Tommy Hatwell: September 21st 2022

Members of Keswick Photographic Society were both entertained and inspired last Wednesday by a talk given on Zoom by Tommy Hatwell, a commercial and humanitarian photographer based in Plymouth, entitled: “All around the world and back again”.

The first half consisted of a description of Tommy’s life as an adventurer travelling around the world, often to participate in dramatic kayaking challenges, with a variety of odd jobs in between trips taken to finance the next one. This exciting and rather enviable lifestyle was mirrored by a growing fascination in the ability of both stills photography and video to portray people, places and, increasingly, messages.

 

His first realization of the power of a photograph came when he was working on a whale watching boat in New Zealand photographing clients as well as the wildlife when he captured a staggering, once in a lifetime sequence of shots of a Killer Whale chasing and killing a Pseudorca, (a type of Dolphin), by ramming it and shooting it and its baby way up into the air. Travels to India, and Vietnam gave him the opportunity to develop relationships with a wide variety of people who after a period of time would agree to be photographed in a relaxed and cooperative manner.

 

One of his early trips, in 2008, was to go kayaking on the White Nile in Uganda and he chose to return there towards the end of a BA Hons degree course in Commercial Photography to create a portfolio for his final major project. Although his trip was rather frowned upon by his tutors, most of his fellow students were taking studio photographs of perfume products and the like, he ended up with a wonderful portfolio of the lifestyle, people and adventures in the small village where he was staying.

 

Many of the friends he made and subsequently photographed were boys he had known when kayaking ten years before, and it was this long-term relationship, together with immersion in village life that allowed him to gain the trust necessary to create a wealth of charming and relaxed portraits.

 

He has returned to Uganda on an annual basis since then, (pandemic allowing), and continues to deepen his relationships and amass a wonderful selection of images including a significant portfolio for Soul Foundation, an NGO working in Uganda that provides help with Maternal Health, Education, Food Security and Women’s Empowerment.

He especially created a striking image of teenagers in an open sided and solar powered school house which was chosen, out of many thousands of entrants, to be one of the fifty photographs in the prestigious Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery.

What was so striking about Tommy’s presentation was how deeply and empathetically he involved himself in the lives and surroundings of his subjects and how the trust so gained resulted in such moving and “true” portraits. All of his subjects appear both relaxed and dignified and there is a celebration of a way of life rather than an over exposure of poverty.

 

The adventure continues to evolve with the organisation Think People Think Story, set up by Tommy and local Ugandan friends and photographers to deliver life changing projects whilst educating photographers to share their community stories and use their cameras to make a small living.

 

The Sleepwell Project 2022, will once again deliver brand new healthy mattresses to families who need them most. You can learn more at: thinkpeoplethinkstory.com.  An excellent and thought-provoking evening.

Tony Marsh