209 Women

My favourite thing about exhibitions is the sense of urgency they offer. A feeling of desperation to not miss out on a spectacular show that can be put up, and pulled down just as quickly. A show which everybody gains a different experience from and can relate to in a different way, an experience that lingers in the back of your mind. For me, it’s exhibitions with a purpose and a meaning which have the most impact. Sure, it’s nice to stroll around a room and look at some pretty paintings on the wall but if it doesn’t make me think, I lose interest easily.

I recently went to see the 209 Women exhibition in the Open Eye Gallery and it’s certainly one that had a lasting impact. I’ve followed this project from the very beginning and kind of watched it grow via Twitter and Instagram – not necessarily because I’m fascinated by politics, I’m definitely not – but because I’m fascinated by the collaborative aspect of this project. Politics and photography are completely different industries, worlds apart in fact, but they are both male-dominated fields which significantly underrepresent women. 209 Women champions the visibility of women today and highlights how much progress has been made towards gender parity, as well as provoking thought about what else is still left to be done.

The exhibition launched in the Houses of Parliament on December 14 2018, to mark 100 years to the day since (some) women headed to the polling station to cast their first ever vote in a UK general election. Photographic portraits of female MPs shot by 209 established and emerging female photographers were pinned to the walls of parliament for all to be seen in a free exhibition. The 209 portraits then travelled to Liverpool to be exhibited in the Open Eye Gallery, where the entire set including the portraits of Sinn Féin MPs who abstained from showing their images in the Houses of Parliament, are on display.

On the surface the exhibition seeks to elevate the importance of women in power. However, it also offers a subtle insight into how women are represented in the photographic industry. There has been an increasing number of movements, campaigns, and initiatives set up in order to showcase female photographers after many of them have shared experiences of sexism and judgment in the industry. The importance of female photographers is supported by a female’s ability to connect with their subject on a deeper intimate level and build a trusting relationship with their model. This sensitive approach often leads to a visual story which is much more honest and provides a true representation.

This sensitive approach and trusting rapport can be identified in the 209 photographs which hang on the walls of the Open Eye. The diversity of portraiture which portrays the females MPs as not just female MPs but as mothers, swimmers and even doctors draws out the individuality of each MP in a collective of powerful, determined women. Offering a true representation of not only women in politics but also women in photography. The photographs on the wall really made me think about how powerful unlikely collaborations can be.

Despite the project championing women, it’s certainly not just for women. If you’re interested in politics, go and have a nosey at 209 Women. If you’re interested in photography, go and have a nosey at 209 Women. If you’re interested in neither politics or photography, go and have a nosey at 209 Women. But, be quick the exhibition is only up until April 14 – can you feel that sense of urgency I was talking about?

-Em

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