and Action Space are but four
that offer different service users the opportunity to practice
photography and test out their creative talents.

The north-western based media arts organisation,
Folly, works to advocate photographic art among a
range of users including those with mental health problems. Taylor
Nuttall, director of Folly suggests that “photography offers
a direct experience that is easily recognised as being part of
everyday life, which features in newspapers, magazines and

Photography began defining reality in the nineteenth century,
and despite photographs being open to manipulation by computers,
Taylor claims that “photography also directly responds to the
reality of the world yet can capture individual moments as a
tangible record of an event, emotion, individual or a

People with physical and learning difficulties are able to
communicate their own ideas and emotions through photography,
giving them a sense of empowerment. Taylor considers photography as
“a way of providing an immediate representation of the self
that can be manipulated to extend one’s own self-perception
or otherwise present something that was not intended to begin


Photovoice, an international organisation, offers
training in photography for marginalised and excluded groups.
Through photography these groups are given the chance to voice
their opinions about their local communities. By giving local
citizens a voice, they are then able to present their views and
thoughts to policy makers. “For groups that deal with serious
stigmatisation, photography can offer a powerful advocacy tool
which enables the participants to put forward their points of view
to public audiences,” says Tiffany Fairey, director and
co-founder of Photovoice. As well as boosting confidence,
photography provides openings for self-expression and
self-advocacy, which all feed, enrich and inspire an
individual’s creativity.

Photography can also provide service users with technical,
creative and visual skills, which may increase their job
opportunities. According to Fairey: “Students have gone on to
get jobs in photo labs as a result of their participation in our
projects”. Fairey agrees that the medium can inspire
confidence and self-esteem. “One student,” she says,
“did a speech about his work in front of a large audience,
having hardly opened his mouth in the past. Students have been
interviewed on TV about their work, having initially said they did
not have the confidence to do it”. Indeed, this is bolstered
by the pride taken in mastering the technical aspects of
photography and, of course, taking great photos.

Artlink Edinburgh works with people with
learning difficulties, mental health problems and physical
disabilities. Through urban arts programmes, projects and
photography groups, Artlink offers service users opportunities to
display and contribute artwork to the wider community and, indeed,
nationally and internationally. Alison Stirling, projects director,
suggests that service users are rewarded through “developing
new skills and interests, meeting new people and pride in achieving
a task”. However, she stresses that each reward is relative
to the individual and depends on what they want to get out of

Stirling says that the public and professionals in photography
should not be viewed separately from service users or others who
are socially excluded. “For some people within a cross
section of the public there is a stronger interest in photography
and interest to carry it on as an art form. For those people they
go and learn more about it. There should be no differentiation
since a, b, c and d are sometimes members of the public and
sometimes are professionals.”


London arts charity Action Space uses photography
as a way of encouraging self-expression among people with learning
difficulties through painting the pictures in their minds. These
pictures may display everyday interests and influences personal to
them or simply things pleasing to the eye. Andrew Spratley, in a
contribution to ‘Exposed’, a publication produced by
Action Space Saturday project participants, says: “I
don’t know what I’ll do in the future but I intend to
keep myself busy by going shopping, doing drawing and painting and
going to sites like Plaistow and Westbourne Park to do graffiti
painting.” Andrew likes taking photos and doing graffiti
paintings and his talented work is exhibited in the publication,
among many others.

Action Space recently held a photography exhibition at the Oxo
Gallery, and was complimented for its high standard. This was a
major achievement for all involved and inevitably gave contributors
more confidence to produce art pieces.

Action Space project coordinator, Naomi Kendall, says that
“digital photography has been particularly rewarding as the
images are very quickly accessed and can be manipulated on the
computer and in the studio. The results our participants achieve
with photography are very high quality and this develops their self
confidence and self esteem.”

The hands-on role of producing something creative and being part
of the creative process gives those involved a very rewarding
experience and needs neither the written nor spoken word. For
Kendall, “photography, as with other visual art forms, is not
reliant on verbal communication and does not require our
participants to be able to read or write. It is something they can
all really progress in.” For example, Kendall speaks of one
service user for whom putting the camera to their eye was very
difficult. “However, by the end of the project, this was not
a problem.” Photography, as with all art forms, is a learning
process and gets better with practice.

Action Space is rightly proud of the inclusiveness of
clients’ participation in decision-making, relating
specifically to the workshop design of projects, programmes and so
on. According to Kendall: “The participants were completely
in control of the studio project and took part in all the project
planning. They made decisions about the timetable and where and
when they were going to be to take photos.” Participation
feeds confidence because service users are given the opportunity to
feel in control of what they are doing. 

Photography can expose service users to a world that builds
confidence, self-esteem and independence. It also gives people a
sense of identity by encouraging self-expression in a creative way.
Those involved with art-based projects, such as Folly, Photovoice,
Artlink and Action Space are given the chance to discover, build on
or improve technical skills. Therefore, what better way to exercise
your creative potential than to snap some shots.


26 Castle Park, Lancaster, LA1 1YQ

Tel: 01524 388550

Artistic director: Taylor Nuttall


Unit 304, Colourworks, 2 Abbot Street, London, E8 3DP

Director, Tiffany Fairey:

Tel: 0207 254 4087


Artlink Edinburgh                
Projects director: Alison Stirling

Tel: 0131 229 3555


Action Space
Cockpit Arts, Cockpit Yard, Northington Street, London, WC1N

Project coordinator: Naomi Kendall

Tel: 020 7209 4289

Fax: 020 7209 0198


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