This has been a long and overwhelming couple of days. For many of us.
It is hard to capture what it has been like but there has been little time to really reflect and process the whole experience and learning. My train journeys to and fro have been the only chance to think about what has been like bringing the voices and stories of Natasha, Natalia, Katie, Levi, Sarah Jane and Joanne inside Holyrood.
Yesterday Natasha, Natalia and Levi were VIP guests, coming in to see the exhibition. They also brought along their workers and friends. It was good to see them. We all hugged and when they were ready, I used my special pass and take them away from the public area.
I felt honoured to be guiding them through this amazing building to inside the parliament. They walked down the garden lobby, passing well known faces from the different political parties, to their own space and their exhibition. There was a buzz as they first saw it and then the group was silent as the realisation that this was their time, their moment, their stories were on show and being looked at and read by others. Our plans and talks about what was going to happen was no longer in the future. It was now. They were standing in it, very much present in Holyrood. They were glowing and shaking, smiling. They were happy.
They got the book and found themselves in it. Levi couldnt believe that her actual voice was there. She grinned and said, “That’s me. That’s what I actually said. You put that all in there”. Natalia was honest that it felt overwhelming, to see her voice and pictures. She stood back at one stage and watched other people looking at her work. Natasha was quieter, standing still and reading. She took time to absorb what she heard about how her photos had affected people.
At one stage Kathryn and I could no longer look at each other. We couldn’t hide that we were affected too. I looked in the mirror much later and realised I had spent the rest of the day talking to other people with spidery mascara tracks down my cheeks.
The group left. It was sad to see them walking away. We will see each other very soon.
Joanne and her worker came too. The afternoon was their time. It was so good to see them. Joanne really started this whole project off. I met with her over a year ago and we spoke at length about her story and her as yet unwritten future chapters. She had worked hard to get to know herself and what she wanted next. One thing she was sure of was that she wanted her reality inside the sex industry to be shared and hopefully make people really think what they could to support women and what needs to change. She recently was asked to make a training film for Police Scotland so already her voice IS making a changes.
Joanne really wanted to hear from and about the other women. She made the connections between them all, the common threads. It was tough at times. She hated the thought of what the other women had experienced. She hated the thought that other women were still going through it. That day.
Kathryn and her met for the first time. I know they will get on. Joanne wants to explore her story more and Kathryn will guide her and help her make her ideas a reality. She has new stories to add as some of her former unwritten chapters are now taking shape.
She had a full afternoon planned. Sightseeing and tour bus-ing lay ahead. Saying goodbye, there were more hugs. She gives the best ones. Proper squeezy. We are going to meet very soon for a catch up. A long dander around a local lake sounds good.
Today it was Katie’s time. I had a wave of excitement when I spotted her over an MSPs shoulder, who quickly got dingied. Katie’s worker was there too with her generous smile.
When Katie was ready, we all turned around to see the exhibition.
I loved seeing her face reacting to see her own pictures up there, the process of searching, finding, smiling and settling. Her smile turning to confused amazement and pleasure that her ideas were there with a spotlight on them. She was keen to hold the book and we hunted to find her chapter with a “That’s ALOT of pages” when she finally flicked through them. She wanted to see the other women’s photos, to hear their stories, to find about their journeys. She spent time with her own work and I told her about what people had said and their reactions.
Katie wrote her first blog here about opening doors and her final picture is in the book is ‘Way out’. Today someone may have opened a door for her. I won’t say anything more as this is Katie’s ongoing story and life. She will choose what to share about what that open door could be. She may well be at the blogging again in the near future.
Sarah-Jane will be with us tomorrow. She has yet to take her pictures but I know she will produce some beautiful work. Her story is already full of amazing images. It will be lovely to have her there and hear her sharp wit and warm voice.
There have been so many people coming to see the exhibition. A constant stream at times. We’ve had people leave their organised tours to look at the photos. A small group broke away from an induction tour to join us. We’ve had parliamentary assistants, researchers, interns, building support staff, IT workers and MSPs. They gave Natasha, Natalia, Katie, Levi, Sarah Jane and Joanne their time and the women appreciate it.
Seeing the photos on display is a very different experience than seeing them in print or online. They invite you in and people are drawn to different images – whether that is Katie’s Easy Money purse, Natalia’s Family Together circle, Levi’s hands ‘Locked in Bondage’ hands or Natasha’s ‘I feel different’ flowers. People have been impressed with their skills and talents with some incorrect assumptions that these are Kathryn’s work. Some want reassurance that is actually the women’s own work. “Surely these women must have done a course?”
Let’s make it clear. This IS their work. This is what THEY produced. Not me. Not Kathryn. The credit lies with Natasha, Natalia, Katie and Levi.
Tomorrow is our last day inside parliament. It will no doubt be interesting. Already we are thinking of the next stage, the next chapter.
The exhibition goes out there on Friday. To Aberdeen on Friday where we have been invited to share the women’s voices and art work. On Thursday to Dundee and Kathryn. She is inviting us inside her studio where her team will have installed the exhibition overnight. A whole new adventure begins, as from Saturday it is open to the public.