“The Garden Gate Project has a reputation in my neighbourhood,” says Jason Evans, who has just published a zine with participants from the Margate-based charity. “Established almost 20 years ago for people with learning difficulties and/or mental ill health, the Garden Gate Project is visited by various members of the community for a range of seasonal activities.”
He was volunteering there two years ago when the organisers realised he was a photographer, and invited him to come up with ideas for the programme, which centres mainly on Horticultural Therapy. His first project with GGP was Tool Shed Dark Room, which saw Evans improvising with participants “without mains electricity or an enlarger to make photograms using materials from the garden”.
The print sale and resulting zine, published by Antenne Books, set a momentum for the next project, Flower Power, which saw Evans run fortnightly workshops over eight months. Choosing from a selection of vases and backdrops, the participants arranged their chosen flowers before informally discussing what lighting and camera angles they wanted with Evans. The photographs were then captured using a medium-format Hasselblad camera.
“I like cultural projects that are not over-prescribed,” says Evans. “I taught photography for 15 years and enjoyed passing on that photo bug. But teaching at higher education level got bogged down with institutional crap and therefore it’s great to be able to facilitate new experience and design a learning process that works for a range of abilities.
“We make work for the sake of doing it, to see what happens, without the pressure to ‘pass’ or ‘make the grade’. The GGP has this motto: ‘together we grow’, and that also applied to the photographs we made together.”
For Evans, whose first encounter with photography was at the age of 8 flicking through his grandfather’s back issues of National Geographic, and then Melody Maker/NME and i-D/The Face while doing a paper round aged 11, “photography offered a window onto other worlds”. He found fame with his images for style and music magazines but now, through projects like this, aims to share that gift with the community.
“The only real challenge in all this, is time,” he says. “I wish I had more to spend at the garden. It is always rewarding to watch other people learn and develop, and to be privy to their creative processes. I’ve made new friendships and my experience as a teacher has more depth, being allowed to operate in such a free, responsive way.”
The next stage, says Evans, is to learn more about funding applications. “There are lots of opportunities out there. I work with a few musicians, and Dan Snaith [of Caribou/Daphni fame] has kindly offered to make a fundraising show for us that will support this year’s photo initiatives.”
The Garden Gate has an open day on 14 April 2018, when visitors will be able to try the Tool Shed Dark Room www.thegardengateproject.co.uk