Unheard Voices

Unheard Voices by Alan Compton

The health and social care inequalities and needs of black communities in the UK are highlighted in Alan Compton’s latest project, Unheard Voices.

Compton is working with the African Advocacy Foundation (AAF) on the ongoing project.

AAF works with communities in the UK and overseas. It tackles issues including sexual health, violence against women and girls, female genital mutilation (FGM) and mental health issues.

CCLA in London Bridge recently hosted an exhibition of the work, along with speakers from numerous NGOs.

The event brought people together to discuss their common goals from perspectives including advocacy, community support groups and scientific research.

It was the beginning of a touring project that will bring the exhibition to communities around Europe.

Compton explains how he came to work with the AAF and create these stunning images.

Unheard Voices © Alan Compton

Hope versus a darker reality

“I work exclusively with NGOs,” says Compton. “Between commissioned work I like to do pro bono projects with grass-roots organisations that have amazing and important stories to tell but don’t know how to tell them.

“I was in Brussels last year documenting the migrant community for Care4Calais and one of their volunteers asked if I would like to meet Denis Onyango who runs the African Advocacy Foundation in London.

“The first time I visited AAF, within minutes, I’d received hugs and traditional African food and that’s all I need to commit to a new pro bono gig.”

Compton and the team agreed an exhibition would be a great way to bring people together to discuss BAME issues.

“I did a couple of casual portrait shoots but I wasn’t loving the images I was getting,” he says.

“I realised I needed to take a more conceptual approach to capture the beauty of this community in a way that represented the journey they’d all been through.

“The literal journey that took them from Africa to the UK as well as the mental and emotional journeys they’d gone through such as their AIDS diagnosis, mental health issues and FGM.

“I was inspired by images that depicted the Windrush generation arriving in the UK and what that represented – the hope for a new beginning, the excitement of discovering a new world, contrasted with so many darker realities.”

AAF came up with the title Unheard Voices.

It works as a ‘perfect umbrella term’ reaching across multiple issues involving communities whose voices need to be heard.

Compton hopes giving them that voice will change perceptions and chip away at stigma.

Unheard Voices © Alan Compton

Walking into another world

This first stage of the project contains 15 images.

Each one represents a different issue, emotion or sentiment regarding the challenges faced by the BAME communities.

“The only challenge in this project was to create images that AAF and the people they serve really connected to – images that they would look at and feel as if they’ve been understood, respected and loved,” says Compton.

“It’s incredibly pleasing to hear their reaction to the work and I think it all comes down from a mutual appreciation and emotional connection between us.

“It’s that classic thing where the subject reveals themselves once they reach a level of trust with the photographer.

“The highlight of this project is being able to walk into another world and subject matter that I knew nothing about and get to meet and bond with people, hear their stories and feel welcomed by them.

“On an artistic side, I love the work we created together.

“I’m very keen on developing a tableau style to my work. This is the first time I have been able to try and achieve that kind of look and feel.”

Unheard Voices © Alan Compton

Unheard Voices

Alan Compton and the AAF are currently looking at options for where the project will be exhibited next.

Dates and locations for exhibitions, produced by Louise Harding, will be announced soon.

The next step of Unheard Voices is to shoot a new series of images entirely focused on FGM.

Spectrum Photographic produced C-type prints for the CCLA exhibition.

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