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  • Celebrating-Somersets-Creative-And-Cultural-Practitioners-Len-Copland

Celebrating Somerset’s creative & cultural practitioners... Len Copland

posted 02 May 2024
Celebrating Somerset’s creative & cultural practitioners... Len Copland

In the latest a series of monthly blogs celebrating Somerset’s creative & cultural practitioners, our Arts Engagement & Outreach Officer Nick White meets…

Len Copland.

“I talk too much”, Len says five or six times across a fascinating 90-minute chat. I notice his eyes, darting left & right, always blinking, quick like a camera curtain when you press the shutter button.


Photo Credit: Graham Trott

Len has been a professional photographer since the early 80’s. A 40-year career he accidentally got into as a favour to his then girlfriend’s brother, followed a stint stationed as a Radio Electrical Mechanic for the Royal Navy at Yeovilton.

“I grew up on the Isle of Wight and spent my childhood looking for ways to leave. My dad’s greatest piece of advice was to find a job where you don’t get your hands dirty.” Radio Electrical Mechanics are nicknamed ‘Pinkies’ precisely because of that. We briefly get onto nicknames: his Matlow-mates called Len ‘Ginge’ because of his flaming red hair, but it didn’t stick. “You would have been ‘Chalky’ or ‘Knocker’ because of your surname,” he tells me. “I was ‘Duracell’ at school because the top of a battery is copper,” Len gestures his hair again. I laugh. I had the same moniker at school because I didn’t stop running playing football at lunchtime.

Len’s more than just a photographer though. He has documented almost everything that’s happened in Somerset and Dorset for as long as I’ve known, and definitely much longer. 

Growing up in and around community plays in South Somerset, I encountered Len a lot, whether with Actiontrack, at The David Hall in South Petherton, or Yeovil College productions Cyrano de Bergerac and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Octagon. The cameras may have changed, and with it circles have become pixels, but he is exactly as I remember him. Affable, amiable, dynamic, a smooth focus.

It can take Len hours to walk up Middle Street in Yeovil because everyone stops to say hello. Unexpected conversations usually result in a diary date for a photoshoot somewhere else in town or around the district. His career has taken him all over the county, the region, the country, the World. He has also captured the World as it’s visited his home. Royal Visits, Major Sporting Events, Glastonbury Festival. I imagine an impossible pub quiz question: what do I have in common with The Queen, Frank Bruno and PJ Harvey? The inevitable answer: we’ve all had a Len Copland photo appear in the Western Gazette.


Photo Credit: Len Copland

As I stroll through his website, I stumble across his blog. Reading it, is like speaking with him. Its clear Len loves being around people because they make where he lives. He listens intently to people’s stories, immortalising their imprint on where they call home. You only need to see his Lockdown 2020 project to understand this. Adam leading The Octagon Choir; people hiding from the rain at Dawes’ Twineworks in West Coker; Sherborne’s Steam Open Day…  But it’s Len’s dance photos that leap out, quite literally. Caroline Rees or James Bamford’s portraits are testament to that, to name but a few.

Regardless of the subject and the location, Len uses light and shape to create energy and movement. He forms the image in his mind before he takes the picture. Alongside this, and where to place your F-stop, the skill of a photographer is to always be on the look-out, constantly finding yourself in the right place at the right time, especially when you don’t know that is where you are. He never leaves home without his camera, just in case. You also have to be good with people, ready to genuinely engage with strangers, making them feel like they’ve known you forever, so they relax into the shot. His very first picture was Paddy Ashdown, then Yeovil’s MP. They worked together extensively for well over 30 years until just before Lord Ashdown passed away.

Where is his favourite place to photograph?  Outdoors: Ninesprings, or maybe Ham Hill. And then of course, The Octagon. It’s no wonder really; he took his now wife there on their first date to see the world-famous Yeovil pantomime. Six weeks later they were engaged, 12 months later they were married. Even while it’s closed, he keeps the building alive. He proudly shows me a recent picture, posted on his Instagram page, the signage glowing through creeping foliage.

undefinedPhoto Credit: Len Copland

When he looks back on his life, I can imagine Len will see a kind of zoetrope: one of those cylinders with vertical slits down the sides that spins to tell a story - of Yeovil and the surrounding communities. Only for Len, it will be full of his photos of the people who have made this his home. The communities that have defined a career.


Instagram: @snapperlen


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