The Leicester Medial Student’s Graduation Ball: The POWER of YES!

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“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

– Richard Branson

As I sit and write, the time on my laptop reads 01:55am. It is Sunday 24th June. I have just got home. My clothes, once dripping with sweat are cooling down and that post-shoot adrenaline is slowly wearing off. Tiredness is starting to seep in and my eyes are beginning to sting.

Conventional wisdom instructs, “go to sleep as you have another photo session this afternoon”, but my heart, the place of passion and risk whispers, “edit a few pictures and send them to Katy (one of the event organisers”. The salty smell and the sizzling sound of bacon in the fryer, as well as a freshly poured glass of ice-cold coke may give you a clue as to the choice I have made. It’s time to edit, it’s time to eat, it’s time to blog.

A few days prior to this, I woke up to a text from Olly Stabler which simply read, “Hey mate, are you free on Saturday night for a job? 7:30pm – 11pm?” Naturally, I enquired further and the job it turned out was the Leicester Medical Students Graduation Ball – shooting them nightclub style as they celebrated the end of their studies. In my just-got-up-barely-opened-eyes state, I agreed, then winced. I’d never shot like that before and it was unfamiliar territory.

The quote above was not only relevant but also timely. The opportunity was presented to me and I wasn’t sure I could do it but…I’m always intrigued by where saying yes can take you. Having just returned, I can say with utmost confidence that my yes lead to one of the best, fun and most positive experiences I’ve had in a very long time.

Arriving early, I took advantage of the extra time by scoping the grounds for sweet spots, making myself known to the staff on site and taking pictures of the paraphernalia that decorated the room. Then the coaches arrived.

Looking like movie stars on their way to a red-carpet premier, the students stepped out dressed impeccably. The girls, beautiful and confident wore a stunning display of colours and textures and laughed as they walked, and the men, impressive and dashing in an assorted collection of tuxedos, coats, shirts and ties, strode beside them as they made their way to the marquee.

The atmosphere was alive with an excitable energy that was palpable – these students were here for a good time and I was there to capture it. I approached it like a wedding, making sure I told the story of the evening with a collection of candid shots as well as staged. I wanted to create images that were not only fun and memorable, but ones which captured the vibe of such a special day; images that they’ll look back on years from now and say the words I always enjoy hearing, “remember when…”.

I took candid shots of people drinking and laughing. I took pictures of friendships clearly formed over what I can only imagine was a challenging time as well as small groups of people who on seeing me, called me over to take their picture. I made use of the hedges as a backdrop, appreciating the contrast of the dark green leaves against the assortment of colours the students were wearing. Whilst I enjoyed this, it was the bandstand which provided a much stronger backdrop.

A beautiful young woman called me over and lead me through a gate which lead to a large open expanse in which stood a wooden bandstand. It was so perfect. Remaining there for a while, I shot different groups and enjoyed their openness to taking direction. This was something that stood out. People were very open to having their picture taken and didn’t mind being silly in front of the camera. I like people like this.

Inside the well-decked marquee, a live band played a beautiful acoustic set as the students chatted and ate. I like group table shots and made a point of working the room – going around each table and asking for their picture. They happily obliged and I made a point of taking a picture on a student’s phone, so they had one immediately.

As the food was cleared, the DJ arrived and preparations were made for the after party. Katy asked me if I could take a group picture outside beside the LMS 2018 sign and though I was more than happy to do so, I wanted to try something. Taking the mic from the DJ, I organised the large group for several group photos inside and remembered how much I enjoyed engaging with crowds.

Perhaps my background as a former Performing Arts student or my previous career as a teacher are to blame, but you know when you do something and it feels so good? Right even? Like everything just clicks and you know deep down in your knower that it’s what you were created to do because it fits so well with who you are and what you’re about? This was how I felt. I know it sounds cheesy but there’s no other way to describe it. Camera to my eye and the large group before me, that’s what I felt.

Anyway, we got the shots and made our way outside to get them too, all the while, everybody being up for it and helping each other get to the sign. Back inside the marquee, the Principal gave a speech which was met with cheers and applause and then…the party started.
The music was loud. Perhaps an obvious statement to make given that it was party and there was a DJ but it struck me as my days these days involve less of that, but it added to the already fully charged atmosphere.

People danced in groups and alone, they drank, and they talked, giving me so many great photo opportunities. On occasion, I wandered outside to capture quieter moments – of people enjoying stillness or couples simply content to rest in each other’s arms. I even had the chance to talk to some students, with many of them sharing the challenges of their journey as well as what they hoped to achieve in the future.
Back inside people, fully surrendered to the charms of good booze, danced without inhibition as shirts came off and topless guys danced on the stage whilst others clapped and cheered. Wanting to get deeper into the action, I grabbed a chair and placed it in the middle of the dance floor and beckoned people over. Once again, I was delighted by the crowd’s response as people eagerly gathered for photographs.

By now, it was past 11pm which was passed my agreed ‘employment time’ but, with any good party, the golden time – the time when the things start to wind down and people start getting a little more real; more vulnerable, was getting into full effect and I didn’t want to pass this up. People embraced as though parting for last time. There were tears and long goodbyes. There were toasts and that one last cigar with friends who had become family. This was why I stayed. I wanted to finish the story.

As I sit at my desk, the singing birds remind me that I’ve been up for a long time and perhaps now is a good time to finish my piece and close my laptop. The event was good; so, so good and as I look through my images, I am satisfied. Though I see areas in which I clearly need to develop (perhaps I will write this in another blog), I am happy.

I am also reminded of the quote which inspired my involvement in this event. Saying yes can lead to opportunities which though daunting, often prove to be a great teacher and a bringer of fond memories. I, as I’m sure the students will too, will remember this evening for a long time.

As I close, it’d be fitting to say a big thank you to Olly Stabler for asking me to cover this event as well as to Katy Lee for trusting me with shooting it. Along with her team, she did a spectacular job in organising an event which served as a fitting send off to a group of remarkable who people who worked so hard to get to where they are.

Perhaps lastly, the biggest thank you goes to the Leicester Medical Students who not only made me feel so welcome but made the job easy by getting involved and showing me your best, fun, messy and intimate selves.

Thank you for sharing your stories with me and as you move onto greater and greener pastures, may your ‘yes’ open doors to new opportunities and thrilling outcomes.

Until the next time ?