EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN EXHIBITION
Extraordinary Women Project and Exhibition
I was very fortunate to have been invited by the Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network (NIRWN) to recently take part in a fantastic project called extraORDINARY Women in the Linenhall Library, Belfast. This included a wonderful day trip to Belfast along with a number of other women who took part in the #SELFIE Programme in 2020/1.
First, let me give you a little context about the #SELFIE Programme that I took part in. Co-ordinated by NIRWN, this programme was all about women supporting women and empowering you to build your self esteem and confidence. It was honestly one of the best things to happen to me over the past 12 months, providing me with new opportunities and meeting new friends. I should point out, it’s got nothing to do with taking selfies, it’s all about empowerment, developing new skills and instilling leadership qualities.
The ladies who took part in the #SELFIE programme were offered the opportunity to participate in the extraORDINARY Women Programme taking place in the Linenhall Library, Belfast. Rather that me trying to explain what it’s about, I’ll share an excerpt from their website which captures the essence perfectly.
‘The extraORDINARY Women Programme seeks to document and amplify the experiences of ordinary women living through extraordinary times in Northern Ireland, from 1965 to today. It will reflect on women’s role in social, cultural and political change during that period. Through the project, the quarto collective is offering participative opportunities to explore the Linenhall Library collections and creatively reflect on ordinary women’s experiences. The workshop outcomes will be included in the project exhibition due to open in November.’
Members of the #SELFIE group were offered a full days in-person workshop in the Linenhall Library – I snapped up the opportunity immediately (excuse the pun!). We started off by discussing what it means to be photographed, and to take photographs, as women. This really hit a nerve with me and I couldn’t wait to chat with other women about how being photographed feels and how I can relate to being behind the camera as well. Bryonie from Quarto facilitated our workshop, where we got the opportunity to view copies of photographs in archive with the Linenhall Library. These included women from all walks of life, from 1965 to present day. It was so interesting to hear everyone’s interpretation of the story behind the images and a really insightful conversation ensued about how important photography is to documenting life.
When we think about photographs of ourselves, it’s funny how we tend to go straight to the things that we don’t like about our appearance. Everyone is the same but I always feel so sad when I hear women pick themselves apart, rather than see the beautiful expression of happiness or love on their face. I guess it’s a reflection of modern day society where we are continually bombarded with fake images of a perfection that doesn’t exist. It’s something I am very passionate about in my work – I know it’s hard to be strong enough to share the real you on camera. Me included by the way but I just wish we could learn to love ourselves a little bit more and see what other people see.
We also considered what we photograph when we are behind the camera. Participants were asked to take some of their own photographs, or bring old photographs that meant something to them. When we examined the archive images, we discussed various topics such as were the women named in the photograph caption, did they give their permission to be photographed and why were they photographed?
We discussed where the photographs were taken and what they suggested. The main conclusions arrived at were that photographs are very important in society, can be interpreted differently by different people and can be manipulated to promote agendas. The camera can sometimes lie 🙂
After lunch, we walked around to Belfast Exposed to take part in an exciting creative photography activity. Participants were invited to transform their own photographs into cyanotypes, using an early photographic technique. Pioneered by a woman called Anna Atkins, she published three volumes of her book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843–53) represent the earliest examples of books illustrated with photogenically produced images.
Bryonie guided us through the cyanotype process, making physical images from digital. We got to experience working in the darkroom before carrying our prints outside to develop. It was fascinating watching how the process worked and we were all very eager to see how they turned out.
Everyone was really pleased with our efforts and it was a beautiful way to end the day, leaving with smiles on our faces.
We were invited to either loan or donate our work to be included in the exhibition and I was very happy to do so. This is a lasting photographic legacy that each of us leaves behind and I for one, was so grateful to be able to do so.
Thank you so much to Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network, Quarto Collective, Linenhall Library and all the funders for this incredible opportunity. I will remember this day forever