Great Horkesley photographer's course a big hit with ex-soldiers at Colchester's Help for Heroes centre
Colchester photographic boss Janus van Helfteren has been giving up his time to help a military charity - by teaching injured soldiers how to take pictures.
Janus, who runs Van-Cols based at Great Horkesley, has been running the course at the Help for Heroes Chavasse VC recovery centre in Colchester and admits it proved an eye-opener for him too.
He said: “Emma Bromley, who used to work with us, is now helping the charity and it was suggested that we could help. They wanted to run a course in photography – anything from beginners to serious amateur level and I suggested it should be more composition and visual-based rather than technical.
“There are so many different camera types that I didn’t want to start an ‘arms war’ with kit and too much technology – I wanted it to be all about learning to enjoy photography, to shoot at their own pace and photograph what they enjoy or see.”
Janus’ class is not just young soldiers who may have been physically injured but also older ex-veterans in their late fifties and early sixties – and their wives and girlfriends.
“Some of the class are in respite care – one is an ex-paratrooper who has broken his back and is immobile and there are those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which affects a lot of soldiers who have been in conflict zones and faced real danger.
“We ran day-long sessions, talked about the pictures I have taken over the years, how to avoid photographic problems and get around them, and photography in the commercial world – which is about logistics and management as well as taking images.
“The final day was at our studios in Great Horkesley where they saw how to use lighting and backdrops for portrait photography.”
Steve Morris, the health and well-being manager at the recovery centre, said: “It is the first time we have run this photography course at the centre – it was open to those within the Band of Brothers and Band of Sisters fellowship. We wanted to provide a new hobby to engage their time or a new focus to help enhance well-being.
“It was so successful some participants are even considering it as a new career move. We hope that the course will have provided participants with a good foundation to develop their photographic skills.
“This was always intended as a pilot but it’s likely that demand will be high for more courses so we hope to hold more in the future. Photography might just be that focus someone needs to help them on the road to recovery.”
Janus added: “I have found it hugely rewarding – we haven’t talked much about their injuries, what they have been through puts having a cold or headache into real perspective. And it has been great to give them homework and see the improvement in the way they view and shoot things.
“The feedback has been wonderful – one young woman said the course had changed the way she looked at things, even when she didn’t have a camera, just walking the dog for example.
“When the course was first suggested they wondered if I could advise them on how to run it – I don’t think they expected me to offer to do it for free. But why would anyone charge for such a thing? We are talking about helping people who have put their lives on the line for our country.”