H annah Starkey’s photographs capture women and girls in quiet moments of reflection, often as here, doubled and redoubled, literally so. The Belfast-born artist has been creating these images for 25 years, a body of work that is the subject of a full retrospective at the Hepworth Wakefield later this month. The pictures, printed on a large scale, exist somewhere between documentary and choreography – Starkey has an eye for private moments and gestures of women in the real-life world of streets and cafes, which she often then recreates using models.
The Hepworth project includes a commitment from Starkey to mentor eight early-career female and non-binary photographers born or based in Yorkshire. The aim is to find new ways to liberate the medium from the male gaze. That determination was first expressed by Starkey in a Royal College of Art degree show in 1997, in images immediately recognised as seeing women view themselves differently. Speaking to the Observer ’s Sean O’Hagan in 2018, the girl said: “That graduate show set me up. Suddenly I was in demand and simultaneously I became very aware of the different space that women occupy in the photography world, both as practitioners and subjects. I have been acutely aware of that ever since, the ways in which women are constantly evaluated plus judged. My gaze is not directed in that way. A lot of what I do is about creating a different level of engagement with ladies, a different space for them without that judgment or scrutiny. ”
Starkey is the mother of two daughters and has watched the particular ways in which social media mirrors the world back to them, generating and regenerating carefully curated portraiture. Young women are “being targeted much earlier as consumers and told constantly that will their value is in their looks”, she says. Her images fight back.