UNION by Natalie Willatt
Exhibition at Spode Museum
20th September – 5th November 2023
As Photographer in Residence in the historic town of Stoke, Natalie Willatt has worked alongside diverse communities, each a part of the town, and each welcoming her to their places of congregation. With a focus on belief and faith, in its broadest sense, Natalie’s main interest is in the behaviours and gestures of people partaking in worship, music, football and heritage.
The exhibition is the culmination of a two year residency as part of Picturing High Streets. During this time Natalie has worked collaboratively with individuals and communities, attending events, leading workshops and photo-walks and documenting people’s lives. The photographs, exhibited at the museum, including in the new community garden space, show congregation, community and union. They offer an alternative view to the commonly held idea of a neglected high street where a celebration of life can still be found behind closed doors.
Photographer Natalie Willatt says; ‘Stoke is derived from the Old English stoc, a word that at first meant little more than place, but which gained more specific connotations. These variant meanings included meeting place and place of worship. In dancing with church goers at the close of a thanksgiving service; being one of many voices singing Delilah in the wake of a football win; observing a moment of quiet reflection over Diwali candles and in pausing to listen between bell rings I have found moments of reflection, expressions of faith and a celebration of community.’ ‘I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone involved with the project including people at: Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Living Water Parish Church, Stoke Minster, including their bell ringers, Staffordshire Community Choirs, The Kings Hall Northern Soul all-nighters, Ye Olde Bull and Bush, Spode Museum, WonderWomen, The Social Agency, Our People Our Places photography group, the family histories group at Stoke Library and photography students and staff at Staffordshire University.’
The residency is for Picturing England’s High Streets, which is a three-year project as part of the national cultural programme for Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zones.
For more information about the national programme and projects happening across England please visit www.photoworks.org.uk