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Kingston University MA photography students transform Tolworth station into portrait exhibition of local community

Posted Tuesday 12 September 2023

Kingston University MA photography students transform Tolworth station into portrait exhibition of local community

Kingston University Postgraduate photography students have collaborated with local not-for-profit organisation The Community Brain to transform a community space at Tolworth train station into a vibrant display that captures and celebrates the local community.  

Xin Li and Raj Sabreesh Ramalingam worked under the guidance of MA Photography course leader Sean Wyatt and Director of the Community Brain Robin Hutchison to transform the space of Baking Ideas, a community kitchen and meeting space, at Tolworth station into a temporary photography studio, at which students captured portraits of people passing through the station. 

These portraits were displayed on advertising billboards across the station, with images regularly refreshed over the course of the four-month project. Commuters saw a wide variety of local community members among the subjects of the portraits including station employees, residents, and Kingston University alumni.  

Photograph at Tolworth station “This project was an opportunity to embed our students into the local community, so that they could build connections outside of the University and demonstrate the value of student skills,” Mr Wyatt explained.  

 A number of sessions were scheduled at the train station photography studios, with the students given the challenging task of approaching people using the station and asking them to pose for a portrait. 

“It was a great learning curve. Establishing a meaningful connection with our subjects was especially important to me,” 24-year-old Xin from China explained. “I took time talking with every person to make them feel comfortable to express themselves naturally in front of the camera lens. Seeing people smile when they saw their portraits for the first time made it all worthwhile.” 

Raj explained that spontaneity played a vital role in this project and taught him the valuable skill of adaptability. "We had to swiftly convert the available space into a studio -arranging lights and assembling backdrops, while making sure we created a comfortable atmosphere. A curated music selection was instrumental in creating a relaxed ambience to put the participants at ease.” the 23 -year-old from India said. 

The initiative received widespread appreciation and positive feedback from the public. In May 2023, Tolworth station kicked off Community Rail Week which was attended by local MP and leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey. The portrait exhibition was highlighted as an example of the diverse range of work Community Brain and Kingston University students have carried out to transform the station into a focal point for community activity.  

Mr Wyatt and Sir Ed Davey at the Community Rail Week Mr Sean Wyatt and Sir Ed Davey at the Community Rail Week Kingston University has worked with The Community Brain since 2015 on a wide range of projects and ideas in the borough of Kingston upon Thames and beyond.  

“It was brilliant to observe how the students transformed Tolworth Station into a photography studio, and especially lovely to see the delight on commuters' faces when they realised what was happening,” said Community Brain Director Robin Hutchinson. “We were thrilled to collaborate with Kingston University on this exciting project, which has given us a unique snapshot of a community united by its connection to Tolworth station.” 

 The success of the project has helped inspire further initiatives which showcase the working lives of the local community. One of the students, Raj is now looking into a project that will spotlight the faces of employees from Kingston University’s services and facilities management company, while the course is looking into how it can implement future workshops with the local community into the curriculum.  

Categories: Staff, Students

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