Volunteer Photographer, Croome
What inspired me to start volunteering at Croome? I was out with a walking group at Croome. We passed a heap of stones near the Carriage Splash, and as I’d recently been learning dry stone walling, this prompted me to find out if I could continue doing this activity at Croome.
The next time I was at Croome, I spoke to a garden volunteer, and made the connection. And then, after a couple of months, I mentioned that I took lots of photographs and wondered if I could be of use. And it went from there.
What’s the best part of volunteering at Croome?
The variety of jobs I’m asked to do and getting to know people in every part of the property, and beyond. I like to know what’s happening in a behind-the-scenes kind of way.
Croome is a complex place, and I’m still discovering new things about it after two years. It must be quite a challenge for the first-time visitor to understand all the layers of history to be found here. This is where the role of the volunteer is important. It’s actually the main part of the job.
Even though we think we’re there for specific tasks, such as building walls or taking photographs, we are really there to help visitors make some sense of the place, according to what they want to know. It’s important to give them pointers, so that they can discover the richness of Croome for themselves.
And I still do stone wall building, restoring Croome’s boundary wall (very satisfying).
What exactly does a volunteer photographer do?
Officially I work for Tracey Blackwell, Croome’s Marketing & Publicity Officer. However, I’ve become ‘on call’ for many other people who need photos of the contents or activities around the Court, and the garden.
Over the last few months I’ve become involved in two major projects: taking record photographs of the re-development work at the Elgar Birthplace Museum in Lower Broadheath; and the current participatory art project, Adam Speaks, which has taken me to London and Birmingham to record meetings and events.
Otherwise, I take pictures of people enjoying themselves at Croome; staff and volunteers at work; events such as the return of the Coventry Collection; new items in the Shop, and so on.
What’s special about taking photographs for the National Trust?
There are many occasions when a photograph has to have people in it. I’ve learned that many National Trust visitors are happy to be photographed – I just have to ask, and then request that they fill in a Model Release form giving permission for their image to be used.
It’s often more convenient to take pictures of people which don’t show their faces, which means they don’t have to give permission. However, for some photographs, which would be too much on an intrusion, as for example, using the stair-climber, we use staff or volunteers as models (with their distinctive branded clothing not visible) which means we can stage events rather than hoping that things will happen by chance.
Photographs have to conform to National Trust style – nothing too arty or abstract. Simply showing the best that a particular NT property has to offer. Of course, photographs will need some post-processing, to adjust for lighting conditions, and to remove unwanted objects in the frame – but this is kept to a minimum.
What are the photographs used for?
Archive pictures as a record of events and changes. You know how interesting it is to look back at days gone by to see how things were then. Well, today will be history soon, and it’s easy to think you will remember how things were. But memory is fickle and it’s easy to forget how something was even a month ago. So although the photographs aren’t exciting – they’re not the usual ones that visitors take – they provide a record of how things were.
Could be a detail of the weather-worn balustrade of stone steps for the Court’s North Entrance, or of the cottage garden at Elgar’s Birthplace.
Croome’s website has to be kept up-to-date with current images.
Social media – Twitter, Facebook and so on Posters and ‘table-talkers’ for Croome, advertising the shop, the canteen, the RAF Museum, Walled Garden.
Press releases for local newspapers.
What’s my favourite part of Croome?
The Walled Garden – a quiet serenity, a photographer’s delight. I love the story of Chris & Karen Cronin taking on this project in 2000 and the amazing transformation they have created since then.
What do I do when I’m not volunteering?
I’m still working as a freelance book editor and ghost-writer and I also belong to a Creative Writing group.