Change the Picture was a participatory photography and
self-advocacy project that aimed to provide a creative support to the
lives of vulnerable women, some of whom were homeless and / or street
based sex workers in East London.
Built on a
strong partnership between two pioneering charities – PhotoVoice
and U-Turn, Change the Picture aimed to support vulnerable women by providing
them with a space for creative expression and relief while also using
their images and words to raise awareness of the issues they face with
policy makers, service providers and public audiences. Alongside the workshops,
research assessed the impact and potential of photography as a therapeutic
tool and the learning gained was distributed with information and resources
to practitioners and organisations working with vulnerable groups.
The project took place
between January 2007 and August 2008 and was based out of U-Turn’s
Women’s Centre in East London. The Women’s Centre is a space
where vulnerable, homeless and street based sex working women are able
to come to have a cup of tea, wash, access services and find support and
advice. The majority of U-Turn’s client group have suffered varying
degrees of social deprivation, abuse and violence and are dealing with
mental health and substance misuse issues.
The project consisted
of two main phases. The first phase involved twenty eight weeks of drop
in workshops that took place at Women’s Centre and were open to
all users. The second phase involved one on one sessions where the lead
facilitator worked with five women to produce images and writing specifically
for a public postcard advocacy and awareness campaign and exhibition.
with one lead and three rotating facilitators to ensure a range of skills,
knowledge and experiences was brought to the project at different times.
Working closely with the U Turn staff, the facilitators were able to create
a safe forum for the women to experiment with photography and share their
stories. A trained psychotherapist provided additional support to both
the women and the facilitators. During the workshops, equal space was
given to photographic work and creative writing in the form of storytelling,
captioning and poetry. This proved successful in engaging the women emotionally
and helping to develop their stories.
A safe forum was fundamental
to the development of the postcard advocacy and awareness campaign, as
well as to the exhibition - it was only through the bonds that built up,
that the women felt confident and secure enough to grant copyright and
consent for their images and words.
U-Turn offers its innovative support, information and
practical intervention primarily to vulnerable and homeless women, but
many of them are working as sex workers. The facts and figures below give
some context to Change the Picture and the women we worked with.
- It is estimated
that in the UK more than 80,000 women are involved in prostitution.
- In this country
around half began their involvement in prostitution before their 18th
birthday. Some studies suggest that the figure may be closer to 75%.
- Rarely do they
choose a life on the streets; they are usually forced by drug addiction
and a history of physical, sexual and mental abuse. In one survey over
half the women said they did not like prostitution; only 13 percent
said they were “fairly happy” and more than half had experienced
- Street prostitution
is a dangerous occupation. The women make instant judgments and take
enormous risks, often trying to earn enough money to combat drugs cravings.
- The mortality
rate for women in street prostitution in London equals twelve times
the national average.
In the UK as many as 90 sex workers have been murdered in the last 12
and have been shown to be by far the most at risk female group for homicide.
- Over 80 percent
of women involved in street prostitution suffer violence, compared to
48 percent of women in off-street prostitution.
- 95% of women sex
workers are believed to be addicted to drugs according to the Home Office.
- 70% of prostitutes
(and their children) are believed to have been in care at some point
in their lives.
- These women, are
for the most part hidden, they receive little notice or attention in
the press and this coupled with their disconnected lives compounds the
risks they face and their isolation.
- There is a need
for a holistic approach to tackle the multiplicity of issues that affect
these women if we want to assist them to achieve a long-term sustainable
change in their lives.
the existence of a sex ‘trade’
victims of many of those involved in it, and of those communities in which
it takes place. Key concerns include:
- The nuisance caused
to neighbourhoods through noise, litter and harassment
- The impact on
the neighbourhood in terms of undermining economic regeneration and
- The advertising
of prostitution, particularly through soliciting on the street and the
use of prostitutes’ cards.
- The spread of
sexually and drug transmitted infections
- Increasing use
of the internet as a grooming/advertising medium
- Links with drug
abuse / markets
- Links with criminality,
- Related violence,
including serious assaults against those involved in prostitution
- The increasing
stigmatisation and social exclusion of those involved in prostitution
- The abuse of children
- The impact on
- People trafficking
for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation
- The effect on
the attitudes of men to women, and on gender equality more generally.
Objectives and Outputs
The objectives of Change the Picture were:
- To enable
the women to enjoy and express themselves and work through difficulties
they face through using photography as a therapeutic tool within a safe
and secure environment
- To enable
the women to gain confidence in their own voices and their place within
society and to be empowered to speak out about their lives, needs and
the issues they face
- To enable
the women to learn new creative, digital and IT skills
- To create
participatory photography workshop models for working with vulnerable
and abused groups
- To research
the impact and potential of photography as a therapeutic tool with vulnerable
and abused women
- To distribute
the research findings and workshop models within in a document that
will share learning about photography as a therapeutic tool and encourage
- To create
a body of photographic work that can be used to educate public audiences
on the experiences of female sex workers in London, highlighting the
obstacles faced by these vulnerable women.
- 28 weekly drop
in workshops attended by 31 women
- Ongoing exhibition
of work and ‘image wallboard’ at the Women’s Centre
- 10 one on one
workshops with 5 women to produce postcard images and writing
- 5 advocacy postcards
sent weekly to over 260 key individuals
- Public exhibition
of images and writing in a London restaurant
- Case-study publication
detailing project methods and learning
– March 2007
April – December 2007
- Weekly drop in photography workshops
January – May 2007
- Postcard Campaign and exhibition workshops – individual sessions
May – July 2007
- Postcard distribution
- Exhibition Preparation
- Exhibition opening
- Evaluation report produced