From head spy to surrogate, exhibition celebrates Britain's female trailblazers

Reuters
"Once you're a first, you're always a first. The most important part of the picture is the woman and her energy and pioneering spirit." 
Reuters
Anita Corbin / Reuters

A portrait of Kelly Gallagher, the first woman to win a British Winter Paralympic gold, features in the “First Women UK” exhibition by photographer Anita Corbin.

From the first British woman to command a naval base to the first to head spy agency MI5 and the first to become a surrogate mother, a photo exhibition has documented the achievements of British women a century since they won the right to vote.

Photographer Anita Corbin spent more than a decade photographing 100 British women who have led their fields — including the arts, sports, military and science — for the exhibition at the Royal College of Art in London.

“It not only celebrates the 100 years of how far women have come, but it also shows the world that if you set your mind to something, you can be a pioneer,” said Anita Corbin ahead of her “First Women UK” exhibition opened on Friday. “Once you’re a first, you’re always a first. The most important part of the picture is the woman and her energy and pioneering spirit,” she said.

Anita Corbin / Reuters

A portrait of Reverend Rose Hudson Wilkin, the first British woman to be made the Chaplain of the Speaker of the House of Commons

The commercial photographer said she wanted to document the lives of “trailblazing” women, who often worked in male-dominated environments.

Her subjects include Dany Cotton, first female head of the London Fire Brigade; Elspeth Beard, the first British woman to ride a motorcycle around the world, and Nicola Sturgeon, the first female first minister of Scotland.

Anita Corbin / Reuters

A portrait of Lucy Giles, the first woman to be commander of military academy Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

“A lot of the women have had very difficult passages to get to those positions as you can imagine. They’re trailblazing in some of the hardest environments,” Corbin said.

Few women in Britain hold top positions and salary differences have attracted significant public attention, with large businesses required to publish pay gap figures this year.

Anita Corbin / Reuters

A portrait of Deta Hedman, the first woman to defeat a man in a televised UK open darts championship

Women working for the BBC have complained they are paid less than men in equivalent jobs and accused managers of misleading them about their pay to hide widespread gender discrimination at Britain’s public broadcaster.

The overall gender pay gap in Britain stands at 18.4 percent, according to government data published last year.

Corbin said there was still much more work to do to reach gender parity.

Anita Corbin / Reuters

A portrait of Elspeth Beard, the first woman to ride a motorcycle around the world

“It’s a positive celebration, a big pat on the back for everybody to get this far. It took a hundred years and this is where we are and there’s still a lot to do. There’s still a lot to change,” she said. 

“But I hope the collection will give people inspiration and hope that it’s possible to do what they want to do.”


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