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The Exhibition Speaks!

First Women Virtual Tour

The 100 First Women Portraits Brighton host team create a fantastic online audioguide to accompany the show.

More than once, I have been asked to create an audioguide to accompany the 100 First Women Portraits exhibition. A fantastic idea: it would make these pioneering images and their stories available to not only the visually impaired but also to those for whom English is not their first language.

Education, as well as inspiration – as anyone who has read my blogs or spoken to me knows! – is at the heart of this project. Adding an audio dimension to the show would make those messages accessible to a far greater audience. However, it always came back to resources: how would I fund this great idea?

My fairy godmother arrived in the form of the team at Brighton’s Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibition opened there on February 15th, but was sadly temporarily closed on March 18th due to the Covid-19 outbreak. However, this was not before Jody East and the team had employed both energy and enthusiasm to fund and create an online resource that is now officially live: a ‘virtual’ 100 First Women Portraits exhibition – with all 100 images no less!

Dany Cotton InterviewThe portraits are accompanied by audio biographies, mini-interviews and audio descriptions, (a recorded narration of what one can actually see happening in the photograph.)

And so it is my absolute pleasure to announce that this fantastic innovation is now available for the public to access as a free (permanent!) online resource. Check it out HERE. In its launch weekend, the site had over 1500 visitors!

I admit, at first I was nervous. I have a deep and long-standing relationship with these 100 portraits and one always wonders how creative off-shoots will unfold. Would the narrative do the images justice?

I couldn’t have been more delighted. The audio descriptions are not only a brilliant way to make the portraits more accessible, but also succeed in opening up new aspects of them, making them seemingly brand new to me, who has seen them hundreds of times!

The interviews (accompanying a selected ten of the portraits) are super-packed with insights and information; woven with the spirit of collaboration; another theme deep at the heart of this project. To listen to a selection of the Firsts talking about their photographs was deeply thrilling for me, the photographer.

In their interviews, the women explain how it feels to be a First: this, in tandem with the potency they emanate from their portraits makes the whole new package not only an educational and inspirational experience  – but a moving one.

I cannot thank our marvellous curator, Jody East, enough. Her vision and drive manifested this new and exciting dimension to the show. Even if you have already seen the UK tour, I highly recommend visiting the online collaborative website and letting the audioguide give you a whole new take on the images.

This new resource also makes the exhibition freely available to everyone during the current government closure of galleries, museums and public spaces – when access to art and culture is critical for our mental health and wellbeing. I would also argue that it provides a brilliant home schooling resource and – when galleries reopen – a brilliant prep resource for teachers taking school groups for a visit.

As luck would have it, the interview recordings were made a scant week before lockdown. Our spectacularly attended International Women’s Day events meant that lots of Firsts came to offer support and have a fun day out with their family. We took the opportunity then and there to interview ten of them standing with their portraits. These are the recordings you will hear when you visit the website.

So, what will I find on The First Women/Brighton Museums Website?

For the first time EVER – all of the 100 First Women portraits are available to view online.

They are curated exactly as they are on the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery walls. http://firstwomen.brightonmuseums.org/category/exhibition-tour/

Each image is accompanied by its full caption, plus a written and audio recording biography.

There is an introduction by the curator Jody East, and an interview and with me speaking to Liz Porter. Liz is a storyteller and a Member of the Royal Pavilion & Museums Access Advisory group http://firstwomen.brightonmuseums.org/home/introduction/

Ten of the portraits are accompanied by a five minute interview with the subject, talking about her life and career, her experience of being a First and of being in the exhibition. These ten also come with a professional audio description of the photograph, which is a brilliant resource for the visually impaired.

If you click on any image, a helpful written description appears so it can be read out to a visually impaired person.

This is what a pioneer sounds like

There is something about hearing a First Woman speak as you look her image that makes her and her achievement even more tangible – and inspirational.

The audio guide makes the women real, brings them into your home. You can hear the humbleness, kindness and dedication as well as seeing it come through the image. You can hear that these are normal women doing remarkable things. It is my hope that this added dimension will make young people more open to the idea that they can follow in the footsteps of trailblazers, that pioneering acts are within reach for us all.

My heartfelt thanks again to Jody and Liz, Dr Alexandra Loske and the team at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and also to Charlotte and Melita at Radio Reverb, Brighton’s local radio, who conducted the interviews with such generosity and awareness. They really let the personalities of the Firsts shine through.

As an artist, I always want to bring out the best in my subjects. And of course, it is imperative that all the collaborative material does the same. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to organically take this exhibition that is so close to my heart, to an ever better place; evolving and maturing 100 First Women Portraits ever onwards into inspiring new futures.

Sadly we will not be reopening the 100 First Women Portraits Exhibition in Brighton this year. But we do hope to see you again next year, fingers crossed we are invited back!
We are waiting for confirmation of dates for the opening of the Exeter 100 First Women Portraits Exhibition at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, in the meantime please enjoy looking at the Virtual Tour.
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