photographer holly falconer documents women as they march for their rights
Her 'Parade' project captures the women fighting for a better future.
When she shoots fashion, Holly Falconer's models appear as strong and interesting characters - people we'd like to be friends with rather than dead-eyed lookbook mannequins. She also shoots documentary projects, is a huge fan of Christopher Kane's new collection, meeting strangers, and photographing the things that everybody else ignores. Back in 2008, along with a few friends, she started up The Most Cake, a website and big night out for LGBT women in London. Finding her work both beautiful and inspiring, i-D caught up with Holly to discuss Parade, an ongoing project about why women march in the 21st century. As she goes on to tell us, you can retweet a cause thousands of times, but there's nothing more powerful than participating in it.
What do you do and why do you do it?
I'm a photographer, mainly shooting portraits, fashion and documentary work. I do it because it's the best way I know of capturing the magic and idiocy of modern life. Britain is a great place to do that. It can be a kind of wonderland - a place overflowing with potential and fresh ideas, but it's always underscored by our bleak sense of humor and ruthless weather. That dichotomy is something I love to show in my pictures - whether I'm shooting a protest or a fashion editorial I try to shoot everything with a half-optimistic, half-questioning eye.
What does the word activism mean to you?
I think on a basic level, it's never being complacent about anything. You have to believe that things can change and that you can turn your beliefs into action. We're so lucky now, as activism has been given a helping hand via viral campaigns and websites where you can meet other people who share your views. A lot of people who never had a voice are gaining one.
What issues are close to your heart and why?
I'm really aware that the freedom to hold my girlfriend's hand in public has been hard-earned. For most of the time I was at school, Section 28 dictated that teachers were forbidden from "promoting" homosexuality. It also labelled gay family relationships as "pretend". Unbelievably, it was only taken off the statute books just over a decade ago in 2003. Our current rights are due to decades of campaigning from previous generations who fought against a seemingly immovable tide. So the right to love is an issue that's really important to me. I have co-edited a magazine called The Most Cake for five years, which is an irreverent, positive website for queer women in London. Our coverage of queer musicians and films, pride marches and LGBT rights are at the heart of what it's about.
Women's rights are also a big part of what I stand for. I grew up lucky enough to have parents who told me girls could do anything, and as a UK citizen I've been part of a society that is relatively progressive and equal. However, this experience is far from universal. It's a fact that millions of women worldwide still don't feel safe in their own neighborhoods, don't have the same opportunities as men, and are treated as inferiors by their governments. As a photographer, I want the images I produce to have a positive impact on this - whether I'm documenting a No More Page 3 protest, or simply continuously questioning whether a shoot I'm doing presents women in a positive light.
Tell us about your Parade project…
Parade is an on-going project about why women march, group or parade together en masse in the 21st century. For most of the people I hang out with, a binary view of gender is becoming increasingly irrelevant to their lives, so from the start it was interesting to capture why and when predominantly female events happen, and why they're still important. I've documented some amazing days so far, from an annual parade near Liverpool that's seen hundreds of women march through their town decked in colorful dresses and flowers for the last two centuries, to the recent Million Women March event in London.
I'm also interested in documenting the effect a large presence of women can have on a space that is perhaps sometimes an area they don't feel totally safe in or has been traditionally dominated by men. As I soak up the atmosphere of a march, I get an insight into the spectators watching them too. Sometimes they heckle those taking part, but more often observers start debating what they're watching, even choosing to join in on occasion. You can retweet a cause thousands of times, but there's nothing more powerful than participating in it.
What inspired the project?
The idea stemmed from the pride marches I've taken part in since my early twenties, which I always found to be both a profound and fun experience - it's such a great feeling to walk through London's streets surrounded by others who've been through the same experiences as you. Congregating en masse has been a key part of British women's lives for centuries, whether via local traditional events, or on a wider scale through protests such as the 1907 National Union of Women's Suffrage Society's march - which 3,000 women took part in. I'm interested in the form that it's taking now.
What united the people featured?
As you can tell from the banners in these photos, people come to these events from a variety of associations and standpoints. For example, I noticed at Reclaim the Night that some people brought banners proclaiming the rights of trans women to march, and was then shocked to hear a small number of people were allegedly handing out transphobic leaflets. The importance of trans women at these events is something I want to focus on more with the project over the next year. However, ultimately everyone's brought together by a sense of purpose, community, and the need to stand up for human rights. Fran Pascoe, a representative I met at Million Women Rise from Spring House (a hostel in Bristol) summed it up best when she said, "it's important because women are coming together, but it also shows there's power in the amount of us that are here. I think a lot of people forget that there are still issues around women being brutalized, abused and raped. So these things are important, to show that there is unity and power in a crowd like this."
How did you capture the feeling of the events?
I shoot on medium format so I shoot sparingly - which leaves me lots of time to get involved, and I think that's key. I arrive early, watch everyone getting ready, chanting and finishing their banners, and then I walk with them, snapping along the way. I don't know how you could capture these events without singing and marching alongside the participants.
What would you stand up for?
The right to love, education, a voice, safety, a place to live, a fair wage and the freedom to live as you were born, without discrimination.
How could we all make the world a better place?
By refusing to accept the status quo if you know something has to change.
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Holly Falconer