A new photographic display will celebrate the work of Format Photography Agency, the only solely female agency in British photographic history. The seventeen portraits on display will reflect the scope and achievement of this agency and this will be the first display devoted to Format at the National Portrait Gallery
Format was established in1983 by eight founding members: Anita Corbin, Sheila Gray, Pam Isherwood, Jenny Mathews, Maggie Murray, Joanne O'Brien, Raissa Page and Val Wilmer. During its history the agency represented twenty leading women photographers. Portraits by photographers Melanie Friend, Roshini Kempadoo, Joanne O'Brien, Brenda Prince and some of the founders will be included in this display.
The Format ethos aimed to encourage its members to develop their creativity and careers, while remaining sensitive to the context in which their images were used and distributed. It portrayed people and issues that were under-represented in the mainstream media of the time. By photographing women and men in non-traditional roles, its members aimed to break down gender stereotypes, and change the way women and other marginalised groups were perceived.
Portraits displayed will include Joan Ruddock, then chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; Jo Spence, feminist photographer; the Revd Katharine Rumens, one of the first women ordained to the Anglican priesthood; Julie Christie, actress, and Linda Bellos, originator of Black History Month. Photographs of Melissa Benn, Joan Ruddock, Angela Mason, John Pilger, the founders of Virago Press, and Stephen and Hilary Rose taken by Format photographers have recently been acquired for the National Portrait Gallery's Collection
Throughout its existence, Format Photographers maintained a varied client base, working for international magazines, small pressure groups, charities, publishers, television and national newspapers. In 2003, despite the Agency's many achievements, the difficult decision to close Format was reached. Like so many independent photographic agencies, Format was unable to compete in a growing market of downloadable stock photography agencies and the majority of its archive is now with Photofusion.