Lens Think Yorkshire

A bi-monthly social in Yorkshire to meet, share work, ideas, & develop photography in the North.



Who are you, what's your motto? I’m Jo, a visual storyteller based in the North of England. My work is a documentary approach to every day stories that are often overlooked. I graduated from London College of Communication in 2015 and have been working freelance for a year and a half. 

My mottos both photographic and personal, is never under estimate anyone, and always listen, everyone has a story worth hearing.  

Have you studied photography? What are your thoughts? I studied Fine art at The Cass then Photography at London college of Communication. Honestly, you get out of it what you put into it. I always felt lucky to have the opportunity to be studying in London and used my time wisely. The aspects I found most vital were theory and the visiting lecturers. I have to say I honestly don’t think studying is vital for everyone, it really helped me but it’s expensive and the debt when trying to start up a freelance business can be crippling. If you don’t feel university is right for you, then maybe it’s not. There are plenty of ways to connect, learn and do it your own way. 

Image by  Darren O’Brien

What's your favourite style of photography? I’m not sure I lean towards a certain type. There are projects/series that I love that are vastly different from each other. The Polaroid’s of Tarkovsky… the work and ethics of Alfredo Jaar…. the aesthetics of Ron Jude and Alec Soth. Any series or pieces that makes me feel something that my words won’t and can’t do justice to. 

Can you tell us what Lens Think Yorkshire is? Lens think is; A creative group, a community of people that can offer advice, a place where people can chat about ideas and work, it helps ease that pressure. It’s also really important to have peers out there, on the more business side to network and to grow an understanding of the industry you work in.

There are so many rejections in this industry we are told we need to be tough, and develop a thick skin. The problem lies in that most creative are sensitive people, the pressures can take their toll. A physical meeting won’t solve any of the problems within the photographic industry BUT what it can do is be a great place, to encourage inclusivity, to allow people to be curious, to meet people that they can form collaborative projects with.  Also to put on some events that allows people to experiment a little with the medium, with other people and with themselves.  I wanted to create a group where it didn’t matter how established people were, where it doesn’t matter what awards they’ve won, what university you attended, what class you’re from, it’s a meet up where everyone is welcome.

Our launch event was May 11th 2017 in York. The night saw Al Palmer of Brown Owl Press alongside Speed Creative networking. Amongst the photographers were Graphic Designers, Publishers and magazine editors. Lens think has a Facebook group which is open to anyone to join, an Instagram that features interviews with new and more well known work by photographers who have worked in the North. 

Image from the series  Solographs  by  Al Brydon

Image from the series Solographs by Al Brydon

What were your initial aims and inspirations for the social meet ups? When I graduated and returned to the North of England, I found it a very isolating landscape. Photography as we all known is not a very diverse medium in terms of who does the photo taking. There seemed to be a void in terms of connecting people, a lot of graduates, freelancers and established artists feel isolated. I really wanted there to be a place where creatives, artists, and photographers could meet, ask questions, feel supported and connect. 

After a Twitter conversation with the United Nations of Photography and Rob Hudson I realised that no one else was going to set this up. There were two paths to take, the first was to moan about the problem and do nothing, or the second was to set up a network to develop photography across the North myself.

I took the second option and that’s how Lens Think was born. I think it needs someone who is a bit stubborn, won’t back down but genuinely believe in the medium as a place for diverse talents to have the chance to make work in a democratic manner and for better or worse that person happens to be me. 

I think of developing work as a learning process, a vital part of that process is to share work with others. Lens Think is a place where people can meet, share work, talk, connect, and feel supported. Studying in London there are many talks, events, exhibitions, groups that support each other. Moving back home it was a sparse land to navigate and I really wasn’t sure why. There are some incredibly talented photographers, creators, galleries, spaces, writers, creative living and working in Yorkshire. 

How long has Lens Think Yorkshire existed? We set up in March 2017 and our first event was in York, May 2017. We have now had three events.

What do you look for in a creative who wants to get involved? Honestly . . . an open mind. Some one that wants to connect with people, someone that wants to build a network. I really wanted this to be a democratic place. Photography can be incredibly cliquey and I wanted to avoid this at all costs. Everyone is welcome. 

Image by  David Morris

Image by David Morris

What do you hope for those involved to gain from their experience? A place where they can meet others, network, develop, share work, share ideas, talk, and potential for collaborations. 

How can people get involved?

Join the Facebook group for updates.

Follow the Instagram page for interviews and takeovers.

Events are open to everyone, if you would like to collaborate, more information or just to chat get in touch. Email me on hello@joannecoates.co.uk 

We have two brilliant volunteers; Conner Bailey and Emma Appleyard who help out with the events, it wouldn’t be possible without them. If you would like to volunteer or help out in anyway and are based in Yorkshire please get in contact.

Give one tip to new photography graduates. My top tip comes from Steve Macleod at Metro Imaging. I won mentorship with Steve back in 2011 and I was really worried and hung up about being quiet, not being the loudest, not shouting about my work. It’s simple advice, but true. Often those speaking the loudest don’t have the most to say.  It just gave me confidence that I could be myself, make the work I want to and not change to fit into the industry. Basically make it work for you, don’t worry about changing or about being something/someone you aren’t. Just do it your way.

Image from the series  Trophy  by  Chelsea Abbott

Image from the series Trophy by Chelsea Abbott

What does the future hold for Lens Think Yorkshire? I’m overwhelmed by the support people from both inside and outside the industry given to Lens Think. 

2018 will see a residency programme, portfolio reviews by some very exciting industry experts, some brilliant photographers making the journey North of the wall to speak for us, a pop-up exhibition, zine workshops, a book market, an open call and more socials. We will be launching a new website in March 2018.

Collaborations with Red Eye, and even more with Print Stuff - look out for some exciting news for a York event on April 28th 2018 too.

Even more collaborations with Dalby forest in North Yorkshire in Spring 2018.  An event and pop–up exhibition at Whitby Goth weekend October 2018. That’s just for starters!

Click here to find out about the next Lens Think Yorkshire event!