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The woman behind First Women

An award-winning photographer in the South West is making her name as an historical archivist with a project celebrating 100 years of women’s achievements.1130874

Anita Corbin has been shooting iconic portraits of women in the field of Sport, Science, Politics, the Arts and Education for a landmark book to be published in 2018, marking a century since women won the right to vote. Anita wanted to celebrate the 100 years since the victorious campaign for women’s suffrage with a collection of photographs designed to capture the women who have achieved a ‘first’ in their particular field.

“I have waited all my life to make this project,” says Anita.

“I wanted to create a legacy for future generations of women to enable to them to understand and appreciate the achievements of their forebears and reflect that once upon a time women were regarded as second-class citizens without a vote.”

So where did it all begin? Anita was born in Wimbledon in August 1958. An only child but one of a close knit collection of 24 cousins. She was brought up in a free thinking environment where her mother’s extended family were involved in the philosophical, humanist and bohemian world, Anita was encouraged to be herself.

Her father Bob Corbin who left school at 14 went from being a garden boy to a horticultural Advisor for the London County Council (later to become the GLC) heading a team of 800 employees. He met her mother who was studying landscape architecture at Reading University and they were to meet again some years later and marry.

“I was always encouraged to believe that I could achieve anything I wanted,” said Anita.

That was the foundation stone of her future career. After leaving Putney High School she went to the Indian subcontinent for eight months on a Gap Year And for the 18 year old Anita these travels were to prove a turning point.

“Having a camera helped me make friends. I was never alone. There was always a purpose to the destination and I connected with the people in these amazing countries. That’s when I decided to become a photographer.”

It was whilst Anita was in India that she received the news that her mother was seriously ill. Without a penny to her name she relied on the kindness of strangers to get her home to see her Mum. Anita then developed hepatitis from a water infestation and it was the recovery process that helped her to take a more spiritual view of her life and destiny. She changed direction, leaving University and began to focus her mind on a degree in photography at the Polytechnic of Central London.

18 months later her mother died at the age of 60.

“I was devastated, I’d lost my mum, but her early death and her strength of mind during her long illness, spurred me on to achieve. It made me understand that you can only rely on yourself.”

This turning point made Anita determined to keep up her photography and with camera in hand she headed off to the Big Island of Hawaii to discover her self and spend some healing time with friends and photography. When she returned to Britain Anita became involved with the women’s movement – and she started to look more intensely at the role of women in society.

In early 1981, whilst studying and in her final year at college she met her future husband, John O’Grady. They both shared a love of photography and set up their own studio in London and worked for many years as photojournalists for the Sunday Times, Observer and New Society to name but a few. She also went on to study for an MA in Photography at the RCA, her photographic thesis ; the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, a matrilineal culture was awarded a distinction.

Working with some of the most experienced art and picture editors in the business Anita quickly rose up the ranks to become the youngest photographer in the press core for the 1981 Royal Wedding. In the same year she was highly commended in the Nikon Young Photographer of the Year 1981. During that magical year, she created ‘Visible Girls’ a study of young women in subcultures and Anita believes this award winning exhibition was one of the formative stepping stones which has led to her major current project First Women. Her work as a photographer over the past three decades in the public and private sectors, covering a vast range of subjects, this experience has opened her eyes to the role of women in society as has juggling her career with motherhood to nineteen year old twins Daisy and Louis.

It was in 2008 that Anita began to work on the idea of creating an iconic exhibiton of portraits marking 100 years of Women’s Suffrage. For Anita this project poses one all important question – how will women be remembered over the past century? Her quest to discover what women have achieved in the fields of sport, science, politics, the arts and education has resulted in the First Women Project.

“When we think about famous women such as Elizabeth 1, Jane Austen and even Boudicca we don’t necessarily know whether we’ve received a true picture of these amazing characters,” Says Anita.

“But a photographic portrait gives the viewer a much clearer depiction of the person not just in terms of physical appearance but that picture also gives us clues to her personality too”. Anita is hoping that these iconic portraits will become a national archive; touring the country as an inspirational exhibition, interactive website and beautiful book – a true representation of the pioneering spirit of women.

In the years leading up to 2018 Anita Corbin will shoot and collect 100 iconic portraits of 21st Century women who have earn a place in this extraordinary collection by being trailblazers and achieving a ‘first’ in their specialist field.


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