During National Volunteers' Week 2021, Art UK is celebrating the contributions made by our sculpture project volunteers. During the first week of June, we will showcase a different volunteer story each day that details why and how they decided to participate.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Dewi Owens. I have been messing about with cameras since I was a student, and I joined the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) after enjoying an Open University course in digital photography a few years ago. I heard about the Art UK public sculpture project through the RPS and it seemed like a great way to use my skills to do something useful!
Describe your role in the Art UK sculpture project
I am a photographer covering a large part of the Scottish Highlands and some of the islands too. I work alongside my wife, Lynn, who is my researcher on the project. Sometimes we got quite competitive over finding new works to photograph! I think that we were both surprised to quickly find that there are many works that simply aren't on the internet at all. Although I was sometimes envious of Art UK photographers working in urban areas where there is a high density of works, there was a lot of satisfaction for us in finding works in some really remote locations.
Why did you apply to volunteer?
As soon as I saw the call for volunteers through the Royal Photographic Society, I was excited about the opportunity to use my photography for a purpose and to hopefully learn some new skills. To have the opportunity to discover and see what has turned out to be an incredibly diverse and fascinating range of works was also a big draw.
What did you enjoy most within your role?
There is definitely a 'thrill of the chase' involved in finding works as well as the surprise of finding works on my own doorstep that I didn't know existed! Photographing sculptures forces me to look at them far more carefully than I would have done before, and I think that I notice and appreciate sculpture a lot more than I used to. My favourite works were probably The Unknown by Kenny Hunter, and the Glendoe Eagle by Tom Mackie. Both are majestic works and there's something about their solidity and imposing presence in the middle of a wild landscape, with the wind whistling through them day and night, that is just so powerful.
Many of the works I photographed were commemorative in some way, and from them I learned that the Golden Retriever originated in the Highlands (at Tomich) and that in the Second World War midget submarine crews were trained to attach the Tirpitz (at Kylesku).
Finally, none of us who have photographed the inscriptions on war memorials can remain unaffected by the tragedies every single one of these names represents.
Was there anything you found particularly challenging?
Probably the Scottish weather! Most of the works were a long distance away from home, and from each other, so there were no second chances or opportunities to come back on a better day. I quickly learned to carry a towel in my camera bag to dry my equipment and to work as quickly as possible in bad weather. I think the lowest point was reached while photographing The Friendship Stone at Strathpeffer. We scrambled up a steep hillside on a very overgrown, muddy path above the village through brambles and bracken in torrential rain and strong wind. We finally emerged from the undergrowth only to find a little car park right next to the sculpture on top of the hill. I checked my map more carefully when planning my trips after that!
I also found that determining ownership of a work is often very difficult.
Did you develop any new skills?
I learned a lot about photographing methodically to make sure that I recorded all the information needed by Art UK. I have also had plenty of practice handling and processing a large number of images so that they are the best representation of the sculpture they can be.
Can you share a favourite memory of your time volunteering?
Many of the sculptures I photographed were historic and there was often limited information available about why they had been created. When I heard that a new work was being created close to where I live, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in creating a photographic record of the creative process for the community. I attended community workshops where the text for the inscriptions was created and photographed the sculptor (Stuart Murdoch) carving stone and timber at his workshop. By the time the components of the work were ready for installation (including some large standing stones), I think I was as nervous as the sculptor and the crane driver!
Dewi Owens, Art UK volunteer
Art UK thanks each and every volunteer that contributed their time to capturing an incredible record of public sculpture in the UK.
More photographs by sculpture project volunteers can be viewed in a Curation: Art UK Volunteer Photographers' Gallery