Part of the latest project from Fast Forward Women in Photography, Putting Ourselves in the Picture centres the lived experience of those working to build a home in the UK
In 2016, Vicky fled Uganda. “I moved because my life was no good there, here I have a chance to have a good life. I had bad experiences in Uganda and I cannot go back there,” she writes of her decision. Since arriving in the UK she has moved home up to 10 times – she now lives in temporary accommodation with her two sons, one of whom is disabled. She struggles to secure the support he needs.
In the year Vicky arrived in the UK, she was one of 40.2m people worldwide who were forced to flee their homes due to conflicts, violence, fear of persecution and human rights violations. By the end of 2022, The UN Refugee agency estimates that this number will reach 101.1m. Around 50 per cent of this figure is likely to be women.
In a new book, Vicky – and 21 other refugee and migrant women and non-binary photographers – tell their own stories of displacement, adjustment, success and pride. Within its pages, Putting Ourselves in the Picture explores battles with the home office, burgeoning new careers and the pressures of motherhood.
The publication is the culmination of a collaboration between Fast Forward Women in Photography, Autograph, Impressions Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland, Women for Refugee Women and Work Show Grow. It has been a long and at times complex project, with many workshops and teaching sessions taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, both for its participants and its organisers, it has also been a highly rewarding experience.
“I’m very interested in that method of making work whereby you’re giving as much authority as is feasible to the actual people who are really on the ground, rather than shooting a photographer into a space to tell a story they have no actual lived experience of,” explains Anna Fox, director of Fast Forward Women in Photography. “It’s about allowing the lived experience to speak.”
Putting Ourselves in the Picture presents a set of highly-personal narratives, many of which have traditionally been excluded from established canons. An image taken by Ana, who was born in El Salvador and arrived in the UK in 2020, shows the mother and her daughter at the beach, laughing as waves crash around them. Its caption reads, in part: “I miss the beaches of my country. I never imagined that it would be the last time, I loved to lie down in the sand and let the waves carry me away.”
In the introduction to her work, Nwanyi ka Aku describes her journey from Africa to Scotland and into a career in law. Through her difficulties and challenges, she writes that her passion and faith have kept her sane. An image by Miya shows rosary beads and a portrait of Jesus, both bathed in soft sunlight. It is accompanied by the text: “I am able to display my love for another woman. I am now courageous enough to stand up for myself and others.”
None of these stories were pre-prescribed. Each of the organisations involved in this project offered something different – Aida Silvestri and Bindi Vora taught workshops in a collaboration between Autograph, Women for Refugee Women and Rainbow Sisters, while Natasha Caruana supported participants to explore their stories through recipes – each photographer’s experience was their own to share as they chose.
“That’s the experience that I wanted these people to have, to discover that photography can tell things that they can’t necessarily say in words,” says Anna Fox. “They don’t all dwell on the difficulties. Lots of them introduce really positive ideas. They reveal a breadth of really interesting ideas about what it’s like to attempt to resettle in the UK.”
These positive ideas are reflected in the final lines of Vicky’s introduction to her own work. Preceding images of her sons at play, her community at prayer and of the city through the eyes of a child, she writes: “My father was a photographer, I don’t want to stop, I want to be a professional I think it could give me and my children a good life in the future”.
Putting Ourselves in the Picture is available to order now from Trolley Books. Donations to Women for Refugee Women’s Christmas campaign can be made here.
The project was funded through the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Engagement Fellowship by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of the UK Research Initiative and by University for the Creative Arts.