If you happen to be in Oxford over the next few weeks, with the odd 20 minutes to spare, may I implore you to visit The North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford’s Summertown where you’ll find the ‘100 Women of Oxford’ exhibition by Philippa James which features portraits of 100 incredible women who live in this city along with their incredibly intriguing stories.
More than just the result of Philippa having a good eye for photography, each portrait exudes a certain sense of courageous calm which, perhaps, reflects the fact that each woman was photographed in an environment in which they felt quite comfortable – be that their living room, their bedroom, or their kitchen.
Then, of course, there are the stories that accompany the portraits. What I can only describe as a distillation of intensely personal open and honest conversations. The type of openness and honesty that carries with it a certain degree of vulnerability. Openness and honesty not just from the women, but also from the Philippa her lens.
Reading the stories, you get to meet each woman – even if rather fleetingly – and you soon realise that no two stories, and indeed no two women, are the same. These were stories of love and loss, dreams and disasters, fear and family. Of motherhood, sexuality, sex and disability. Of war, death, justice and peace.
Some of the stories were delightful. Some were sad. Some were even hilarious. Some were inspirational. A handful were somewhat depressing.
One or two even left me in utter disbelief – the jaw to the floor kind. But all of them, and I mean every single story, conveyed a message of hope about our humanity – a certain optimism that is so apt for these times.
And the most hopeful story of them all – it has got to be that of Madeleine, whose personal story has only just begun.
The ‘100 Women of Oxford’ exhibition is on at The North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford’s Summertown from 14th to 24th October 2000.
The exhibition is in collaboration with Photo Oxford 2020 which brings together a curated programme of international and local photography across a range of spaces in Oxford. This year’s programme is a celebration of women as photographers, photographic subjects, curators, collectors, researchers and more.
Entry to the exhibition is free.