A visually impaired couple are among the real life stars of a new photographic exhibition focusing on the extraordinary life stories of older community members.
Cartrefi Conwy housing association tenants David Emmins and his wife Kate Taplin are tickled pink to be taking part in the project which sees them photographed together while holding a treasured photograph of their beloved seven year old grandson Zachary.
The resulting image will be included in the exhibition called This is Me to be shown at North Wales’s first ever dedicated photography gallery, Oriel Colwyn, at Theatr Colwyn, Colwyn Bay, in September.
The couple are among 14 tenants who had their pictures taken by respected photographer Niall McDiarmid, who has previously exhibited at the Museum of London and the prestigious Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol.
He travelled to North Wales from his London base especially to work on the This is Me project which was the brainchild of Oriel Colwyn founder and curator Paul Sampson.
Paul collaborated with Nerys Veldhuizen, Cartrefi Conwy’s older person’s engagement co-ordinator to get the project underway.
The pair asked for volunteers from among Cartrefi Conwy’s older tenants to tell their stories and be photographed.
The project was made possible with the help of Arts and Business Cymru Culture Step funding.
Shine a light
Paul said: “I have known Nerys for some years and worked with her on a number of occasions previously.
“The This is Me idea is something we had discussed before the pandemic and have been very keen to get off the ground.
“It wouldn’t have been possible without the Culture Step funding and we are hugely thankful to Arts and Business Cymru for getting firmly behind the project.
He added: “We wanted to shine a light on the life stories of senior community members and showcase some of their incredible stories.
“The goal is to highlight how much they have contributed to the community that we live in today and how much they still continue to contribute to society.”
Nerys agreed that it was time for older members of the population to have an opportunity in the spotlight.
She said: “Too often when people get to a certain age they become invisible to younger eyes. People are so concerned with their own lives and activities that they can forget that the older generation still has a vital role in helping make a community thrive and that they still have interests, hobbies, dreams and ambitions no matter what their age.
“We called the exhibition This is Me because it is their chance to show who they are, what they are about and demonstrate what is important to them.”
The title was inspired by the hit This is Me song from the blockbuster musical The Greatest Showman which Paul said was “extremely apt” given that Oriel Colwyn is housed in a classic theatre.
All the participants were photographed holding an item which is precious to them and which has played a significant part in their life-stories.
In a second phase of the project Paul plans to commission a professional storyteller to pen each of the residents’ stories and reveal in their own words the reasons why they chose the object they are photographed with.
The resulting stories will also be included in the exhibition and available for visitors to read.
David Emmins, 70, said being a part of the exhibition was not just a thrill for himself and Kate, 58, but also an opportunity to pay tribute to their amazing grandson.
Speaking at their home in Llanfairfechan, he said: “We were asked to think of an item which was precious to us and we both agreed that our grandson Zack is our greatest treasure. He is a lovely lad, fun to be around and good natured, he is truly amazing, kind and caring and a little bit mischievous. We think about him every day and that is why we chose his framed photograph as our most precious item.”
Niall has worked previously with Paul Sampson and Oriel Colwyn on the Celebrity Town project in 2021 which spotlighted local businesses in and around Abergele, coinciding with ITV choosing to film its hit reality series I’m a Celebrity at nearby Gwrych Castle.
Nerys said: “After so long working with Cartrefi Conwy and getting to know our tenants it has long been evident to me that they have so many hidden talents and fascinating histories that they don’t always get chance to talk about.
“This exhibition shines a light on those talents and demonstrates that age really is no barrier to people continuing to carry on doing things they love, discover new skills and take part in adventurous activities.”
The exhibition is expected to be staged at the beginning of September with exact dates yet to be confirmed.
Oriel Colwyn’s exhibitions programme features local, national and international photography. More information about the project can be found here
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