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I have to say, going to prison wasn’t exactly number 1 on my bucket list – but who could possibly turn down an invite to a photography workshop in Gloucester’s very own recently decommissioned prison? So, on a crisp January afternoon I joined 30 other keen photographers in the prison’s Chapel for what promised to be a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

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The day began with tea & coffee (luckily on-hand throughout the day to bring back the feeling in our fingers!), a quick briefing, and loaning out the latest Olympus kit. For some it was the chance to try the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, with others opting to test the latest M.Zuiko lenses. In high demand was the 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO, which proved to be a great match for encapsulating the essence of this unique venue.

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Splitting into two – the one group stayed in ‘A-block’ the main cell complex, for a portrait photography session hosted by Olympus Ambassador Gavin Hoey. With help from Rotolight, who provided continuous LED lighting, Gavin had two set-up featuring models Brian and PJ and we all had individual shooting time with both models. Great tuition from Gavin, and fantastic styling from Sam with the costumes and props.

Gavin on lighting setups: “For photos 1,3 & 5 we used a bare @rotolight AEOS at 90 degrees to camera. For photos 2 & 4, an Adorama evolv200 flash with a 30 degree grid for a dramatic vignette and control.

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It was then our turn to venture out into the rest of the prison complex for a photowalk and tour by HMP Gloucester ex-prison officer Julian. With stories of prison life from yesteryear we visited most areas of the prison including the ‘Debtor’s wall’ (a wall that at one time could not be seen by the guards and therefore boasted centuries of etched graffiti), the Exercise Yards, workshop and tool stores, and the chilling remains of what used to be the prison gallows. As bleak as it may sound, It was fascinating to hear about the history of the prison over the last 200 years and to imagine those who had come before us populating the empty spaces in our photographs.

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Back in the chapel there was time for a final warming drink to revive the feeling in our fingers. With thanks to the models, ‘Ju the Screw’, Gavin, Sam and the Olympus team, we all departed with memory cards packed full of great shots from the day.