Photography project puts women in the frame

4th December, 2018
Marta Soul And Gill Furniss 2

Tell us a little about the project, how did it emerge and who had the initial idea?

‘209 Women’ is a national Project funded by Hilary Wood, aiming to champion the visibility of women in arts and politics, two particularly male-dominated worlds. The idea consists of 209 female photographers making pictures of an equal number of female MPs across the UK. 

On 14th December 1918, women voted for the first time in the UK, the same year that the first female MP was elected. One hundred years on, this project marks such a significant moment in history, also highlighting the ongoing need for gender equality within the society.

I am one of the 209 photographers taking part in the Project. The picture that I am presenting is a portrait of MP Gill Furniss for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough. 

How did you come to be involved in the project and why was it interesting to you?

I have been taking portraits for years, and I also support the feminist positions, so both concepts, taking portraits and the representation of women, were significant to me. When Hilary Wood, main curator of the project, sent me an email with a proposal to take part in the project, I was really excited to be involved.

I think that women in photography have fewer professional opportunities than men, and often we receive less recognition than men. Women’s work is less represented in galleries or shown in exhibitions, photo festivals or art fairs. For instance, the presence of women in Paris Photo (https://collectordaily.com/fem... ) or Arles Festival (http://www.bjp-online.com/2018...) was clearly underrepresented. These are two of the most important photography events at a global level, showing that female photographers are a seen as a minority.

I considered that 209 women was an important project with a legitimate cause. It shows the actual volume of female photographers currently working in the UK, as well as the importance of female politicians, another example of women in minority. Being from Spain, the first thing that I thought when I received the proposal was exporting the idea to my country’s reality. These kinds of initiatives have to be shown to the public.

Picture For The Exhibition

What inspires your photography? What was behind the idea to produce these pictures?

I didn’t know about Gill Furniss before taking the photo. When you haven’t met the people that you are portraying, it is important to think about what these people might inspire. I had to do a bit of research before taking the pictures. 

Gill Furniss is a Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Steel, Postal Affairs and Consumer Protection. Her father was a steel worker and she seemed to be passionate about the steel industry.

At first, I considered taking the picture more closely in relation with this background (steel industry), like using a location more clearly identified with this industry in Sheffield.

However, I realised that this idea could be a good representation of Gill’s personal experience, but it would not tell anything about me: I am not from Sheffield and my previous relation with this type of industry is very limited.

I thought about what Gill and me had in common, and I came up with the idea of people as the link between her and myself. I usually work creating images with people showing different sides of themselves. I love producing scenes and situations in the interplay between reality and fiction. 

Gill Furniss is a female politician, very engaged with others’ concerns, she works protecting consumers and this is something obviously affecting all of us.

I ended up using different characters as a background for the portrait. The initial idea was to place Gill into a crowd. The problem was how to define a crowd, and deciding what characters could represent it.

It is impossible to represent all types of people in one picture, so I decided to include friends, relatives and a people closer with Gill and myself, mixed together. People that one could meet on a normal day in Sheffield. That made things so much easier! The final picture integrates members of my family and Gill’s family, with some friends too.

Preparation 2

What were some of the challenges you faced bringing this project to life?

Taking pictures with children is not the easiest thing in the world. They usually don’t feel very comfortable adopting a pose. I initially had five children in the scene but two of them were tired and decided not to take part during the session.

During the whole session a burglar alarm was making a really loud and annoying noise - none of us knew what was going on, add that to trying to keep the pose in that heat, and the last five minutes became quite stressing. 

People began feeling tired but I used this as an opportunity to captured their disturbed expressions.

I have to say that Gill was acting like a professional model, all the time she was very patient with all those incidents. Recalling it, I see that the moment was a bit peculiar but good fun for all!

Where can people see the work?

It is curated by Hilary Wood, (founder of '209 Women' and photographer), Tracy Marshall (Director of Development and Partnerships at Open Eye Gallery, Co- Director of Northern Narratives arts initiative) and Cheryl Newman (Artist, curator and former Director of Photography of the Telegraph magazine). After that, it will travel to the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool.