An Essex photographer is one of the oldest people ever to receive a Royal Photographic Society Distinction
PUBLISHED: 11:56 18 June 2019
Inspired by the big, open skies of Mersea, Essex photographer Nancy Shephard is one of the oldest people ever to have been awarded a prestigious Distinction from the Royal Photographic Society | Words: Nicky Adams
Nancy Shephard has had a long-held love of Mersea Island.
'It's a beautiful place,' she says. 'I moved here in 2000 when my daughter, who is an estate agent, sent my husband and I details of a large detached bungalow surrounded by fields. We loved it straightaway and moved in as soon as we could. It will be our last move.'
Now 87, Nancy has found Mersea the ideal place to live and also to practise her photography, which she came to relatively late in life. Nancy bought her first camera, a Minolta, in 1986 when she was in her fifties.
'My husband always took the photos until I found two Christmases on one roll of film one August and decided it was time to get involved!' she says. 'People used to say to me "Your photos are ever so good," so I thought I should join a club.'
Nancy decided to join Basildon Photographic Club, which was nearest to her home in Fobbing at the time.
'It was a bit daunting as the club's members were all men, 30 of them,' she remembers.
'They were a lovely lot though and I had heaps of help. They treated me like one of the boys as I was always so enthusiastic and wanted to learn the ropes. My husband built me a darkroom and I enjoyed that for ten years. I still love black and white images the best.'
Indeed, several of Nancy's black and white photographs, as well as works in full colour, have been on display at the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) in London in recognition of the Distinction she was recently awarded, an accolade bestowed on only 3,400 photographers around the world.
This is the holy grail of the photographic world - photographers challenge themselves to improve in order to achieve this honour and once they have they may use the letters LRPS (Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society) after their names, which is recognised as a mark of quality all over the photographic world.
Membership of the RPS comes with it, opening up opportunities to take part in exhibitions, field trips and mentoring to refine their skills still further.
Looking at Nancy's striking documentary style works, focusing on people, places and architecture, it is easy to see why they attracted the attention of the RPS judges. Beautifully composed and intelligently framed, each shot draws in the observer, whether the subject is on her home turf in Mersea or one of the world's more exotic locations.
'Our youngest daughter had the chance to travel, so being a teacher with long holidays, I went with her and took my camera,' says Nancy.
New York, Gambia and the Northern Lights were just a few stand-out destinations, and Nancy photographed them all.
'I was hooked on travel,' she says. 'My husband and I retired at 65 and took a Baltic Cruise to Russia, Poland and Scandinavia. My favourite place was St Petersburg. The architecture, especially the churches, is spectacular. It is photographic heaven.'
At the age of 79, Nancy set off to visit Canada on her own. 'It was two weeks with an organised tour through the Rockies. I have wonderful photos of humpback whales and bears. The third week was on a ship through the Inside Passage of Alaska.
'The captain opened the bow deck at 5am as we went through Glacier Bay and I stood at the point of the ship from then until noon with my camera. It was wonderful and one of my pictures from that trip was in my RPS display panel.'
Nancy celebrated her 80th birthday in India, on a group photographic trip with Colin Westgate, Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and his wife. 'I loved everything about India,' she says, 'the sights, the sounds, the smell! We travelled over 2,000 miles, including a 10-hour overnight train journey up into the Himalayas. I climbed the 90 steps with my camera to visit a monastery.'
It was Colin who persuaded Nancy to join Colchester Photographic Society. 'I had never thought of myself as a top-rate photographer and knew CPS had a good reputation,' she says.
'I already had computer skills, but had never looked at Photoshop. I bought a large Apple Mac and an A3 printer. The last three years has changed my attitude towards printing and displaying photographs.'
Colin and also Tony Bramley, another Fellow of the RPS, recognised Nancy's photographic talent and acted as mentors. 'They have shared their wisdom on making and displaying prints,' says Nancy, 'and this gave me the confidence to gain the Credit award of the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain in 2017 and finally Licentiate of the RPS last year.
Without their help, my work would not have passed muster with the RPS. The society has excellent visiting speakers and opportunities to discuss our prints on display. It is a very friendly club, despite there being nearly 100 members.'
Although now less mobile than she once was, Nancy continues to be inspired by her surroundings.
'The light on Mersea is really lovely,' she says.
'I particularly like spending hours in our beach hut with my camera. Passers-by like to stop and I have met some wonderful people. On windy days the windsurfers look good and there are beach combers and horse riders. I once took photos of a bride on the beach.
'We have activities all year round, including the Round the Island Race and regattas, visiting motorcycle and scooter groups, fetes and at least 70 clubs holding meetings and events of all kinds.
'There is a lot more I want to photograph before settling into old age.'