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It's Personal but is not about me - Jennifer Willis

Last Friday club members welcomed Jennifer Willis from Catchlight Camera Club who would give a presentation of her photographic journey and insights. Jennifer's talk was heralded by the title It's Personal but is not about me. When she confirmed that it was only three years since joining Catchlight her amazing meteoric progress has been remarkable and in that short term has gained major distinctions and accolades.

To begin Jennifer spoke about her involvement with photography after contracting MS and having to give up on her sporting activities of hockey and skiing she took up the hobby as something to engage with would provide a worthwhile focus to her life. Jennifer is married with three grown up sons and spends time in Southern Spain during the year where for nine years she has been a much regarded volunteer helper in a local dog rescue facility.

Her photographic interests include her dogs, her family, sport, portrait and studio work. She defines herself as competitive and driven but displays an underlying humility and respect for others.

With her sport photography Jennifer explores principally schools rugby where she records the action concentrating on the detail of the players faces as they battle to gain possession of the ball. In this genre she has learnt to become a skilled editor by. eliminating distracting backgrounds and other superfluous elements and thus make a more meaningful image. With these images Jennifer has gained much international accolade.

With animal photography in general but principally with dog portraiture and her own rescue dogs and those in the Spanish rescue centre, one of which she describes as mad as a bunch of frogs, existing to chase a ball with such and almost manic burst of speed and agility and in Spain Jennifer documents dogs that have been abandoned and often founds in a frightful state in need of both attention and grateful for some love and caring human contact.

Elsewhere in Spain Jennifer makes beautiful images of pelicans and migrating storks. A kettle of vultures flying overhead, was the subject of this lens woman's attention and she was surprised to hear the loud aerodynamic sound of air passing over their two metre span wings.

In the Camargue Jennifer photographs the iconic horses and here once more demonstrates her editing skills and in Iceland the equally iconic horses receive her special treatment.

In her portrait work Jennifer has photographed a friend called Clare a woman who lost her husband and her difficulty in coming to terms with this loss. It is here that Jennifer demonstrates her ability to engage and gain the trust of her subjects and thereby capture revealing and intimate portraiture of her sitters existence.

In studio work Jennifer displays the same wish to depict her subject in a different and personal manner bringing something extra, something of herself rather than an ordinary mechanical representation. It is in this endeavour that she reveals the essence of those she photographs to provide award winning images. Jennifer showcased and explained the development of her ARPS, AIPF and other distinction panels and said how this journey has provided a significant learning process in the development of her photography.

Following a short break in proceedings Jennifer continued with her final and for her most important contributions to the evenings deliberations which was entitled WHERE LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS. For Jennifer this is an ongoing project which highlights the existence of a group of women ranging in age between thirty and sixty years who have been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer a condition leading to the inevitable result of life's end.

In this project Jennifer has photographed the women in how they present themselves to the world in their day to day existence, but also she reveals in a sensitive and sympathetic manner the results of the invasive surgery and the destructive nature of such procedures.

This is not about photography it is about the courage, the humanity of this group of women as they face a devastating prognosis where Jennifer says that their continuing care is not present in Northern Ireland to the extent that it is elsewhere in the UK. It is about yet again the humanity a photographer and her ability to gain the trust of those she photographs and thereby enable such intimate portraiture. In one encounter Jennifer wondered what the look of her subject revealed and, then the realisation that what she saw was fear.

It is the intent to hold an exhibition of this work in The Belfast Exposed Gallery AND THE OPENING DATE IS APRIL 28th, should anyone wish to visit. Also this project will be brought to the attention of The Northern Ireland Assembly.

Thank you Jennifer for bringing this and your superb photography to the attention of the club.

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