Former Navy Senior Non-Commissioned Officer and Photography student documents Para-Snowsports on Colorado slopes
Former Royal Navy Petty Officer and current Arts University Plymouth Extended BA (Hons) Photography student Ian McCarthy has returned from Colorado, USA, where he has been documenting the Armed Forces Para-Snowsport Team (AFPST) in training. His recent trip saw him sharing the slopes with the AFPST as a photographer, documenting their preparations for future events.
A talented snowboarder, Ian was medically discharged from the Navy after 20 years service when he developed lymphoma. His condition meant that he had to stop training competitively. Through photography, Ian found a way to combine the sport he loves with his talent for photography.
Ian first went away with the AFPST, which exists to facilitate the rehabilitation of military personnel, in 2018. On his return, however, his health deteriorated and he needed a stem cell transplant.
Ian explained, “The treatments that I needed meant that my illness was incompatible with life in the military. I’ve always had an interest in photography, which I developed by taking a short course at Arts University Plymouth in 2009.”
Ian progressed from his short course to enrolling into the Extended BA (Hons) Photography. Initially, he was concerned about the transition between military life and becoming a student, but the extra year provided through the Extended Degree program has helped him to adjust.
“I almost didn’t show up on my first day, but from day one all of the staff have been incredibly supportive, particularly Helen Markes. When you leave the military, you lose a big part of your life, but Arts University Plymouth has given me a new lease of life and is helping me to move on.”
Accompanying the team and getting the pictures he wanted, in the way he wanted, was a steep learning curve for Ian. He was determined to ride alongside the team so he could capture the movement and speed of the riders. The snow and specific conditions in Colorado meant learning many new techniques. Not only did Ian have to master these new challenges, but he had to practice them all while speeding down the side of a mountain on a snowboard.
“Riding beside the team was really important to me to capture the speed in my photography. It meant I was constantly experimenting with shutter speed to capture movement. I learned so much by trial and error, while hurtling down the side of a mountain. I was up against problems that I didn’t expect, like trying to white-balance in the snow. It was trickier than I expected!’
In total, Ian spent ten days in Colorado with the team, riding for six days besides them on the slopes. Next year it is hoped that the trip can be even bigger, with international teams attending. In the meantime Ian is eager to pursue his passion by entering the second year of his four-year BA (Hons) Photography degree.
Ian said: “I’d spent my entire adult life in the military and there are limitations around what sort of work I can complete, but after my positive experiences at Arts University Plymouth, it was the only place I wanted to return to.”
Senior Lecturer and Extended BA Programme Leader Helen Markes is impressed by Ian’s positive approach to life and his ability to overcome difficulties. “It reflects a fantastic strength of character. Ian’s creativity and talent is clear to see and we couldn’t ask to work with a more rewarding student. I’ve been thrilled to hear about his collaborations with the Armed Forces Para-Snowsport Team and can’t wait to see what else he accomplishes during his time with us and beyond.”
The Extended BA (Hons) pathway at Arts University Plymouth is designed for people who want to pursue a creative degree but may not yet have the experience and range of skills necessary to enter the first year of a degree. This four-year route offers an exploratory first year, for students to develop their insight into a range of art, design and media skills and approaches, before progressing onto a specialist undergraduate degree.
Anybody interested in studying for a creative degree can visit Arts University Plymouth’s Open Day on Saturday 2 July to tour the specialist studios and workshops and meet expert academics and lecturers.