NAME Debby Besford
JOB Documentary photographer
WEBSITE Debby Besford
PROJECT The Great Yarmouth Model Boat Club
Debby Besford has been featured on Personal Work Journal before, with her charming and very personal photography project about the renovation of the Venetian Waterways of Great Yarmouth.
It was while shooting those photographs that she found the subject for her current project, The Great Yarmouth Model Boat Club. “I met some of the model boat club members when they were volunteering with the renovation project, doing things like painting parts of the bridges. And I was really interested in the club because it seemed to me that it was more than just a hobby for them. It becomes a social event and it becomes part of their lives.”
“I’ve tried to capture the elation and happiness of people coming together.”
A long term documentary project
For this documentary project, Debby spent a great deal of time getting to know people at the club, making it a point to try and visit as often as possible. She also conducted interviews with the members, recording their memories and stories. “I made the choice to take a really in depth approach and I made quite an effort to go and see them every weekend.” She got to know them so well that they made her one of only four honorary members.
Not all of her time was spent taking photographs, “a lot of it I spent having conversations with people and cups of tea, just sitting and chatting, and getting to know new people and thinking about what it is I actually want to show.” Part of that thinking process was to come up with an approach that would not only portray the members as individuals but to also explore what it means to belong to a group of very different people: the club ranges in age from 9 to 85 years old, and in background from carpenters to lawyers, all brought together by a shared interest.
Combining portrait photography with a documentary approach
And so the work is a mixture of formal portraits of people holding their boats, and then documentary photographs which show club life. “These are more about fixing the boats, the the whole sense of community and the camaraderie of people, how they share things or how they sit and have coffee.”
Debby’s reflection wasn’t just confined to her time with the club members, and reviewing and selecting images revealed another theme to the work. “As I was going through the edit it became apparent that it’s not really about an individual or their own story, it’s more about the individuals within a group dynamic.”
At the same time she needed to stay on her guard and ensure that more time with them didn’t just mean that she was repeating photographs: “If I’m going to photograph the same person again, what is it that I’m trying to say this time about this person that I hadn’t discovered before?”
My interest in model boats started about five years ago when my husband passed away. I was looking for new ways to socialise, find a hobby and occupy my time. I had already invested in a model boat, which I started to sail at Eaton Park, Norwich before joining the Great Yarmouth Model Boat Club.
At that time, I was the only female sailing member apart from a few female associate members. We now have Karen, a member, who sails her boats on the water.
I love being part of the club, it’s like one big family. Although I am a bit of a tomboy, the men are very respectful, and we are help each other out with our boats, when they stop working.
I moved to Norfolk 20 years I started making my own boats and ships. Scratch building, which is buying the hull and then making the parts from there, is far more rewarding for me. I build my own steam engines to fit the boats that I make.
Model boat building is a labour of love, sometimes I am working until midnight. My whole house is a workshop. I have many boat models which are in my home and garage.
I put about 200 hours into each boat and steam engine I build from scratch. The size and detail – there is so much you can put into it. The cost of each boiler and steam engine is about £500 each.
As the project has progressed, Debby began to find that the pictures struck a deeper chord with her, and not just because of her long connection with Great Yarmouth. “I think it reminds me of some of the clubs that I used to be involved in when I was younger, like The Brownies or sports like artistic roller skating.”
For Debby there’s something important in being part of a support system and making relationships that are outside of everyday life of school or work.
Loneliness and photography
Slowly she found that she was experiencing the support and contact that comes from being part of a group, especially as a photographer. “I think it can be a quite a solitary profession and I’ve done lots of projects which might involve just one or two people. So I think on lots of levels, I was just drawn in quite quickly because there was this very strong bond between everybody. I really enjoyed that group dynamic and recognized it in lots of ways from my past.”
Whilst she’s been keenly aware of the need to maintain perspective and not allow her growing connections with the club to influence her approach, Debby has produced a body of work that shows the comfort and fellowship that comes from being part of a group. Her work demonstrates that it’s possible to produce documentary photography that is clear-eyed but at the same time kind and positive. “It’s a celebration of people who have a shared interest in a hobby, and I’ve tried to capture the elation and happiness of people coming together.”
I became interested in model boats when I was walking with my wife at the time, and we stumbled across several guys playing with boats on the water. I asked a few questions about the club which was in its early stages.
Then I became hooked and went to the AGM where they were asking people to take on certain roles – this is when I became treasurer.
There are two camps, people who buy model boats and those that make them. For me personally, it more about making them, than playing with the boat on the water
About Personal Work Journal
PWJ is a photo journal dedicated to showcasing new photography from emerging and established photographers.