Review - The Power of Personal Projects, Glyn Dewis, 30 Nov 2020

A review by Jane Tearle - "The Power of Personal Projects" with Glyn Dewis, 30 Nov 2020
This was a riveting evening, when listening to Glyn’s stories about the lives of the Veterans of the 39-45 World Wars had us appreciating anew the time these men and women had spent in the various Armed Forces for our benefit. The quality of the individual photographs gave us the character of the person and the accompanying story of each one amplified that image.

Glyn began by telling us of his path to being the photographer he is today. He started out by photographing a variety of subjects (anything and everything) to help him decide his direction in photography. He showed some examples of animals taken in zoos and wildlife parks, with compositing to put them in natural settings. Portraits, he soon learned, were his passion. A pivotal image, taken at Monkey World in Dorset, was of a reclusive chimp, traumatised by her former treatment, sitting in a corner with a downcast, introspective look. This ‘look’ evoked strong feelings in Glyn and was to be developed as a ‘not looking at the camera’ technique that he has used with many of his veterans.

He quickly found that having a personal project to help develop your own style is important. He found that the key to this was to adopt a simple set-up that is easy to replicate and produces the look you want each and every time. Glyn’s set-up was like a studio, but with “one light and one background”. His familiarity with this meant concentration on the person took priority and the picture came naturally.

Glyn’s “personal project” has become his self-funded mainstay in photography. Seeing a poster for the Dad’s Army film; meeting the re-enactors of the Oxfordshire Home Guard group; showing them examples of the style of photos he would like to make of the veterans, including the Queen and Winston Churchill, he got them enthused and ‘on board’. And so the project has gone from strength to strength and Glyn’s involvement has now gone nationwide.

Further contacts were made through a project called ‘The Way We Were’ and then the Normandy Veterans Family and Friends. One meeting led to others. The stories of the people he met were the prose of this presentation and we all became thoroughly caught up in their lives and memories. Whether it was Reg or Idwal, David or John, Glyn’s telling of their war stories had us entranced. Whether it was entering France as one of the first gliders, facing the horror of a possible firing squad, suffering from prolonged PTSD, Glyn encapsulated the life of these amazing people in his beautiful portraits.

The effect of some of the stories took Glyn on his own personal journey and enabled him to make family contacts that had lapsed for many years. One particular veteran’s story had made him re-evaluate his life and for this re-connection he was very grateful. So many of them are now his personal friends and he has always returned to take them a mounted photograph to be that family heirloom, to be the picture that engenders family conversations. This is the value of a portrait.

Throughout the talk Glyn let us know of his tried and tested techniques to achieve the picture he wanted. A cup of tea and a conversation; a relaxed approach so the camera didn’t appear for quite a while; the background and single light slightly forward of the sitter positioned with minimal fuss; the camera on a tripod so Glyn could keep his face and eyes above it and maintain the chat; the ‘off camera look’ by the sitter, achieved by being encouraged by Glyn, to follow his hand, fingers apart, as he circled it on right and left.

After the break Glyn gave us tips for three actions using Photoshop and Lightroom: included retouching technique in Photoshop; colour grading using a ‘recipe’; a panoramic of a group of veterans; where he had had to shoot 5 verticals and use Lightroom to combine them very successfully; and a Beefeater in uniform with his ‘spear’ being too tall for the backdrop showing us how to extend it.

We enjoyed a compelling and at times emotional evening on a project which Glyn says won’t finish. He has maybe another 5 years with the 3945 project but then there are veterans from other conflicts who need their portraits made and stories told.

The Power of the Personal Project has certainly made its mark on Glyn and as he says and now defines him as a photographer. A truly inspirational evening.

~ Jane Tearle