I’m not sharing any project portraits until we get closer to the exhibition, but I can tell you about some of the Princesses. On the morning the general election results came in, Kath Morgan-Thompson and I had surreal fun in the ladies’ loos at the gorgeous Iberica, Leeds.
Kath is many things. A Yoga teacher; Bollywood, Kathak and Northern Soul dancer; performance artist; kick-arse comedian and a Mum. Her burlesque character Mrs No Overall is a downtrodden ordinary cleaning lady who breaks out from domestic drudgery in a celebration of middle-aged exuberance – and she won the Welsh Heat of Burlesque Idol 2016. Her other comedy burlesque character – Lady FTP – messes with the stereotype of a posh country lady, and has been accepted to compete in Burlesque Idol 2017 in London. And most recently Kath was a member of The Gulabi Gang in the Transform Festival production of The Darkest Corners, produced by the dance and theatre company RashDash (‘The punk princesses of late night theatre’ – according to The Guardian).
I asked Kath about her opinion on fictional, fairy-tale Princesses:
I’m one of six children and have four brothers, so spent a lot of my childhood on a bike or in a rugby scrum. Though being the only girl child for ages meant that I was mum’s little helper, and also treated a bit more special.
I was never really bothered for the princess thing as a little girl and saw through the ridiculous idea of a prince coming to save me. That was probably due to the mystique of manhood being farted out of me by my four flatulent brothers!
I like the idea of a punk princess (Siouxsie Sioux) and my favourite fiction character is Ripley from the Alien films. A smart, athletic, independent princess not a frothy, fluffy marshmallow princess.
I had a discussion with my daughter Pearl (19) about this and she says she liked fairies better than princesses because
a) they have powers that make them kickass
b) they can wear cool outfits
c) they don’t need anybody to save/rescue them…
The women I’m working with on this project inspire in different ways. As well as being a dear friend, Saireen is something of a heroine to me. She has educated herself and accrued a wealth of experience in different fields including Finance, Funding, Training, and Community and Organisational Development, all whilst battling many personal challenges.
She feels passionately that BME women should be represented in local services, and worked as a Volunteer Coordinator for Rape Crisis, as well as volunteering herself with The Minorities Police Liaison Committee.
In the late1990’s she educated the Home Office, Media and local MPs on the distinction between arranged marriage, marriage of convenience and forced marriage. She observed that criticism of arranged marriages came across as tarnishing BME communities in a broader sense, particularly Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, and set about addressing this. She established the first project of its kind supporting people experiencing forced marriage, and successfully inspired other organisations on a local, national and international basis to create support services and education programmes to deal with the issues. Her awareness raising was also key in leading the home office to set up one of the first iterations of the Forced Marriage Unit.
These are just some of the things that make her awesome.
She reminded me that sometimes real life Princesses are more than clothes horses:
“It’s very rewarding kind of work when you want to help people, like Princess Diana did. She must have felt she achieved what she had set out to do if she saw somebody else feel better as a result of her work. I felt like I could relate to Princess Diana, not in a physical way, but the experiences she had and her loving nature. She cared for others and I often get told I have that in me, I could relate to her in that way. She was a real woman. She was well known for being a people’s person, the people’s princess, because she cared about people and so do I.”
So where/how the hell does a Princess store her massive frocks? I got a couple of costumes from a charity shop. This one took up the entire back seat of my car.
And we won’t be using this chair until I figure out storage…
There’s a Ted Talk by Christopher Bell that’s really stayed with me. He talks with enormous pride and passion about his daughter, an athletic comic book fan, and their combined disappointment in the lack of superhero merchandise ‘for girls.’
“Since 1937 Disney has made most of its money selling Princesses to girls. Unless, of course, the Princess your daughter is interested in is Princess Leia. In 2012 Disney purchased Lucasfilm for four billion dollars, and immediately they flooded the Disney stores with Han Solo, Obi Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Yoda, and not Princess Leia. Why? Because this Princess messes up the public pedagogy for these (Disney) Princesses.”
Watch the Ted Talk here. And please note a trigger warning, as it includes an upsetting story about bullying.
I am incredibly privileged to have received grant funding from Grants for the Arts and Leeds Inspired towards this project, but a condition of the funding is that I Crowdfund the remainder. The main costs are paying for people’s time and expenses, printing and also costume hire. Have a gander at the daft video and see what you think…
The Real Princesses of Yorkshire – Crowdfunder
So what in holy muthaflippin flip-flops is this? In short, it’s a photography project.
The fictional Princess has really saturated popular culture in the last few years, but I’m not convinced they are particularly inspiring role models for young girls. I find them a bit vacuous and, as much as I love a glamourous sparkly frock (and I really do) they seem to be selling little more than a predominantly thin, white version of pretty, straight wife-material as the ultimate aspiration. (Excuse me while I do a massive Y A W N).
On the flipside, of course, there are those who do find value in what Princesses represent, so it’ll be interesting to explore different perspectives.
Over the next few months I’ll be photographing REAL women and girls in Yorkshire. Partly to challenge the limitations of Princesses as role models, but mostly to celebrate amazing women and girls in all their diversity.