Sammy has his head in a box of wires, switches and assorted electronic gadgetry. “Let’s have a go,” says Dan, his new mentor. “Let’s see if we can get that to work. If we can, and the meter does reverse, then we’ve solved the problem. Let’s use this diagram and have a bash at wiring that up. Start with the battery first.”
I’ve been particularly looking forward to talking with Laura. As well as lots of other roles she is a photographer and saw the Neighbourhood Challenge as an opportunity to extend her knowledge, engage other local people and ultimately create a viable business from her passion. So we have lots in common. Mara kindly brings my bowl of leek and potato soup to our table as we begin to chat.
The plan for her project, which Laura called Photo Links, was to recruit a group of local photographers, from complete newcomers to seasoned amateurs, and inspire them to take pictures of the people of Brixham. “I wanted to say to them, look, this is your town too. Let’s take pictures of the people in this town and remind ourselves that these portraits, these faces, are all part of our community.”
Laura shows me some of her own portraits, people in the street, some she has known (because this is Brixham) and some she hasn’t. They are strong face-to-camera shots, full of personality. “For me it’s about capturing something in each of them, a look, something that says, for a moment at least, you’ve had a brief relationship with the subject. That’s how I take my photographs. I don’t like most of the portraits I take but then there might be one where I like the look in somebody’s eyes. That’s what’s important to me.”
There’s another element to Laura’s ambition: a ‘community arts project’ angle where she sees photography as a means of diverting the town’s youth from less productive activities. She is the first this week to talk to me about Brixham’s drug and alcohol problem, a consequence, as in so many other places, of poverty and boredom. If, says Laura, she could just encourage one or two young people who weren’t already involved with YES and who might be at a crossroads, then she might make a difference. “If just one person could find a hobby rather than going down a destructive road then it would be worth it,” she says.
To kick start Photo Links she organised an introductory event at The Edge which she advertised with flyers and posters around town. Someone from the local camera shop was invited as well as a photography tutor from South Devon College.
“How did it go?” I ask, having finished my soup, “how many people came?”
“I put nibbles on the table,” says Laura, “and I’d prepared a PowerPoint presentation… the first I’d ever done. Nineteen people showed up, from an 87-year-old man to a couple of girls still at primary school.”
“Also three teenage boys I’d talked to outside Tesco. I was so pleased. But one young man, perhaps in his early twenties, who I’d told about the project and who had promised to come, didn’t.
“I showed some work, talked about my idea and invited people to get involved. I offered tuition to those who wanted it and the shop offered the free loan of cameras which was a big bonus.”
In the weeks that followed the group began taking pictures around Brixham. The young girls, inspired by Laura’s images, began shooting street portraits; others were less adventurous, sticking to pictures of their friends and family. Laura accompanied some of the participants and gave advice but the three teenage boys were less than cooperative.
“They weren’t allowed to loan cameras on their own, and they didn’t want me hanging around with them, I just wasn’t cool enough! They have expressed an interest in making a film about the local skate park but that’s as far as we’ve got really.”
Read the second part of Laura’s story in Small victories.