1 September 2017
By Claire Cochrane, Stills’ Creative Learning programme

House | Work is a new partnership project between Stills Centre for Photography and Edinburgh Art Festival exploring themes of gendered perception within caring roles and the undervaluing of unpaid care. It is a funded project from The Spirit of Women Changemakers Grants Programme, which was set up by The Fawcett Society and Spirit of 2012. 

Here, Claire Cochrane who designs, manages and co-delivers Stills’ Creative Learning programme, recounts some of the creative outcomes of its initial taster sessions. The programme responds to a new exhibition at Stills by artist Kate Davis, with community groups in Edinburgh creating work in a series of workshops that will be showcased in an exhibition raising awareness of these themes.

Nudes Never Wear Glasses is Kate Davis' first solo exhibition in Edinburgh and has been created especially for the context of Stills. Bringing together a new photographic series with drawings and recent moving image works, Nudes Never Wear Glasses includes the first gallery presentation of her Margaret Tait Award film Charity (2017).

Charity takes artistic representations of breastfeeding as its focus, and explores how the essential - but largely invisible and unpaid - processes we employ to care for others could be re-imagined. In seeking to 're-vision' history, Davis' artwork often references the theory and practice of photography, placing it in relation to other mediums such as drawing and the moving image.

Using creative writing and photography we have worked with over 90 participants from several community groups in Edinburgh to explore the themes in Kate Davis’ exhibition.

In a series of taster sessions, artist Morwenna Kearsley has delivered photography workshops which have provided a platform for individuals to express themselves creatively.

Care for Carers worked in the darkroom, creating photograms in a loose and ‘care-free’ approach; Edinburgh Young Carers created darkroom prints, considering the visible and invisible processes involved in the process; the Young Mums group from the Citadel Youth Centre mused over gendered stereotypes. They thought about what it means to be a mother and made photographic portraits where their faces say one thing, but handwritten notes revealed an alternative, truer reality.

Poet Marjorie Lotfi Gill led creative writing sessions with The Grassmarket Project and Shakti Women’s Aid. Using Kate Davis’ film Weight as inspiration the groups created written pieces with ‘the House’ and ‘the House-Wife’ as central characters. The film was perceived by some as a tongue in cheek examination of women’s role in the house. A topic which transcends cultures and language – a ‘housewife’ is undervalued. The content of the film was taken from the ’60’s but the consensus was not much has changed. However, for some, we do have more choice – now some woman can choose to be a housewife, though with that choice comes judgement from those who believe we can ‘have it all’.

For those who have engaged with the taster session and want to develop their skills further Stills and Edinburgh Art Festival are now embarking on a Summer (Autumn) School programme.

At Stills, ten individuals with caring responsibilities have signed up for a six-week course where they will learn new photography skills and create work based on the themes of undervalued care. Artists Caroline Douglas and Morwenna Kearlsey will lead the sessions, providing expertise and space for participants to experiment and develop individual projects that will reflect their experiences. After the first week participants have shared their reasons for taking part;

“It is diverse from my usual pursuits and find it something new to learn away from family worries.”

“Having been made redundant and found it difficult to get employment I have been feeling quite anxious and depressed. The organisation I volunteer for gave me the opportunity to participate and, having always taken photos and qualified in design I thought it might help me move forward.”

“I wanted to explore the world of photography and see how I can impact my community and the society with photographs.”

The project will also continue to work with Edinburgh Young Carers project as they develop a resource for young people with caring responsibilities. Starting in September, in a series of creative sessions the group of 9-12 year olds will explore feelings associated with caring, for example confidence, self-esteem and understanding mental health (as many care for someone with mental health) in a gentle, fun and relaxed way. 

A touching poem from Shakti Women's Aid

We are looking forward to seeing the work produced and providing a platform for dialogue around the project themes. You can keep up to date via the project blog (https://housework2017.wordpress.com/) but in the meantime here is a very touching poem written by the women at Shakti.

This woman

            hears the alarm, the baby

            moaning for a feed, wakes

            needing the toilet.

            She makes the milk before

            she brushes her teeth.

This woman

            has no time for a cup of tea

            for herself, but makes one

            for everyone else (if she makes

            one for herself it goes cold;

            she’s always running, she can

            never drink in peace).

This woman

            has learned to feed herself

            when she feeds the children,

            or she goes hungry.

When everyone

            is gone and the baby is sleeping,

            she concentrates on the quiet

            of a shower, the peace

            of a moment for herself.

This woman

            like every woman, has her own

            doubts but has to seem confident

            under pressure. (Sometimes

            she loses her confidence but

           doesn’t let anyone know.)

This woman

           is busy with family: buggies,

           toys, pots and pans, clothes,

           mops, hoovers, and her marigolds.

           At the end of the day,

this woman

           opens a book, turns on

           the television, makes music,

           falls together with a cup

           of tea or whisky and enjoys

           her own life. (Because

           at that moment, the room

           is quiet, it is just her world.)

This woman

          has created beauty, and who

          can do more than that?

                        - Members of Shakti Women’s Aid Wednesday Group

About author

Claire studied Photography, Film and Imaging at Edinburgh Napier University and has been involved with Stills since 2009. Working with a range of contacts and partners, she designs, manages and co-delivers Stills’ Creative Learning programme.