In this week's portfolio session we focus on the very brilliant photographer Holly Falconer who popped in to see us recently. Over the course of almost two hours we managed to discuss pretty much everything from the Spice Girls, New Labour, Drag Goddesses and Princess Di to our mutual appreciation for the London Mural preservation society.
Interwoven with these discussions we sauntered through Holly's portfolio which is a hugely enjoyable, vibrant, raw, political and consistently colourful mix of fashion, portraiture and documentary. Her work has an energy to it that I have not seen in quite some time, interogating but at the same time hugely optimism. She tackles the kind of subject matter that most people would shy away from in a gutsy, real and honest way.
I walked away from our meeting genuinely believing Holly wants the world to be a better place, a place without discrimination, and might just keep on taking photos until that happens. And with a portfolio overflowing with such determination it is unsurprising her client list is so impressive with the likes of Converse, Vice, i-D, American Vogue, Nike, L'Officiel M.E., Matthew Williamson, National Geographic, Paper magazine, Barbour,Tatty Devine, Wolf & Badger, Liberty, The Guardian, BBC and CNN under her belt already.
I'm going to focus on Holly's most recent series, Parade, which is an ongoing project about why women gather together in the twenty-first century. The effect being part of a crowd has on a person, whether at a pride march, a protest or a gig, has always interested Holly. Below she explains her inspiration for the project and how congregating en masse has been a key part of British women's lives for centuries.
People spend so much of their time alone, separated off by offices, cars and homes, so when they join together it can be a profound spectacle. As a woman this can be a particularly interesting experience. We walk through streets daily and don’t always feel safe, but joining together at protests such as Reclaim the Night gives us the confidence to do so. Protests are also a huge opportunity to speak out against the injustices women still face this century.
At Million Women Rise, which I shot in March, witnessing hundreds of women chanting against violence towards women was a moving spectacle. Fran Pascoe, a representative I met at Million Women Rise from Spring House, a hostel in Bristol, told me about what taking part meant to her:
'It’s important because women are coming together, but it also shows there’s power in the amount of us that are here. I think a lot of people forget that there are still issues around women being brutalised, abused and raped. So these things are important, to show that there is unity and power in a crowd like this.'
People also sometimes link the spectacle of women parading together with a beauty pageant or fashion show, but women’s processions are usually much more multi-layered. I started this project by shooting Neston Ladies Day, a parade that sees hundreds of women march through their Cheshire town each year decked in beautiful dresses and holding flowers up high on staves. The procession is held in honour of the Neston Female Society, which was established during the Napoleonic Wars as a means of mutual self help for women who were experiencing hardship. One participant told me:
'It’s just like a big wedding day in the whole of the village', but it represented something far more special. As I witnessed hundreds of women march through their local streets to symbolise cooperation, community and charity this became glaringly obvious.
I’ve shot everything for Parade on medium format, which means I’ve been very selective about the moments I’ve chosen. That process has also left me lots of time to get involved with the events and to chat with participants - whether I’m chanting alongside them or hearing the reasons they’ve turned up. I can’t imagine shooting these events in any other way, participating fully feels key.
I’m working towards an eventual book and exhibition and have a variety of events I still want to capture - everything from an all-female business convention to a free the nipple protest. But more than anything I want to contribute something to the wider conversation these parades, protests and celebrations are part of: that of women’s rights and visibility.