‘Daughters of the Soil’, by documentary photographer Joanne Coates is the cumulation of twelve months of research into the role of women in agriculture in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. The exhibition aims to redress the lack of documentation of female farmworkers, who have played a central role in agricultural progress throughout history, with captivating portraits of women’s role in farming. Women make up 15% of the farming industry in the UK, and their contribution is significant but often overlooked, with underlying barriers such as access to land, class, motherhood, and lack of clear leadership roles assisting this.
Joanne Coates says ‘The project offered the opportunity for me to chronicle the lives and stories of these women. Women aren’t as visible as men on farms, but we are seeing them more often. The female workforce is driving tractors, having a social media presence, and can be seen on the TV, but they don’t often inherit land or work in leadership positions. In the arts, projects often get made by an outsider about areas, places, spaces, people they want to learn about. Especially in photography, depictions of rurality and gender often come only from the outside. As someone who has worked as a farm labourer and worker, who lives in a very rural area with a partner who farms, my work offers a different perspective. For me it is a perspective often overlooked and not seen and I wanted to share this through the work.’
The work was produced during a residency with the Maltings, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) and Institute for Creative Arts Practice. Coates worked collaboratively with Professor Sally Shortall, Duke of Northumberland Chair of Rural Economy at CRE, whose research focuses on gender relations in agriculture.
Joanne Coates was born in Yorkshire and is based in the North of England. She studied for a BA (Hons) in Photography at London College of Communication, London, graduating in 2015. ‘Daughters of the Soil’ was first shown at The Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed (2022). Other exhibitions include her solo show at the Jerwood Gallery, London, ‘Invisible Britain: This Separated Isle’, touring exhibition, Ffotogallery, Cardiff, Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, Impressions Gallery, Bradford (2022), and ‘The Unseen Beautiful’, Crown Street Gallery, Darlington (2019). She was joint awardee of the Jerwood / Photoworks Prize (2021), and winner of the Portrait of Britain: British Journal of Photography (2020). Coates’ work has featured in The Guardian, BBC, Financial Times, The Telegraph and The British Journal of Photography. She was one of the 209 female photographers to photograph MPs for the centenary of the right to vote for women in the UK. Coates is a member of Women Photograph, a non-profit database that seeks to elevate the voices of women and nonbinary visual journalists, and a co-founder of Form, a lens-based collective that explores altered identity.
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