The year was 1981. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975, a law which worked towards equal opportunities for men and women, had recently been passed. At the same time, musical subcultures were flourishing in London, where 22-year-old photography student, Anita Corbin, lived and studied.
She, amongst other young women of the city, was enjoying more freedom than ever before. Women were becoming more visible in the city, attending gigs in tribal uniforms and asserting their identities through their clothing. Excited by the potentials of a project that celebrated women, Corbin began snapping girl friends in female-only moments, as they visited the ladies' room, or whilst they sat chatting in the corner of social clubs.
Visible Girls (1981) captured female double-acts across disparate subcultures, from mods to punks, to rastas and young women in same-sex relationships. “Whether they were friends, sisters or lovers, I liked to reveal their close bond of friendship or allegiance,” says Corbin. “I wanted to highlight their connection and feeling of 'me and her against the world'... I was celebrating the joy of finding your soul mate, your family of choice.”
Now, 36 years later, Corbin has reunited with her Visible Girls, for a touring exhibition: Visible Girls: Revisited (2017). Contemporary portraits of Corbin’s subjects will be displayed alongside her original shots, accompanied by interviews of the women then and now which are available to listen to here.
The exhibition is the result of a social media campaign launched by Corbin last year, where she set out to hunt down her original models using the hashtag #VisibleGirls. “In 1991, ten years on from taking the original photographs, I tried to connect again but most of the contact numbers were defunct,” says Corbin. “I felt frustrated and a little bit soulful, so put the idea on hold for another 25 years. With the advent of social media, slowly the Visible Girls began to come out of the shadows. It was a joyous feeling – a feeling of completion.”
Curator of the exhibition, Tory Turk believes that the advances in technology and social interaction since the original conception of the project make it truly fascinating. “Today, everyone is so used to posing for photographs which are then shared on social media platforms, society is desensitised to the process,” she says. “The 1981 Visible Girls photographs capture that cultural and personal innocence.”
Not only does the Revisisted series evoke a sense of nostalgia, it also continues to acknowledge the importance of ordinary women. “As a society we are constantly surrounded by pictures of perfect people, whether in the media or on social networking platforms and there is a huge pressure to conform to the mainstream image,” says Corbin. “As a woman in my late fifties, I want to make sure that my generation of women is still celebrated as an important part of society.”
Visible Girls: Revisited will be on show at Hull, Artlink: 7 July – 11 August; Exeter, Phoenix: 17 November – 21 December; Norwich Arts Centre: 7 February 2018 – 14 March 2018; Bristol, 3CA: 6 September 2018 - 4 October 2018
Follow Niamh Leonard-Bedwell on Twitter here @niamh_lb