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Catherine West MP, by Vicki Couchman for '209 Women'

1 November 2018

For the ‘209 Women’ project, I was assigned Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green. She is the closest female MP to where I live, and from reading her biography, she sounded pretty interesting. As well as speaking five languages including Mandarin, Catherine is a strong supporter of the campaign to remain in the EU and voted against triggering Article 50.

The first time I met Catherine was at a local park where she meets her constituents and incidentally we bumped into Jeremy Corbyn who was exercising there at the same time. This was totally coincidental and when I pointed out that Jezza was in eyesight, we went over to him for a quick chat and a selfie, which seemed appropriate.

After that first meeting, it was tricky to pin down Catherine with her busy parliamentary and personal schedules. I had originally arranged to take her portrait at Hampstead Ponds (in 2017 she established the All-Party Parliamentary Group on swimming), but instead I was invited to meet her at Wood Green Shopping Centre at a LGBTQ meeting where she would be making a speech along with David Lammy MP from neighbouring Tottenham.

I had managed to borrow a medium-format Hasselblad digital camera from the Pro Centre over the weekend so although the location wasn't ideal I had to make it work. I scouted the area to find a suitable spot to take Catherine's photo, as the immediate spaces around the event venue were busy and far too hectic for a portrait. I’m pretty used to thinking on the spot in my daily work and making something from nothing, but I had hoped to be a little more prepared - I would have to take Catherine away from the arranged meeting spot to get anything decent.

After her official speech Catherine obliged and we went on a tour of Wood Green Shopping Centre’s finest car park - thankfully the top floors were not being used so we had no trouble with traffic. The car park, with its spiral exit, is a recognisable building in the heart of Wood Green, so it did have potential for our portrait. The strong sunlight gave an added dimension and graphic element to the image and the shadow cast across her body kept Catherine out of any direct sunlight on her face. It was pretty windy as well, she folded her arms to stop the wind ballooning her dress.

I used a Hasselblad H5D-50, 80mm lens and a Profoto B1 to bounce a little flash off the white paintwork to lift the shadows.

Vicki Couchman is a London-based freelance photographer working for national newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times and Evening Standard, shooting mainly celebrity and business portraits. Her early career began on the IOW County Press as a trainee photographer moving quickly to The Brighton Evening Argus as a staff photographer. She left her job to travel for a year around India and South East Asia and published a book of my travels called 'A Trail of Visions'. This led to many varied travel photography assignments from NGO projects, food travel features in Sunday supplements and airline magazines to photographing stories around the world for Loaded Magazine. Alongside corporate clients and newspaper commissions she shoots personal projects around her home in Stamford Hill and also far away, mainly traveling to India annually. Vicki juggles her career with being a single mum to a 13-year old daughter which has kept her wanderlust for travel a little more local although for many years they have traveled together to countries including India, Vietnam and Japan.

'209 Women' - to mark 100 years since some women achieved the right to vote, Open Eye Gallery in collaboration with photographer Hilary Wood are replacing the entire contemporary art collection at the Palace of Westminster with new photos of every female MP, shot exclusively by female photographers, and making it free and open to the public. The exhibition will hang in the Palace of Westminster from 14th December 2018 to February 2019.

The project involves 209 female photographers from the UK photographing all 209 female MPs in Parliament currently. Originally a voluntary initiative, it has grown in scope and funding is being sought to provide costs for the photographers involved as well as to enable printing and framing for the exhibition. To become a patron in support of the project, you can pledge £350 and have your name on the wall at both the exhibition at Parliament and the Open Eye Gallery. You will also receive an invitation to an event at Parliament where you will meet curators and artists and have a 'Champions of Women' photograph taken by one of the '209 Women' photographers, which you will also receive as an exhibition quality print. To find out more, email hilarywoodportraits@gmail.com.

See more work by Vicki Couchman

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