Photography Alumni Opens Gallery in Scottish Highlands


After graduating from our Photography degree course in 2020, UCW alumni Joe Kirkman has just opened his very own gallery on the Isle of Lewis: Garenin Gallery.

Joe began his journey on the Level 3 Photography course at Weston College, progressing to the Photography degree programme in 2020, gaining a strong 1st class degree. 

We caught up with Joe to find out more about Garenin Gallery and his journey so far…

What’s it like owning your own galley? How is it going?
This gallery is a family business in which both myself and my brother run. We both have our own individual skills that are so important to the business. For example, whilst I was creating my photography style and earning my degree, my brother Ben was working in many professional jobs thereby gaining experience in customer service.. I bring creativity and design and Ben brings practical experience and business knowledge. We work well together and he has been teaching me all I need to know about retail. I am selling my work off the gallery walls to paying customers, receiving great compliments, and to me that feels like a real accomplishment. I love this island and its people and can really see so much potential for me to expand my horizons as a photographer and gallerist in the years to come.

How did the opportunity for the gallery come up?
I have been visiting the Scottish Outer Hebrides almost every year since I was very young. I have always felt like it was my second home and thought to myself that I’d like to live there ‘one day’ but never actually considered it beyond that. During the start of my final course with UCW I had already decided that I was going to be a landscape photographer. The degree course encouraged me to consider everything about my plans and aspirations. The Outer Hebrides, my home away from home. The landscape is beautiful, wild and under-populated. The cost of living and of buying property is low when compared to the mainland, and I already knew the island, it’s landscape, it’s culture and it’s people very well. When lockdown started it convinced me even more that I wanted to wholeheartedly pursue living and working as a landscape photographer in the wild Scottish highlands and islands.

What inspires your work?
My early work, when I was studying at UCW, was inspired by works from Chris Friel and Valda Bailey. Though as the course progressed I developed my own style of intentional camera movement landscape photography, that is directly inspired by the Scottish highlands and Islands. What inspires me now the most is the constantly changing unique colour, light and wild weather that graces this island everyday. I try to produce work that connects with the feel of the very nature of the Hebridean Islands of Lewis and Harris.

How would you describe your experience studying Photography in Weston?
Overall, I am very happy with my experience studying at UCW. I could say plenty about the course and what it offers as it taught me lots about all different areas of photography. But if I had to choose the two things that I feel were most influential on my decision to pursue opening a gallery, I’d choose the passion of my lecturers and the areas of the course that encouraged discussion of future goals and working freelance. My lecturers were very inspirational and provided the best support and guidance for me and my pursuit of my goals.  

How has your education helped you enter the Photography industry?
The areas of the course that had a focus on life after uni, running a business and working freelance inspired me to do my research and actually learn the necessary things relevant to my plans such as Scottish property and crofting laws, business tax and VAT as well as simple things like finding suppliers and social media marketing. The degree course puts a lot of emphasis on preparing the students for the reality of leaving education. 
The course naturally makes you feel confident in your photographic abilities, as you are gradually pushed to share your work online and among public exhibitions. This process made me believe that my work was not only good enough to share but also good enough to sell. Towards the end of my final year, I set up an Etsy shop to sell my photography and by the end of January 2021 I had made over 100 sales. The confidence to create the shop and to pursue it as thoroughly as I did, came from the confidence I gained at UCW.

Many thanks and a HUGE congratulations to Joe and his brother Ben on the grand opening of the gallery!

Click here to visit the gallery website

Click here to follow the gallery on Instagram

Click here to see Joe’s photography work

Click here to read more about our new degree programme: Photography and Visual Cultures, BA (Hons)