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National TV break brings photographer Chelsea into focus

Date 1.06.2021

A graduate from the University of Northampton has had the masterclass of a lifetime from her photography hero – and it’s all being played out on national television.

Chelsea Nawanga is one of six contestants handpicked to compete in BBC Four’s new Monday night series, Great British Photography Challenge.

The show puts up-and-coming snappers through a month of challenges, which are set by trailblazing fashion photographer Rankin.

Chelsea Nawanga, right, with her fellow contestants. Photographer: Marisa Murdoch

Chelsea Nawanga, right, with her fellow contestants. Photographer: Marisa Murdoch

For Chelsea, who graduated from the Photography course in 2017, the whole experience has been a surreal one.

“I studied Rankin at college and then, for my uni dissertation, I used him as a case study, so I know so much about him and his work, he really is somebody I look up to,” said the 26 year old from Luton.

“When you watch episode one, we all get to meet him and I remember thinking it couldn’t be happening, and I told myself to relax and not mess things up.”

But Chelsea’s nerves were soon settled, and she began to take everything in her stride – including being on the receiving end of criticism from her hero.

“He’s critical, he’s honest and he tells you what he thinks,” said Chelsea. “But, for me, that’s something I thrive on. I want to learn from the very best, I need critical feedback to help me to develop as an artist.”

In episode one, which aired on Monday 24 May, Chelsea was shown shooting actress Anna Friel in a quick-fire 15 minutes and also being set a challenge to produce a unique shot of nature, guided by TV naturalist, Chris Packham.

“The Anna Friel shoot was really different to what I’m used to, because we had a very quick introduction to her and then it was like ‘you have 15 minutes, let’s go’.

“Anna’s had countless photo shoots, so knew what she was doing and she directed me at the start, but halfway through I loosened up and got into it. It was a really good experience and sharpened the way I approach shoots.”

The challenges will be ratcheted up as the series progresses, although Chelsea’s remaining tight-lipped about the show’s outcome.

“It was filmed last autumn over a month, and it’s great to be able to watch it back,” she said. “All my friends and family have been talking to me about it and it’s felt quite surreal. I’ve also started getting more Instagram followers as a result of the show.

“I think the experience will raise my profile and hopefully might lead to new and interesting jobs.”

In the meantime, Chelsea’s continuing to divide her time between working as a waitress in a care home, and doing her photography in her spare time.

“I’ve not been into work since the first episode aired, so it’ll be funny to see if the residents start asking me for my autograph,” joked Chelsea.

“I do hope I can become a full-time photographer at some point. My passion has always been fashion photography, and my dream is to have my work featured regularly in fashion magazines.”

Looking back at the time she joined the University, it’s hard for Chelsea to comprehend the journey she’s been on in the past few years.

She said: “I studied art at college and when I joined the Photography course at Northampton, I found most of the other students had done A-level photography.

“So, I felt a bit like a fish out of water to start with, but the lecturers were brilliant and I picked things up so quickly, which is down to their dedication to the students.

“When it came to graduation I felt like a proper photographer, and I’ve been able to channel my creativity into my work. Hopefully I can do that even more regularly thanks to the Great British Photography Challenge.”

Episodes three and four of Great British Photography Challenge air on Monday 7 and 14 June and all episodes are available on the iPlayer.

Follow Chelsea on Instagram.