Anita Corbin

Wonderful Women Interview With Portrait Photographer Anita Corbin

Anita Corbin
Image Credit: Jerome Whittingham

Anita Corbin started using a camera at the age of 9 and even after a 36-year career, still carries one everywhere with her. Renowned in her field, Anita’s specialist areas of portraiture and editorial photography have generated iconic images for The Sunday Times and The Observer magazines as well as corporate agencies including The Partners. Even though the likes of Bono, Joely Richardson, Alan Bennett and Peter O’Toole have been in front of her lens, capturing the essence of ‘the extraordinary lives of ordinary people’ is where her creative passion lies.

She is regularly invited to present nationally on life in photography, and in 2015 was asked by the BBC to talk about ‘the image of women today’ on their 100Women programme.

The National Portrait Gallery has to date, purchased 20 of her portraits for the national archive.

In 2018, Anita will tour her legacy project ‘First Women’, 100 portraits of Britain’s female trailblazers, celebrating 100 years of women winning the right to vote.

Human interaction is at the heart of Anita’s work. Her dedication to family, celebration of her ancestry and respect of the spirit of photography all feed her capacity to relate deeply to strangers and capture with compassion, their personal stories.

Anita on her recent exhibition Visible Girls Revisited:

‘When I took the original double portraits I was determined that as young women we should claim our place in photographic history. Colour photography was the perfect medium as the girls were so colourful, vibrant and individual. As a non-conformist myself, my search for identity and belonging at 22 was perfectly expressed in the combination of these girls looking for their own sense of self and my desire to photograph them.

Visible Girls Revisited offered those girls – and again, myself – a chance to come full circle; to celebrate and understand that who we were isn’t lost, but necessarily informs who we have become. The audience isn’t an outsider to this process either, but through relationship to the images, can, I hope come into deeper relationship with their own lives.’

It is an incredible honour to interview Anita on Honest Mum,

Describe a typical day for you.

Everyday is different, I travel at all hours of the day and night for photography assignments so if I haven’t arrived home too late from a shoot I will wake up earlyish. I’m a morning person and am annoyingly cheerful from the moment I open my eyes…so my husband tells me, I think that’s a good thing and better than being cheerfully annoying!

I tend to have an extended cup of tea in bed checking my emails, Instagram and other feeds that need feeding!

I’ll check in with our two grown up kids, just a quick text sending them kisses and wishes for the day.

Usually John ( husband) will be dozing next to me whilst listening to the radio, so we are sort of sharing an intimate moment once I’ve turned off all those annoying noises on my devises!

Breakfast is usually a super healthy green smoothie packed with all the supplements you can think of! I can’t afford to be ill, no sick pay, no holiday pay and no maternity pay- that’s the reality of running your own business! Oh but the freedom and independence makes it all worth while.

If I’m not on an assignment, I’ll walk into town, we live in Wellington, a small town in Somerset, do some errands, get a short Americano with hot milk on the side from Coffee # 1 and then go to my office and start editing the latest set of photographs.

I like to work very intuitively and I let the photographs ‘talk’ to me as I go through the stages of editing, walking away from the edit for a few hours, honing them down to the very best images-a skill I learnt at a very early age, when working with the top art directors and picture editors at the Sunday Times and Observer Magazines. The edit is a crucial part of the photographic journey.

If it’s a Monday or Thursday I’ll be working with my right hand woman Deborah Willimott; we work brilliantly together, she does the words – I do the pictures, we will be planning the exhibitions, applying for funding, working the social media and liaising with the press. We have been working together for nearly three years and I feel that collaboration with other people is very exciting, and I love the fact that we met on a bus like Jagger and Richards!

When you work for yourself, it’s very easy to keep working all day, so I make sure I have a break and if it’s not raining, wrangle Freddie and Barney, our two standard poodles up the road for a bit of nature and some fresh air..there are plenty of beautiful landscapes to enjoy..I need to see the horizon at least once a day.

