I don’t often enter photographic competitions. In fact this is only my second competition entry in a decade. But sometimes you get a sense that your work fits with the award category. In this case my portraits about Carers seemed like an appropriate entry for a competition being run by Carers UK, a national charity who support the rights of Carers. They support people like me!
Yes I am a photographer, but when the studio lights are off and the camera is back in my bag I am also full-time Carer to my twins who both have disabilities as a result of their premature birth. There is a whole army of Carers out there who try and juggle some sense of a normal life with the day to day challenges of looking after someone with medical and physical needs.
I have used my ‘self’ in several images to try and show both disability and sickness and also the difficulties of caring. I am delighted that one I my most powerful images of ‘Carer Burnout’ has been recognised. It is a statement that I know so many other Carers will understand. That image reflects how so many of us feel after years of caring.
The second highly commended image was of a dear friend of mine and her children. Leigh is one of my ‘heroes’. We all need real life heroes who motivate us to get on with life. When I met Leigh I was a new mum and I was helplessly looking at my sons diagnosis of brain damage and wondering how I would ever cope. But when I sat with Leigh in the parents room on the neo-natal unit where my children were, I got to meet this strong woman who was never going to let her child’s brain damage stop him from living the best life she could give him. She taught me how to become a strong Mom and Carer for my son and daughter.
My next hero I have to thank is a truly inspirational photographer called Jim Mortram. I don’t know Jim personally but we have tweeted support for each other many times. One day a few years ago when I wondered where life would take me I sat scouring the internet for inspirational photographers and there was Jim. His biography read ‘Photographer and Carer for my Mum’. It was the words I needed to hear. I could be a Carer and still take great pictures!! It felt like I had been finally dragged out of the depths of my despair. Photography has been part of my life since I was 17, I have dipped in and out of it over the decades but now it feels like I am home.
Sometimes my photography is therapy for me, sometimes it’s a personal statement about the world, sometimes it is simply a picture of a still life object that has caught my eye. Photographers capture the world in fleeting moments; and Carers can feel like they live their own lives in such moments because the day to day care for someone else leaves no space for the ‘Self’.
But if you are a Carer find some creative space for you. Take a picture, write a poem, or paint; find away to colour your world. Find that something that reminds you that your life isn’t over, being a Carer doesn’t mean you have to put the pause button on your own life, it just means you have to go slow, and I mean really slow. But hold on, just hold on to something for you and the caring will be a little bit easier and you will feel a little less broken.
Report from the competition Judge Bella West:
“This was possibly the hardest photography competition I’ve had to judge, in respect that this was not about all the qualities we look for in a professional portrait image, it was all about the content – a penetrating statement of the reality many carers face and such a pleasure to look through.
Photography, as with all art is subjective, so my choice of winners is defined very much by the emotional value the images had on me and what I read into them. That in no way lessens the impact of any of the other entries, and the entire collection contained humour, sadness, devotion and love. It was such a pleasure to view all these wonderful photographs.
A clever narrative within a photograph or portrait, is one that invites the viewer in, to read their own story – the winning image definitely held this open invitation.”
A link to all the winning entries here
About the competition:
Earlier this year, carers, former carers, and their friends were invited to contribute poems, short stories, and photographs for the national competition. Both well-established and newer artists and writers shared their personal reflections on caring. The poems were picked by award-winning poet Cheryl Moskowitz, who judged the prize for a third year running and the photography was judged by Portrait Photographer Bella West.
Carers UK’s Chief Executive, Heléna Herklots said:
“At some point in our lives almost all of us will care for someone or require care ourselves. Yet, caring can still feel like an isolating experience, often worsened by a lack of understanding from those close to us or society as a whole.
With the support of Specsavers Healthcall, Carers UK is using the power of photography and the written word to shine a light on the experiences of more carers than ever before.
In previous years, we have seen the competition’s winning poems, stories, and photographs help other carers feel less alone and better understood. We hope that this year’s contest will encourage even more carers recognise their role and come forward to seek the support they’re entitled to.”
About Carers UK:
Carers UK is a charity led by carers, for carers – our mission is to make life better for carers. For practical advice and information about caring, contact the Carers UK Adviceline on 0808 808 7777 (Open Monday to Wednesday, 10am to 4pm) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Its listening service is available Mondays and Tuesdays, between 9am-7pm.