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Deta Hedman
Deta Hedman | © Anita Corbin
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Powerful Photo Show Celebrates 100 Pioneering British Women

Picture of Freire Barnes
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 2 May 2018
Anita Corbin’s decade-long photographic project to create portraits of 100 pioneering women opens in London this July. First Women UK celebrates a diverse array of British women, from musician Suzi Quatro to Olympic gold medal-winner Nicola Adams.

In the UK today, we take for granted the fact that we can vote from the age of 18. Yet, only a hundred years ago, women were still denied this right. In the wake of the first World War, the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918, allowing all men over 21, and all women over 30 years old (based on property ownership), the right to vote. This meant that roughly 8.4 million women could have their say in the December general election. By 1928, the act was extended to allow all women over 21 years of age, regardless of property ownership, the right to vote.

As we celebrate the success of women’s suffrage with the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, reportage photographer Anita Corbin has brought together a powerful collection of her portraits of British women, all of whom can claim the title of the first in their field.

‘From ages 18 to 102-years old and in fields of expertise covering everything from beatboxing to bomb detection, I wanted to create an impressive visual story of female potential, fantastic role models that will hopefully inspire other women and men, of all generations, now and in the future,’ said Corbin.

‘In a long history dominated by notable males, First Women UK asks “What is it about women that can inspire you?”’

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Nicola Adams MBE, First Woman win British Olympic and European Games boxing gold | © Anita Corbin

Since the 1980s, Corbin, who studied at the Royal College of Art, has sought to document women through the male-dominated genre of photography. At 22 she created the Visible Girls project, which captured the spirit of young women from various subcultures embracing their individualism and readdressing female identity. Some 36 years later Corbin revisited the project as many of her subjects had got in touch, and the Visible Girls Revisited exhibition was opened. It is currently touring the UK, and will be held at 3CA in Bristol from September 6 to October 4, 2018.

Continuing her commitment to documenting women, for the past ten years Corbin has photographed a range of inspiring women of all ages who have excelled in their professions, from sport and the military to arts and politics. Spurred by the lack of female statues in Parliament Square, which just last week was reevaluated with the unveiling of Gillian Wearing’s sculpture of Suffragette Millicent Fawcett, Corbin celebrates 100 years of women’s extraordinary achievements through 100 powerful portraits.

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Suzi Quatro, First Woman to play bass in and front a Glam rock Band | © Anita Corbin

In First Women UK, you’ll encounter ordinary women as well as familiar celebrity faces that over the years have all paved the way for future female generations to believe they can achieve their goals regardless of their sex.

From the Rt Hon. Betty Boothroyd, who was the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons, and Dany Cotton, the first woman Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, to Suzi Quatro, who was the first woman to play bass in a Rock n Roll band and Angela Rippon, who was the first woman to read the news regularly on BBC TV, the exhibition is a vibrant reflection of the successes of women from all walks of life.

Here we’ve selected our highlights from the exhibition.

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Kelly Gallagher, First Woman to win British Winter Paralympic gold | © Anita Corbin
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Dame Stephanie Shirley, First Woman president of the British Computer Society | © Anita Corbin
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Deta Hedman, First Woman to defeat a man in a televised UK open darts championship | © Anita Corbin
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Rachel Whiteread, First Woman to win the Turner Prize | © Anita Corbin
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Dany Cotton, First Woman Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade | © Anita Corbin
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Alison de Burgh, First Woman fight director (stage and screen) | © Anita Corbin
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Nicola Sturgeon, First Woman to be made First Minister for Scotland | © Anita Corbin
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Rev Rose Hudson Wilkin, First Woman to be made the Speaker’s Chaplain | © Anita Corbin
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Charlotte Budd, First Woman to ride in the Grand National | © Anita Corbin
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Jade Jones, First Woman to win a gold medal at the inaugural Youth Olympic games in Singapore | © Anita Corbin
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Baroness Shirley Williams, First Woman to chair the Oxford University Labour Club | © Anita Corbin
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Col Lucy Giles, First Woman to be commander of RMA Sandhurst | © Anita Corbin
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Angela Rippon, First Woman to read the news regularly on BBC TV | © Anita Corbin
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Josie Rourke, First Woman to be made Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse | © Anita Corbin
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Rt Hon. Betty Boothroyd, First Woman Speaker of the House of Commons | © Anita Corbin
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Rosie Boycott, First Woman to edit a broadsheet newspaper | © Anita Corbin

First Women UK is on at Dyson Gallery, Royal College of Art, Riverside, 1 Hester Road, London, SW11 4AN from July 20 to August 22, 2018. Free entry. Open daily 12-5pm.

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