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

Delayed Gratification by Maria Spadafora

Slide

There's a special kind of pleasure to be derived from having a film processed. Not really knowing what results you'll get when you take the pictures, combined with forgetting what pictures you took, leads to a real sense of anticipation, surprise and 'oh, yeah!'  - especially when the film's been in the camera for several months. We lose this with the immediacy of digital photography. 

I recently had two films processed. I go to Dragons in Leeds, largely because the staff are so lovely. It's a good 25 years since I processed or printed my own film. The last time I attempted it I was massively out of practice and cocked it up big time, losing a whole roll of pictures taken at a Fatima Mansions gig (I'll never get over this!). One day I'd like to renew this skill, but in the meantime I'm happy I can still access this service.  A roll of Ilford XP2 had been in my little Robocam for about four months, and a roll of Agfa colour slide film had been in my old Praktica SLR for about six.

The results were mixed. I never really know what I'll get with the Robot camera. It's a toy, plastic, lomo camera with three lenses and no viewfinder, so the results are always surprising. It's best to use it with fast film in good light, because the lenses are quite cheap and nasty. The triple pictures can be very funky, especially if you get just the right amount of movement (there's a fraction of a second difference in the shutter release for each lens). Amusingly, I once processed a roll taken on this camera at an Asda store - every picture came back with a "faulty camera" sticker on it.

The SLR I used also produces mixed results. I bought it for a mere £29, and it hasn't got the best lens. I've found that sometimes I have to over-expose images a stop (older cameras often have their little idiosyncrasies). The scanned images are never quite as bright or sharp as the slides themselves, but you get the idea.

 

I suspect (hope) film, like vinyl, is making something of a comeback. I've seen a few young people knocking about with 35mm SLRs recently, which is a good thing, I reckon. They get to experience the joy of waiting...

Disderi Robocam

Documenting a Sikh Wedding by Maria Spadafora

In August I had my first taste of wedding photography. It also happened to be my first Sikh wedding (Anand Karaj).

I first met the bride and groom, Seetal and Kaviraj, though my work with South Asian Arts UK. Both are talented artists, and Seetal also runs Two Brown Girls with her friend Aaminah.  They know my pictures and how I work as I've photographed various Indian dance and music events, so I was enormously flattered when they asked me to document their wedding. They wanted to capture everything naturally, keeping poses to the minimum, so I was up for the challenge. I approached it in the same way I would any event, capturing characters, details, moments, and movement as stealthily as possible. I felt it was important to be respectful and as un-invasive as possible, particularly during the ceremony. There's nothing more annoying than a photographer getting right in your face!

Seetal and Kavi briefed me on the different celebrations and ceremonies I’d be documenting from Seetal’s side over the three days. Another photographer covered Kavi’s end in Leicester, and we were both there for the main event. It was full-on hard work, but enormous fun. I was too hesitant at times, which meant I definitely missed some photo opportunities, but on the whole I felt I'd captured the important things - family, moments, colour, detail, emotion, tradition, and, of course, Seetal's stunning wedding outfit.

Maiyan / Rangoli / Mehndi

The Maiyan is a cleansing ceremony, performed a few days before the wedding to prepare the bride and groom for marriage. Family members contribute to a Rangoli (a colourful design, in this instance created with powder paint, but it can be done with rice) before later smearing the bride with a wonderfully yellow blend of turmeric, channa and mustard oil. We were blessed with a sunny day for this ceremony, so I like to pretend these were taken in India (we were in Leeds). Seetal also had mehndi applied to her hands and feet by talented artist Dilrani Kaur Lall  with help from Sukhmani Rayat. Whilst they laboured over this, all the women in the family partook in a Punjabi tradition known as Gidha Boliyan - dancing and singing folk songs, some of which get a bit cheeky. Later, family and friends gathered for a Sangeet evening - a party beginning with folk songs and ending with some lively Bhangra. Punjabis really know how to party!

Chura Ceremony

On day two I attended and photographed a ceremony which involved the maternal Uncles dipping chura (bangles) in milk then placing them, in a specific order, on Seetal's wrists. The bride is then dressed in a red chin (scarf). A lot of family pile into an average sized living room! Presents are shared, speeches made, tears are shed, and fun is had. Oh, and it probably goes without saying that there is food. There is always food. A lot of food.

Milni / Anand Karaj / Doli

On the 'big day' the Bride finds a space to finish preparing herself as the Groom's family arrive at the Gurdwara. The Bride's female friends and relatives jostle at the back door, indulging a jokey ritual with the Groom's relatives about whether or not to let them in. Then a more formal ceremony takes place, the Milni, where the person in charge of the scriptures introduces key family members to one another. 

The marriage ceremony itself is called Anand Karaj, where Kavi arrives first to sit before the Guru Granth Sahib. Live Kirtan music is played, led by the rather awesome Kirpal Singh Panesar. After Seetal enters with her family and sits beside Kavi, Seetal's Mum, Keran gives her daughter's scarf to her new son-in-law, known as the Palle Di Rassam - a clearly symbolic and emotional moment.  The formal part of the ceremony ends with the Laavan, the circulation of the Holy Book before sweets are given out to everyone. Guests patiently gather to give blessings to the couple and have their picture taken in turn - the point at which I get serious cramp from endlessly snapping!

After yet more food, both families later return to the Bride's family home, only this isn't straightforward, as there has to be more slapstick tussling at the front door and money exchanged before the Groom is allowed to enter! Finally, after even more food, the day ends with the Doli - rice is thrown and Seetal leaves home with her new husband and family. Like any good wedding, it gets a bit teary.

I can't thank the families enough for this wonderful experience, and wish them the absolute best! To see more images from this work, hop over to my Flickr.

Gear: I used my trusty Canon EOS 60D, mostly with a 55-250mm lens, and newly acquired 70D, with a 18-55mm lens. Occasionally I used a wide 10-18mm lens. For better or worse, I always use natural/available light.