5 April: Final Statement & Evaluation of MPP Project – Living on the Edge

Final Statement

Whenever I am asked what I like to take pictures of, I hesitate.  To be out taking images wherever I happen to be is a most exhilarating experience.  Initially my work with the Catching Lives Open Day Centre in Canterbury started as a documentary of their activities, but has since developed into looking at the lives of some of the clients who are helped there.  Through photography, I have heard their stories, learned about some of the challenges they face, together with their aspirations for the future.

The images were mainly taken during three ‘Photo Days’ held at the Centre and were an opportunity to interact and develop my relationships with people I might not otherwise have come into contact with; even if at times this contact was brief.  They are mainly taken using ambient light inside the building, although the interior fluorescent lighting itself presented a great challenge at times.  However to be with and photograph people is the most challenging but the most rewarding experience,  as can be seen particularly by the images taken during the portraits ‘Photo Day’.  I have also endeavoured to tell their stories factually and without sentiment, but also to treat them sympathetically.

It has also felt a privilege to be allowed a glimpse into their lives, and in turn experience the enjoyment they felt at seeing the work they had helped to produce emerge as a final print.  It has also allowed my photographs to bring attention to things that people often overlook.

Evaluation of the project

Looking back over the past six months since the project began in earnest, I have learned a great deal  and my reflective thoughts are as follows:

  • I chose to continue my work with Catching Lives as I had built up a good working relationship over the 18 months and they were receptive to my carrying out the project with them.  It was also an opportunity to develop this link and find out more about a subject which is of interest to me.
  • I learnt more about my strengths and weaknesses through a period of extended study and investigations.  This helped me to focus on what I needed to do to succeed and in turn to question as to whether or not I was achieving the results I had hoped for. If I had gone off at a tangent was it worthwhile to explore further or did I need to rethink about how the project was progressing?
  • It was vital to never place any limitations on time that was needed to be put in and to be prepared to drop everything at a moments notice if the project required me to do so.
  • Although the project was my first priority I also felt that I was in return contributing something back for the benefit of both the clients and Catching Lives.
  • It was a valuable experience as regards developing further my visual communication skills and to speak photographically to the viewer.
  • Although documenting the lives of the homeless has been tacked by many others, I have also endeavoured to produce something that had not been done before at Catching Lives. Initial planning to ascertain if the project was feasible and any financial constraints involved needed to be taken into consideration.
  • One important outcome of the project was developing contact with the clients, finding out about their stories and some of the challenges that they are facing. This in turn was helped by my own interpersonal skills and experience.

The main pages in the blog:

These show the developing project, the successes and set backs as follows:

15 October: Initial thoughts

16 October: Further thoughts

6 November: Meeting at Catching Lives

18 December: Catching Lives ‘Photo Day 1’

13 January: Pre ‘Photo Day 2’ visit to Catching Lives  

12 February: ‘Photo Day 2’ at Catching Lives

14 February: Follow up at Catching Lives

28 February: Thinking about the project so far

11 March: Update on the project

19 March: ‘Photo Day 3’ & Bishop Trevor

20/21 March: Follow up visits

The images that were chosen: 

As the project developed in differing directions following on from my ‘Photo Days’, it seemed a logical progression to put the images together into a photo book which consists of 38 images in total.  I have also submitted the five main portraits as separate prints to accompany the book.  These were amongst those taken on the first ‘Photo Day’ and appear in the ‘Portraits’ section of my book Living On The Edge. These images are as follows:

Ben 1- Portrait


Courtney 1

Frank 1

James 1

Kevin 1

The following images are taken from each of the main sections in the photo book:


1-Head shaving

1-1-IMG_0648-001 (4)


1-Robert -Possessions 1

1-Possessions 2014-03-21 at 10-21-58





My photo book entitled ‘Living On The Edge’ can be seen by clicking the title or go direct to my Book Page.


