By Matt Bigwood; from Issue One of the Wotton Times
An unlikely mixture of striking images of birds of prey and pictures taken in Wotton Pool enthralled visitors to Under the Edge Arts’ Bird/Bath exhibition.
Professional photographer Paul Groom, who has an office in Long Street, Wotton-under-Edge, exhibited the two strands of his personal projects, with spectacular prints of vultures, owls and falcons sharing space in the Chipping Hall with beautifully-lit pictures of models in Wotton Pool.
“I have been very busy working on two very different personal photography projects recently – one using Wotton Swimming Pool as a location for creative portraiture and the other one photographing birds of prey portraits at the International Centre for Birds of Prey,” said Paul.
“Under the Edge Arts kindly gave me the opportunity to show my work, so I decided to combine the two projects into one event and name it Bird/Bath.
“As the hall is so big I decided to print up the images on very large A0 board and have them hanging from the ceiling, to give them presence.”
As well as the large prints, tables were also covered with dozens of 6”x4” prints of every frame from the pool shots.
Birds of prey have a personal significance for Paul: “I have always loved birds. My grandma called her house ‘Birds Haven’ and used to nurse many sick birds back to health, so I’ve always had an interest in birds, bird hospitals and birds of prey centres.
“I approached the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) in Newent to ask if they’d allow me to take some close-up portraits of their birds and bird hospital.
“The director, Jemima Parry-Jones, was very accommodating and allowed me superb access. I was determined not to only show ‘cute’ or fluffy owls… I wanted to show vultures, condors, eagles, falcons and more, including endangered species.
The razor-sharp photos of the birds were made even more eye-catching by their brightly-coloured backgrounds.
“I was very keen on showing a side to the birds which you wouldn’t be able to see in normal circumstances, being careful not to frighten them; I wanted to get up close in order to see the beautiful details which we might not see if we go to a birds of prey show or see them from afar in the wild. I worked closely with the staff at ICBP to make sure I didn’t do anything which would upset the birds at all.
“I chose the colours at the time of taking the photos, I used coloured gels in front of my flash lights and lit the background in different colours depending on the specific bird – for example, the vulture’s cheeks become pink when excited, so I chose a pink background to match this. None were added in Photoshop as I don’t think it would have the same feel.”
Paul needed to overcome some challenges to come up with the striking photos: “I had wanted to photograph the entire birds and then print them at a very large size, but it soon became apparent that a lot of the power was being lost by not being even closer, which is when I focused on facial portraits. They are very different to photograph because they move their heads around a lot, but I just kept calm and took plenty of images in the time I had with them.”
Photographing at the pool also raised some challenges: “It was extremely cold on one of the shoots, so standing in the water for an hour or two was really quite testing for my subjects and myself!” explained Paul.
Following the success of the Wotton exhibition, Paul is considering staging it at another venue: “I had the OWL exhibition at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol, in 2015, and I would love to move this exhibition to another gallery and I’m starting to consider where might suit such big images.”