The line between documentary photography and art is about to be crossed as Chorleywood resident Tom Warland opens his latest exhibition at Space2 in Watford Museum.
The 23-year-old documentary artist has just created a sensitive and moving body of work entitled Living in the Third Age, which focuses on the life of his 93-year-old great aunt Cynthia.
Tom grew up in Hounslow and went on to study photography at Amersham and Wycombe College before going on to the University of Wales, Newport.
To date his work has ranged from looking at subjects such as the London Marathon in 2006, and an ongoing piece on the Samois sur Seine Jazz Festival, a conceptual documentary on the passing of time through midnight called The Thirteenth Hour. Tom tells me he prefers to use film stock not digital photography for his documentary work in order to capture depth and texture in his work.
“It all gets washed out by process with digital,” he says.
This tender portrait of his great-aunt is his university graduation piece.
“Most of my classmates went for contemporary subjects in documentary photography, which is all well and good, but I didn’t want to go down the political or war route. I wanted to do a good home-truth documentary and to follow a decent narrative, which seems to have disappeared slowly over last few years due to the push of documentary film.”
Tom shares a few words with me during in his lunchbreak. He works as a full-time teaching assistant at Heritage House School in Chesham, which cares for teenagers with autism and severe learning difficulties.
“We teach the real basics of how to live and skills to help them be more independent. It’s good to be working away from photography.”
Tom’s exhibition clearly shows how well his spirited aunt manages to live independently in her ‘third age’. He tells me he travelled over to see her at her Barnet home to work on the project.
“There’s a narrow line between documentary and exploitation. It’s more a portrait piece now. It grew as the context changed and became more abstract. It’s not about her as such. It’s a documentary on people in extreme old age who don’t have or want a home help.
“Cynthia is completely independent. I’ve known her for years, so gaining access wasn’t that difficult. She never quite understood the pictures I was taking but she was very happy to have me over and I spent most of time chatting and drinking tea with her. She does a wash on a Monday, cooks all her meals from scratch and cleans every day. She’s a classy, independent lady.”
Living In The Third Age is on show at the Space2 gallery in Watford Museum, Lower High Street, Watford until Saturday, October 30. Details: 01923 232297, www.watfordmuseum.org.uk