maria spadafora photography

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! 

 

 

 

 

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.