Lucky by Maria Spadafora

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Every morning when I get out of bed with no sudden breathing issues, I am thankful. I count my blessings every single day. I am lucky.

I’ve been in remission with sarcoidosis for 5 years now, yet remain hyper-aware that I could become very ill again at any moment. This is part paranoia, part dread, but also me checking my privilege because I am well enough to get on with life. I will never be the gym-going, regular runner I once was, and still have lingering issues (I can’t do anything too aerobic, struggle with stairs, and have occasional bad days) but I can function well. I’ve been told sarcoidosis can leave scar tissue, in my case in several places on my lungs and lymph nodes, so it makes sense that it still affects me.

For Emma Rose, my baby sister, her ‘hidden disability' is bilateral hip-dysplasia. She was diagnosed at the age of 30 after this then-unidentified deformity in her hips and pelvis had caused such internal damage and unbearable pain (including symptoms such as her legs ‘buckling’ after sitting for long periods) that she sought help. There is a long story attached to this, that I won’t go into, but it was another 4 years before her first surgery – a periacetabular osteotomy, or PAO for short. This involves bone cuts around the hip joint, freeing it from the pelvis which allows it to be rotated into a new position (people often mistake it for a hip replacement, but that is a very different surgery). Recovery is long and slow – around 6 months needing a wheelchair and crutches, followed by several more months with a combination of crutches and walking stick until she can manage longer distances unaided. It’ll amount to a good three years of pain and mobility issues before it’s all over. And there are so many issues her first surgery flagged up that it would take at least one other blog to address them, but let’s just say the NHS is clearly struggling and not all employers have decent provision for sick pay.

 The day after Emma's first PAO in 2016

The day after Emma's first PAO in 2016

Following Emma’s first surgery in 2016, we undertook a documentary photo project, capturing her progression over several weeks.  A few months after her second surgery, which took place in May this year, we collaborated on a portrait project.  I am no expert on representation of disability in the media, advertising, fashion, etc, but I think it’s fair to say we don’t see much, and I would love to see more positive imagery.  So we spent a couple of days shooting photos showing her to be the vibrant, colourful, glam young woman she is, whether in a wheelchair, on crutches or unaided.

Walking (sometimes wheeling!) around London, Emma received so many positive comments from passing women - telling her she looked beautiful, they liked her dress, her make-up. Women bigging each other up means a lot. There were negatives, too. I grew particularly impatient with people almost walking into her, too absorbed by their mobile phones to notice the people around them, oblivious to how much pain and damage they could inadvertently inflict on someone in Emma’s position, should they bump into them.

So these pictures are my baby sister being who she is - glam, funny, independent, vibrant, normal, lucky.  Whether on wheels, on crutches, or unaided, she is all of these things. And I’m so lucky to have her in my life.

Another one of those new year 'reflective' blogs. Soz... by Maria Spadafora

 Spark at Light Night Leeds

Spark at Light Night Leeds

So 2017 ended with me turning 48 and trimming my first moustache hair, which inevitably leads to an ‘I did that!’ reflective blog post…

In March the really wonderful Heart, in Headingley, hosted my exhibition ‘Creation’. My photographs of performers and other artists had previously been exhibited at Arts@Trinity in Leeds, so it was an honour to have another opportunity to share this work. I received such lovely comments!

“You capture a feeling with your camera. You capture my imagination with your eyes.
There’s vibrancy in your photos.”
Miriam

I was also privileged to be offered an artist residency with Wakefield Cathedral, and over a period of two months visited the Cathedral’s many spaces, spending time with the people who use them. From volunteers counting donations in the Dean’s Vestry, to toddlers enjoying music in the Education Room, I observed and photographed many of the different activities that take place in this stunning building. I enjoy reacting and documenting things as they happen, whether it’s how the evening light falls on the ancient steps to the bell tower, or the enthusiasm of the weekly tour. It’s a beautiful building, full of history and stories, but it’s the people who keep it alive and vibrant, so I was chuffed to be offered this opportunity and to exhibit the final photos there in July. The exhibition also featured in Wakefield’s ArtWalk.

