Transcript of interview with Lee Karen Stow

The video of this interview is on the exhibition homepage.

My name is Lee Karen Stow, I work as an independent photo journalist and I have a long running documentary project on the women of Sierra Leone called '42'.

It is an evolving collection of 42 images of the women and their daily lives. 42 because when I began the project in 2007 life expectancy for women in Sierra Leone was just 42. A year into the project I turned 42 and I looked at my life expectancy as a woman living in the West and it's 83, which is almost double. So I saw this as a violation of human rights actually, the right of every woman everywhere to have the opportunity to lead a long, healthy and fulfilling life.

So the project continued and it's evolving, it's growing, it's now ready to open as an exhibition at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool to coincide with the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.

Running parallel to me taking the photographs of the women in Sierra Leone, visiting Sierra Leone, staying the women in their homes, living with them, making field trips, I also teach the women digital photography skills at their request so that they can use photography either for creative expression, to advocate for change on an issue which affects them or to earn an income.

Some of the women are earning incomes through photography as professional photographers now in Sierra Leone. Rebecca, one of my students, will be with me to open the exhibition '42' at the International Slavery Museum, then Frances will be coming over later in the summer to take part in the Look11 International Photography Festival in Liverpool.

So it's a long running project that began as a two week workshop and it's now four years plus and still going strong and growing and building. It's just a joy to work with these women and to share skills, which is what we're doing - sharing skills in photography but also sharing skills in life and experiences as well because I learn more from the women than I think they learn from me about photography.

'The Woman I Am' project

The video of this interview is on the exhibition homepage.

The Sierra Leone project actually began with a series of photography workshops to the women of Sierra Leone and this week I've been back at the International Slavery Museum working with a group of women from the WAST project, the Women Asylum Seekers Together in Liverpool. About between a dozen, sixteen women from all parts of the world actually, from Tibet, the Congo, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana. Women who maybe they have done a little bit of photography before, snapshots, but they've never really focussed on using and using the camera to explore the things they like and things about themselves. I have to give enormous thanks and credit to these women because they've come here this week, many of them are going through horrendous difficulties either with red tape or forms or legal implications; or stress or worries about back home or their future here. And yet they've come in, picked up the cameras, they've listened to a few basic instructions, I've told them to break all the rules and they've gone out and they've taken some really good pictures and got into it. They've been very eager and keen with a desire to improve as well and to learn a skill. Their energy has just been a complete overwhelming buzz to the class, so its been a great experience, I've really enjoyed it and I think they have too.

The images that they've taken this week, they're looking at putting on their own exhibition at the Women's Organisation Centre, the new building. They're putting on an exhibition for International Women's Day showing their work and I think they're going to do a song as well.

Some of the images from '42' that I've taken of the women in Sierra Leone and some of the images that the women have taken this week in the WAST workshop will be available to view on the website, so please have a look at them - and come and see the exhibitions.