May 5, 2011

Spent another day photographing the clients at St George’s Crypt, Leeds.  Despite horrendous things that have happened to many homeless people, most of them still have hope.  Hope for the future; hope that their lives will not always be like this.


Here’s a little taster…

May 4, 2011

of my project with homeless people: ‘He is my friend’

St George’s Crypt is a homeless charity in Leeds with a Christian ethos.  Homelessness is often the effect of an array of ways that these people have been let down by friends, family and society as a whole.  The result can be a chaotic journey into alcohol and drug abuse, imprisonment and mental health problems.  Despite their situations, they care about each other and are grateful for random acts of kindness.

It’s like buses

May 4, 2011

It’s been a while since my last confession, months in fact.  I ended up doing a major exhibition called ‘Shooting Young Offenders,’ which went really well, and I am now on with a couple of new projects; one with teenage cancer patients and one with homeless people.  The cancer patients project came about because someone working on the ward saw my photos and asked if I could capture life on their ward.  It is a totally inspirational place with the emphasis being a positive one; no matter how long or short a time the young people spend on it, the team believe that they will make the experience a positive one.

The homeless project has been two years in the making, and celebrates St George’s Crypt’s 8oth anniversary.  I am working with Steve Huison (from Coronation St and ‘The Full Monty’ fame) and Ian Clayton (writer) to capture people’s stories.   I was concerned that the ‘clients’ wouldn’t want to share their memories, but it was like a tap opening…


October 9, 2010

It has been a while since I updated my blog.  I have been concentrating on pulling an exhibition together which will combine my photographs, the young offenders’ artwork, and a short film that they created about the dangers of M-CAT.  This will be at Project Space Leeds from 6th November to 4th December, Wednesdays to Saturdays 12-5pm, with a Private View on Wednesday 10th November, 6-8pm.

I went to a celebration event as well, where the young offenders got their arts awards.  It was wonderful to see them all again (well, nearly all of them; one didn’t make it and two are in prison.)  They had brought their friends and families – all apart from Ting whose Dad didn’t come (break my heart).

I was, yet again, wrong about the event.  I had (very wrongly) assumed that the parents must be a certain type, to have kids who have strayed so far off the ‘normal’ path, but at the end, a lovely lady came to talk to me.  She was one of the kids Mum.  She said she had been a photographer for 15 years before she had had her daughter and gave it all up.  She was well-spoken and presentable, and said that “you don’t plan for this to happen.”

This made the experience all the more poignant for me – anyone’s child could end up in this situation.

But, I know that you are still wondering about the kids in prison.  I don’t know the details, but two of the lads are now inside for charges that they were awaiting sentencing on, or were convicted of consequently.

One lad is on the run, and I worry about him daily.  He hasn’t done anything terrible as far as I can work out (which reminds me of one of my first blogs when I was talking about which crimes are more or less ‘acceptable’ than others).  He must be very scared.  I hope that he hands himself in, or is found soon.

I have sent the 35 images that I have selected for the exhibition to print.  I am very excited.  It was a very hard process to whittle them down from 3500.  I visited the venue last night as there was someone else’s Private View on, so it was good to see the gallery in full swing.  It is exactly 4 weeks until it opens!

Letting go

August 30, 2010

So, it was the last day on Friday, and I have had time to reflect over a long weekend with my family (to make up for outsourcing them all summer!).  It was such an emotional day, beginning with the arrival of Pastel (who is one of the toughest nuts to crack) with a bouquet of flowers for Sue!

We took them all out to an Italian restaurant, and you wouldn’t have known that they were young offenders.  Their behaviour was perfect.  No swearing, no shouting, just a lot of laughter and a lot of eating.  There were reminders once again, about their backgrounds and lack of experience in these situations (“What’s parmesan?”).

Sue asked the kids what they thought of the experience.  MC remarked that he had attended last year and it was down to that experience that he decided he had to do something positive with his life; in his words “I didn’t do anything bad last year.”  His attendance this year was to mentor others.

