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Remembering Zaha Hadid – First Woman to win the RIBA Royal Gold Medal


Zaha Hadid was the definitive ‘First Woman’. Innovative, pioneering, courageous, she pushed the boundaries of the creative and survived – even thrived – in a tough, strenuously competitive environment as first woman to receive the Pritzker Prize for Architecture and just this year the first woman to win the RIBA Royal Gold Medal.

From the beginning I wanted to celebrate Zaha by including her portrait within the First Women Project and had chased her for five years! Zaha was a unique role model for women in a man’s world; unafraid to go ‘off plan’,  blending the functional and the beautiful, the scientific and the artistic.

At the start of 2016, First Women had come very close to including Zaha – we even had a date in the diary for the shoot which had taken five months to confirm,  testament indeed to the commitment she had to her work and the worldwide demand for her talents.

My biggest regret is that we did not manage to give her the place she deserved within the 100 before her passing on the 31 March.

Whenever I hear that a woman has a strong, challenging persona, I am even more determined to meet her.  Often in reality,  it is what is built up around her – the protective edifice of work commitments, crazy scheduling, budgets, efficient PAs and diary planners, back to back appointments and flights  all over the world, that can eclipse the original essence of the woman. And it is this essence that the First Women project ever seeks to reveal. The strength, determination and spirit of trailblazing that exists within the woman herself before all the hoopla an industry can bring.

What she is at her very core, that which drives her to forge new paths for the women who will follow.

In all honesty, Zaha would have been an intimidating subject for me to photograph,  and yet one I know that would have made more of me as a photographer. To capture her genius capacity to transform 2D to 3D within a single image begs the question, how possible is it to convey such multifaceted talent within the two dimensions of a photographic portrait?

For me, presenting Zaha as so gloriously and passionately innovative as her buildings and creations would have been the perfect celebration of her achievement and inspirational role within the First Women project.