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From Forensics to Freelance

Emily Kirkpatrick, was once a Forensic Photographer. She now creates the most delightful and colourful portraits. We catch up with her to find out more about her fascinating journey from Forensics to Freelance.

1. Can you tell us a little about yourself please? You say you started life as a Forensic Photographer? How did you get into that?

Emily Kirkpatrick using Marble Creativity Background paper

My photography career started when I was 14. I worked for a privately owned Kodak lab on a Saturday afternoon, processing wet film and printing peoples holiday snaps!

I worked there throughout my A-Levels studying photography & graphics. When it came to University, I was going to do a 3 year photography degree and at the last minute changed my mind as I wanted to learn from photographers and not teachers. So I continued to work at the Kodak Lab and used my days off to shadow the various photographers covering opera dress rehearsals at the London Colisseum, brochure shots for bespoke kitchen designers and posh swimming pool companies, glamour models for a biker magazine, weddings, portraits and a bit of paparazzi and journalism work with the local and national newspapers (funnily enough I covered the Milly Dowler memorial service at Guildford Cathedral with the newspapers and it was then I decided I didn't want to do that kind of photography - years later I worked on the Milly Dowler case with Surrey Police as part of my role when the case finally came to trial).

Not long after I turned 21 I spotted an advert by Surrey Police looking for a darkroom technician in their Forensic Photography Unit. It was initially just part time looking after the processing of speed cameras, but I had an inkling that it could turn into something more and it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up!

I took the leap from working full time to part time where I was thrown into a rather 'old skool' police unit run by civilian staff. The unit was made up of 7 men aged 45+ all of whom had either come from a military photography background, or had been working in the unit since the 60s - Life on Mars comes to mind!

They were all really lovely and eased me fairly gently into the weird and wonderful world of Forensic Photography. We were always surrounded by fairly gruesome imagery, but we would all talk openly about it and mostly just found it very interesting. I loved hearing about the different cases the photographers had been to, and seeing how all the different units (fingerprints, chemical treatment, CSI) work together to piece together a case.

Working part time was a bit of a struggle financially so I did everything I could to show the unit I was capable of more. I gave them examples of how digital imaging software like Photoshop could help present evidence more clearly in court (for example by using it to overlay hand print outlines to show the direction of a mark, or mapping evidence in a scene photograph to show a route a suspect may have taken.) and after this, I was finally employed full time!

The Unit used Hassleblads and medium format negatives which we would develop in a big industrial dip 'n' dunk processor. Digital wasn't introduced until 2009 when we moved to Nikon DSLRs. Although I had learned a lot working in the lab I was itching to get out to experience scene work for myself, but it was a case of 'waiting for dead mans shoes', whereby the guys that worked there had been there a longtime, and I had to wait for them to either die or retire....thankfully after years of waiting, one of them finally retired and I was able to take his place and become an operational Forensic Imaging Specialist!

2. What kind of thing did you cover?

In the lab and studio we would photograph things like seized property, drugs and clothing. Ridge detail (fingerprints) on items before and after chemical enhancement, and we had a huge interior bay where we could photograph entire vehicle examinations.

Out and about covering operational work we would photograph all sorts of things like victims injuries which would sometimes include the use of Ultra Violet or Cross Polarisation techniques to capture injuries that weren't visible to the naked eye, road traffic collisions, drugs factories, fires, industrial accidents and burglaries alongside the more high profile cases you might expect such as murders and post mortems etc...

We would capture imagery of a scene as it was found before the Crime Scene Investigator touched or moved anything and then worked along side them, or the Collision Investigator, who would point out items of interest that would need recording along the way. We held onto the continuity of our photographic exhibits by capturing, processing and printing all the imagery ourselves to ensure there was an accurate representation of evidence.

I also taught photography to other units in the police that needed photography as a secondary skill. That meant I got to go on attachment in the force helicopter with the Air Ops Team and I also went on exercise with the Public Order Unit where I was petrol bombed as part of their riot practice!

We also used to produce 360 virtual tours of crime scenes - a bit like what you'd find on an estate agents website, but we would link in hot spots to show where evidence was found and the information that evidence gave us - such as an area of blood on a wall, and then the DNA or fingerprint report that linked the blood to the suspect.

3. What were the biggest challenges for you while you were doing the Forensic photography?

People will probably expect me to say working with dead-bodies and gruesome grizzly things! Obviously that's a big part of the job, but I always felt I was there to either help the victim; or help the victims family get answers as to what had happened and why. My brother was killed in an RTC when he was just 19, so I know what it feel likes to need answers, and that overcame any issue I may have had with what I was presented with - plus I think we all have a bit of a dark sense of humour to help us get through it!

The biggest challenges would probably be lighting, reflections and access. We would cover call outs in the middle of the night for serious and major crime - People doing things they shouldn't be doing, don't generally do it in a nice open area with lots of lighting!

Sometimes we'd have to attempt to be a contortionist to get a shot of something in situ before it was moved for examination, or come up with inventive ways to light a night scene; but I never once walked away from a scene without being able to get the photographs required, it's just a matter of problem solving and working with what you're presented with.

4. What made you leave the Forensic side?

A mixture of things...changes in the police force, work life balance and the need to be creative. I loved working in Forensics - I remember in my interview I was asked why I wanted to the job, and my response was 'why wouldn't I want it!' - But I think it's good to know when to leave the party! I have two young kids and I felt I needed to do something that meant I was around for them more, so going freelance means I'm able to arrange my work around school and I get to be creative again!

5. What genre of photography do you do most (I see you say weddings, etc on your footer, that's a far cry from Forensics!

Freelance is a far cry from Forensics, yes - my Mum proudly says I've covered Births, Deaths and Marriages! I cover weddings, people and I've just now unveiled 'Pup Portraits' as part of my services on my website.

6. How did you find out about our backgrounds?

Good old Google!

7. Your photographs of Watson on the pink background are just so lovely! What do you love about using colour backgrounds in particular? And why?

Emily Kirkpatrick using Pink Creativitry Background papeWhile I think a plain white backdrop will always have it's place, I've always been drawn to 'pop art' and comic book style imagery - I loved seeing Roy Lichensteins massive artworks at the Tate when I was younger. So many homes are decorated in a 'safe' way with muted tones, I think being able to use a coloured backdrop in a photo for a client is a good way of injecting some personality and character, without having to put up a garish feature wall!

8. Which is your favourite colour to use? And why?

Well purple is MY favourite colour, but it depends on the subject. I've taken some lovely portraits on the storm grey and marble, but the bright colours like the pink, blue and red really make an image pop!

9. What do the next few months look like for you? (work wise, business, etc).

Emily Kirkpatrick using Sky Blue Creativity Background papeI've only worked freelance since the beginning of this year, so I'm still working on letting people know I exist! 

I've just signed up with 'Hitched UK' and I've got some weddings booked for this year. I'll be exhibiting at a small wedding fair at The Weyside in Guildford on Thursday 30th May, so preparing for that and looking to take on more wedding couples - what girl doesn't love a good wedding!

I'm also working on growing the 'Pup Portraits' part of my photography business. I've had a lot of great feedback about the images I've done for clients so far and I've learnt so much about different dog breeds it's been fantastic!

10. What are your website/facebook/twitter/instagram links we can promote for you?

website - www.picturepurple.co.uk

instagram - @picturepurplephotography #picturepurplephotography

facebook - facebook.com/picturepurple

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