Back in 1981, 22-year old photographer Anita Corbin was busy exploring London’s underground scene and capturing its subjects. From punks to new romantics, skinheads to rockabillies, Anita ended up with 28 double portraits that painted a picture of British subculture and was strictly only girls allowed. The photography series toured the country to great acclaim in the 1980s. At the time, subculture was dominated by male faces - it was rare to see a female rasta in the media for instance, despite the fact that the country was awash with young women defying the mainstream. Anita empowered these women and gave them the representation they were missing through her candid photos.
30 years on and the photo collection is back on the radar again and appearing in its own exhibition - Visible Girls: Revisited, which opens at Artlink Hull on 7th July. Anita decided to try and track down some of her original female subjects, most now in their 50’s, to see where they are all these years on and put them behind the lens for second time.
What we love most about Anita’s photos is their honesty and informality. Forget airbrushing and forget stylists, these are raw, untouched depictions of a specific moment in time (and in fashion). The subjects and locations are equally as frank - Karen and Mandy, for example, two punks sporting matching blazers and sat in McDonalds Crystal Palace. Anna and Charlotte sat curled up at home in Southfields wearing green and yellow velour jumpsuits. The images take us on a tour of British suburbia, of pub toilets, street corners, fast food venues - the everyday places that were the playgrounds of some of the wildest looks and attitudes of the 1980s.
In the new exhibition, the collection also contains images of the women now, who have been reunited through Anita’s project. Beginning in Hull and then touring the country, the exhibition will travel through Bristol, Norwich and Exeter amongst others. The aim is to track down the existing 30% of the original Visible Girls who Anita has yet to get back in touch with. Through linking up these women from start to finish, Visible Girls tells a story of British women, London subculture, identity and gender representation.
For us, it’s hard to ignore the hairstyles in Anita’s original photographs. The images pretty much cover every iconic hairstyle of the decade - from perms to mullets, and, of course, skinheads (often worn with a mini, choppy combed-down fringe). The 80’s arguably paved the way for self-expression when it came to hair. A rule-breaking hairstyle became integral to the looks that young women were sporting - whether it was boyish or flamboyant - every style had a deeper meaning was chosen for a reason, not just vanity.
Ultimately, this exhibition is a real treat for anyone with an interest in street style and British culture. A young female photographer capturing young female subjects in everyday environments was (surprisingly) pretty pioneering at the time. The chance to see this kind of photographic history up close is one definitely not to be missed.
Visible Girls: Revisited is showing at Artlink Hull from 7th July until 11th August, before touring the country at different locations. Find out more here.
Words: Lucy Vincent
All images: Anita Corbin