The biggie for me in 2017 though was The Real Princesses of Yorkshire. I’d been sitting on the idea for this project for a couple of years, and finally plucked up the courage to apply for funding and - to my genuine shock - got it! Thanks to Leeds Inspired and the Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts, I was able to work with 32 people and various locations to create a series of portraits that poke gentle fun at the limitations of fairytale princesses whist celebrating people in all their diversity.  One person commented that it was the best thing they attended that year, adding “It was uniquely subversive whist being completely joyous and welcoming.” I've project managed all sorts of arts and community events over the years, so I know that getting 694 people through the door of an exhibition is a massive achievement, and I am really chuffed with how this project panned out. And I'm hugely grateful for the support I received, including great help and performances at the launch party. Some of these pictures will be making another appearance at Heart next year, alongside some shenanigans for International Women’s Day, so stay tuned!

My recurring theme for 2017 appears to be the splits?! And seeing my Carnival photos on banners dotted about Chapeltown and Harehills was a bit flipping cool. Plus, forgive me, but hilarious drag goddess Katya Zamolodchikova shared my photo on Instagram getting over 71,000 likes - so I’m claiming this as an achievement (it’s a sign of these shallow times!) 

But my photography, a passion I’m still exploring and developing, is a work in progress and does not pay the bills, though it has sat nicely alongside my day job creating and managing opportunities for young people and communities to access the arts. So here’s a self indulgent wish-list for 2018:

1. A new job – I’ve been working with communities and young people for about 20 years. I’ve seen access to arts and education get worse, not better. I don’t think I’ll ever stop fighting for this.

2. Hatch my other eggs – I have more projects, I must make them happen

3. Keep snapping and learning - works on various levels ;)

Finally, I want to say a massive thank you and send love to everyone who’s helped, advised, supported, participated or employed me this year. Photography can be very lonely work, so the collaborations and support I’ve had this year have been enormously valuable.

Ta, ducks, you’ve been real! x

Making a Show of Myself (Again) by Maria Spadafora

 POW! (Princesses of the World). Featuring Sasha, Evie, Mehmoona, Iram, Saliha, Zakia and Laura

POW! (Princesses of the World). Featuring Sasha, Evie, Mehmoona, Iram, Saliha, Zakia and Laura

So the last few month have been a bit bonkers, having been fortunate enough to get funding from Leeds Inspired and Grants for the Arts to create The Real Princesses of Yorkshire. Around six months of plotting, planning and snapping culminated in a two week exhibition at Arts at Trinity, Leeds. 

Exhibition inside Holy Trinity Church

I photographed 32 people for this project, poking fun at the limitations of the fairy-tale princess and celebrating real people. Because I know some amazing people, none of whom are waiting to be saved by Prince Charming.  And this project only captures a fraction of them! Sitting in the serene surrounds of the church there were periods where I didn't see anyone for an hour, even two, but over the course of eleven days, including a very lively launch party, there were 694 visitors to the exhibition. I'm chuffed with this! And the response has been brilliant:

"Love this exhibition. Wonderful to see 'normal' women of the community who are 'princesses' in their own right!" (Naomi)

"The diversity is just right, and I love the humour and expressions. As a woman in what's still a male-dominated profession this resonates with me." (Minister at the church)

"Insightful, funny and brilliant collection of works, well done!"

In keeping with the spirit of the project, the packed-out launch party, or rather Ball, was not your typical walking round with a glass of wine event. A group of 'princesses' made a grand, very bonkers, entrance to Sabotage by Beastie Boys, followed by drag-inspired lip-syncs, all of which went down a storm. You can see a snippet of this on episode 332 of The Lowdown

The following photos from the launch party were taken by Jon Eland:

My thanks to everyone who took part and came to see the exhibition, and enormous gratitude to Leeds Inspired, Grants for the Arts, Leeds Creative Timebank and Arts at Trinity. It's not over yet, the pictures will be appearing in other spaces - I'll keep you posted! 

