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Inspiring Islington: photography exhibition to launch at Museum

PUBLISHED: 16:00 03 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:00 03 April 2019

Inspiring Islington features Patrick Lawson, who was voted London's happiest bus driver. Picture: Kimi Gill.

Inspiring Islington features Patrick Lawson, who was voted London's happiest bus driver. Picture: Kimi Gill.

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A two-month photography show about "local people who are doing extraordinary things" gets underway at Islington Museum this Friday (April 5).

The exhibition has been put together by the founder of the Islington Faces blog, Nicola Baird.The exhibition has been put together by the founder of the Islington Faces blog, Nicola Baird.

“There is a myth at the moment that you have to be the best at everything in order to have made something of your life,” says Nicola Baird, the curator of a photography exhibition opening at Islington Museum this week.

“I feel that is setting unobtainable standards,” she continues.

“Inspiring Islington is a good example of people being able to be proud of where they live, and celebrate the small moments of joy that make life meaningful.”

Talking to Baird for just a few moments, it becomes instantly clear of her passion for – and commitment to – celebrating our community.

Another person to be featured is Roshni Shah, a volunteer at Foodcycle Finsbury Park. Picture: Kimi Gill.Another person to be featured is Roshni Shah, a volunteer at Foodcycle Finsbury Park. Picture: Kimi Gill.

It was this sentiment that led her to set up the Islington Faces blog in 2012, and now, seven years later, her Inspiring Islington show will celebrate the unsung heroes who make a difference to the borough in their own unique way.

“The exhibition is about local people who are doing extraordinary things,” adds Baird.

“We wanted to show people who have made a real difference on a daily basis. Not in the way you see in newspapers, but in a quieter way.

“Maybe they have overcome some life challenges, been an inspiring example around the community, or maybe they have a particular skill that they share with people.

The portraits for Inspiring Islington and the Islington Faces blog are taken by Kimi Gill.The portraits for Inspiring Islington and the Islington Faces blog are taken by Kimi Gill.

“One woman, Raquel Siganporia, is a lawyer and in a wheelchair. She has been working on getting improved access on Upper Street, which is good for everyone in a wheelchair but also for people with buggies.”

Inspiring Islington will run at Islington Museum between Friday April 5 and Monday June 3.

The show will display portraits of 18 local people taken by Kimi Gill, with free entry and a programme of free events organised by those featured. Amidst our society’s clamour for celebrity culture, this is a refreshing change of pace.

Inspiring Islington will tell the story of Yemi Hailemariam – who successfully campaigned to release her partner after he was kidnapped and held on death row in Eithiopia – and Patrick Lawson, who was voted London’s happiest bus driver despite 20 years of living on the street.

Raquel Siganporia is a lawyer and a campaigner for improved facilities for disabled people. Picture: Kimi Gill.Raquel Siganporia is a lawyer and a campaigner for improved facilities for disabled people. Picture: Kimi Gill.

Also among the 18 are Roshni Shah, who volunteers at Foodcycle Finsbury Park, and a man who has supervised more than 400 weddings and civil partnerships at Islington Town Hall: Edgar Rogers.

So how did these people react when Baird asked them to be involved? “I think a lot of them were surprised; they aren’t celebrities, they are local people! But they trust the images and the interviews to be something that they can be really proud of.

“It’s going to be a real love-in for Islington. I know there is a lot of poverty and pain here, but actually it’s a very positive place to be. We want to help others feel that positivity.

“We are very lucky to have Islington Museum. Not everyone has been to it, so we want a whole new set of people coming in and thinking ‘wow!’”

Baird moved to Islington after university and now lives in Finsbury Park. She wants Inspiring Islington to be more than just “a static photography exhibition.”

To that end, the photo show will run alongside a series of walks, talks and workshops taking place throughout its two-month residency.

Visitors will be able to find creative inspiration in N1 with Jane Parker (April 9), pick the brains of Kimi Gill on what makes a great portrait photograph (May 25) and listen to talks hosted by Baird on ‘How to live your best life in Islington’ (April 27).

Of course, Baird’s vision for Inspiring Islington is a product of the success of her Islington Faces blog, which she updates weekly and now features portraits with snippets of a life story for 300 local residents.

Baird was working as a journalist when she decided to start the blog.

“I interviewed a man called Ron in Highbury – it didn’t have the right news hook but I thought ‘this is a great interview’ and realised that everyone has got a story to tell.

“I started up the blog – it’s quite similar to Spitalfields Life or Humans of New York. People I speak to think ‘oh, I’ve got nothing to say’, but you just try and focus on their life and find something that they really love. It helps if you are a nosy type of person – just asking them basic questions which turn from ‘how are you?’ to ‘who are you?’

“The blog has given me opportunities. It has been a lot of work – but it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like a pleasure to meet all these people. It’s such a great way of making life worth living.”

Inspiring Islington starts this Friday at Islington Museum. Entry is free. For more details, click here.

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