Proof that you can live the dream

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Turning something you enjoy into a way of making a living would be living the dream
Turning something you enjoy into a way of making a living would be living the dream.

For three photography students at Edinburgh's Telford College, this may well be coming true, as their work is showcased at the grand final of the British Institute of Professional Photography Scottish Region Image Awards this weekend.

All are second-year HND Professional Photography students and mature career-changers who took up photography as a hobby.

Kevin McCollum, who worked for a firm of sheriff officers for seven years before attending Telford, won the Towergate Fine Art Competition student category and came third in this year's BIPP Student Competition. He wants to take an advanced diploma next year and set himself up as a freelance.

Oscar Pereira, who worked in the consul in his native Galicia, Spain, and has a degree in political science, intends to broaden his freelance credentials through an advanced diploma next year. Christiaan Howlett, a former civil servant with a degree in psychology, hopes to take a photography degree at Napier to pursue "art" photography.

It is not uncommon for Telford's HND students to have their feet firmly established on professional ground by the end of their course. Half of this year's 16 students already have their own websites and business cards.

"It's a professionally-geared, commercial course," says lecturer Susan Richards. "We work hand-in-glove with established studios, galleries, magazines, newspapers and freelance companies who offer our students opportunities to fulfil commissions. Mostly they approach us.

"Last year, four of our students did the photos for the Marie Curie cancer charity's brochure. Other briefs have come from companies such as the style magazine I-on, which has a circulation of 20,000, the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh, Pat Elliot Interior Design, The Herald newspaper and the National Theatre of Scotland.

"Going into the industry today, you have to be multi-skilled in all the different areas, which is why we focus quite widely on fashion, portraiture, photojournalism, still-life, landscape and environment, documentary, advertising and image editing," says Ms Richards.

"You have to be creative but you also have to be business-minded and a good communicator, because the chances are that you are going to have to find your own work, especially at the outset of your career."

This involves hard work and training for the students who need to show a genuine interest in the nuts and bolts, have energy and motivation - and be able to take criticism. "We're 'old school'. Many younger students come to us thinking that digital is all - that photography was invented by the digital camera," she says

"But we go back to the beginnings of photography, back to people such as the Edinburgh pioneers Hill and Adamson. The message here is 'you are not a photographer just because you have a camera'.

"At the same time, we emphasise awareness of your target audience, because the big question for the students will be - will somebody pay for your work?"

The Telford three will join photographers from across Scotland, including students from Reid Kerr College, Paisley, and Stevenson College, Edinburgh, to have their work judged by a panel of industry experts at the BIPP event in Grangemouth, on Sunday.


"At the age of 33, I'm delighted to have embarked on this new photographic career. It was a huge decision to quit full-time employment and return to studying, but I would hghly recommend it to anyone. We are well supported at Telford. It's a strong course, and it is well taught.

After taking my advanced diploma next year, I want to set myself up as a freelance. Through the college I've already gained valuable industry experience and made a lot of contacts in the business. Commissions to date have included interior design shots, landscapes, such as Limekilns (above), portraiture, lifestyle and the inevitable weddings.

I'd be over the moon to win the BIPP competition with a landscape shot, but the main thing is I know I'm going in the right direction commercially, as well as artistically, and getting this far in the competition has boosted my confidence greatly.

I've been interested in photography for years but it was the arrival of the digital camera which really grabbed my imagination. I found it allowed for more experimentation and enabled me to gain experience and a greater knowledge with the instant results that the digital camera allows.

I think I'm more 'commercial' than 'art', but my passion is landscape and environment photography, including industrial, rural, urban and coastal. I'm fascinated by our surroundings and find myself focusing on a wide and varied subject matter, from a building site to a sunrise over rocks on the shore."

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