I won't beat around the bush. We love Len Copland. He's warm, funny and he's a brilliant photographer too, which brings me to the subject of this little blog... Len's exhibition at the Yeovil Octagon: Smile Please! 25 years of Western Gazette Photographs.
No. The entire 25 years worth isn't on show, although I'd probably be more than happy to look through that huge album with a few wines! :)
Anyway, this exhibition is a colourful selection of some of Somerset and Dorset's wonderful (and sometimes weird!) events, stories and characters that Len has brought to life through his lens, over 25 years as a regional press photographer. It's a wonder he managed to narrow it down to 40 photos to be honest - sifting through thousands of images and trying to recover his early negatives out of storage - but above all, Len told us it was great fun to do. There are also many pictures he always knew would be included... and what an eclectic selection of shots they are!
As you walk in to the theatre's Prelude Bar, the first wall is striking: a shot of photographer Don McCullin at his home in Somerset, next to a shot of Muchelney potter, Jon Leach (in his clay-stained apron, taking what I like to think is a 'pretend' swig of booze!).
Alongside this photograph, is one of my favourite shots of the lot - The Last Tommy, Harry Patch, at his home in Wells. You simply can't take your eyes off his face, etched with the wartime experiences and memories of his then 110 years.
From here on in, you've got everything from The Queen's visit to Bovington Camp in 1997, to Zorbing at Goldenstones, charity boxing matches, a parrot that loves having a shower with his owner, PJ Harvey at home with her mum and lots more in-between!
For us though, there are two things that make these pictures incredibly special and definitely worth seeing on a bigger scale than you would do in the paper. The first one is that Len has a real talent for capturing the truth and emotion of any situation he's in... the joy on the face of one of the residents at Porcullis House in Langport, as he has a cuppa with a Donkey that's visiting them; the slightly barmy expression on the green and yellow painted face of a morris dancer on Ham Hill (the photo at the top of this blog, for anyone who thought that was actually Len! It isn't!!) and of course, the natural humour in the picture of Martin Clunes at home with his horses in Beaminster.
This picture can't fail to raise a smile and it's probably no great surprise that Len has the knack of capturing these moments in the way he does... as he says, photography is all about people and about respecting them.
The second thing we love about Smile Please! is that for us, it perfectly captures the spirit of Somerset - the highs and sometimes the lows - and as we haven't been here 25 years (yet!), it was fantastic to walk round on a quiet afternoon, just taking it all in and learning a little bit about what it means to be part of this genuine community.
So, whether you've lived in Somerset all your life or not... whether you want to sit down with a coffee and enjoy the sheer variety of what's on the walls, or just want to put a smile on your face for a short while, pop in to the Octagon - but do it quickly! The exhibition's only there until February 29th, so catch it while you still can.
P.S. More from Len later in the week, when he gives us his 'Four Thoughts'. That'll be an interview worth reading (even if we do say so ourselves!!) :)