Future Challenges

This is a project that still feels almost as if it is in its infancy.  One challenge will be to find innovative ideas for future Photo Days which will involve minimal financial outlay, as the days are self funded and to date I have purchased 40 disposable cameras with only two having been returned to be developed.

They also need to be low-key, so that the clients do not feel under any pressure to take part; and they will feel that they have achieved something through the experience. Perhaps macro photography is something that could be looked at.  It also needs to be something that can be carried out within the safety of the Centre environment.

20/21 March: Follow up visits

I returned on 20th to see Robert and had just set up when I was told that he would not be there as he was back at the job centre!  C’est la vie!  So I had a coffee and prepared to return the next day.

21 March:

I used this visit to take some images of the clients feet.  I soon discovered however, that most had fairly good footwear (mainly trainers) and that if their shoes became too battered they were given replacements by the Centre.





This time Robert was there and had obviously been giving much thought as to what he wanted to do beforehand.  I left him to his own devices and was surprised at the result. I also felt as if he had gained a great deal from the experience.


Kevin also returned one of the disposable cameras I had given out so it is to be hoped that this time there will be some of the images that can be developed on the film.

To return to 5 April: Final Statement & Evaluation – CLICK HERE 

19 March: ‘Photo Day 3’ & Bishop Trevor

I guess it was one of those days! After arriving and setting up, I realised that I had forgotten the cable to link the laptop to my camera, so that I could do tethered shooting but it did not prevent my taking any images. It just proves how well prepared one needs to be beforehand and perhaps to triple check everything is ready.


I set up in the same area as last time, as it is away from any other activities that may be going on and there is good ambient light from the window to the left.  I set up two areas so as there was a choice for the clients and used a softbox attachment for my speedlite and a reflector.  In the end as it was a bright day I did not use the speedlite as it made the images over exposed.

It was a very quiet day with very few clients coming in, as opposed to the last one although there were plenty of volunteers in the Centre.  It just shows that you can never anticipate how things will go, but despite this I did have five participants; but the results were not the most inspiring I have ever taken.

1-Possessions 2014-03-19 at 12-07-541-Possessions 2014-03-19 at 12-54-451-Possessions 2014-03-19 at 10-46-08

This image however has set me to thinking that as I have now taken portraits and images of their possessions, perhaps next time I will take pictures of their feet; as living on the streets perhaps  they do more walking than most.

Robert also asked me if I was going to be there the next day as he wanted to take part but had an appointment at the job centre, so I told him I would return then.

I was also asked if I would take some pictures of the Bishop of Dover as he was visiting that day as well.  He is a patron of the charity, so they were anxious to have some images to add to their website.  This is one that I took during his visit.

1-CL 19 Mar 14 050

I later contacted his PA to see if they would like any copies, and said that I would be happy for them to use any provided that I was accredited with having taken them; but have not had a reply so far.

To return to 5 April: Final Statement & Evaluation – CLICK HERE

16 March: Pre ‘Photo Day 3’ trial run

Over the last couple of days I have spent some time looking at the possession images that I took on the last Photo Day at Catching Lives.  I changed all the backgrounds to black in Photoshop to see if they worked better.  It also helped me to decide what colour base to use for the next day on Wednesday.   I felt that the results were just too dark and some parts of the images were almost lost.  For example it is difficult to see Ioannis’s hat against a black background.  The background was also darker on my computer than is shown below and the crease line is still apparent.  The aperture setting also needs to be bigger as the result is too close.

Ioannis possessions

I took some shots of my set of keys firstly on a paler grey back ground, trying different camera settings to see  what worked better; but I did not find the colour very inspiring.  I took the images from directly overhead, with a natural light source coming from the left. I had to move the card so as to ensure that there was no join line.  I also bounced some light back from the right using a reflector and used a Metz mini octagon softbox over the speedlite.  I took Rob’s suggestion not to use the glass base so as to obtain more uniform results.  I also need to take some Blu Tack to secure the card to the wall and floor and gaffa tape to cover any cables on the floor on the day.

