Wise Guys photography classes

Words and images by Evija Laivina- Artist-in-Residence for the Highland Culture Collective at the Highland Print Studio. Image above by Tony Pinner.

Wise Guys is a group of men aged over 50 who first met at the Highland Print Studio in 2011-2012. Highland Print Studio created the project in response to research by Age UK and other organisations that showed that older men are at risk of loneliness and isolation because they have less possibilities to engage in community activities.

Since then, it’s now ten years the Wise guys have been meeting, and I had a great opportunity to meet them and teach photography. Wise Guys are my very first photography students!

Alison McMenemy, director of Highland Print Studio says,
“It has been a pleasure to watch our Wise Guys progress over the years. Wise Guys have been great ambassadors, appearing on radio and telly, to promote men behaving creatively! I’m thoroughly enjoying watching them rise to this new creative challenge that Evija is setting them.”

A white woman does a star jump by the river-bank. To the left, an older man is photographing her.
Shutter speed exercise. Lauren performed some marvellous jumps.

As this was my first group, I learned to prepare a programme, initially planned for eight lessons. It included basics of photography and getting familiar with such photography terms as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and basic photography techniques and post-processing of the images in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.  The goal was to learn basics and open creative ideas and make the first steps in finding their own photographic language.

“Shape” exercise- photo by Terry Henderson

For me, an artist who works with lots of intuition and hasn’t paid much attention to the technical side, this was a great challenge. I received many interesting questions about the technical aspects of photography. Even when I knew how to use my camera very well, passing this knowledge to other people wasn’t as easy as I imagined. Wise Guys had quite a mix of cameras- from phones to DSLR’s. That was an interesting experience learning all the different gears they had, and I learned so much alongside the Wise Guys.

A bald man wearing a red puffer jacket takes photos of the river.
Tony takes photos of the river.
In the Highland Print Studio, amidst printing equipment. two men take photos of objects on a table. They are in front of a big window, which looks out onto old buildings across the river.
‘One item, ten photos’ exercise

We learned photography basics in a fun way by doing some creative exercises. For example, in one of the exercises, each Wise Guy was given an item and took ten different photographs of this item. They could alter it, place it anywhere, and think about light and composition, but they could not add other things. Such restrictions help you to think differently and are great for training your creativity. In another exercise, they had to choose one location and, by following prompts, had to take lots of different photographs in the location. I love the result. Wise Guys found some interesting corners and noticed some strange shadows and reflections we don’t usually see. As a result, they have great photographs from the city centre, the same streets we run through in a rush without much thinking.

Shadows- of a lampost and a Co-op sign, fall on a building and pavement.
Shadows, photo by Howard Spenceley, “Choose the location” exercise.
“Texture” exercise- photo by Trev Jonson

Since the beginning, I was following Wise Guys’ ideas and suggestions, customising the lessons according to their interests. By their suggestion, we decided to create a Wise Guys group portrait inspired by the artworks they love.

As inspiration for the wise Guys group portrait image, Ken Currie’s painting, Three Oncologists, was chosen after debates. We decided to create this image in my studio. I let them self-direct the photoshoot, and they were so good at it that they didn’t need much support.

© Ken Currie – Three Oncologists (Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee).
4 older men take photos within an art studio. They are surrounded by photographic lighting equipment.
Wise Guys in my studio

I really love their sense of humour and incredible enthusiasm. In one of the sessions, we planned to practice portrait photography, Wise Guys brought lots of interesting props and one of the participants, Trev even had a full Steampunk suit.

Two white men in conversation in the Highland Print Studio, holding mugs of tea. One is dressed quite casually, sitting down. The other man stands, wearing a steam-punk suit and top hat.
Coffee break.
A white man with glasses holding a folded piece of paper in his mouth, which spans outwards like a giant bow-tie.
Richard posing for a portrait exercise.

Now we are preparing for the Wise Guys first photography exhibition which will open in December at Highland Print Studio. After a short break in November, we will continue our classes in December and learn even more photography and storytelling techniques.

Poster for WiseGuys' photography exhibition, running throughout December. 

 at the Highland Print Studio, 20 Bank Street, Inverness.
Poster for Wise Guys’ upcoming exhibition.

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