The Voice of Women – In Her Shoes – Rebecca Rowan

Rebecca Rowan, Director and Founder of Mindful Photography CIC, writes about six month project delivered with Our City Hub, York.

The Voice of Women – In Her Shoes was a project spanning 6 months, delivered by Rebecca Rowan of Mindful Photography UK CIC in partnership with Our City Hub, York, United Kingdom.

Rebecca is the Director and founder of Mindful Photography UK  a community interest company providing structured therapeutic photography workshops to support self-esteem and has been facilitating sessions linking photography and wellbeing since 2009.  She is an experienced and qualified tutor/ facilitator, completed a training course in participatory photography by PhotoVoice, and received a distinction in the world’s first qualification in Therapeutic Photography with Dr Neil Gibson.

In the summer of 2023, Mindful Photography UK welcomed financial support from Safer York Partnership to facilitate a therapeutic photography project alongside Our City Hub to help support local migrant women navigate the complexities of integration into a new community. Our City Hub are an establish group and are already active in York, running workshops and networking across communities.  The language barriers and lack of confidence in communicating within the group can mean that the women can find it difficult to have a voice. The therapeutic photography process provided the ideal tool to support people from diverse immigration backgrounds and with different level of English to support their feelings and emotions.

The process

By using their own smartphones the women explored themes of self-esteem, social connection and the unique challenges they faced. The group identified a theme and soon photography became more than just simple snaps, it was a medium of expression, a way to capture stories, struggles and triumphs. The project’s collaborative approach emphasised conversations, interaction and the explorations of cultural contrast. This was all centred around a safe space that was crucial for growth and self-discovery.

The group decided how they would take their images, they all had experience in taking a smartphone photograph and agreed that the skill level was therefore equalised.  The women explored photographs and found deep emotional connection with an image from Asia with a piece of wisdom on the reverse which read “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”.

The group were set tasks to complete at home. One of the participants took an image of the light coming in through her living room window and passing through a vase. It was used as a springboard for discussion around the theme of hope in the following session.

Whilst undertaking this project Rebecca Rowan was invited to draft an article for the John Muir Trust and extended the opportunity with the participants so that they may contribute. You can read the article here they compared their contributions to a similar group facilitated simultaneously by Mindful Photography UK, linking them geographically, emotionally, yet anonymously across the region.

The sessions were extended online throughout the summer holiday and the women prepared and displayed their work in the Our City Hub festival at the city library in September 2023. Here, Rebecca from Mindful Photography UK was also able to contribute a public presentation surrounding the benefits of therapeutic and participatory photography to support self-esteem within marginalised communities.

The project concluded in October 2023 with a final evaluation workshop. Within this session the women also enjoyed having their own photographs taken whilst participating in the tasks.

The sessions, conducted partly outside ensured the women felt connected within their city and in their immediate surroundings. The felt more comfortable attending public spaces like libraries, parks, and alterative faith settings. This process of local history and nature based walks meant that the participants were exploring their environment, making new cultural connections,  taking notice and slowing down.

Therapeutic photography seeks to enhance self-efficacy, self-knowledge and self-esteem and these project outcomes were demonstrated as these women took to the public spaces of York engaging with their environment and community with confidence and purpose. The visible transformation from feeling invisible to becoming a unified voice resonated with strength and resilience and is a testament to the women within this project. They continue to be part of the Mindful Photography Project; an online community group and their images and narrative has received recognition amongst policy makers and stakeholders within the county.

The culmination of their journey was not just in the photographs taken, but in the profound sense of connection, visibility and empowerment experienced by the participants. They concluded that when they feel connected, they felt very active and had more self-knowledge and self-awareness of themselves and others around them, they felt accepted. They said that feeling part of a group was important to them, they said they felt visible as one voice.

Mindful Photography UK CIC is at mindfulphotography.org.uk