Throughout my childhood, I have always looked up to my mother, just watching how she interacts with the world through her creativity. My mother, Alicia Hoser, is a filmmaker and photographer. She has always had a passion for reframing society's flaws and judgments. Through her documentary style and approach, she has used her platform to expose issues in many problematic areas.
For example, when my mum lived in a women's refuge, she took it upon herself to document the intense, and at times the gritty side of living with uncertainty. More recently, she has been using her creative passions to bridge people together who may struggle with navigating their next steps forward, however big or small. Despite coming from difficult circumstances, this could be someone's desire to reach a particular job goal or simply waking up and getting themselves dressed in the morning. Everybody faces battles, internally and externally. As we ease out of lockdown, bridging people back together through creativity seems like a good place to start.
Alicia Hoser: My mum is a passionate creative, who works towards reframing the way that people access mental health service and creative opportunities altogether. “Everyone’s voice needs to be validated,” she says.
Currently, Alicia is venturing into a new work sector, mentoring people in recovery from any form of an addictive substance. I could see how important this training was to her. Reframing how mental health and support, in general, is used in recovery has always been something that my mum felt and feels strongly about. Growing up, our lives were a splatter painting. A regular discussion that I was exposed to would make me question the system and their intentions, the knowledge we lack and how trustworthy the information we were told.
Going right back to my young age at 11, mum and I landed a small box room in a women's refuge in north Finchley. We were suddenly in the company of 8 other residents, sharing a house and all from very different backgrounds. The one thing that bridged us all together was that we were all essentially "running" from something that was putting us in harm's way. The little office, where the workers would base themselves, on the bottom floor and always with the door open, was the most daunting part. It was like having freedom with a curfew. This was the first time I was exposed to how a system works for people in distressing situations.
Although they fulfilled the role and the protocols, there wasn't any drive to encourage our creativity, to think deeper about protecting our mental health in the future. Once my mother picked up her camera and started documenting the experience, other residents wanted to get involved, even adding their own ideas. This shifted from being "mum with a camera" to documenting the highs and lows as a collective. Binding over traumatic experiences through the creative medium made the experience of sharing far less daunting.
Alicia still carries her camera everywhere she goes. As a child, I just saw the camera as one of her staple accessories, as well as a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. After our short stay in the women's refuge, we started moving house every six months to a year, like ragged little dolls. We became so accustomed to the concept of moving house that we didn't really bother unpacking, settling or referring to it as "home". I think we started to refer to each stop-off point by its postcode. Ten years later, we have finally landed social housing, a two-bedroom flat in the heart of central London, King's Cross – what a feeling.
We have been there for a year, and the reality of this actually being our home is starting to resonate, slowly but surely. This is real, and we do not need to move again! We have both been adapting to this new stable life, which has taken some getting used to. In recent months, Alicia has decided to join an organisation that specialises in people in recovery. She is a participant in the mentoring training programme, where she is learning about the intricate details behind the scenes. Although she loves to capture the stories and social injustice through a camera, she is trying a more professional approach, which may have a louder impact in the long run. Creativity, of course, has an impact, but learning about the policies and communicative skills can give you a platform to hopefully make a difference.
In an attempt to combine provincial practice and her creative passions, Alicia created a photography event in Calfort community gardens. Recently, she created an event where the people on the programme can showcase some photos entitled "All about Camden". The intention was to set a task for the participants to capture Camden in whatever way they liked. This was a way of representing the mental health sector under the borough of Camden. A light-hearted idea, aiming to bridge people together, inviting conversation that is stimulating and interactive. Although a daunting experience for those who are or were in recovery, many participated and took the time to capture what they believe paints "Camden", all using iPhone devices.
This was to invite creative drive into people's lives, who may struggle to see that they can do it. It is easy to fall into a state of low self-esteem when you do not have someone giving you a chance to experience something new and stimulating. You could see how happy the participants were, seeing their own photography framed and positioned perfectly for the exhibition. I suppose it's a feeling of validation and reassurance that you have achieved something constructive. As my mother's daughter, looking at all of their work, I was taken aback by how much effort they had put into framing a "Camden:'' picture. Given a creative task like this, it makes you think about all those light-hearted and fun things that may be lost in adulthood. Simply looking at different streets for creative ideas and drive, talking to new people and thinking about colour, texture and focus. It shifts the focus.
I have to say; I am so proud of her. This event did not work towards a materialist or lavish achievement but recognises that people have been quite out of touch socially. The tasks that may seem like the biggest hurdles, like getting out of bed, and getting dressed, have overcome this and created something that represents all under-represented people. If people without a clean lifestyle and stable finances are given a chance, it's phenomenal what that does for somebody's confidence. Moving forward, Alicia plans to organise and facilitate more creative events with the hope that we will move towards a less judgemental, more supportive and creative future for people in vulnerable situations.
Each photograph captured a deeper and more personal story. It is fair to say that lived experience, traumatic chapters, produced such emotive content. Without intention, they all produced provincial photographs, all through the use of lived experience and digital devices. They haven't been through training to compose the perfect picture. They haven't received money to support the perfectly framed photograph. Naturally, It came together.
Creativity and a chance to be heard goes such a long way.