The Missing Girls

This is a growing exhibition! The search continues for those original Visible Girls as yet unfound. Their portraits will inform the walls and the next phases of the show.

If you are a Visible Girl reading this – or think you know a Visible Girl please get in touch by emailing us.

Stories: LINDA & SUSAN

click on the portrait to reveal the old and new portraits

LINDA

‘I remember this photograph being taken but I only saw it for the first time over 30 years later when it was on Facebook. I was hysterical with laughter. I had to call Susan. We were like – ‘OH GOD HOW AWFUL WE LOOK!’ My kids were wondering what on earth I was shrieking on the ‘phone about at 7am.

‘In my teens, I loved having my photo taken. Southgate station had a photo booth so we would all crowd in there. I had an Instamatic – I was always at Boots getting pictures developed. If I took a photograph that I didn’t like I ripped it up and no one would ever see it, but it’s different now for my four daughters. I can see the stress they go through, looking at images of themselves on social media – worrying they don’t look good. If someone takes a photograph of you now, it’s out there forever.

‘We are Jewish so that was our scene. In our early teens we would hang out at McDonald’s, the Baskin Robbins in Golders Green, we would go to pubs – not drinking but hanging around outside. We’d go to Hampstead and meet at The Milk Churn for a salad or ice cream and hang out there all night; to meet new people – but boys mainly.

‘In our twenties we would go to the Camden Palais where all the new romantics were. I remember feeling quite inferior because they had made such a statement with their clothes and make up. I remember the skins, the punks, the fights…The Royalty would see massive clashes between the skinheads and the blacks.

‘I didn’t have any statement to make like the subcultures did. My dream wasn’t to rebel but to be financially secure and not have to be reliant on a man. I got a job as a John Lewis fashion buyer at 16 and bought my first flat at 22. I always regret not travelling though.

‘In my thirties I was more confident. I was still friends with many of the people I had known in my twenties but we were now all married with kids and we’d all do things together with our families.

‘In my fifties, I still feel confident. If I didn’t ‘fit’ now, it wouldn’t bother me, whereas when I was 13 the group could be very bitchy if you didn’t fit in with the ones we called the ‘Becky Jews’. Being in your fifties doesn’t mean ‘old’ any more. I wear similar clothes to my kids – boots with a heel, black jeans… As opposed to my parents generation. My mother would never have worn jeans. I also don’t perceive there to be subcultures now. If someone has pink hair – so what? We would never say, ‘ooh they’re making a statement there!’

‘If young people want to say something nowadays they just say it. They don’t need to be in a group to express it. Maybe they don’t have things to fight for…if they want something, society says: ‘go and get it. You can have whatever you want. You can be whoever you choose.’’

SUSAN

‘My sister Linda and me weren’t part of a subculture really. I was 16 then – too young then to be aware of what subcultures were. But we wouldn’t have been scared of a punk or crossed the street if we saw a group of them. I don’t remember ever being frightened or feeling intimidated by going up to London. I don’t think we were scared of very much really. The world seemed a less scary place back then – either that or it was the courage of youth!

‘There were quite a lot of us in our social group, but I was still young and hadn’t yet found out who I was and I liked all different sorts of things. It was probably just the start of ‘going out’ for me.

‘We wore whatever was in fashion really – I think the sweatshirt I’m wearing was from Miss Selfridge but we also shopped at local boutiques. Going by what I am wearing in this picture, I wasn’t properly clubbing by then – it would certainly have been something better than that horrible jacket!

‘On a night out, we would have friends round at mine and gather there, or round at friends’ houses. We are Jewish and there were clubs and events put on especially for the London Jewish teenage scene and we used to go to those wherever they were. At that age, we weren’t drinking really – but if we did it was probably something like Malibu or Cinzano – but most of the time the clubs we went to were put on for teens so there wasn’t alcohol there.

‘We rang people to organise a night out. No mobile ‘phones, it was all by house telephone. We would arrange to meet at a certain place
and…well, you just got yourself there, didn’t you? It’s bizarre thinking about it now. Having no mobile ‘phones, you couldn’t be like ‘where are you? Are you late?’ Nope, you just had to wait for people to arrive.

‘A lot of the clubs would be playing disco but I also liked Spandau Ballet, Adam and the Ants, Heaven 17, David Bowie… so it was the start of, I suppose, the new romantic stuff. I had my own stereo with cassette and record player and lots of 12-inch singles.

‘I think music has much less of an influence on fashion as it once did. Back then, you could tell by the way someone dressed what movement they were part of, but now there doesn’t seem to be that divide. Now it’s the ‘age of celebrity’, and that’s what influences us. I think teenagers today aspire to look how a certain celebrity looks. They don’t dress to be associated with something or a type of music or scene.’

Anita Remembers...

‘Early evening on Saturday 28th March 1981, I was headed to The Royalty Club to photograph some rockabillies. As I exited the tube at Southgate, I spotted these two girls hanging around the photo booth. I knew immediately that I wanted to capture them as part of Visible Girls and they turned out to be sisters, Linda (aged 15) and Susan (aged 17).

They weren’t obviously aligned to a subculture, but as a pair of North London Jewish girls out on a Saturday night in their almost matching suede, tasselled jackets they were an important part of the scene for me to capture too. I was very focused on showing the lives of as many young women as possible, as a way of saying ‘here we are’!  I didn’t know until 36 years later where they were even headed that night!

‘I took six pictures in total on my Olympus OM 2 and I was probably only with them for five or ten minutes. I only had a budget of two rolls of film per night (72 frames) so I knew I needed the rest for the shots of rockers in the club I would be taking later.