She also asked me what I felt I had learned.  It was a difficult question because I had observed all of the time, but I did learn that I needn’t be afraid.  I was pretty worried on day one, but soon learned that a lot of the aggression is part of them finding their places in the pack, and a lot of the shouting and swearing is to get attention.  I wouldn’t be as afraid walking past a group of young people in my own home any more.

I asked her what she felt about the experience and she said that it is the same feeling every year; she feels honoured to have been a part of it.  What an amazing lady!

I took one of the group shots in for each person as a memento, and a portrait of Loveheart as she hadn’t like a single picture of herself, but in this shot she really looks beautiful and I hope she believes it now.

When we all parted there were a lot of hugs and tears (me included).  I felt an incredible sense of loss and a bit of panic; how will they be now they are out of our control?  How will they turn out?  Who will they turn to?

I can’t believe it is over.  It has been extremely challenging and emotional – and highly entertaining.  I have over 2000 shots to sort and process, whittling them down for an exhibition at ProjectSpace Leeds, ‘Shooting Young Offenders’  from 6th November, and also for a book.

I’ll see the kids again on 23rd September when we have a celebration evening to give them their awards and screen the short film for the first time.  I can’t wait.

Lights, Camera, Action

August 26, 2010

We spent the day filming today.  It was hard-going as there was a lot of waiting around for those who weren’t acting.  Some made more pictures, though, and the results were really good. 

I had a bit of a chat with one of the YOTS staff today.  She had previously been a policewoman.  I thought that would have been good training for her current job but she explained that she would have been almost ‘on the other side’ since the police detain offenders whereas YOTS staff encourage reparation and retraining.

We had to do Ting’s shots first because he was due in court at midday ‘because he got breached.’  He wears an electronic tag so he must’ve not met the conditions of his curfew.  It was almost funny though, as he was playing the part of an old man and had his ginger hair sprayed white and make-up on his face, then he had to be taken to Batley Baths to borrow their showers to clean it all off before he was taken to court.  We didn’t know if that would be the last we saw of him.

Filming continued with Romeo and Juliet shooting their scenes but it was a bit like pulling teeth.  Juliet wasn’t in the mood and it was getting later and later, and the more that they messed around the less likely it was that they were going to get away on time.  Everyone else was in the next room which was a nightmare because we could hear them all while we were recording. 

Ting returned a little later to a round of applause.  It was his first breach and he apologised explaining that it was a simple mistake (he was home just after 7pm) and said that he was sorry for wasting the court’s time.  I was just glad to see him back!

Tomorrow is the last day.  I feel very emotional.  I feel that I have got to know all of these kids very well, and I have watched them grow over the summer.  They have the chance to change their lives now, but after tomorrow it is up to them…

Hug a Hoody

August 25, 2010

Well, the moderator came in today and guess what?!! The kids got 13 Bronze Arts Awards and 9 Silver!!!!!!  I am so proud of them!  He asked the kids what they thought of the experience and it was summed up by Ting who said “I see life in a different way now.”

They re-sat their numeracy and literacy tests in the hope that they have improved after 6 weeks.  We’ll see what the results show. 

When they were asked why they came to the Summer Arts College, Ting said he thought it would change his life around.  Romeo explained “I’ll go back to jail if I don’t come here.”

We were supposed to spend the day filming today but unfortunately the cameraman’s father died last night so it is rescheduled for tomorrow.  That was when we were supposed to be going on a trip so we have had to re-jig things.  One funny misunderstanding was that ‘we are going out for us dinner’ on Friday, which I thought meant an evening meal (and makes it really difficult for me at home) but ‘dinner’ is ‘lunch’ so that is fine.

I read through some of the reviews of the course that the kids wrote and they were heartbreaking.  I will put their words into my book which I am going to prepare in time for my exhibition.  This is now confirmed at ProjectSpace, Leeds from 6 November for a month.  I am going to show my photography, their artwork, and screen their short film.  I can’t wait.

I was interviewed by BCB, Bradford Community Radio.  It was an interesting discussion about the power of art and creativity to help offenders turn their lives around.  My dog was woofing in the background though! : )

Ting was so grateful and thanked us all for running the summer arts college for them and spontaneously hugged Sue.

