Professional Contexts Blog

Nicola Shipley

Nicola Shipley is the director of GRAIN projects; an arts organisation dedicated to commissioning and facilitating photography projects, events and exhibitions. They are a non-profit, so are about giving back to the communities that they work with. They have been operating for six years.

She emphasised the importance of joining mailing lists for GRAIN and similar organisations to keep up with what they’re doing and to see if any relevant opportunities for yourself may arise. The organisation is funded predominantly through arts foundations, so the works made by the photographers involved must demonstrate community engagement and benefit.

They are based in the midlands, but branch out nationwide when they have the opportunity to. GRAIN is definitely an organisation which I will keep tabs on as I will be living in the midlands myself after university and most of their opportunities are open call. Nicola was passionate about supplying young people with mentoring opportunities, masterclasses, residencies and paid internships.

Nicola showed examples of photographers who have worked in collaboration with them and there is such variety within both narrative and photographic styles. She did note that as they are funded by the Arts Council, the benefit to community would be considered much more over the quality of your work.

One of the projects which stood out to me was sending out disposable cameras to young people over lockdown; making photography accessible. They were able to photograph whatever they wanted and be as creative as they liked and there is the fun in not seeing your photos until they have been developed and sent back to you.


Tutorial

In the tutorial, she gave some great advice on working with marginalised groups and how to collaborate with them professionally, without appearing as though you are just ticking boxes. This isn’t relevant to my current project but will be for future ones I am sure. She also gave some advice which at the time was absolutely what I needed to hear and from her saying this, my motivation increased by so much and that was to not apologise for being a photographer. I had been seeing my practice almost as something of an inconvenience when finding people to speak to and photograph, when in fact I am giving people a platform and the chance to share their stories and talk about something which they enjoy and are passionate about. Having this mindset because of what something Nicola had said had such a positive impact on my final major project, as I was able to approach people so much better than I would before when I felt that as a photographer I was being really annoying. Having this confidence in my approach of asking to speak to or photograph these train enthusiasts (all but one I knew prior to the project) is what strengthened the project.


I spoke through my ideas for my final major project and she reacted quite positively. She said that it was a quirky idea and not something that she had seen before. She enforced the importance of keeping my own photographic style present throughout, even though I will be working with different people. I also shared with her my reasoning for doing this project which is to meet and communicate with new people as it is something I am afraid of and she said that there is very much space for quiet people to make quiet work.