In recognition and celebration of the centenary of women’s right to vote, a group of female lecturers and graduates from Falmouth’s Institute of Photography were recently invited to take part in a national photography project, raising the profile of women in politics.
The project, 209 Women, commissioned 209 female photographers to photograph the 209 female members of parliament.
Lottie Davies, Lecturer on BA(Hons) Press and Editorial Photography, Michelle Sank, Senior Lecturer on BA(Hons) Photography, Hannah Starkey, Visiting Professor to the Institute of Photography, and Wendy McMurdo, Module Leader on MA Photography and one of the Royal Photographic Society’s Hundred Heroines, were all part of the project.
Falmouth graduates also contributed: Chloe Rosser and Kate Peters from BA(Hons) Photography, and Maisie Marshall from BA(Hons) Press and Editorial Photography.
The 209 Women is an artist-led project, championing the visibility of women. It was founded by Hilary Wood, who wanted to give the photographers total freedom of expression, creating something new that highlighted the women who are leading change. There are a diverse range of styles, from classic portraiture to fashion photography.
Michelle Sank photographed Yvonne Fovargue, MP for Makerfield, Wigan. She told us: "It has been really empowering to work on this project and to be part of such an inspiring concept about the celebration of women in such a context. My MP YVonne Favargue was extremely collaborative through the process and her choice of wearing the Wigan football scarf added an interesting dimension to the image."
Lottie Davies photographed Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham. She told us: “I am delighted to be contributing to 209 Women. When Hilary first approached me to take part I was impressed with both the ambition of the project and the sense of inclusion and energy which has been injected into what has become a ground-breaking series of images.”
Hannah Starkey photographed Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford and a former Secretary of State. She agreed that it was a momentous project:
“The 209 Women project was very exciting. It was conceived to celebrate the record number of sitting female MPs, 32% of the current house. In a political sense it was immaculate timing by the organisers of the exhibition. The show opened to the public on one of the most tumultuous weeks of recent political history. It was the night before the government lost the vote and the day when 100 years earlier women were able to vote in the general election for the very first time. For me, it’s perfectly timed in photography terms as well. Photography has also been going through its own revolution.”
Lottie agreed: “Women are a distinct minority in the world of professional photography, and like women in politics, have been making themselves more visible and vocal in our industry over recent decades. 209 Women has proved to be an example of a large group of independent people coming together to create an exhibition which is greater than the sum of its parts and of its collective members. I am proud to be a small part of this significant celebration of women and our growing contribution to public and political life in the UK.”
Hannah added: “[Photography] has become a major currency in communication and women are now taking back control of their image after centuries of the male gaze. Female photographers have never been so plentiful. It’s important to have highly intelligent and talented female photographers to make highly visually intelligent images of highly intelligent women for the world to see. This is how we change the culture – it’s exciting to be part of that.”
Academic staff at Falmouth frequently collaborate on high-profile projects like this. It is part of the continual development of their individual professional practices and research, which they nurture alongside their teaching responsibilities.
Lottie told us: “I feel privileged to have made a new friend in Sarah Champion. [She] is a very impressive woman. She is direct, outspoken, passionate, driven, perceptive, wry, strong, irreverent, sexy, clever and funny. And a lot of other things; too many to fit into one portrait. I wanted to reflect her determination, her dynamism and her femininity.
Hannah was also inspired by her MP, Yvette Cooper: “After meeting Yvette and shadowing her for a day in her constituency, I was inspired to make a portrait that spoke of the heroic qualities of leadership. The portrait was designed to be emblematic.”
Hannah’s stunning image of Yvette, shot in a restaurant in Hackney, is full of symbolism and meaning: “The background is wallpaper on which hung a clock with no hands. I saw how this location could house many connections. The formality of the circle behind Yvette’s profile has associations to power and status, such as a coin or medal and the clock face with no hands spoke to me of time’s dual nature (of being both linear and circular at the same time).
“The central positioning of the figure against the clock encourages the viewer to make connections with a coin design, but it also forms a halo or a disk of light that in the history of art traditionally surrounded a saintly figure. I liked how the clock allowed for all these interpretations.” [Read the full Q&A with Hannah here.]
Maisie Marshall, 2018 graduate from BA(Hons) Press & Editorial Photography photographed Jessica Morden, MP for Newport East. She told us: “I was honoured to be a part of such a national project, celebrating female photographers and politicians. It is great to see equality being addressed in parliament as well as the photography industry.”
This was a big project for Maisie, who added: “I think that my lecturers and friends helped me to build my confidence to go out and take on commissions like this. My lecturers taught me the importance of ethics in my work, helping me to know how to represent my subjects in the right way. It was not only the lecturers though, but the amazing tech and stores staff who I don’t think get half as much credit for all the work that they do for the students. They were there to answer endless questions about camera equipment and software.”
The 209 Women exhibition is being delivered in partnership with Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool City Council, the Royal Photographic Society and The Sorority. It is being shown at Portcullis House in Westminster until 14 February, after which it will be travelling to the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. Free tickets are available here.