Photoseries: Creating a Narrative with Photographer Sarvjit Sra

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Working with artists and practitioners is a highly desirable way to engage students in Art & Design and broadens their learning from inside of the classroom. This year, my students from Wolverhampton Grammar School have been working alongside Midlands-based photographer, Sarvjit Sra, to practice the art of storytelling through photography. Hearing his motivation and inspirations engaged the students in developing their own imagery throughout the summer – some working towards their A Level Personal Investigation, others building their own portfolios.

Art Student Photographs
A-Level Student Work

By using the medium of photography and personal accounts, Sarvjit Sra seeks to highlight the South Asian community’s viewpoint on mental health.

Invisible: how you see me is a photographic representation of individuals on a continual journey through the challenges of living with a mental health condition. Mental health is a taboo subject within the South Asian culture and is rarely talked about, largely making it an Invisible problem. Some of the contributing factors affecting this include a lack of awareness and education. This is part due to our parents being from the diaspora of first-generation immigrants, bringing with them the thoughts and practices of a different generation. In the U.K. we live in a society that in most cases is not affected by the same factors as those in South Asian countries. We have access to some of the best professional services and growing support groups and organisations. However, we have still been affected by the same historical attitude towards mental health within our own communities.” States Sra.

Savijit Sra has a Zine on his website that makes an excellent starting point for a project.  It shows how he interviews his subjects and combines ‘Person, Place and Possessions’ to create a photograph.  It shows the photographs individually and when they have been combined into a composition.  See it here.

Exploring Imagery
A Level Students exploring their imagery

Six Stages of Preparation

After his initial visit to work with students, Sra set the students a challenge: pick a subject and tell the story with just 9 images. Discussing the six stages of preparation together, students were able to break their ideas down before embarking on their summer photoshoots.

  1. Ideas – movies, documentaries, news, internet, your current work topic.
  2. Research – project plan, details, look at locations, and research the topic
  3. Shot list – this can be a vague guide, storyboard it, list your tight, mid and wide shots, this can be subject to change
  4. Take photos – remember composition, light, feel, flow, refer to step 3, and do not rush. Take more than you need. Remember tight, mid and wide images.
  5. Selecting – select images that work together as a series, not necessarily your best individual images. Look at colour and balance, an opening and closing image.
  6. Narrative – A brief description of the project, why, what and where.

Printing, arranging, selecting...

Printing, arranging and selecting images, offered students the opportunity to evaluate their work and the narrative process. Choosing images based on visual juxtapositions became part of the challenge of presenting a final series.  Some students opted for quite striking contrasts.

Extremely Valuable Experience

“When creating a narrative for my photo series, working with Sra inspired and directed my own work. I found I learnt a lot about the process of planning for a photograph instead of just taking; I believe this enriched my own work as after planning myself, I had a direction to take when out photographing. Having him review and feedback was especially rewarding, as receiving advice from someone who is so skilled within his field of creative practice was an extremely valuable experience.” (Sixth Form Student)

Inspired by Sarvjit Sra

Workshop sessions were kindly delivered by Sarvjit Sra, as part of his Arts Council funded-project “Invisible”.  For further details of the artist’s work, please visit http://sarvjitsra.com/ or look out for his work on social media @sarvjitsra

Emma Bowater

Emma Bowater is Head of Art at a high school in the West Midlands, England. She is an advocate of experimental photographic processes and enjoys exploring the possibilities of developing students' work from photography through to other artistic media.

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