The Real Princesses of Yorkshire by Maria Spadafora

#PrincessRealness

Earlier this year I made some funding applications to develop a project idea that had been knocking about in my head for a while. And, to my surprise, I succeeded. In September, at the ripe old age of 47, the results of my first funded project as an artist will be unleashed. Eeeeeek!

The Real Princesses of Yorkshire is a portrait project that gently challenges the fairy-tale princess as an ideal and role model for women and girls, whilst celebrating some amazing people. I've spent months recruiting participants, coordinating shoots, and climbing over the big, daft dresses that now clutter my home. 

The project has elicited some really interesting responses and discussions, some of which you can read about on a dedicated blog page

As a photographer, it's been an enormous learning experience, and one that continues. From technical stuff such as literally using a flash for the first time (not my favourite thing, I'll be honest) to learning how to pose and direct people, it's taught me a lot. In particular that I have so much more to learn! 

The Real Princesses of Yorkshire exhibition will be open from 11th to 22nd September at Arts@Trinity, Boar Lane, Leeds. And everyone is invited to the Real Princess Ball - a launch party lip-sync extravaganza on Friday 15th September 7-9pm. Book your free tickets via Eventbrite. I hope to see you there! 

 

 

 

 

My Sister, My Muse by Maria Spadafora

Toddler Emma

I've been sticking a camera in my baby sister's face, and sometimes other body parts, pretty much all her life. A natural and talented performer, Emma Rose is usually up for it, whether I'm testing out a lens or experimenting with depth of field. I took so many photos of her and my brother on black and white 35mm film when they were growing up, she once quipped "Didn't they have colour in them days...?"

More recently Emma and I collaborated on a project to document her journey through corrective surgery for bilateral hip dysplasia. Having spent her life 'clicking' her hips into place in the same way others casually crack their knuckles, the pain and arthritis that developed over the years started to become unbearable, and it transpired she'd been born with hip sockets that hadn't formed normally, along with a tilted pelvis.

After a long four year wait (don't get me started on my frustration and fears for the NHS!) in November 2016 she finally had the first surgery to her right hip - a periacetabular osteotomy (PAO). Reconstructing her pelvis means she won't have to have hip replacements until she is older and she'll have the same surgery to the left side next year.

As I write this, almost four months after the surgery, her scar is immaculate, and she's walking really well on crutches (though still needs the wheelchair for distances).

She's my hero. On blinged-up crutches.

Articulating Attribution by Maria Spadafora

My friends know that each time a newspaper, or whatever, publishes one of my photos without crediting me, I have a little rant. I may come across a bit diva, but it matters. The words are attributed to their author, so why not the images?

I’ve been reliably informed by someone who used to work in newspapers that the press have become so sloppy and complacent (unprofessional) that photographers are sending them big bills. I haven’t dared do this. Yet.  A few years ago an organisation I know created a flier using an image downloaded (stolen) from the internet. We’ve all probably done that – downloaded pictures then shared them on social media without acknowledgement, but in this instance the organisation in question were sent a bill for around £1000. The biggest gripe, legally, was that it was being used to promote a public event that people had to pay for, hence they were potentially profiting from what boils down to naïve theft. (They pleaded ignorance, argued their case as a small charity and got the bill reduced).

I’ve had people Tweet my Instagram photos pretending they took them. I’ve had the Yorkshire Evening Post Tweet my photo then credit it to someone else (and when I messaged them, they just removed it – no apology or reply). Sometimes it’s carelessness, like those who misspell my name (well, it is foreign, and who can be arsed double checking, right?) but mostly it boils down to a lack of regard and professionalism. Local publications and newspapers are the worst. You know those students who make a short film and think they’re an auteur, the credits reading as a repetition of their name? Bradford Review is like that. Ego-tastic authors, but no photography credits for other contributors.