Keys - Grey

Although I felt that the pale grey worked I then also took some shots using a cream background as white is too stark for this, as a comparison.  I also changed to use the following settings: Manual, 1/125s, ISO 400, evaluative metering and daylight WB.  I also lowered the tripod so as to be able to view the subject better.

Keys - cream

I felt that this worked better but will set up two areas on the day so that I can try both.  I also intend to try two different aspects for the shots on the day – one for a single item which means something special to them and the other for the contents of their pockets if they are willing to share them with me.

28 February: Thinking about the project so far

As the project is progressing it is now time to reassess what has transpired so far.  It is interesting to see how things have developed and gone in slightly different directions than was originally envisaged.  This has been helped particularly by looking at the work of other photographers in similar fields, together with suggestions and invaluable guidance from tutors at Uni.

Whilst I was pleased with some of the resulting images from the last ‘Photo Day’ looking at Possessions, some of the images could have been improved.  For example the following image by ‘Robert’  would have been better if it had not been placed on glass  and the fold in the card was not visible at the back of the image.

3-Possessions 2014-02-12 at 13-23-23 - Version 2 (4)

Whilst I may be able to rectify this in Photoshop I want the images to be as true to how they were originally taken with minimal adjustments having been made.  Also if I tried to crop out the fold it would cut off the top of the fruit.

So today I contacted Catching Lives to arrange to hold another Photo Day to develop the ‘Possessions’ theme further.  This time rather than set up whatever items they wanted to include even if they weren’t possessions, we will concentrate on what they carry around in their pockets which I am sure will be interesting.  So I have prepared a flyer and ‘sign in’ list and hopefully this will generate a  good response.


To improve the images I will use a very pale grey card and leave out the glass so that there are no edges visible and the possibility of any unwanted shadows being created. If I set up in the same area as last time, there is good natural light which comes from a window high up to the right and together with a with a reflector  should enable me to control the amount of light.  Utilising the same area is useful as I know what will be needed as regards equipment and should be able to travel a bit lighter than last time.

To return to 5 April: Final Statement & Evaluation –  CLICK HERE  


14 February: Follow up at Catching Lives

I called today to give copies of the images to all the clients who had taken part on Wednesday, and also to give Robert a disposable camera as I ran out of them at the time.  They were all really pleased to receive the prints, and felt it was important to deliver them as soon as I could after the event, whilst the experience was fresh in their minds.

I spoke to James and he said how pleased they all were as to how the day had gone, and the fact that so many had taken part and really enjoyed it.  I was too, particularly as initially I did not know how they would feel about photographing their possessions. However once they realised what was happening and that their things were only precious to them, they were very keen to participate.

James also suggested that I might like to do a regular photography slot with the clients, so I said that after Easter once my work was handed in, I would give it some thought and call in to discuss this further then.  It also gives me time to think about possible ways of doing this to give the clients lots of variety.  Otherwise I will keep regular contact with the Centre and pop in whenever I can.  I also need to check if any of the clients return their disposable cameras so that I can get the films developed for them.

To return to 5 April: Final Statement & Evaluation – CLICK HERE

12 February: ‘Photo Day 2’ at Catching Lives

After a pre ‘Photo Day’ visit to check with James yesterday about moving furniture and plugs etc. I arrived early and was able to set up before the doors opened for the clients.


Once breakfast was finished and I had a chance to chat to some of the clients and although it took a while to get going, once I had shown them what others had done they approached me to take part.

The corner worked well as there was not too much natural light, it being an overcast day.  I decided not to set up the mini studio as it would have been too restrictive.  So instead I used some black fabric to cover the table so as to emphasise the shooting area and some grey card as the background.  On to this I placed an A3 sized shape of 4mm glass on which to place the objects which would give some reflection.  A 24-105mm lens was used with the Canon 5D MkII camera together with a 580EXII speedlite and diffuser which softened the light source.  This was placed so as to look down on the objects, and using as small an aperture of f22 that the camera would allow  it meant that all the objects photographed were in focus.

