Louise on one of her swims
Photos & Projects

Swimming for Sam / Documenting Louise Banks – By Harley Jaffar

April 21, 2021

I moved from London to Devon at the end of 2020, so that my young family could grow up closer to nature and closer to their grandparents. We ended up moving into my grandparents village which is on the Exe estuary.

My sister-in-law initially got my into cold water swimming when she dared me to jump into a lake, a few winters ago; to my surprise I discovered I quite enjoyed it. So now that I live 20 metres from the sea, cold water swimming seemed like a natural thing to try out again. It turns out there is a lovely small community of like minded swimmers in my village. Given that the estuary is tidal, we all go swimming at about the same time, so it didn’t take long to get know them all. It is a very bonding experience, willingly getting frozen. The endorphin rush from the cold water is also great, similar to when I press the shutter button of my camera,  believing I’ve just taken a great photo; but better than taking a photo,  as there is no disappointment later on when I see the developed image and realise the result is just meh…

These are some of the fellow swimmers in my village. This is last image I took with my Nikon L35AW before it died, I suspect from the cold.

One of the people I now regularly go swimming with is Mrs Louise Banks. Serendipitously Louise is a childhood friend of my closest friend from now previous career in London.  Louise was instantly one of the more inspirational swimmers to me, as she never uses a wetsuit, even when the wind is howling and water is 2C.

The reason she does this is inspirational too – she does sponsored swims to raise money in memory of her late son.

In 2010 Louise’s son Sam, had been travelling around the Indian subcontinent when he tragically passed away from peritonitis. A week before he passed away Sam had learnt that he had been accepted to study film and television production at LCC. The family, therefore, thought that an appropriate memorial would involve both film and the Indian subcontinent.

They have since set up charitable fund in his memory. Sponsor money goes to help Bangladeshi students receive world-class training in photojournalism at Pathshala South Asian Media Institute in Dhaka. Since 2011 the Banks family have supported over 35 students from low-income families through annual fundraising events.

During their photojournalism course, the Dhaka students are encouraged to capture images of events that occur in the city. These are parts of the wider story of Bangladesh, told by those best able to tell them. Some have captured the massive fire that engulfed the western part of the Jheelpar Slum in March 2020 or the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013. Some images are of the Dhaka dockyards, some of everyday domestic life. Pathshala alumni have had their work exhibited all around the globe and showcased in publications such as Le Monde, The Guardian, British Journal of Photography and Time magazine.

When Louise last corresponded with the Faculty Moderator about bursary selections he wrote,

‘This time we received a larger number of applicants than usual as due to the pandemic, many of our students are going through financial struggles.’ The covid pandemic has hit low-income families in Dhaka particularly hard and the students are more than ever in need of support right now.

A bond has been established between some of the students and the family. One of the women photographers they funded (Homayra Adiba) wrote:

“I knew about Sam, his story, his passion, his interest but that day I felt connected… as if I and Sam met somewhere, as artists as friends as messengers. We are all connected, he is helping me even though he is not here anymore. I felt privileged. He had less time on his hands and I was lucky to have my time utilized.”

At the end of February 2021 Louise Banks completed a sponsored swim in the Exe estuary, Devon and so far has raised £5,270 this year. I wanted to do something to help raise awareness for Louise and the charity she for which she is raising money. As I am fairly obsessed with photography, documenting and publishing  her efforts seemed the most obvious way I could help.

This image was taken on my Rolleiflex T, Louise is walking home having swum a km, and being in the water for around d 40 minutes.

She swam every day in February at high tides, in water temperatures ranging from 2 – 9 degrees, through snow, the Beast from the East, rain, moonlight and finally sun.

I had gone out to play with my kids in the tiny bit of snow we had down here. It was a freezing cold morning, I did not expect to see Louise going for a swim, but there she was.

Her initial goal was to swim seven miles over the course of the month but by the end, she had managed eight and a half.

This was taken using an expensive plastic bag over my camera to keep it watertight. Trying to take a picture while using a big rubbery bag,  while also trying to swim in freezing cold water was surprisingly more difficult than I had anticipated.

Louise, who had never considered herself a keen swimmer, was introduced to the habit of all-weather estuary swims by a friend, just a couple of months before embarking on her sponsored venture. She realised that this daily ritual brought the consolation for the grief she had been searching for; the estuary with its tides, weathers, wildlife and peace was a place where Sam seemed most present. Louise says,

“Plunging into cold water is very life-affirming and, put simply, life is too short not to make the most of the gift of it.”

If you would like to donate to the charity please visit: sambanksmemorialfund.org/donate
More images of Louise raising money can be found at: instagram.com/sambanksfund2010

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Sagar Kharecha
    April 21, 2021 at 8:57 pm

    Superb article, Harley. Very glad to have gained an insight into such a personal story through your words and eyes. Sam’s memorial fund is a beautiful initiative.

    What an incredible feat to photograph whilst cold-water swimming!

    • Reply
      harley jaffar
      April 23, 2021 at 1:54 pm

      Thanks Sagar, really glad you enjoyed it. I loved your article you posted recently about the famers.

  • Reply
    Juan
    April 23, 2021 at 10:49 am

    This is a beautiful story, very touching, and the picture of Louise walking in the snow is fantastic!

  • Reply
    harley jaffar
    April 23, 2021 at 1:55 pm

    Many thanks Juan, glad you enjoyed it, and I think the picture of Louise walking through the snow is my favourite too.

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