The 100 Women of Oxford is as much the story of photographer Philippa James as the extraordinary women it features.
Because Philippa was struggling when she started the project. Having just moved to Oxford where she didn’t know anyone, she was at home with two small children and felt really isolated. She’d also given up my job in film production and with it part of her identity.
“I felt I’d become invisible and didn’t know who I was anymore,” she says. “I was a bit lost.”
“I just felt a really clear need to reach out to other women and to listen to them,” she says.
So she began taking photographs of the women living in her local community and writing down their stories, to try to connect with her new life.
“I was trying to find out who I was. I just felt a really clear need to reach out to other women and to listen to them,” she says.
Anyone who saw the resulting 100 Women of Oxford exhibition at Tap Social in 2020 will know what an incredible reception and worldwide notoriety it received.
Now being made into a limited edition book by The North Wall, it is incredible to think that it nearly didn’t happen at all, because Philippa got cold feet and shelved it half way through .
“I now realise I had imposter syndrome, so it wasn’t until four years later that I felt able to pick it up again and finish what I’d started,” she admits.
“It just felt so much bigger than me and the things these women were telling me, admitting to and sharing were really intimate and hard to process sometimes. They were very brave but that came with a big responsibility and I felt I wasn’t qualified or experienced enough to take it any further,” Philippa remembers.
“Through these 100 women and their stories I realised I’d turned a corner”
“I was just trying to find out who I was and had ended up with this huge weight on my shoulders. I hadn’t realised the enormity of what I’d taken on.”
But however hard she tried to ignore it, and carry on with her wedding photography business, 100 Women of Oxford wouldn’t go away.
Tess Taylor at Tap Social was a major catalyst, offering Philippa an exhibition at Botley Tap as part of Oxfordshire Artweeks. READ ABOUT IT HERE based on the 10 photographs she’d taken, and the race was on.
“Once I had a deadline I shot pics of 90 women in three months,” Philippa remembers, “and through these 100 women and their stories I realised I’d turned a corner.”
“more than anything, it reminded me how incredible women are and why so many women felt the way I did”
So who are these 100 Women of Oxford? “Women I met on the streets, in shops, parks, outside churches, wherever I found them really. There was no formula.”
Photographing them in their homes and chatting over a cup of tea, Philippa says “the photographs were secondary really. They are more like evidence to accompany their stories and that’s why there’s a uniformity to them.”
“It’s such an honour. The North Wall has never published a book before so this is a first for them as well”
So what has she learned? “That everyone has a story and that you should never judge a book by its cover,” she said. “I learned that it’s OK to cry and feel, that it’s beneficial to share your fears, that there is so much empathy out there.
“But more than anything, it reminded me how incredible women are and why so many women feel the way I did.”
As for the book launch on December 1 at The North Wall (where the exhibition moved onto with Photo Oxford) Philippa says: “It’s such an honour. The North Wall has never published a book before so this is a first for them as well. It’s really exciting.
“But I will never forget that this all started because I lost my voice and these women helped me to find it again.”
North Wall co-director Ria Parry says: “We all felt this project should be archived into a book, as it’s a piece of our history. Publishing these 100 photographs is a celebration of, and a pride in the power of creativity and connection.”
“100 Women of Oxford” will be published on 1 December 2022 by The North Wall Arts Centre. Pre-Orders are available at https://www.thenorthwall.com/your-visit/shop/. There will be a limited run of 500 copies, priced at £20 each. The publication of this book is a non-profit project. When pre-ordering a copy you can also gift an additional copy to a school, library, or someone who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford one.
Philippa’s website is https://philippajames.net