I kicked off my social calendar in 2020 by attending a photography talk hosted by Lenses of Croydon – this was the first time I’d headed along to one of their events, and although I’m a designer (and even briefly studied photography at art school – I was scared of the darkroom) I was worried I’d be sitting in a sea of photographers asking technical questions going way over my head. Street photographer and South Londoner Paul Treacy talked about his work, and it proved a fascinating evening, for anyone who is interested in art, culture or indeed looking at the world in a different way. I needn’t have worried about my (lack of) technical ability. After the talk, I was eager to know more about Lenses of Croydon and what events were coming up, so I caught up with one of the founders, Lee Townsend.
Croydonist: First of all Croydon native or convert and what area do you call home?
Lee: I grew up on Beulah Hill in the first house that my parents ever purchased, just across the road from St Joseph College. I also attended school within the borough until year 9 when I transferred to a school outside of the borough. Currently I live in South Croydon.
Croydonist: When did you start Lenses of Croydon?
Lee: Paula Hemmings, a local photographer from Thornton Heath and I founded Lenses of Croydon in 2012, but unfortunately, she moved out of London shortly after.
The group came about based on some of my own experiences of attending other photography groups and witnessing that they focussed so heavily on photography skill, equipment quality and status seemed to always outweigh the importance of community, friendship and encouragement.
For me photography is something that can so easily be used in inclusive ways, serving to inspire confidence, reduce feelings of isolation, develop awareness of different issues and give people cause to smile.
Croydonist: Do you have a team that runs the group these days?
Lee: There are a number of people who help out in different ways, but the main people are Paul Civati, Noel ‘Bampson’ Amos, Alan McFarlane and Stevan Borthwick.
Croydonist: How often do you meet and do you need to be a photographer to come along?
Lee: At the moment our only regular activity is the Croydon Photography Forum, a monthly event held on the second Tuesday of each month at the CVA Resource Centre in West Croydon. The event is run on a voluntary contribution basis with an aim of making it accessible to as many people as possible since we feel that money shouldn’t be allowed to become a barrier for attending.
Lenses of Croydon serves to expose the attendees of our events to different elements of photography irrespective of their skill level. We may from time to time run some workshops or courses that require a certain level of competence, but generally all one needs to have is an interest in photographs or taking pictures.
Croydonist: Are you a photographer by trade?
Lee: I freelance as a photographer with a focus of working with third sector organisations. I’m regularly commissioned to cover a variety of events and I offer a mobile studio and instant print service too. However, my core interests are documentary and portrait photography.
Croydonist: Where do you go in Croydon for inspiration?
Lee: I’m a social person by nature and I love the many community groups and charities that are doing so many amazing things across the borough. Nine out of ten times I’m inspired by observing or supporting one group or another with trying to solve a local issue or meet the needs of the community.
I think events organised by Well Versed Ink, Young People’s Insight, The Fathers Forum, Another Night of Sisterhood (ANOS), The Ministry of Empowerment and Thornton Heath Arts Week are things that I really enjoy attending as they drive me to reflect on my own creative values and to consider the way that I work and engage with people.
Croydonist: What’s been your three most memorable Lenses of Croydon events?
Lee: I really enjoy when Croydon photographers speak at the Forum, so one of my favourites was when Bampson shared his journey. It was really cool because he attends every month and not many people were aware that he is the Dance Hall artist, Sean Paul’s official tour photographer.
Our charity photography exhibition was held in partnership with the Kiwanis Club of Croydon. Thanks to the donation of photographs by both members of Lenses of Croydon and past speakers at the Croydon Photography Forum we have been able to raise money for the Croydon Young Carers Project and a library in a poor farming district in Jamaica.
I love the photography walks that we used to do as a lot more peer support takes place during those events. Some attendees come along and use a DSLR for their very first time or others simply attend armed with their mobile phone and we all just share as we take a stroll together in different parts of London and its environs.
Croydonist: If there was one particular photographer you’d like to come along and give a talk, who would it be?
Lee: I would love to finally see Eleanor Macnair deliver a presentation at the Forum. We have tried many times to make it happen, but unfortunately there has always been a few challenges with respect to timing.
I love the fact that Eleanor is such a genuine and humble person who is not caught up in her achievements as an artist. I also think that the unique way that she works would allow us to reach out to different audiences while also serving to diversify the type of photographers who share at our events.
Croydonist: I really enjoyed Paul Treacy’s talk in January. What other events have you got planned so far for 2020?
Lee: We are in the process of finalising dates (see March details below). In April we will once again resume our photo walks around London.
Since not everyone likes being in large groups, we plan on introducing regular Lunchtime Talks for 5-8 people who will have lunch with a photographer who will speak about their work over lunch in a Croydon based restaurant.
We will soon be offering some affordable workshops led by photographers such as Mike Chopra-Gant, Paul Treacy and Miles Roberts.
Thanks to Lee for chatting with us. If you are now eager to attend a Lenses of Croydon event, you may just catch a ticket for their March photography talk next tuesday, 10 March, where photojournalist, Mark Chilvers will be speaking about his work and career. More details and tickets here. I hope to see you there!
Article photos courtesy of Lenses of Croydon. Header image by Hunter Moranville, modified by the Croydonist.
Posted by Julia