Yorkshire wedding photographer stages free portrait shoots to boost confidence knocked during pandemic

The Learn to Love campaign aims to spread the word that no one should live in fear of hate. Stephanie Smith reports.

Sitter Rebecca (see her full portrait and that of 18 other sitters below)
Sitter Rebecca (see her full portrait and that of 18 other sitters below)

A Yorkshire portrait and wedding photographer is taking free studio pictures of people from a variety of backgrounds across the county as part of a campaign to restore confidence knocked during the pandemic, while highlighting all forms of diversity and reinforcing the right of everyone to live in a world without fear of hate or violence.

Nisha Keaton invited applications from anyone who wanted to sit for her in one of a series of photo-shoots staged at her studio, Your Choice Photography, in Batley, to create the Learn to Love project that gathers together 50 portraits of ordinary people, many admitting to feeling vulnerable, having lost confidence during the pandemic.

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Nisha said: “While there are always bad things that happen in the world, throughout Covid-19 the level has heightened dramatically. Even at a local level, every day I would see something, people afraid to go out because they are being attacked or the fear of it, losing support mechanisms, and it leaves you feeling a bit helpless.

Nisha Keaton took images of those who applied to take part in her free photoshoots for the #learntolove campaign.

“I can’t donate financially or anything like that, but photographing I can do, so I wanted to showcase beauty in every form and variation I could, to show that, regardless of what is going on, you are beautiful and deserve love. Whether from yourself or other people, nobody deserves to live in fear or have hate. My hope is that these images empower someone to feel better about themselves or to speak up, share a story, start a conversation – identify with someone.”

Nisha devised an open application process inviting through social media anyone interested to tell a little of their story and explain why they wanted to be a part of the campaign.

“It was important for me to ensure that there was a diverse range of people involved and that is why it was an application process rather than a ‘first come, first served’ type. I also wanted to make sure people were wanting to take part for the correct reasons and wanting to be involved, rather than just receive a free photoshoot. Anyone who applied to receive a free shoot or add something into their portfolio wasn’t selected. I offer reduced fee days and work collaboratively with models and aspiring models throughout the year, so that’s not what this was for.

“There was a diverse range of reasons, from people wanting to show support to people who have battled personally with self hate, medical issues, racism, not feeling like they fit in, not feeling represented. They want to be someone that other people identify with and share that ‘if I can do it, you can too’ attitude.”

These are some of the first sitters for Nisha's campaign.

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The shoots took place in Batley over two weeks at the end of April. Nisha asked for jeans and a white or light top for simplicity. “I wanted the focus to be on the individual as a person, their expression for example, and to make it as relaxing as possible,” she said. “From a viewing perspective it also looks cohesive and blends together nicely.”

There were no fees involved at all and the participants received a digital gallery of their images as a thank you for taking part. Nisha plans to have an annual photo campaign from now on.

The campaign launches today with images and messages across social media using the hashtags #learntolove #mystandard #endhate.

Rebecca was one of the first to come forward to be photographed by Nisha.

To read the stories of the participants, see www.yourchoicephotography.com.