Fast Forward is a research project exploring women in photography. Launched in 2014, the project has established a significance within the world of photography for highlighting the work of women photographers and for questioning the way that the established canons have been formed. Qissa sat down with Director, Anna Fox, and Research & Project Manager, Maria Kapajeva, to find out how they promote and engage with women and non-binary people in photography across the globe.

Qissa: It says on your website that Fast Forward Photography started with a panel discussion at Tate Modern. Did the panel discussion spark the idea for the project, or was the panel discussion the first step in the project? If the former, what was the panel discussion about?

Anna Fox: The panel discussion was the first step in the project. The project was sparked by a conversation between myself and Professor Karen Knorr. We were discussing the fact that there was still a lack of visibility of women photographers in the professional world despite the fact that we had almost 100% women photography students in our classes. Head of School at University for the Creative Arts, Sarah Jeans, supported the project and brought funding to pay for Maria Kapajeva to join the team initially as the Project Researcher. (Maria has gone on to become Fast Forward Project Manager). Myself, Karen and Sarah approached Tate Modern to invite them to collaborate and this is how the symposium happened. It was oversubscribed immediately, and the discussion led to the formation of the first conference at Tate Modern in 2015.

Elizabeth Ransom, Coffee - Spain & UK - 629 days, 2021-2022, Film soup printed on aluminum, image courtesy of the artist.

Qissa: Can you talk a little about storytelling within photography? As a medium, do you think stories are more evident within the works than, say, painting or sculpture?

AF: Photography, like film, has innate story telling capabilities and possibilities. Its indexical nature lends it a particular weight in terms of telling tales about peoples’ lives, as well its accessibility for a wide range of audiences also assists in making it readable to mass audiences across borders.

Maria Kapajeva: There is not much point in comparing different mediums within the arts: each has its own way to tell the stories and often it is rather a coalition of a few mediums in one outcome, an artwork, for instance. 

Bärbel Praun. From the series Impermanent Sculptures (of Indestructible Objects), 2017,

Qissa: How do you discover photographers from around the world?

AF: Over a period of years talking to people and travelling to a wide variety of places we have met a vast number of women involved in photography. Through workshops, mentoring and conferences we have been introduced to many significant photographers whose works all too often remain quite hidden. We also regularly travel to fairs and festivals where a mass of photography is on show.

MK: Also, we are keeping our eyes open all the time in all directions, following some people and organisations over social media and mailing lists, visiting the events and exhibitions, browsing in all possible ways. Our project is based in the UK, but we do spend lots of time and take good care to highlight professionals from all over the world, especially those who are based outside of the, so called, Western world. 

It's All in My Head © Etinosa Yvonne

Qissa: Where in the world is a hub for photography, or is producing really exciting photographers at the moment?

AF: Women photographers are working on interesting projects across the globe – there is no one distinct place – that is the magic of it – you go somewhere, you meet the curators, editors and photographers and you realise that great work is happening everywhere. 

MK: What is important is that people who can bring to the public attention a photographer and their work would search for stories which haven’t been told yet or are not told enough, and that are from the places which are less visible than others.

Gravity: Gravitas (extract) Rosy Martin in collaboration with Verity Welstead.

Qissa: Part of the project is looking back at the canon and questioning why more women are not included. Could you tell us about a female photographer from history who should receive more recognition?

MK: Well, these are what our events, especially conferences are about: to discover and to acknowledge the forgotten names or less-known practitioners, who did or still do important work in photography. We always video record all the presentations at our conferences and then make them available online on our website. So, please go to the ‘Videos’ section on our website and discover some new stories and names. For instance, we have just had an open call for the papers for the 5th conference, which will take place at MOMus-Thessaloniki Museum of Photography in Greece in 2024. We are very excited to see what new research is out there. The conference is organised collaboratively with the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) and London College of Communication (LCC) at University of the Arts London Photography (UAL) and the University of Sunderland as well as with the Museum of Photography in Thessaloniki. So, if you would like to keep updated about all our new calls or events, please join our newsletter which we send a few times a year.  

Women from the Pakistani Diaspora in England © Maryam Wahid

Qissa: What has been your biggest achievement so far?

AF: I think that our conferences are truly spectacular - every one of them - and we have three more coming up in the next three years. Each one reveals numerous stories and images from women photographers who we often have never heard of and they open the mind to thinking about photography in a wholly new way. We are not looking for the best of the best, instead we are looking for their stories, to know how they worked and why they worked – and to see the images that have been neglected by the photography world and to interrogate them in inspiring new ways. Our next conference, Women, Photography, Conflict, in November 2023 will be held at the Nikola Tesla Technical Museum in Zagreb. We are co-convening the conference in Zagreb with art historian Sandra Krizic Roban from the Institute of Art History and will be collaborating with the Art Pavilion (Zagreb), Tbilisi Photography Festival, LCC (UAL) and with UCA. This conference brings to light the little-known histories of women war photographers and women artists responding to war and conflict.

MK: Over 10 years of our work, we have built up and continue to create an incredible international network between professionals from all over the world and it is a valuable resource, not just in our own work, but also when we connect people and then more new projects, discussions, initiatives are born because of these connections and meetings. Often it is hard to evaluate the impact of it all but we do hope that Fast Forward contributes to the changes happening in photography world and beyond. 

The Disobedient Nose, 2022 © Shirin Fathi

Qissa: And what about your biggest challenge?

AF: Getting men to join in!

Qissa: You run a Fast Forward emerging women photographer’s mentorship programme. Previous programmes have taken place in West Africa and China. Are you able to tell us about any upcoming programmes?

AF: Actually the project Putting Ourselves In The Picture was also a mentorship project in the UK – working with 22 migrant and refugee women and non-binary people across the UK for over a year and with five important partners supporting the activity with skills and ideas workshops as well as longer term mentorship. We are just applying for funding to extend this project to work in more of a relationship with the photography industry and open up employment possibilities for the women that we are working with. Everything depends on funding and finding partners and collaborators – we keep looking and applying. 

MK: We also open to collaborations with other organisations in other countries, so if anyone is interested to work with us on some mentorship or educational project, please contact us. 

Rialto Bridge, Venice. Courtesy of the artist © Joy Gregory

Qissa: Finally, please highlight five female photographers that you would recommend to our audience and share what you love about their work. 

MK: Well, instead of making a list and worrying that we might include or forget someone to include, we would advise your readers to follow us on Instagram @womeninphoto where every week a new artist shares their work. We also feature some projects in our online gallery which updates on weekly basis and is well worth looking at.

Cover photo: Villa Argentina © Aruna Canevascini

Thank you to all the artists featured for allowing us to display their work.