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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Creative Connections: Portraits of Women Scientists and Artists

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    06 Sep

    Creative Connections, Portraits of Women Scientists and Artists   

    Anne-Katrin Purkiss: Freelance Photographer

    Exhibition runs from 9 September 2019 to 29 February 2020

    Anne Purkiss has been an independent photographer for more than 30 years. Her specialism is photographic portraits though she has a strong interest in the environment and works regularly for the South Downs National Park which takes her to one of her favourite parts of the country.  But Anne’s interest in people has driven her work, and her success.  She has over 100 portraits in the National Portrait Gallery’s archive.

    Katharine Cashman FRS and Emma Stibbon RA at Spike Island,
    Bristol in 2018. Photograph by Anne-Katrin Purkiss

    Her interest in photography started early since her parents were both photographers.  Their specialism was in heritage, architecture and culture more broadly.  Shebegan experimenting with photographic portraits and, whilst finding it a difficult subject, it was for her the most fascinating. She describes photographic portraiture as a balancing act. The technical side has to be right, but more importantly the photographer needs to capture the character of the person. She says, “you have to keep them engaged, talking about something they are interested in whilst also thinking about the light and the angles.” Anne’s innate interest in people underlies her success. Her childhood in East Germany, where over 90 percent of women worked in the 1960s and 70s, meant that she grew up in an environment where taking a career break to raise a family, was never considered.

    Anne has worked for Associated Press and the Central Office of Information, and more recently for ART UK and the Royal Academy. The first two introduced her to artists and scientists, two groups of people whom she believes are undervalued and underrepresented. It has given her great pleasure to work with them for her upcoming exhibition.

    She says, “artists are visual people so understand the need to present themselves to a wider public, but this is not so much the case with scientists.  They will often put forward for publication an old photo or one taken by a colleague on a mobile phone, whilst in the lab or on an expedition”. She likes to photograph scientists in the context of their work. She believes that this helps people to connect with her subjects, and to see someone who has done something special in a different way. If that means including a computer screen in the picture, so be it. Computer screens change, so the photo is dated to a period and the image becomes a document of that time.

    Anne sees her portraits as a way of raising an awareness of science, presenting scientists as subjects of interest to the general public by showing them in an interesting light. She admires them for pursuing a topic with singlemindedness and for their creativity in finding ways to solve problems. With her pictures, she wants to keep a record of some exceptional people who remain often unseen behind their scientific work.

    While photographing a painter recently, Anne asked them what they considered to be the essential ingredient for being an artist. The response was “Disobedience!”. A term, she believes, that could apply equally to scientists with their inquisitive quirky minds.

    Anne began photographing artists and scientists when working for the Associated Press. She remembers taking photographs of Elizabeth Frink for her 60th birthday and scientists when they were awarded a Nobel Prize.

    Currently she is working mainly for museums and galleries and she is one of the photographers who are contributing to the ART UK project to digitise sculpture in the UK's publicly owned collections.  (The New Hall Art Collection is a partner organisations of ART UK).

    Anne discovered the New Hall Art Collection through her work with other galleries and museums and realised that she had taken photographic portraits of a number of the women artists represented in the Collection.  Talking to Sarah Greaves, the College (and Collection) Administrator, they discussed possible outlines for an exhibition. Over time that has resulted in the exhibition, Creative Connections.  Twenty-three portraits of scientists and artists will be displayed in Lower Fountain Court in Murray Edwards College from 9 September 2019 to 29 February 2020. The works, by the eleven artists, including one sculpture, are displayed throughout the College.  A map is provided to find them, enabling visitors to explore the richness of the New Hall Collection which now numbers over 500 works.