community photography
 

Getting started

Photography courses

One very good way to learn how to use photography is to take a course. To find out what is available at local colleges and community and adult education centres, contact your Local Education Authority (LEA). Most colleges and centres will send potential course participants a prospectus or course list giving up to date information. Bear in mind that the academic year starts in September, and that is when courses lasting for a year or more will tend to start, but that shorter courses may be timetabled at any time. Some classes are free or half price for people on low incomes. Art and media centres and photography galleries also run short courses and projects. For further information see the list of photography galleries in the resource section of reveal (i).

Qualifications

While many projects and short courses are informal and do not offer qualifications, there are several routes which do. These include:

  • GCSE Art - Endorsed Photography. Photography at this level is part of a wider art syllabus. This is often taught in schools but may be offered to part time students on evening courses also.
  • OCN or NOCN - Open College Network, or National Open College Network. Various photography courses of different levels, lengths and emphasis, accredited regionally or nationally. These courses are designed for use in community education settings, so you may find OCN qualifications are offered by more informal learning organisations. The emphasis is generally on learning through practical assessments and production of a portfolio of work. For more information visit the National Open College Network web site (ii).
  • City & Guilds - Photography 6923 is a popular City & Guilds course you may find on offer at many colleges, this course leads to a vocational qualification and is modular, allowing the course participant to choose their route of learning according to areas of interest. May lead into Higher Education. For more information visit the City & Guilds web site (iii).
  • A, AS, A2 Level Photography – various options offered by different examining boards, these courses tend to be more academic with a traditional examining system and some assessed coursework. May also lead to entry into Higher Education

Setting up a project

If you have the necessary skills, and/or you know of a community group who would like to be involved in a photographic project, the first task is to find funding and a venue for your project.

Community photography projects usually provide cheap darkroom and camera hire coupled with a variety of workshops through which to learn skills.

Some areas have good Community Development Services, others do not. Your local council should be able to put you in touch with the Community Development Officer, if there is one.

Workshops based around specific areas of local interest such as local history, community centres, or festivals and other events, not only introduce skills, but also provide a context in which to use them. Many groups feel it is their priority to develop photography as a tool for social and political action. To this end, community photographers can team up with local pressure groups and work with them to produce publicity and exhibition material which keep the community informed. Sometimes there is a budget available for this.

Fundraising

Fundraising can be a heavy burden that anyone considering setting up a community darkroom or project needs to be prepared to undertake. The piecemeal nature of funding means that even after establishing the value and quality of your work, you could still be unsuccessful in securing long term funding. That said, it is worth trying to mobilise funds for a permanent photographic resource which can be of benefit to a whole community.

Meanwhile, there are many possible sources of funding for one-off projects. Funding sources include:

  • Arts Councils – of England (iv), Scotland (v), Wales (vi) and Northern Ireland (vii). These are the national development agencies for the arts in the UK, distributing public money from Government and the National Lottery.
  • Millennium Commission (viii) - The Millennium Awards Scheme gives small Lottery grants to individual people for projects which will benefit themselves and their community.
  • Prince’s Trust (ix) - a UK charity that helps young people overcome barriers and get their lives working, through practical support including training, mentoring and financial assistance.
  • NESTA (x) - the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts invests in outstanding ideas and the people who have them, often much earlier than other funders. By supporting emerging talent NESTA hope to provide a real boost to the UK’s economic, creative and cultural capital.
  • Arts and Business (xi) - a national organisation which aims to strengthen communities by developing creative and effective partnerships between the commercial sector and the arts.

A few minutes of searching on the web or at your local library will yield a number of leads to pursue, but don’t expect to just email organisations and ask for money - you should ask about what sort of projects are eligible for funding, and find out what the application procedures and deadlines are. Study the funding source to see what they are offering and follow their guidelines for applications carefully. Your project must be well thought out and your reasons for funding well explained because the competition can be stiff. All funding organisations will be happy to answer your questions and many will be able to actively help you in formulating your application.

Sponsorship

You can also get contributions from private companies in the form of sponsorships or charitable donations. Sponsorship could be as money or ‘in kind’ - donations of materials, use of venues, etc. A company making a charitable donation may receive tax benefits but only if they do not make commercial gain from their donation. Sponsorship, on the other hand, often comes from an advertising budget: you will need to offer something in return, for example publicity, entertainment, corporate image enhancement, etc. You can look in the yellow pages or contact the Chamber of Commerce where you live for details of local business directories. You can also look in local papers to see which companies have sponsored the arts in the past. Try to find a company relevant in some way to your project – for example, retailers of photographic equipment and materials may be able to donate goods or offer a discount in return for publicity. Remember, if you don’t ask, you won’t get, but do your research and have a coherent plan before you approach funders or sponsors for help.

Exhibition opportunities

Reproduction and display of photographs is an important area of work and many projects contribute to community newspapers and find places like libraries and community centres to exhibit their work. Working in partnership with an arts organisation can provide opportunities for local or touring exhibitions. Digitising photographic material and publishing it on a web site is a way of reaching a potentially infinite audience worldwide, and is increasingly used by community action groups, and individual artists and photographers. Web sites should be well designed and regularly updated to encourage visitors.