‘36 years on, I met the sisters again. Linda (now 51 with four daughters, a puppy, a husband and a full time job) had got in touch with me just before Christmas 2016. She had seen the original images on Facebook.  Both her and Susan (now 53, an avid traveller with a fast-paced sales job),were up for being photographed for the Visible Girls:Revisited project.  To my delight, Southgate tube station looked more or less the same – even the telephone was still on the wall!

‘This time I had a lot more equipment, including a heavy-duty tripod and a light on a stand. In 1981 it was just a camera bag and portable flash, as I had to be nimble on my feet, jumping on and off tubes and buses en route to shoots.

‘This time around, Susan and Linda stood posing for over an hour and I took over 200 pictures on my digital Nikon D750.  Typical of the modern age, we also had to deal with several photo-bombing moments; the most notable being a young guy straight out of the gym (a gym that just so happened to be where The Royalty Club once stood) who whipped his top off and asked for permission to flex! Not a bad end to the night for three fifty-something women…’

Stories: CAROL & NICOLA

click on the portrait to reveal the old and new portraits

CAROL

‘That day the photograph was taken we were at a disco after attending the first National Lesbian Conference in London. It was exciting – there was such a sense of solidarity. It was important to show people that lesbians weren’t just a ‘little group’.

Growing up, I knew there was something inside me that I really needed to understand but I wasn’t sure what. I knew that I needed to get away from small town expectations: working in the local factory, getting married – and having Christ knows how many kids. I wouldn’t call what I was doing rebellious.It was I think, desperation.

‘My subculture gave me a hook to hang my coat on for a while. It provided a sense of family but in hindsight it wasn’t truly me. The real me was that small town girl, and all of a sudden I’d met all these clever, student Feminist lesbians. I was very working class and they used language I only pretended to understand.

‘But it was through that subculture that I realised, ‘oh, I’m a lesbian!’ and it was important for me to have found that tribe. That particular subculture allowed one, true part of me to flourish but it wasn’t always in alignment with the other parts of me. People are more complex than
their communities.

‘I think that’s why I’m still growing into myself, still trying to find out who it is that I am. And subcultures, those groups… it’s very easy to fall into them purely for that sense of belonging that
we all want. ‘There was a lot more discrimination back in those days. Lesbians were abused by people in the street. A neighbour put a burning magazine through our postbox once when we lived in a lesbian shared house. Subcultures make it easier for people to discriminate against you because they can then de-personalise you. People can act out dislike on a group. Whereas, if they know you as an individual, they have to question their own morals. Of course, you are providing yourself with some safety by attaching to a group but you are also making yourself a bigger target.

‘I was happy to be part of the subculture on the community rather than national level. On a community level in Hull we did a lot of things.We set up the first women’s centre and Rape Crisis line. That was a big thing at the time. Now, I realise I can’t change the bigger things. I can only live the way I think is a good way to live and hope that will influence other things, other people. It’s still change I think but on a much quieter scale.’

NICOLA

‘All I remember about that photograph was that I was trying to protect Carol, because about two minutes before she’d been freaking out a bit.

We’d been taking magic mushrooms, you know how it goes. Anita came up and said, ‘Hey, can I take your picture?’ and I turned round to say, ‘No!’ but Carol beamed and went, ‘Yeah!’
‘If I identified with a tribe then I’d say it was ‘Lesbian Feminist’. We did have some signs and signals: the haircut, the women’s sign badges, ties and braces and I wore them because I liked what they stood for, equality. But I also wore them because if you were in the supermarket and you saw someone else wearing that double women’s sign you’d think, ‘Thank god, I’m not the only one. Not everyone in the room will turn on the dyke and spit’.

‘As we get older we become more ourselves, individuals, and that makes us less tribal – less willing to just go along with things – more likely to ask questions. When I was 19 I hadn’t learnt the rules of the tribe and just said stuff. I wasn’t very popular. After a year or so I learnt to keep my mouth shut because asking questions was ‘Not Done’. But the thing I most disliked about the Lesbian Feminist ethos was The Collective: not just that we were equal but that we all had do exactly the same thing, no matter what your particular skills. Everything together all the time. It drove me crazy – it was ridiculous and just wasteful.

‘Since then, I’ve belonged to many tribes. I’m still part of the queer community here in the US, and different writers’ communities – science fiction, crip fiction, historical fiction. I’m doing research, and a PhD, so I also mix with historians and academics. There’s my neighbourhood community, the online crip community… I’m part of many subcultures now but don’t wholly belong to any.

‘Subcultural membership then and now is different. Back then, being part of the Lesbian Feminist tribe was critical to survival. Without that kind of support, well, it was dangerous. Police harassment, rape threats, arson. I was beaten and hospitalised. We kept each other sane, and found joy instead of living in terror all the time. Now, thanks to social media, you can find your people more easily. Sometimes its not just need but more of an affinity group. You can be a left-handed, blue-haired, dog owner and there will be a group for you. The downside of online communities is that they don’t bring you food when you’re sick, they won’t help paint your house, they can’t hold your hand while you grieve for your mother or a sister who died.
‘I also think it’s absolutely true that as a woman you become invisible as you age. The minute you look infertile you stop being a sexual object and prey. To men particularly you are no longer noticeable. That’s so not a problem for me! And in some ways I’m now in my fifties more visible than ever. I’m an Englishwoman in the US and I’m in a wheelchair. I’m an author who goes on tour: when a new book’s out I’m on the radio, in the paper, on TV. I get recognised, sometimes when I don’t want to be. But then there are those times when I’m not seen and I’m like – ‘Hey, why is everyone ignoring me?!’