A passion for photography

Abigail SaltmarshJust a few months after Julia Cameron decided to give up her career in education and focus on her photography, she won a major Norfolk competition. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH went to meet her.Abigail Saltmarsh

Just a few months after Julia Cameron decided to give up her career in education and focus on her photography, she won a major Norfolk competition. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH went to meet her.

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Pounding the streets of Norwich with her camera round her neck, Julia Cameron cuts an unassuming figure.

Quietly spoken and unobtrusively shooting anything that catches her eye, she is relishing the passion she has quite unexpectedly discovered behind the lense - a passion that has lead to her winning a Norfolk photographic competition.

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Julia, 55, a former lecturer, from Norwich, scooped first prize in the Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART) photography competition last year.

Not only did her work beat 160 other entries for the Norwich Medieval Churches competition but her images also came top in four of the seven different categories.

'I was looking for a change and wanted to do something different but this has taken me by surprise a little,' she admitted. 'Photography was really a hobby of mine but it is true that in the past my hobbies have had a habit of becoming more serious - and even turning into work.'

Julia, who moved to Norfolk nine years ago to take up a position at City College Norwich as a lecturer in Art and Design, started out as a piano and recorder teacher. She then began to focus her creativity on textiles.

'I did embroidery first. Back in the 1990s, I worked on large scale stitched textiles,' she said. 'Some of them were exhibited at the Commonwealth Institute and others at St Paul's Cathedral.

'I loved it and always thought I would like to become a teacher in that area so when I heard about the position at City College it seemed like my dream job.'

She went on: 'I loved working there. It was fantastic seeing the students develop and I was able to throw myself into being creative through teaching.'

Julia first began taking photographs seriously when she was in her 30s to help her promote her embroidery. 'I wanted to take photographs of my textiles and so had to teach myself how to use lights etc,' she said. 'But it wasn't until I bought my first digital camera three years ago that I became really interested.'

Then, in the middle of last year, Julia's job at City College came under threat. With a daughter, Isabel, now five, she decided to take voluntary redundancy and to spend more time with her family and with her camera. 'I had not been expecting it to happen at all but when it did, it suddenly seemed the right time for a change. I thought maybe I should take this chance while it was being offered to me,' she said. 'Because I had been enjoying my photography so much I thought it would give me an excuse to get out there and pursue it a bit more. So I decided to take a course in Digital Photography at Wensum Lodge, in Norwich, and just kept going.'

Through others on the course, Julia heard about HEART's Norwich 12 Photography Competition in 2008, which was open to the public and celebrated some of the city's finest buildings.

'Then last year, the competition focused on medieval churches so I headed off with my camera round my neck to see how I could do,' she said.

Julia spent hours on the streets of the city capturing images of some of the ancient buildings. 'Before the competition I did not appreciate just how fantastic the churches were - and how many of them there were as well,' she said. 'Through taking the pictures I met all sorts of people connected to the churches and became fascinated by the ones that were redundant buildings.'

Julia's winning picture, Inside/Outside Reflections, was a photograph she took off St Stephen's Church, on Rampant Horse Street, a building thought to have been completed in the mid-16th century. The image also won the Art and Architecture category.

'Churches like this are just so beautiful,' she said. 'What is sad about St Stephen's is that it desperately needs such a lot of repair work doing.'

Julia's images - and those of others who entered the competition - will be exhibited at the Forum from February 22 to March 5.

Since the competition, Julia's passion for photography has continued to grow. She does take some pictures out in the Norfolk countryside, and on the coast, but her time is largely spent out and about in the city.

'I still have an interest in music, which goes right back to my days as a music teacher, and have particularly enjoyed taking pictures of street performers in Norwich. I always ask permission and people are usually happy for me to photograph them,' she said. 'I enjoy taking photographs out on the streets and I love being here in Norwich - there is so much to see. I tend to go round on foot, plodding about. In fact, I think the city has become my natural home.'

Julia's four category-winning pictures were all chosen without the judges realising they were by the same photographer, explained Christina Lister, spokesman for HEART. 'Julia's style actually varied in the photographs and none of the judges picked up on the fact that it was the same person,' she said. 'With 160 entries, she did incredibly well.'

The judges were certainly fulsome in their praise for Julia's winning photograph. 'Simply a beautiful photograph,' they enthused. 'The light spills onto the arches, highlighting the detail in the stonework, which is framed by the reflection of the trees. The tone and warmth of the autumn leaves is seductive against the architecture of the church. The photographer has created a piece of art.'

Norwich HEART is a private, charitable company, which was set up to act as an umbrella organisation for the city's rich heritage. It aims to plan, regenerate, manage and promote its resources.

'We are really trying to champion what we have right here in Norwich. People from outside the area and abroad know about places like Bath, York and Canterbury but some of them know little about Norwich,' said Christine Lister.

In 2008, the organisation decided to run the Norwich 12 competition, encouraging photographers to enter their images of the city's most iconic buildings. These included Norwich Castle, Norwich Cathedral, The Great Hospital, The Halls - St Andrew's and Blackfriars', The Guildhall, Dragon Hall, The Assembly House, St James Mill, St John's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Surrey House, City Hall and The Forum.

'It was such a success that we decided to do it again with the churches,' she explained. 'We have 32 medieval churches in Norwich - an amazing number - more than any city north of the Alps! And they have so many different uses. Many of them have not just religious and historic value but are important as cafes, art galleries, offices and studios.

'The photographs are creative, personal and thought-provoking images which capture both the magnificent architecture and historical legacy of the churches as well as their vibrant role in today's society,' said Christine. 'There will be an information stand at the exhibition with leaflets about what you can to do at the churches, about local history, photography courses and more, to interest people inspired by the exhibition.'

t Norwich Medieval Churches Photography Exhibition runs at The Forum until March 6, then March 8-13, admission free, www.theforumnorwich.co.uk

t The exhibition is supported by a programme of content about the medieval churches at The Forum's digital gallery Fusion from March 1 to 13.



t History and tradition - Julia Cameron

t People and community - David Sherwood

t Inspiration and learning - Sheena McIntyre-Warnock

t Restoration and conservation - Julia Cameron

t Worship and contemplation - Julia Cameron

t Art and architecture - Julia Cameron

t Enjoyment and fun - no winner selected

t Innovation and change - Gary Rayner


The photography exhibition will be accompanied by a series of free lunchtime talks about the city's churches, from March 1 to 5, also in the Fusion. The programme includes:

t March 1 - Norwich: A City Of Churches by Dr Nicholas Groves. Discover the history behind the medieval churches of Norwich - including a look at various theories of why there were so many.

t March 2 - Hungate Medieval Art And St Peter Hungate Church by Dale Copley. Find out more about Hungate Medieval Art, a charity promoting Norfolk's medieval art and architecture from St Peter Hungate.

t March 3 - Glimpses Of Heaven: Church Art And Architecture In Trust by Derek Palgrave. Find out more about the range of churches in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT).

t March 4 - Anchorholds And The City Churches In Late Medieval Norwich by Dr Carole Hill. A talk exploring the financial situation of women who chose to live a solitary life devoted to religion as anchoresses in late Medieval Norwich.

t March 5 - The Earliest Churches In Norwich by Sophie Cabot. Find out what history and archaeology can tell us about the churches and Christianity in Norwich before the Norman Conquest.