Curator Jody East spends a week installing the new exhibition 100 First Women Portraits at Brighton Museum.
On my first glance at the striking photographs of women who are the first in their respective field, I wasn’t sure whether I felt wholly personally inadequate surrounded by their achievements or incredibly inspired. Having now hung each one individually with the team at Brighton Museum, the overwhelming feeling is of pride and strength. Pride that so many women of this generation and the last have pushed the boundaries of expectation, and strength that so much is possible within all of us.
As the art technicians and I unwrapped each photograph, Anita began laying them out against the gallery walls. Each photo has its own energy and no two hangs across the tour venues are the same. Rather than hanging them in sections according to their ‘First’ (eg. sports woman, musician, engineer, scientist) Anita hangs the photos by how they feel in a particular space.
It has the power of recognising that each woman is so much more than the role within which she was photographed. It also means you can’t automatically skip to the groups you might think you are most interested in but are given the time and space to get to know each photograph.
As we were condition checking the work, Anita told us anecdotes of the photo shoots and the exhibition tour. Of the women who were so immersed in their work they forgot Anita was coming; of swimming with Beth French in the sea; of the family who visited the show in London and were delighted to see Lara Prior-Palmer wearing their Mongolian national dress in her photograph. Lara was given it as a gift for winning the Mongol Derby.
The old adage ‘never work with children or animals’ proved false in this project, with Carolynn Sells’ baby daughters sitting on her motorbike with her, and Charlotte Budd’s horses giving her a humorous nuzzle.
The photographs are full of personal detail. One incredible, composed, powerful woman can be seen to have chewed the skin on the cuticle of her thumb, a really sensitive insight captured by the photograph; others such as Chris Duffin were photographed at home in Hove, in marked contrast to her role as one of the Governors at HM Prison Strangeways.
As Anita herself says, this exhibition of 100 First Women is not a definitive list nor a final complete record. There are many firsts still to be achieved and there are many more women whose firsts are not yet known. When you visit the exhibition, make sure to add your ideas for the next 100 into the visitor book.
- For further ‘behind the scenes’ insights and anecdotes come to Anita Corbin’s talk at 12.30pm on 7 March, as part of our International Women’s Day Free event.
Jody East, Creative Programme Curator