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Marian Spiers: Photography For Me is An Expression of How You See The World

May 21, 2009 by · 5 comments

Mariana Velichkova’s interview with the photographer Marian Spiers

When did you take your first steps into photography?

I took my first steps into photography when I was a teenager. I always enjoyed playing with cameras and taking images of anything I found interesting. I enjoyed documenting my life in some way and enjoyed having a record of events to look back at. I have never had any formal photography training except in how to develop my own black and white photos in a darkroom.

Photography for you is…?

Photography for me is an expression of how you see the world…photos are something that can make you feel many emotions: anger, sympathy, wonder, joy, sadness, amazement. They tell a story, they can make the ordinary look beautiful and vice versa!

They can inspire you to go somewhere, to do something, to change something…. I enjoy photography that captures moments and expressions, which are natural and say something about the subject and which leave an impression on you of some kind.

What does motivate and inspire you the most for your travels and taking pictures?

Since I was young, I have always wanted to travel and have always been curious about the world and the people in it. I wanted to see other ways of life and understand their cultures. I wanted to meet people who were different from myself and try to understand more about why things happen in the world.

I am motivated to discover the unknown and enjoy travelling that is unexpected, unplanned and spontaneous. On many of my trips, I have hitch hiked through a number of countries, which is probably my favorite way to travel; so many types of transport, from coca-cola trucks to hearses and so many crazy, kind, interesting, eccentric people as well as so many unexpected places you can end up in!

Whilst travelling around the world, over a number of years, I have been to some amazing places, met all kinds of people and experienced so many new things; both good and bad, therefore to me it is natural that I should try to document all of this through using photography and writing diaries.

What does your work with young people give you?

Working with children and young people gives me a purpose in life. I am inspired by them and constantly learning from them. They make me feel enthusiastic and motivated and I am always striving to empower them and equip them with as many skills and new experiences as possible, in order to improve their lives in some way.

They give me a sense of satisfaction, and there is nothing I enjoy more than finding out some piece of good news about a child/ young person that I have worked with and hoping that in some way I have enabled them to arrive at that point in their life.

The majority of the children/young people that I have worked with over the years, in the UK and abroad, have been disadvantaged in some way; either through their family circumstances or their social background. As a result, they require extra care and support in order to achieve their full potential and deal positively with their situation.

Tell us more please about the projects you are involved in now.

I have just recently returned from 5 months in India where I was volunteering in a school and hostel for children who were lacking either one or both parents. Before going on this recent trip to India, I worked with a class of 6 year old children in a London primary school and a group of children, aged 8 – 13 years, who attended a local City Farm Young Farmers’ Club; to share with them my experiences in India.

We looked at differences and similarities between the children’s lives in each country and looked at their daily routines, their likes and dislikes and what amenities they each have on offer in their local area. We then looked at different ways to use a camera and the children took photos around their school/ class and area, and then choose an image to be printed into a postcard.

They then wrote a message on the back of the postcard to share with the children in India. In India, the children also had the opportunity to take photos that said something about them or their lives and then had these made into photo magnets and they decorated their classrooms with the photos from the children in London.

With funding I received from an organization, called Unltd, I was able to buy cameras, a lap top and other resources that enabled me to complete this project. Now that I am back in London, I hope to show some of both my work and the children’s work in local galleries and cafes in order to give the children a sense of pride and satisfaction and encourage them to take photos in the future.

What is the goal and activities in The Photosynthesis Project?

The goal of The Photosynthesis Project is to educate, inform and break down barriers and stereotypes between children in London and in other countries, primarily India. By using photography and other creative ways to express themselves, the children are given the opportunity to tell a story about themselves and their country and then this is shared by the children in the other country.

By finding out more about each other and having the opportunity to look at their similarities as well as their differences, hopefully this will increase their understanding and tolerance of another culture.

For example, the area I live in London, has a very high population of ethnic minorities and there are tensions and misunderstandings between many of the different groups, therefore I think it is important to try to educate children at a young age about the world about them and the different people that live in it.

Future plans include organizing and holding exhibitions of the work from the children in each country, to allow the group to tell a visual story about themselves, their country, culture and way of life and to gain skills and confidence in organizing an event of this kind.

What have you learned from the children and young people you have been working with and have taken care of?

I have learned so many things from the children and young people that I have been working with over the years. I have learned how resilient children can be in difficult situations/ circumstances and how they can adapt to change.

By spending so much time with children, I feel that I am better able to understand how they interact with each other and the world around them. I am more aware of how important it is to spend quality time together and focus on the important things in life, not the trivial, and to live life more in the moment, the way children do.

I feel that regardless of their age, background, culture, religion, ability, etc that children and young people all over the world all relate to the same basic principles of love, care, affection, support and consistency.

What are your most difficult and happiest moments as a volunteer?

For me, the most difficult moments in volunteering is usually leaving! It is very hard to work/live closely with a child/group of children/ young people for a period of time and form a close relationship with them and then have to leave and possibly never see them again or be able to have any contact with them. It can also be difficult to volunteer somewhere and see bad practice but not have the power or authority to be able to change it.

My happiest moments as a volunteer, are when I have made a real connection with a child/young person and I feel that I am able to provide them with something that otherwise they would not receive; whether that be something physical or something like praise or a boost to their self esteem.

Many of my happy times, are something as simple as washing my clothes on a step with a 5 year old Indian girl and blowing soap bubbles at each other and giggling or sitting on the floor drawing or painting with a group of kids happily chatting.

Your advice to anybody who wants to dedicate his/her life to helping others is…?

My advice would be to be clear about whom you want to help, where you want to help them, in what way you can help and most importantly why it is you feel motivated to help them. When you have given this some thought, it is much easier to then find appropriate organizations where you can offer your services. Your skills should benefit that organization in some way and they should offer you support in your role.

You should also remember that to constantly give to others can leave little left for yourself, so try to ensure that you also give yourself some attention as this will ensure that you are a real benefit to those around you. If you do make the decision to dedicate your life to others though, I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the rewards you receive! Good luck!


Marian Spiers comes from Scotland and has lived the last 11 years in London. Before arriving in London, she spent around 10 years travelling around the world, where she worked/volunteered and lived in many continents, mainly working with children and young people; for example she has taught English in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordan, worked in schools and orphanages in India, Nepal and Czech Republic and with street children in South America.

In London, she has worked as a Young Peoples’ Substance Misuse Worker, a Sexual Health Worker, a Young Peoples’ Mental Health Worker, worked in City Farms, with Teenage Mothers and Refugees and in many Youth Clubs and school settings.

She has always been interested in photography since she was young although has had no formal training. Until a couple of years ago, she only used a Nikon 35mm camera and enjoyed going to develop her photos in black and white in the darkroom. Recently she changed to digital and enjoys the choices that this offers.

She particularly likes taking photos of children, people, animals, nature and the countries that she has visited and enjoys colours, shapes, textures and images that say something to her. She prefers photos that are not digitally enhanced or changed too drastically and only uses Photoshop to crop and adjust contrast on occasions. She now uses a Panasonic DMC-TZ5.

She also enjoys working with children/young people through using photography and last year started a voluntary project named The Photosynthesis Project. Through this project, she works with groups of children in London and India, teaching them about each other’s countries and ways of lives and then how to take photographs.

The photographs allow the children to say something about their lives and tell a visual story. These photos are then reproduced into postcards, magnets, calendars, photo books, etc to share with the children in the other country. The children learn new skills, get the opportunity to express themselves creatively and are able to better understand another culture.

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