Two women wearing black ovecoats looking at the camera and laughing one with a hand on the others shoulder

Photography exhibition explores the human stories of the 80’s generation

Posted on 08 March 2017

A photography project that gained popularity in the early 80s for its frank and arresting portraiture of young women in society is being given new life with the help of our National Lottery funded Grants for the arts scheme.

Visible Girls: Revisited is a new photography commission and national travelling exhibition that explores the ways in which photography can help reveal what we feel about our identity and society at the various stages in our lives.

Shelley and Di. Visible Girls. Image © Anita Corbin.

Where it began

In 1981, photographer Anita Corbin captured moments in the life of 56 young women – all members of different subcultures. The result was an extraordinary collection of portraits. At the time the UK’s first female Prime Minister hadn't long been in office, and against the backdrop of heightened social, cultural and political change, the Skins, Mods, Punks, Rockabillies, New Romantics, Rastas and young lesbians that Anita photographed represented a new movement of female empowerment.

the powerful bond between women Anita Corbin, Photographer 

The exhibition that came out of this work - Visible Girls – was a hit; it toured the UK with the images displayed in youth clubs, town halls and libraries, and was used to inform a South Bank University digital photography module on identity.

The girls are back in town

Now, 36 years later, Anita is asking where those girls are? Is that skinhead now a clairvoyant? Is that punk a yoga teacher? What’s happened to all those women who were so dedicated to their subcultural tribes and what’s happened to their dreams and beliefs?

With the help of an Arts Council grant Anita plans to re-photograph most of the original girls using new digital technology to create a set of images that will sit alongside the originals in a touring exhibition.

cross-generational tribe with the power to provoke and inspire Anita Corbin, Photographer 

An accompanying audience engagement and education programme will run alongside the exhibition at each venue, reflecting on the lives and achievements of the original ‘girls’. Using tape recordings of interviews from 1981 and recent interviews with the ‘girls’ 36 years on, the exhibition brings together two parts of a woman’s life and interweaves societal changes related to communication and women’s rights.

The exhibition opens in Hull in July and will then tour across England to venues including Trinity in Bristol, Exeter Phoenix, HOME Manchester and Norwich Arts Centre – and others to be announced.

Laura and Janet. Visible Girls. Image © Anita Corbin.

The search is on for more of the original ‘Visible Girls’. The advent of social media has made this task easier than it might have been and Anita and her team have found some of the women who were originally from all over the country.  Some are now living abroad - some in Australia, others in the US, Slovenia, France and Spain. 

Arts and culture can help us explore our past, imagine our future and make sense of our own current experience Phil Gibby, Area Director, Arts Council 

Anita, says: “This exhibition is not only about the powerful bond between women united by subculture, belief and friendship - but about the potential of women coming together across generations. Visible Girls: Revisited, allows the ‘visibility’ of youth to shine a light on the often disregarded wisdom of the older woman, revealing a unique, cross-generational tribe with the power to provoke and inspire. Visible Girls: Revisited is an exhibition where mothers and daughters will find mutually provocative ground through which to forge a rare solidarity - that at this point in our history we need more than ever.”

Charlotte and Tessa - now and then. Visible Girls. Image © Anita Corbin.

“Arts and culture can help us explore our past, imagine our future and make sense of our own current experiences so we’re really pleased to be supporting this project through our National Lottery funded Grants for the arts programme. The project addresses issues of identity and society in a captivating way that will appeal to audiences of all ages and interests.”

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