Photo Oxford Press Release: Strength & Resilience with The Gatehouse

3 November 2020

Photo Oxford 2020 has been running from 16 October to 16 November 2020 in venues and pub- lic spaces across Oxford and online.

Women & Photography: Ways of Seeing and Being Seen, this year’s festival theme, celebrates women behind and in front of the lens: photographers, photographic subjects, curators, re- searchers, and collectors. It features exhibitions, displays, talks, workshops and other events in venues, outdoors and online. The festival brings together local Oxford communities and in- ternational photography.

One of the festival projects, planned since before the pandemic, is ‘Strength and Resilience’, a series of portraits by Fran Monks of the women involved with The Gatehouse Project, a drop in cafe and community centre for the homeless and vulnerably housed in Oxford. This registered charity is led by women and has many long-term female volunteers and guests.

During the COVID19 pandemic The Gatehouse continued to work for their community by provid- ing food by delivery and take away. They also gave one-to-one support to those in need. During the first lockdown many street homeless were housed and tenant protection was provided to the vulnerably housed. However, there remains much uncertainty about the future.

These portraits celebrate the strength and resilience of the women of The Gatehouse community. We have depicted staff, volunteers and guests side by side as we recognise the significance of their achievements. We hope people will look at these portraits and consider the important contri- bution to society made by each woman, regardless of their housing status.

The portraits are displayed outdoors in the St Giles churchyard, in front of the church and facing the Woodstock Road, where they will remain until after the lockdown, available to view during ex- cursions for outdoor exercise .

Rev. Andrew Bunch, Vicar at St Giles Church, wrote:

“The pandemic that we are going through is giving lots of people a hard time. There is a sense of fear just beneath the surface for many of us, the security of our world has been shaken and we are quite unsure about the future. How should we react, what models have we which are relevant to this kind of situation?

People who are homeless have been living with this kind of situation for years. Their lives are full of uncertainty, there is little security for them. So how do they cope? Have a look at the photo ex- hibition in St Giles churchyard to see what has enabled women, who have been made homeless, to cope with their situation. Yes, they know about vulnerability and insecurity, but these women shine a light on how to cope, make the best of it and actually discover a real and living beauty in life in such circumstances. There is determination, a desire to work with others, a digging deep into their own resources and a deep respect for one another whatever the status or life style. They recognise that we are all human beings capable of loving one another and creating a community which gives each other a sense of value. Their very vulnerability and insecurity has made them realise the true values that make life worth living.

Look at the pictures, see what you can learn from them and let their example give you a sign of hope in these difficult and trying times.”

Fran Monks, photographer, wrote:

“I am trying to keep positive by making portraits in new and interesting ways to reflect the times that we live in.

In September, I had the opportunity to make some images of the women involved in an Oxford Homelessness charity called the Gatehouse. The Gatehouse is a drop in cafe and community centre led by women and has many long-term female volunteers and guests. The portraits cur- rently form an outdoor exhibition, which will continue until mid November, as part of Photo Ox- ford. The theme of the festival is Women and Photography, and we’ve titled the image series “Strength and Resilience”. The aim is to recognise the impressive ability of many of the women connected to the Gatehouse to cope with what life throws at them.

We initially started planning to make these portraits at the end of 2019, when no one could have predicted how 2020 would unfold. We were going to do the photography in May, which turned out to be deep lockdown and so we postponed. After deciding that we could go ahead with the pho- tos outdoors in September, I started thinking about how we could make striking images which recognised the power of these women, but also that we were in the middle of a pandemic. I had the idea about using a sneeze screen just in time to order one before the shoot. As I worried about its timely arrival, I ordered another smaller one to be sure. In fact, I think having two screens worked really well and allowed more variety of images.

I loved the visual effect of the reflections on the perspex and glass and also the possible metaphorical interpretation that the screens symbolise the invisible barriers faced by those who are vulnerably housed.

On the day of the shoot, I set up my backdrop and sneeze screens in the courtyard outside St Giles Church hall, where the Gatehouse normally operates. People dropped in one at a time for their picture session so that there were never more than 6 people there. We had a lovely sunny day, thankfully, and I really enjoyed meeting and chatting to guests, volunteers, workers and one of the charity’s founders.

I was very keen that all the portraits were similarly respectful, and I hope that people will look at the pictures when they are displayed and consider the important contribution to society made by each woman, regardless of their housing status.”

This exhibition was made possible with support from The Pye Charitable Trust and Oxford City Council Culture Fund. Photography Oxford, the registered charity producing the Photo Oxford festival, seeks donations towards the festival costs through the Big Give link.

For further information or queries, please contact:

Danielle Battigelli, Festival Director, info@photooxford.org, 07811 469378

For high res images, please contact:

Fran Monks, fran@franmonks.com