“This is about the women who live in Oxford and the many, varied and fascinating communities that exist here,” photographer Philippa James explains.
Philippa opened her extraordinary, unique exhibition ‘100 Women of Oxford’ at Tap Social to critical acclaim this week. “The launch of the exhibition was incredible. About 500 people came and it was brilliant. I didn’t release how many people were there until afterwards and I am so proud of the women who agreed to take part in the project,” she says proudly.
“Everyone I photographed is in the exhibition. There are stories of murder, abuse, love and challenges, and as a result many are difficult to read”
The project started four years ago with the seed of an idea. Philippa, a successful wedding photographer, wanted to focus on the people and communities of Oxford.
“It was originally going to be a humans of Oxford exhibition,” she explains. “My core business is wedding photography and I love it, but I was really interested in what the city of Oxford is all about and the lives of the people who live here.
“I started meeting people in the city and asking if I could photograph them and talk to them about their story. The more I did it the more interested I became in the women who live here and the many, varied and fascinating communities that exist in Oxford.”
Philippa began visiting the women she had met and photographing them in their own homes.
“These photographs are stories of humanity because we are all fascinated by each other; we learn, grow, communicate and connect through our stories, and are all desperate to be connected – I love that about this project”
However, after she had amassed a collection of about 10 photos and stories, imposter syndrome got the better of her.
“These incredible women had fantastic stories, but I started to think who am I to be doing this, who did I think I was? It was a massive attack of imposter syndrome which made me question who was I to be trying to photograph 100 women and tell their stories, so I buried myself in my wedding photography business instead and put the project on hold, until I got to a point when I realised I was ready.”
Having spoken to her, it is clear that her imposter syndrome is no longer evident and she found the strength to finish what she started.
“The remaining 90 women were photographed in just two months and I was working right up to the wire!” she smiles.
The result is a genuine reflection of women and their lives from across Oxford.
“I wanted to photograph women who were reluctant to put themselves forward but when I posted details about the project on social media, I got an amazing response and lots of people got in touch.
“These photographs are stories of humanity because we are all fascinated by each other; we learn, grow, communicate and connect through our stories, and are all desperate to be connected – I love that about this project.
“As a result, I am connected to all the women who worked with me, and then when people look at the photos and read their stories there is another level of connection.”
Philippa is now already thinking about what else could be done with the 100 photographs that she took: “I have started reflecting that there needs to be a way to archive these photographs, so maybe a book could be a possibility at some point,” she says.
And what has she learnt in the process? “That Oxford is a city of far more than dreaming spires with many connected and interconnected communities of diverse people engaged with different things.”
Philippa added that she has been astounded by the different layers of the city. “There is so much more going on here than people realise. Everyone I photographed is in the exhibition. There are stories of murder, abuse, love and challenges, and as a result many of us are difficult to read.
“Other stories are lighter but they all relate to the human condition.:
And what of the tremendous reaction to the exhibition? “The emotional responses have been huge. When you see a photograph of someone, and read their story, it has a profound effect – it is good to remember that everyone has a story and that’s what I want people to take away with them. We must not judge. We never know what is really going on.”
Philippa added: “This project is a collaboration between me and 100 women. They all had to be happy with their photo and the quote that was written about them. They are all very brave and I feel that I was brave to put this exhibition together.
“It has been lovely to see peoples’ reactions and many are coming back for a second visit because there are, after all, 100 photographs to look at.”
The exhibition at Tap Social will be open until the end of May to coincide with Oxford Art Weeks. https://www.tapsocialmovement.com
Find Philippa at http://philippajamesphotography.com