Session three of Meet a Mentor programme seven took place on Zoom on the 15th April and ended with a talk by Photographer and Director Leonn Ward. One of our mentees, Edem Wornoo writes about connecting with Leonn's work.
It's a wild time.
I’m pointing out the obvious only to reiterate how bizarre it was for me and fifty others as we virtually queued up from our homes for a digital Meet a Mentor session. I probably hadn't had a video call with this many people, ever. I began to think that being lost in the pixelated crowd would be part of our new normal, but during Leonn Ward’s Q&A after her presentation, I felt anything but lost in the crowd.
Leonn is a decorated Director and Photographer represented by RSA/Black Dog Films. As she dissected each of her projects giving us a deep dive into the skeleton of a Leonn Ward video, we were encouraged to send in any questions we might have to be answered by her at the end of the session. What ensued was a Q&A session that made me feel more seen than any I’d ever been in before. Leonn would mention each person's name before scouring through every thumbnail until she’d made digital eye contact with the person who asked the question. This wasn’t a smooth process but it was absolutely necessary.
Every answer that Leonn gave was honest and thoughtful. Not in a ‘I’ve been asked to write a blog about someone and have to flatter them’ kind of way; but in a genuinely palpably passionate way. When I asked whether she had considered creating a narrative film, she recounted her journey home from the hospital after her mother had passed away. She spoke vividly of the surreality of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ playing on the radio as she gazed out of the window still processing the loss that she’d just experienced. “That's how you tell a story!” she said.
This candid, sensual nostalgia is integral to any Leonn Ward project. She reiterated time and time again her disdain for artistic cleanliness “I never like anything too polished ‘...’ I’m obsessed with scruffing it up a bit” followed by the seemingly incompatible statement that she wants “you to be able to pause [her] videos at any point and see a photograph”. This picturesque scruffiness encapsulates Leonn’s artistic voice birthed from intimate collages she’d make out of her late mother’s photographs as a means of connecting with her. Leonn’s still making collages, even now, moving ones. I imagine she makes these with just as much heart as those that she made for her mother.
These collages stretch beyond the final product, beyond what we see on screen but also through Leonn’s conduct. Leonn has foregone opportunities and probably good money as a result of moral incompatibility with her clients who do not align with her values in regard to the celebration of beauty in all of its forms. This is not tokenism either, as her production and creative teams behind the lens reflect the diversity we see on screen wherever possible.
I took a lot from this talk from the importance of standing upon your morals to the magic of carving out your own creative voice. There were a few rough edges whilst we navigated this online session but a rough collage doesn’t necessarily make a bad one. Sometimes, the imperfections of art are exactly the pieces of personality that it needs to connect.