“A lot of people have thought of marking the centenary,” says Tracy Marshall, director of development and partnerships at Open Eye Gallery and co-director of Northern Narrative arts initiative. “But they just haven’t managed to do it.”
We’re talking about the 209 Women initiative, in which 209 photographers are taking portraits of the 209 women MPs in the UK parliament. It does seem like a project that was asking to happen, with 2018 marking both 100 years since (some) women got the vote here, and also the year that the first female MP was elected in this country. But, with 418 photographs and politicians to co-ordinate plus many, many other stakeholders and committees, actually achieving it has been quite a feat. What’s seen it through has been teamwork, with the photographer and academic Hilary Wood, who came up with the idea, getting together with hundreds of other women – and men – to make it happen.
“It’s been a huge collaborative effort,” she says. “We had to take it to the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art to get it approved, and we then had to ask each MP individually if they wanted to get involved. The fact that they overwhelmingly gave their support shows how relevant this project is. And what I was really pleased about was that we got cross-party support – every single party is involved.”