Alexander Ward is a Suffolk-based photographer who, like many others, has missed travel over the past 18 months. And yet, if the wild swimmers he has met during that time are anything to go by, he knows he will never be short of human stories to focus on
Undertaking a deep, critical review of my practice as part of my Masters, losing my father, and having a child has meant I’ve had a period of profound reflection over the last year. I think I’d describe my life so far as an adventure with many different stages that have shaped me to who I am today, and the challenges of my childhood continue to inform my work today, meaning I’m typically exploring themes of belonging, identity, family, our connections to one another and to the natural world.
I discovered photography after a long period of searching for a new creative outlet, and my then partner, now wife, suggested I pick up a cheap camera. It was like an instant connection for me. I remember the feeling of being able to document people and parts of my life. At 17 years old I’d started a creative agency, running it for 10 years before losing it to the recession. Following that, I moved into brand, marketing, and media with a six-year period as a police officer. In many ways, I see myself as an artist and the tool I mostly use is a camera, but that may evolve and develop over time to different mediums or formats
It would be foolish to say the pandemic has been anything but catastrophic for the arts and photography sectors, and we’ve seen photographers change disciplines and diversify into new areas, putting added pressure on creatives across the industry. That said, I’ve weathered the period well which I owe to the many different areas I work across. I’ve never wanted to be a photographer just doing one thing, and I think that’s really helped me during a time where commissions have fluctuated so much. I absolutely miss travel, and brands doing ambitious things, but there are still so many human stories to tell that my work will essentially never be done.
Having returned from Manchester to be closer to my father in his final time with us, Covid hit so I found myself with more time and space to heal and reground. Exploring the coast and being back near water was a godsend and it allowed me to reconnect with myself in so many ways. My favourite spots will almost be those which people connect with – I love capturing people in environments that add to their story.
My interest with wild swimmers began when I joined a group of sea swimmers at Felixstowe to capture their morning swim. I’d gone out of interest and left having discovered this incredible group of people with all these different motivations and capabilities. It’s a well-documented area, so I set out to explore wild swimmers by telling deeper stories about them, using home environments, experimental techniques and beyond. I think in the work we see people in different lights, some are in raw, vulnerable moments, others are empowered or full of stoicism and adversity; that’s part of what I enjoy about the project, being able to document all those unique, individual experiences.
It’s always been important to me to help others and I strongly believe that as creatives we need to lift one another up and build communities. An extension of this is my mentorship and coaching where I work with photographers to get past barriers and advance their practice. We all have different challenges and I’m there to help talk through them, make a plan and get to what’s important. I started coaching a few years ago, and when Covid hit I opened a free mentorship for two people – after almost 80 applications I chose to work with Amy Leggett and Kerry McLaughlin and over the past year we’ve worked together to move their work forward. What I often have to tackle in this area of my work is detaching photographers from thinking they need technical help, when what really advances them is putting energy into finding their voice and ways to communicate in their work.
There’s a problem in our region – our creatives don’t talk enough about themselves, their work and to one another. I really wanted to move the needle in supporting our creative community and create something that highlights their work. For me, doing that wasn’t just publishing the actual magazine, Of Coast + Stars, it was inviting creatives to be brave and take that vulnerable step of submitting work. It’s so important we work together to build communities that get their strength from artists that want to further one another.
I need things to be a little further along to reveal more, but look out for an interesting collaboration this year in the next stage of my Wild Swimmers work, and expect more from Of Coast + Stars before the year is out.
Featured image picture credit: Luci Worrall