Photographic exhibition to challenge perceptions of Norfolk street workers

An exhibition of photographs of Norfolk street workers is to be staged in Norwich in a bid to challenge people's perceptions.

The Perception exhibition is a collaboration between people who work in the sex industry and the healthcare professionals who support them and their families.

Lead by the Matrix Project – a team of NHS professionals which offers a confidential service centred on the specific health needs of sex workers, and former sex workers – the event opens to the public at the Forum in Norwich from Monday, May 9, to Saturday, May 14.

Matrix manager Debbie Chedgey said the exhibition was not about shocking people, nor was it about titillation, or 'promoting' the sex industry.

She said: 'It's about making ordinary people stop and re-address their preconceived ideas about 'what' or 'who' a sex worker is – what their perception of the sex industry is, and how that might be quite far from the truth.'

Each of the 24 images, to be displayed in the atrium of the Forum, will also be supported by the words of the individuals as they reflect on their lives and personal stories. An audio recording of the people talking about themselves will also be available as part of the exhibition.

Artist and photographer Anita Staff spent time with her 'subjects' to get a real insight into their lives and to ensure the finished photographs capture how they wanted to be portrayed.

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She said: 'Many of the people I photographed told me that they had suffered some kind of abuse and had been exploited from a young age. Understandably, most had very little self-esteem or self-worth.

'But not one person saw themselves as a 'victim' or was self-pitying.

'There was humour, kindness and incredible hope that taking part in this exhibition might just make others stop and think. Most of those who took part said they did it because they wanted to save other people like them from heading down the same path.'

The Matrix, which is part of Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, supports around 500 men and women every year, with a mobile unit which travels to the red light district in Norwich around four times each week, as well as offering drop-in clinics at a local health centre.

It also offers much-needed support to the families of sex workers, often affected by this lifestyle.

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