An Interview with photographer Gary Morrisroe about his exhibition at JJ Media

Gary Morrisroe shot this photography series in October 2018, over the course of a week spent in a rural part of Rajasthan, India. He met schoolchildren, farmers and women that have all benefited from the work of Seva Mandir – a charity that’s transforming the lives of villagers in India by providing education, healthcare and supporting social enterprises that give people work.

This project was an opportunity for Gary to explore a different side of charity work. Rather than concentrate on the challenges villagers are facing, he’s uncovered the positive outcomes of Seva Mandir’s support. In his portraits, he shows how the charity’s work has influenced the everyday lives of individuals, from teaching farmers how to reduce wasted water, to offering bridge schools for 6 to 14-year-olds – where children can learn in their local languages – and setting up women’s groups to help address discrimination, and build financial awareness. As well as supporting people directly, Seva Mandir improves rural families’ access to clean water with the ongoing construction of new tanks and wells. By posing his subjects in front of a white sheet, Gary uses the background as a framing device that puts the attention firmly on the people themselves. His portraits are in purposeful contrast to the negative imagery shared by many charities, and are instead intended to restore dignity and humanity to the villagers.

Photo by Gary Morrisroe

Tell us a brief introduction to yourself. Why did you want to become a photographer? 
I am a London-based photographer specialising in editorial portraiture, sport, and lifestyle, working with clients that include Vodafone, Gymbox, Bonhams, The Times, NBA and JCrew. I came to photography relatively late, when I had been studying landscape architecture at university and felt an urge to try something new. I love that photography allows you to travel around the world and meet new people. It seems to be a kind of secret pass to see and do things you wouldn’t normally be allowed to do.

What inspired you to take up this project?
I visited Seva Mandir during a previous visit to India and had seen first hand what amazing work they carried out. In 2018 I decided to head back to India to shoot some personal work. Once there, I decided to approach the charity as I was eager to shoot a series of images that could be used for good. In this case, the images were given to the charity to use for marketing and publicity.

What did you enjoy most about shooting this particular subject matter?
The people. I loved travelling to the villages and meeting strangers, most of which you cant talk to as you cant speak the language, but it doesn’t really matter because they still invite you in, you share a chai, and enjoy an attempted chat via points, gesticulations and lots of laughing. Once everyone is relaxed and settled, we would then take the picture with more pointing, gesticulating and laughing, most of which was aimed at me for being the strange, gangly photographer getting progressively more sunburnt as the day went on.

Photo by Gary Morrisroe

What kind of theme or message did you hope to convey?
I wanted to highlight all the good work that Seva Mandir does, rather than focusing on the reasons their work is necessary. We’re bombarded with images of people in difficult situations, which we can become desensitised to over time. Instead, this series is about positive reinforcement – showing what can be achieved with help and support.

Which is your favourite image and why? 
I really like the image of the three children outside their school. It was actually one of the first portraits I took during my time on this project. I just love the proportion of the shot. I was sat on the floor and I convinced Munandra from the charity to hold the sheet for the shots, and I love seeing his towering fingers holding the sheet above their heads. The kids were cracking jokes the entire time.

Photo by Gary Morrisroe

What kit did you use and why did it work so well for this project?
Canon 5DS, Canon 24-70mm 2.8, Elinchrom Quadra Ranger 500 and a bed sheet. I had to pack lightly as I was in India for close to a month and would be travelling around a lot with only a backpack. The lights were amazing, they’re so small but still pretty powerful. They’re also very easy to use and super quick to set up. The bed sheet was the real hero though. I think it cost me a tenner for a previous job so when I needed a backdrop I looked no further.

Stop by our lovely Milliners Lounge at Wimborne House to see Gary’s exhibition, free of charge. Enjoy the beautiful lounge area, the best grind coffee, and the inspirational art that surrounds you. Our lounges are open from 7:30am-6:30pm, Monday to Friday. If you fancy a ‘chill out’ in a relaxing area with beautiful sofa’s and instagrammable backdrops, then you’ll love our lounges. The perfect break out space to work in peace with a delicious coffee made by our barista trained staff, even if we say so ourselves.

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