Live Equal – Portraits of Women in Today’s Army

Asked to describe herself Natalie Clark said “Tall AF, goofy, brace face, professional, movie lover, total geek, sailor, food lover. My nails are always on fleek [yasssssss].”

Jo Young answered the same question: “Yorkshire woman, mum of boys, poet, wild swimmer (ocean).”

These words accompany the portraits on show in the Live Equal exhibition which have been taken by renowned photographer Wolf James and that offer a glimpse of the world of women in today’s Army.

One is a Lance Corporal the other is a Regimental Commander. Both are deeply proud of being soldiers.

Their images are displayed alongside those of helicopter pilots, mechanics, medics, logistics experts, intelligence specialists.

The one thing they have in common is that they are all women. And that is very much the point of Live Equal – to challenge the perception that soldiers are men and raise awareness that women now serve in every imaginable role in the Army.

James is an Irish-based photographer and director who travels the world to work with everyone from rock stars to refugees.

Her subjects have included everyone from James Norton, Nina Nesbitt and Dido to Labrinth and Katherine Ryan.

She said:“It was fascinating to get behind the military structures and find the people. That’s something we so often don’t see – the strong woman, the real person behind the uniform.

“They were great. Half them were mums, and they all had amazing stories and their personal passions and interests which I started to discover as we talked. But the one who really blew me away was Camiel, who was pregnant. It was just one of those things I’d never thought about, that Army women need pregnancy uniforms.

“It was a delight and an honour to photograph them. They were truly inspiring.”

Librettist Lila Palmer came up with the idea for the exhibition while she doing the research for Dead Equal, a new opera about female soldiers which is a centrepiece of this year’s Army@TheFringe programme.

She realised that there was very little visibility for British Army women online. This contrasted sharply with countries like the USA and Israel where many women highlight their identity as members of the armed forces.

She said: “I was looking at this in 2016 when there was a lot of media flak about women being given access to all roles in the Army.

“There seemed to be suggestions that this was something new and that women may not be able to do the job, when it was clear from other armies round the world that they could and already did.

“I looked for an online presence, for groups or forums. There were lots in other countries, but here the silence was deafening. It may be that that some felt it was tough enough getting by in a male dominated environment as it was without drawing additional attention to themselves.

“They are here, they exist, they do the job but they are invisible. It’s bonkers. I wanted to fill this empty space in a way that empowered them.”