celebrating women

Lucky by Maria Spadafora

IMG_5229.JPG

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.

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!