Sometimes, art is more than just a visual experience. For some of our local Somerset residents the Snap & Stroll photography project and its final exhibition Moments was a way forward in dealing with mental health challenges. Jemima Ung, second year History of Art and Publishing student, attended the private view to review it and to see what sort of project one of our very own Bath Spa students, Katie Constantine, was getting involved in.
God knows, as university students, we get caught up in a whirlwind of deadlines, lectures, and innumerable hangovers. We try to get by as functioning human beings jacked up on caffeine and red bull while trying to pass the academic year and dealing with the rest of our lives. But don’t forget to take a look around you and see what is going on in your local city and what opportunities lie outside of university.
Snap & Stroll: a community photography project about getting diverse groups of people together, participating in the outdoors and improving participant’s wellbeing and confidence. The lesson in this project and exhibition is “to be bold, be memorable and be in the moment.”
Walking through the large and stately wooden doors of Bath’s Guildhall (feeling like I’m in a time-warp walking through the old Georgian building in my black culottes, winged eyeliner and iPhone in my pocket), I took a right at reception into the foyer; it was a small space, but warm and inviting. With my complimentary glass of white wine in one hand (as one does when one goes to a private art view, feeling rather posh if I may say so) and my notebook in the other, I shook hands with The Chair of Bath, Councillor Cherry Beath, who was thrilled to be hosting the event.
On the walls were columns of stark black frames contrasting on white walls filled with photographic works – images of the local natural and built environment of Bath and Radstock. Some were tranquil: boats lined up on a small lake, purple flowers that bloomed amid the green of a garden, and the graceful white curve of a swan’s neck. Others spoke of a memory or moment: the texture of tree bark which told its history, a hairy pig’s snout covered in dirt caught poking out towards the camera, and Southgate’s hanging rainbow of umbrellas with their black shadows that hit the ground beneath a rare blue, sunny sky.
My personal favourite was a photograph of a red leaf lone upon beige stonework, laying delicately like a set of luscious red lips.
Each artist had eight sessions with Sally Collister, In the Picture CIC photographer and facilitator, learning to take photographs and then spent two group-sessions with Katie Constantine, learning to curate. The project of Snap & Stroll is as much about the process and the participation of any public exhibition as it is about mental health and well-being. I chatted to Katie about her own involvement and what drew her to her participatory role as curator. “I took on the job after volunteering in [a similar] role because I love seeing what the artists come up with. Mental health services like these organised groups really change people’s lives for the better.”
It’s a wonderful collaboration and project idea, but the question is: was it successful? Sally was the deviser, facilitator and planner of the project and workshops and stated that, “the process of taking a fresh look at familiar sights, getting creative with a camera, being a part of a group and working towards a final exhibition in a participatory way have proven to be a real catalyst for positive personal growth in participants.”
For Katie, there was only one response, “with an exhibition like this, success is measured by the confidence it inspires in the artist. That has definitely been achieved.” I could see the truth of these words in the reactions of the artists when they saw their work on display. They were critical of it, perhaps not completely satisfied – to me this spoke of dedication – but there was a glow of happiness and pride as they saw their works of art publicly displayed on the walls.
I sat down and spoke to one of the contributing artists, Irene Burchell, to really understand the exhibition and what it was about for the artists. I was curious as to what made her sign up to the project in the first place. “I was trying to find something that would take my mind off problems I was having,” she said.
Did being a part of this project really help her deal with the stresses in her life? I wanted a first-hand account. “Yes…it’s helped me get a lot of my self-confidence back. None of this would have been possible without the help and support of our Tutor, Sally Collister.” Is a creative outlet a worthwhile activity for dealing with stress, I questioned? “I was able to re-discover my creative spark and … I found that elusive WOW factor that has been missing from my life recently.”
If you truly appreciate art you’ll appreciate this exhibition for its intimacy; for the personal stories that are behind the creation of the artworks. It’s so much more than just photographs on a wall. It’s ours, it’s local, it’s curated by one of our fellow Bath Spa students and it’s about using art as a means of creative well-being. I’ll put my hand up to say that it’s just as important, or more so than being a world-famous artist.
Moments – A Snap and Stroll Exhibition is a collaboration between In the Picture CIC, The Well-being College, Creativity Works, Virgin Care and Bath College. Although the exhibition has finished up at the Guild Hall it will be showing at 44AD Art Gallery, this time alongside other works, from October 10th – 14th and will be open daily: 12.30pm – 5:30pm.
Words by Jemima Ung