What would you say to the person you were 36 years ago? Would you tell them to hold back on the eye liner, to walk past the boy on the green moped, to stick at the piano?
Visible Girls: Revisited, is a new photography commission and national travelling exhibition of female portraits by photographer Anita Corbin. The exhibition brings together original images of women from different subcultures of the early 1980s and newly commissioned portraits of the same women now.
The work visually reunites women with their adolescent selves, exploring the ways in which photography can reveal and reflect upon identity and society at various stages of women’s lives.
In 1981, as a young female photographer at the beginning of her career, Corbin made 28 double portraits of young women from different cultural groups: skins, mods, punks, rockabillies, new romantics, rastas and young lesbians.
She was fascinated by the ways in which cultural allegiance and identity were boldly and explicitly expressed through fashion, music and environment by women emerging from adolescence.
Captured in clubs, pubs, friends’ homes and social centres, these girls were living in the moment, full of hope and anger, happiness and sheer attitude. The groundbreaking project, Visible Girls, toured the UK in the 80s and 90s, showing in youth clubs, town halls and libraries. The images are a rarity for the time, not just because of their subjects but because of a technical approach using slow colour film and portable flash.
Last year, Corbin launched an international social media campaign in order to track the women down. Now, 36 years later and with over 70% of the women found, the original images of those young women are displayed alongside a new series – of the women they became.
“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,” says Corbin.
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.
Alongside the images will be original tape recordings of interviews with some of the girls from 1981 and interviews with them now. Individual stories behind each image will be revealed, exploring how the women’s lives have changed since the original shot was taken. What has happened in those 36 years? Have their lives developed as they imagined? How have changes in society and its attitudes to women affected them?
The 56 women who feature in the images are mainly from London but some were on a day trip or on holiday in the city when Corbin photographed them; many now live in Europe or further afield. The exhibition tours England; each location will have a unique presentation inspired by the voice of the city.
The exhibition was curated by Tory Turk. “Anita’s role in the creation of the original Visible Girls images was pivotal,” she says. “[She was] a girl of the same age directing double- portraits that would become not only a snapshot of time for all the girls involved, but also a documentation of social, subcultural and image-making history.”
Do you know any of the Visible Girls? The search continues for the remaining 30% of the missing subjects. Help Corbin find them #VisibleGirls.
An events programme of talks, workshops and masterclasses announced by each venue accompanies the exhibition.
Hull, Artlink: 7 July 2017 – 11 August 2017
Exeter, Phoenix: 17 November – 21 December 2017
Norwich Arts Centre: 7 February – 14 March 2018
Bristol, 3CA: 6 September – 4 October 2018
Additional galleries to be announced shortly