Student Spotlight: Oonagh Sutton

Student Spotlight chats with former Mango Lab students. October half term is just around the corner, so we decided to interview one of our regulars at The Mango Lab – fourteen-year-old Oonagh Sutton and her mom Elly. They discuss why photography is a huge confidence-builder, the pride that comes with taking photographs and why it’s so important to have an artsy outlet!

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What courses did you do at The Mango Lab?
Oonagh: I did the Beginner’s Course and then I did the Intermediate Course and Secret London.

What initiated your interest in photography?
O: I got a camera for Christmas and I didn’t really know how to use it, so I wanted to know how everything worked.

What subjects are you studying at school?
O: I’m studying Latin, History and French.

Who came across The Mango Lab?
Elly: I came across it because I was quite keen to find a teenage photography course, but there are not very many teen’s courses. As far as I know this may be the only one in London that actually caters for teens. When Oonagh first came we had a booming Easter holiday and nothing much in the diary. So, I googled everything I could and eventually came across The Mango Lab. Oonagh and a friend of hers, who also has a camera, signed up. She’s been back twice since because it’s been such a success. She enjoyed it so much.

We’re now at the stage where my Christmas present this year was a framed portrait of Oonagh and her sister in a sort of Andy Warhol —Marilyn Monroe style. It was really beautifully laid out with lovely colours. It was brilliant. Oonagh is really into photography, but she’s not hugely artistic, so for her to be able to do that after just a few days worth of courses is quite something.

Can you take us through the process of taking the portraits of your sister?

O: I looked at the lighting and where she was in the frame. Then I checked all the settings on the camera to make sure they were fitting with where I was.

What were the most enjoyable elements of the course?
O: I liked going out to different places everyday — that was really exciting. It meant that we did different things each day. I liked how it was really friendly.

What kind of places did you visit?
O: On the first course I remember we went into central London around Piccadilly Circus. On the next day we went to Regent’s Park, which was really nice.

How often are you using your camera?
O: While I’m at school I don’t get a lot of opportunity. If we go out somewhere for the day I try to take my camera.

Is there anywhere in the world you would love to photograph?
O: I would love to photograph the safari.

What’s going through your mind when you’re taking a picture?
O: I’m probably methodical. I try to make sure everything is right.

Being the parent what do you think Oonagh has gained from the course other than the technical skills, Elly?
E: It’s brilliant. It’s a lovely excuse for her to go off into London on her own or with a friend. Oonagh is quite good at travelling around in London on the tube, but she is slightly pushed out of her comfort zone because it’s not a destination she goes to every week.

O: Also after I went on the course when I had my camera I was looking at things differently. I was always looking at where lighting was interesting or if there were any interesting places that I’d never noticed before.

E: A camera is a lovely thing for a teenager to take into a new situation, because say we’re doing a social thing or Oonagh’s got to go somewhere where she doesn’t know very many people, if she takes her camera then she is always busy looking as if she knows what’s going on and doing something and not just standing there looking a bit shy and awkward, which is what most teenagers feel like most of the time. The camera is a lovely tool to make yourself active, without having to know everyone in the room. If you’re in an unfamiliar situation you can do your thing, which is photography.

Are there any photographs you’ve taken that you’re quite proud of?
E: Oonagh has now in her bedroom got a wall of white frames with various pictures — some that other people have taken, but she’s picked out some of her favourite photos that she’s taken on the courses.

O: One of my favourite ones is one of St Paul’s Cathedral. There was a bubble man nearby in the shot.

What are you feeling when you’re holding a camera?
O: I suppose it’s quite empowering. It’s quite exciting.

Where do you see your photography going now?
O: I just want to get better at it and take more and more photos.

How do people normally respond to your photographs?
O: They are probably quite surprised. I’m not amazing at art or anything and when people see my photography they say: ‘oh wow! You can actually do something.’

What was the group interaction like on the course?
O: They were all around my age, which was nice and it’s a really good way to meet people. I am still in touch with all of them. I am definitely more confident because we were all in the same boat, and there was no judgment. It was relaxed and supportive.

Will you continue to do more courses?
O: Definitely! Maybe next summer.

Do you call yourself a photographer?
O: I mean, yeah! (laughs)

If you’re interest in doing a course similar to Oonagh click here