Manchester’s largest homelessness day centre, the Booth Centre, launched the MyManchester exhibition last week, featuring photos of Manchester taken by people affected by homelessness on single-use cameras in January. We are proud to say that the exhibition, in Manchester bookshop / art gallery Chapter One, was inspired by Café Art’s MyLondon and MinhaSao Paulo calendar projects and is officially partnered with Café Art. Three local businesswomen created MyManchester, inspired by Café Art’s MyLondon. However photographer Charlotte Graham partnered with Alessandra Mostyn and Beth Knowles, directors of Symmetry Creative, a creative communications and design studio, have made it very much their own project.
For Café Art it’s a perfect way to see how the method can be successfully downsized, using fewer participants and having just an exhibition. Since our MyLondon project went viral last year we have been in communication with more than a dozen cites around the world and we are very keen to pass on the learnings from Manchester to them so they can decide which model will work for them. Twenty people affected by homelessness received photography training from Charlotte Graham and were given single-use cameras and asked to take photos of their city over several days. When the film was developed and the photos ready, Neil Cordell from The Royal Photographic Society (and organiser of the new Café Art photography mentoring group for people affected by homelessness) came up from London with me to help guide participants selecting their favourite photos for the exhibition in early February. From 20 cameras handed out, 15 were returned and processed, with 10 photos chosen by 10 participants to be enlarged and exhibited in an exhibition at Chapter One. The exhibition, which opened on Tuesday 1 March and runs until 1 April, also features a photo wall of smaller photo and a life-sized statue of a homeless person, “Mr Streetwise” by Danny Collins.
Amanda Croome, Booth Centre Chief Executive Officer, said that the stories from the participants, which accompany each enlargement in the exhibition, were important: “They just talked a little bit about either that specific picture or about their lives and a bit about why they enjoyed taking the pictures. So that was a really nice session where people shared their stories. To have that with the picture it makes it much more powerful.” Croome and Knowles, represented Manchester’s Booth Centre on a With One Voice cultural exchange to Brazil in November. For the exchange Knowles, who is a Labour & Co-operative Councillor for Manchester city centre, represented the Manchester Council. They both joined other representatives from UK homelessness organisations including Paul Ryan from Café Art who ran the Minha Sao Paulo (‘My Sao Paulo’) project there. Minha Sao Paulo was a larger project, and like MyLondon involved 100 people receiving 100 cameras to take photo of their city and it also resulted in a calendar. The Sao Paulo project was organised by Streetwise Opera‘s With One Voice and The People’s Palace Projects with support from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK and The British Council. Knowles says that keeping the MyManchester project small has worked. “It depends on the [size of the] organisation. If there were five people who want to do it, we would do it with five, and focus on how many people want to be involved rather than getting as many cameras out as possible.”
When asked about what made it so successful Knowles said the project wouldn’t have happened without the support of Café Art and the Booth Centre. “You need to find the [homelessness sector] organisation you want to work with. That’s the foundation you need to build off I think. I would say don’t try to make something bigger than it needs to be. Just keep it at the level that people are comfortable with.” Croome added “What made it really valuable was the workshops about photography.” The project only cost The Booth Centre £350 says Croome. The most expensive costs were buying the single use cameras and the developing. Knowles stressed the importance of creating relationships with other partners, stressing the huge support they received from the local photo developing shop Jessops who gave huge discounts. See the exhibition at Chapter One Books, 19 Lever Street, Manchester until 1 April. If you would like to host the exhibition in Manchester, discuss your organisation being involved in the MyManchester project, or help with sponsorship for future workshops please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like advice about doing a similar project in any other city contact email@example.com.