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In an age when the gap in pay between men and women is rarely out of the news, the #metoo movement has become an international symbol of women’s struggle against sexual harassment and assault, and male MPs outnumber female MPs in the Cabinet four-to-one, one photographer is fighting back.

Anita Corbin, a reportage and portrait photographer who has taken pictures for The Sunday Times and The Observer in a career spanning over three decades, is bringing her national exhibition, 100 First Women, to Leicester’s New Walk Museum and Art Gallery from September 14 until October 27.

Anita Corbin First Woman to make 100 portraits of First Women. Image Credit: Gareth Jones

The exhibition, currently on a two-year UK tour, features 100 photographs of 100 pioneering women from across the UK who have achieved ‘firsts’ in their industries.

The collection of colour portraits, which were released in 2018 to mark 100 years since some women were given the right to vote, include, amongst others, women from the fields of sport, politics, music, business and the arts and range from ‘ordinary women’ to celebrities and everything in-between.

Sarah Outen, from Oakham, in Rutland, was Ms Corbin’s first ‘first’, when she captured her portrait almost a decade ago, in November 2009.

Ms Outen, who has since received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Leicester, was the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean.

A screening of her new documentary, one of the first screenings in the UK, will be shown at the exhibition on October 25.

Anita Corbin said: “From ages 18 to 102-years-old and in fields of expertise covering everything from beatboxing to bomb detection, I wanted to create an impressive visual archive documenting female ability and achievement and fantastic role models, in order to celebrate the impact women have had on our society over the last 100 years.

“In a long history dominated by notable males, First Women UK asks, ‘what is it about women that can inspire you?’ These powerful portraits of women are intended to provoke people to look beyond the exterior image and contemplate the essence of the woman it personifies.”

Janice Long is another woman featured in the exhibition.

She was the first woman to present Top of the Pops, in 1983, after almost two decades of male presenters on the TV music show.

She remained the only female presenter for the next five years and, following that, went on to be the first woman, on BBC Radio One, to present a daily show.

Lieutenant Commander Becky Frater RN, has achieved a wide array of firsts throughout her pioneering military career in the Royal Navy.

She was not only the first female member of the Royal Navy’s display team, Black Cats, but also their first female lead pilot.

Alongside this, she was the Royal Navy’s first qualified female helicopter instructor, the first pilot of the lynx helicopter, Maritime Attack, and the first woman in the organisation’s history to command a naval air squadron.

It is hoped the exhibition, which has so far toured Wiltshire, New Market and Liverpool, will not only act as an archive of 21st century women who deserve recognition, but also as a source of inspiration to women today, and in the future, who are discovering where they belong in a world still heavily dominated by men.

Anita Corbin said: “I hope this exhibition will motivate, encourage and empower women and men across all ages and backgrounds and help them see that it is possible to break down barriers, whether gender, social, economic, cultural or political, to unlock their full potential. As the adage goes, ‘you have to see it to be it’.”

The First Women tour will continue to Brighton, Exeter and Scotland before finishing in December 2020.

By Becky Tombs

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