Over summer I was asked by my mum to engage with the Lantern Community through my photography, commissioning me to take portraits of the residents and landscapes of the grounds. They needed up to date images for their website and leaflet and with the promise of full credit I said yes (also the promise of a new hard drive for ‘payment’). I knew when mum asked I would not be getting paid and I was okay with this as I had never done anything similar, but I would definitely negotiate something more in future.
The Lantern Community is a community for adults with a learning difficulty, ranging to all areas of the spectrum. Based off the idea of Camphill community and anthroposophy, the ideas base around the central theme of respect and valuing all human life.
I lived there until the age of 7, in a house with 6 residents, engaging with them at meal times and throughout my days. My parents were ‘house parents’, looking after the house and conducting meals, helping with everyday needs of the residents etc. It has since changed a lot from my childhood, due to government sanctions and new rules, also budget cuts playing a big factor into this.
My close relationship with all the residents meant that I am able to come into the community with next to no intrusive feelings, they all know me, some of them even fed me when I was younger. This meant that when I approached anyone to capture their portrait there was no barrier. This was a blessing and a curse; as with a lot of the people living there, their lust for life and happiness is contagious and me pointing a camera at them just made them want to display the biggest and happiest smiles I have ever seen. When I was trying to get candid, working shots (there are workshops such as the Bakery, Weavery, Pottery etc. that the residents engage in morning and afternoon) it was quite difficult to take the images without them noticing or trying to pose.
Although I do know everyone working there, I still felt slightly uncomfortable when approaching different workshops, as my mum is one of the managers and my dad works as a potter. I felt most comfortable working in my dad’s workshop as he was able to direct the residents (he often takes his own photos, as he enjoys photography as well) and I was able to just zip around and take the shots that he set up. In other workshops I felt like I was intruding with their work and flow, as often a small distraction like that can impact the whole morning.
I recognised after I had finished my time there that I should have spent whole days in workshops, creating rapport with the residents before I even got my camera out, coming in and just shooting like I was testing my luck a bit, leaving any images to chance.
Images of the grounds were obviously much easier to take, as I could go off on my own and just photograph. I came in with so much anxiety over what I was doing that I wasn’t allowing myself to take the images I wanted to, not using my voice to the best of my ability due to the worry. I didn’t feel very ‘official’, it just felt like I was going in with my camera on just another day and I fear that this closeness was actually hindering me.
I didn’t enjoy the whole process in all honesty, it overwhelmed me and the constant noise from both my parents being around almost put me off going in again, but it was a a great experience in the wider scheme of things.
I even got to stand on a roof of a building to take a wide angle shot of all the residents and staff for a leaving party, which meant I could slip into ‘Miss Bossy Onna’ and use my ‘big girl’ voice and direction. This was new for me on a scale like this, but I actually enjoyed this perhaps more than the more intimate situations within the workshops.
I also conducted head shots for their online identification system, which I actually enjoyed more due to the simple nature of it. I set up a white projector screen, a stool that everyone could access, a shady spot under a tree and camera on a tripod. The natural lighting was great, but I could have done with some kind of small reflector to aid some of the shadows.
In transferring my images to the ‘client’ I used both WeTransfer and a memory stick, my mum flagging up any images she needed especially beforehand and making an edit through this method.