Inside the trailblazing photography exhibition highlighting the rise of women in politics

Ellen Peirson-Hagger
Photo credit: Hannah Starkey

From Harper's BAZAAR

“When we take down those pictures of David Cameron, John Major and Tony Blair, and we put up 209 images of women, it will be a shock. It will be emotional. It will be women politicians doing what they have never done before,” said Alison McGovern MP last night. The MP for Wirral South joined Lisa Tse, founder and president of the Sorority, and Hilary Wood, photographer, lecturer and curator of the 209 Women exhibition, to celebrate the forthcoming launch of the ground-breaking photographic project.

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The historic venture will see new portraits of all 209 women MPs, shot exclusively by women photographers, displayed on the first floor of Portcullis House. The exhibition will be open to the public for free from 14 December, 100 years to the day that the first women cast their votes in the 1918 election.

“We want to change the perception of what a woman in power looks like,” said Tse, who has led the Sorority, the private society for pioneering women, in supporting the initiative. “I hope that young girls will look up at the walls and think, ‘That could be me.’”

Photo credit: Julia Fullerton-Batten

The 209 portraits have been shot by established and emerging photographers working all over the UK in disciplines including fashion, fine art and documentary photography. The result is a diverse and fascinating series that makes for a visually exciting display. “It is important that the exhibition reflects the photographic talent that exists across the country. It’s a democratic project,” said Wood, whose portrait of McGovern, her local MP, became the first in the series.

Photo credit: Hilary Wood

The current art collection of Portcullis House consists, in Wood’s words, of portraits “of men, by men. There will instead be 209 pairs of female eyes looking down on the inner workings of Parliament, as a reminder to always think more about equality in our day-to-day lives.”

McGovern, who also sits as the Chair of the Speakers Advisory Committee for Works of Art, spoke about the historical importance of championing the visibility of women at a time when female MPs still only make up 32 per cent of the House of Commons. “The 209 women who are in office today make up almost half of the number of women MPs there has ever been,” said McGovern. “We still have a long way to go, but this a huge moment in our history and we are capturing it in portrait form.”

Photo credit: Polly Penrose
Photo credit: Lottie Davies
Photo credit: Rhiannon Adam
Photo credit: Jane Hilton

209 Women will be on shown to the public, for free, at Portcullis House from 14 December 2018 to February 2019. It will then travel to Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery. Book tickets here, and read more about the exhibition here.

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