My work as a photographer varies. I do paid work covering events and performances, and in one instance, where my pictures were used as part of a longer project, I’ve been paid a ‘future use’ fee as well as my session rate. That’s because they are a professional company in every sense of the word. But I also do a lot of things for free, and I do this happily. There’s the old adage ‘it’s good exposure’ but most of all, it’s because I know so many brilliant people, and I value the work they create. Being part of the team on something everyone feels proud of matters way more than money. Plus I learn so much from every project I do and really value the opportunities I'm given.

Most recently one of my images was used as the cover of a book published by Bloomsbury. A book! But it was only credited to the cover designer, and not me. So, something that was a big deal for me, something that I wasn’t paid my usual freelance fee for, that should have been really exciting, has felt like a kick in the teeth. And now goes in my ‘don’t bother showing the grandchildren one day’ pile.

That expression ‘credit where it’s due’ – it matters. It’s a sense of pride and achievement. It’s an acknowledgement of your time and your contribution. It’s something you scrapbook and look back on. It’s a thank-you.

And we all need to say thank-you more often. That person who helped you put a funding application together, and two years later you made the work? You need to acknowledge them. That person who made you cups of tea whilst you were sweating over your schedule? You need to acknowledge them.  That person who simply helped you string a brilliant blurb together because you had brain freeze? It may have only been a paragraph, but you still need to acknowledge them.

It’s only ‘good exposure’ if people know you did it. And a simple, genuine ‘thank-you’ goes such a long way.

Oh, and a Tweet (afterthought) doesn’t cut it.

Making a Show of Myself by Maria Spadafora

Get me, I just had an exhibition (my first!) in the gorgeous surrounds of Arts@Trinity. I've seen some brilliant dance and music there over the years, so felt really chuffed they accepted my proposal to show my work. And it was quite fascinating spending time there, as it still functions as a church alongside it's arts activities. It was eye opening to observe just how many people still use churches as a place of refuge, and I chatted to some really interesting folk.

I decided to focus on showing photographs of 'Creation' - creative people in Leeds, as the city is home and host to so many brilliant artists and venues. So a whole bunch of dancers, musicians, and visual artists found themselves hung on washing lines between the pillars and sat on easels beside the pews. In many ways it was a celebration of the diversity of arts in Leeds, featuring art forms and artists from all over the world, including Mali, Italy, India, Ireland, USA, France, and, of course, the amazing West Indian Carnival - one of our annual highlights. We had a fun celebration evening with performances by SAA-uk Dholis, Zakiya Hussain (Kathak dancer), and interactive shizzle with Yorkshire Life Aquatic and The (Reduced) Bet Lynch Mob. A massive thank you to them all, as they manage to fill me with pride, gratitude, inspiration and laughter, often all at the same time.

The photo slideshow below is by Lynette Willoughby:

And I can't leave this blog post hanging without thanking everyone who backed my Crowd Funder campaign. THANK YOU!

Pritpal Singh / Elias S Dwan / Frederica Agbah / Simon Lacy

Tim Neale  / Jimmy May / Gina Cattini  / Jo Butt  / Carol Harris   

Anna Zaluczkowska  / Cheryl Killey /  Rob Billson   

Chris Naylor-Ballesteros / Jenny Jet Harris / Bill Bartlett   

Susan Burns / Julia Shemilt / Lynette Willoughby / Emma Adams   

Angela Read  / Sarah Applewhite  / Jude Wright    

Alan Bullimore / Kathy Sadler / Nick Tonge / Michaela O’Sullivan    

Mark Matthews  / Myka Ransom  / Susan Everett / Fran Graham

 Jane Earnshaw  / Sav & Farhan Siddique / Jane Bullimore   

Zoe Parker / Emma Bearman / Maxine & Pat Bird / Donna Rhodes

Emma Rose