It’s been emotional

August 24, 2010

Tough, tough day today.  The young peoples’ workbooks are being moderated tomorrow to make sure that Sue is marking them correctly, so they were driven hard all day to make sure that their books captured all of the hard work that they have done.  There was a realisation among a few of the kids that the end is approaching fast.  Juliet’s eyes filled up, bless.

They were encouraged to review the experience of attending the Summer Arts College.  One person said that they weren’t depressed any more and they were even off the tablets.

Attendance is a bit rocky.  One girl didn’t arrive til (very) late, one lad isn’t bothering to come as he’d done a lot of work in his book so felt sure it would pass without any more input, and one lad went fishing instead!

(staff ringing kids, parents, friends of kids, relatives of kids….)

Tension and stress affected the kids in different ways.  Some buckled down and worked hard. Some didn’t and I wondered why they weren’t worried about the deadline, but pretty soon staff would be humming around them cajoling and helping them so perhaps they know that the staff will get them through?

Others became aggressive.  Romeo and Juliet took forever to complete their work as there was a lot of hitting and messing about. 

Ting fed off the energy levels and got louder and louder.

I asked what the home lives of these kids is like, as I am worried about what they will return to after college ends.  Of course, not all homes are like this, but one of the kids will be returning to a home where their parents lie on their behalf and swear constantly.

Interest in the project has been widespread, with coverage now in the Yorkshire Post, The Guardian online, Leeds Live It Love It, The Yorkshire Evening Post (YEP) and I will be interviewed tomorrow by BCB – Bradford’s Community Radio (4.30pm 106.6fm if you want a laugh!).  Here is the YEP coverage:

The kids are filming all day tomorrow.  I just pray they finish – and that they pass

“Failure is not an option”

August 23, 2010

Well, as those of you in Yorkshire will know, when it rains, it really rains.  We were filming most of today, and hadn’t time to dodge the showers so we had one umbrella over the recording equipment and the actors (the young people) had to tough it out.  And they did, brilliantly.  I wasn’t sure that they would take it seriously, but they did really well.

It was a very slow start today.  Only half of the young people turned up, and the others were collected later.  I asked what the outcome of Friday’s meeting was and it was a close-run thing.  As Romeo and Juliet’s behaviour was so out of line in London, they were at risk of exclusion but it was decided that it would undo everything that they had achieved over the first 5 weeks.  They have lost their attendance bonus and are not going to be allowed to go on this week’s trip, but it was felt that it would do a great deal of damage if they weren’t given the chance to finish their work and get their qualification.  At the end of the trip, Juliet discovered that it was one of the staff member’s birthday, when he announced that he was disappointed with their behaviour since it was his big day.  She said she would have behaved if she had known.  She apologised and said that she was embarrassed by how she had acted, which is a big step forward.

We discussed the benefit of treating the young people to a trip to London, when they didn’t seem to appreciate it, but it is all about planting positive memories;  they will always remember it.  It was funny, that although most of them said that the theatre was ‘sh*t,’ when they were interviewed on camera, they all liked it and recounted their favourite scenes.  The fountain was shown to them deliberately as ‘interactive art’ – the outcome was obvious, and the summary was that we should have taken towels and spare clothes for the inevitable.  A different way of looking at the event, perhaps?

It is going to be a tough week for staff and young people alike this week.  We have to get them through their silver awards, a moderator will come and look at their workbooks, and we have to finish filming.  Sue’s point of view is that ‘failure is not an option.’  She is personally paying £1k per day for the filming.  I don’t know if this is what made the ‘actors’ pay attention, or just that they have really bought into it, but there wasn’t much mucking about or even many takes. 

Ting was late today because he was waiting for his clothes to dry; he hadn’t any others.

The news just in…

August 20, 2010

Coverage of my photographic project has really gained momentum – it is featured in today’s Yorkshire Post http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/localnews/Photographer-snaps-up-chance-to.6485700.jp