It was a successful day as the clients and I worked together.  They decided what they wanted to exhibit and set up their own displays on the glass panel with a little encouragement in some cases.  Once they had looked through the camera viewer, they often decided to move some of the items or add or subtract others until they were happy with the result.   It was also very interesting to see what items were important to them or were representative of them as individuals.  One client included a mug as he drinks a lot of coffee and another included earplugs, a book and an orange because as he told me he always carries them with him wherever he may be .



I also asked some of the clients to write a ‘Wish List’ for me – where would you like to be in say, a year’s time?  If you could change things what would you like to do?  It was interesting as to what was important to them, such as ‘getting new teeth’.  These pieces of writing, together with some of the images I hope to compile into a photo book and give a copy to Catching Lives.  I will also print out a copy of the images that were taken today for the clients to keep.  They were given a disposable camera for them to take some of their own shots which I will arrange to be developed it they are returned.

To return to 5 April: Final Statement & Evaluation – CLICK HERE

13 January: Pre ‘Photo Day 2’ visit to Catching Lives

Today I dropped off the flyers to the Centre so that the clients will have time to think about what they may like to have photographed and to sign up for the Photo Day.  The objects will be a valuable insight into their lives and what is of importance to them.

MPP Photo Day 2

To return to 5 April: Final Statement & Evaluation – CLICK HERE

18 December: Catching Lives ‘Photo Day 1’

Prior to the day I had a trial run at home to reacquaint myself with the portable lighting kit and how to set it up.  I did not use the Microsyn radio transmitter as it did not work with the lighting kit but as I was working in a small area I was able to use synced with a cable.  I took two cameras with me, a Canon 5D MKII with an 85mm lens and a 50D with a 24-105mm lens and I also took my compact Canon Powershot G15 in case it was needed.

After arriving at 8am, it took a while to set up but as the Centre did not open until 9 it meant that I was not under pressure with people perhaps waiting to have a go whilst I was still getting ready.  I realised that heavier stands for the background paper would be a good future investment but I was able to manage in this instance.  The stands also needed to be able to move higher than was the case so it meant that the subjects had to be shot sitting down due to the height restriction.

1-Landscapes 2013-12-18 at 10-12-07

Initially people wandered in for breakfast and watched what was going on.  Unfortunately the member of staff with the sign up list was not there so I ended up almost working from scratch.  I did not want to pressurise anyone into taking part so kept it as low key as possible, but once someone sat in the chair and realised what was going to happen; it encouraged others to have a try.  I took some shots initially myself to see what worked etc., and then gave them the shutter release cable so that they could take their own shot.  For some this was the time that they were more relaxed.


I tried to keep to natural poses using the ambient light coming from a high window to the right.  I ended up not using the lighting kit as together with a white background the images were over exposed.  A dark background would perhaps have worked better in this setting.  Some of the images such as the following two are self taken by the clients but will be rejected as they had blinked when the shot was taken.



This self – shot is also rejected as the client moved as he pressed the shutter button.


I then asked them to do a piece of writing for me about how they were feeling that day and what they were thinking about for the New Year.  Of those taking part three of the clients did not speak English, so I did not ask for any writing from them.  I then gave those who took part a disposable camera with their name on it, to take some pictures of their own choice over the next week and any that are returned I said I would arrange for them to be developed and they would be given copies of the prints.  I am hoping that I may be able to put together a book of my work and theirs, together with some of the writings which would present an interesting overall view.

I ended up with 10 clients taking part and many were very interested and cooperative in what I was doing and they particularly liked being given a camera to take their own images.  The Centre was pleased with how the day had gone and suggested that we hold another day in the near future.

To return to 5 April: Final Statement & Evaluation – CLICK HERE