Visible girls: Revisited. An exhibition at Exeter Phoenix
Somerset-based photographer Anita Corbin has brought her widely anticipated and publicised exhibition ‘Visible Girls: Revisited’ to Exeter Phoenix. Our newest contributor Lisa Smith, attended the artist talk and gallery tour.
The exhibition follows on from her original ‘Visible Girls’ series which was Corbin’s 3rd year university thesis project in 1981 when she was just 22. Her aim was to create a series of portraits of women in couples, whether that be partners, friends or family members within distinct subcultures in London in the early 80s and in locations such as clubs where they were free to celebrate their individuality. This was of course, an interesting time in British society, still relatively early in the Thatcherite era but also coming immediately after the shockwaves that the first wave of ‘punk’ of the late 70s , it appeared that in subcultures came even distinct and recognisable. As such, the exhibition features Rockabillies, Mods, Skinheads and New Romantics amongst other cultural tribes of the time. Such was the success of the project that it continued to be toured and exhibited throughout the 80s and 90s.
In 2014, Corbin made the decision to track down the original ‘Visible Girls’ using social media with a view to taking up-to-date pictures of those featured. The plea was quickly picked up by Buzzfeed and went viral through online news outlets. Over time, Corbin has received contact from the women originally involved, many of whom have agreed to be photographed again for this touring exhibition.
I was delighted to attend an artist’s talk and gallery tour with Corbin on 25th November at Exeter Phoenix.
Through Corbin’s commentary, a pattern of stories emerged. Many young women were looking to escape turbulent home lives and upbringings and saw these subcultures as a ‘safe space’ as well as an opportunity to exercise self- expression and creativity particularly with their appearance and often with very few resources. Alongside these ‘past and present’ portraits sits a mock-up of a skinhead bedroom, complete with audio interview. There are also pictures from the original exhibition where the women are still to be located or have opted not to be. Equally fascinating is the selection of images which were not featured in the original project, but have been printed from the existing 80’s contact sheets due to the fact that they look more current 35 years on.
Also premiering at the Exeter stop of the tour is a wall of quotes from women involved in the project about how they view their time as a youth in a subculture from the perspective of the present day with an opportunity for visitors to add their own views.
The catalogue available for purchase contains the stories of some of the women that have been tracked down; however there is something tantalising about those images where the participants are still to be found . The raw, striking and occasionally poignant images invite discussion about gender, ageing and the importance of being part of a tribe. I strongly recommend this exhibition to anyone regardless of age, gender or cultural background as there is something universal about the issues that it raises and bring a friend as you are likely to want to sit down and talk about it afterwards!
‘Visible Girls Revisited’ is exhibiting at Exeter Phoenix until 21st December and is free to view.
Exhibition merchandise is available at Roundel Clothing on North Street, Exeter and the Exeter Phoenix box office.
About the author: Lisa Smith
Lisa has lived in Exeter for 15 years having arrived as a student from Cornwall and loving it so much that she never left! Now married with a 2 year old son, she works for a local education charity and is a voluntary social media officer for Exeter Scrapstore. In her spare time, she is an avid foodie and keen supporter of local arts and community events. She is very much looking forward to launching her own local food campaign in 2018.
Tags: 1980s, Anita Corbin, art, art in exeter, Devon, Exeter, Exeter Phoenix, exhibition, visible girls, women