On a shooting day, I’ll be totally focused on getting all the logistics together before setting off for the location…the cameras, the memory cards, the batteries, the lighting, tripods etc…it’s a lot of kit to get in the car. It keeps you fit as you are weight bearing all the time. I’m conscious of that as I’m turning 59 years old next month and need to keep my muscles, ligaments and bones on side!

When we can, John and I will eat supper together, he’s a great cook and my total rock. If we snuggle down together on the sofa to watch a movie, I usually wake up when the credits are rolling !


What do you feel are your biggest achievements?

Apart from growing and giving birth to our babies who turned out real well, caring for my Dad and getting him to 101 years old relatively pain free and healthy.

Having 20 of my portraits 8 First Women and 12 Great British Scientists (with John O’Grady) in the national archive at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Winning a Nikon / Sunday Times Scholarship in 1981 as the youngest (age 22 years) and only woman photographer in the finals, with a series of portraits about Girls in Sports, this break set me on my path for life.

Having the insight to photograph my ‘Visible Girls’ series of double portraits of Girls in Subcultures in 1980-1981, when I was just 22 years old.

This body of work has proven to have a life of its own and is even more significant 36 years on, in its reincarnation as Visible Girls:Revisited, stories about real women.

Conceiving and creating my legacy project First Women, to capture and interpret this moment in Herstory, as we celebrate 100 years of women winning the right to vote and the impact we have had on society.

First Women UK, 100 iconic portraits of Women who are first in their fields, to be launched in summer of 2018.

I am happy to say that I have managed to provide for my family for the past 36 years from a life in photography, a life that I have created and honed for us with the help of many great clients, picture editors and art directors.


What’s in your handbag/ satchel?

I have a beat up big old Radley bag with an excessive amount of pockets which is good because it’s my mobile office. I’m quite organised in that I have all the bills I need to pay in the centre pocket, don’t worry …once they’ve been paid they are moved to a file! …The rest of the bag is full of essentials, my paper diary, yes I still love to write stuff down!, my iPhone, my iPad, keys, my wallet with far too many loyalty cards in, some rescue remedy just in case!, some lip balm, some herb tea bags free from Pukka, a short tape measure from a cracker (v useful), my very first Kodak photo album from when I was 10 years old…why, because there’s a picture of my mum in it and it reminds me of a lovely sunny holiday we spent together; my mum died when I was 20, just as I was becoming a photographer.


What are your ambitions in life?

To live long and healthy, to spend quality time with my loved ones in a crazy and quirky beach house that I will live in somewhere in the world, hopefully surrounded by grandchildren, in the fullness of time!

To keep being inspired by people I meet everyday, humans are a fascination to me.

To keep interpreting the world through my lens and creating positive, uplifting and dynamic images of our species, to make the world a better place, with some more portraits collected by the NPG!

To become a better gardener to honour my green-fingered mother and father.


What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?

That miracles can happen and hard work always pays off.

That we are all individuals and we can find inspiration in other individuals that might look at life differently to us. Nothing is perfect and everything happens for a reason.

Listen to your gut.

Ask for help.

Collaboration is very enriching.


Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

In five years time, wow! I will have been a working photographer for over 40 years by then, although I will always be a practising photographer until the day I die… I would like to be in a position to share my experience and knowledge with the next generation of image makers, either as a mentor or through educational channels.

The high dream would be to be commissioned for life by an inspired company or sugar mummy ! to keep photographing the next 100 First Women as they become Firsts, to ensure that these amazing and inspirational women don’t get lost in the hubbub of life. We must celebrate and highlight these trailblazers for the generations of women to come, these are significant times for all of us.

I hope to be living in the beach house by then !


What advice would you give a budding photographer?

Choose your path and stick to it, develop your passions so that you are the expert and be yourself, staying focused on what you know is true to you.

Work hard, be driven and tenacious, stay healthy and strong, don’t sweat the small stuff!

Don’t have too many expectations of what others will do for you. Be a self-starter. Have fun doing what you love- it doesn’t feel at all like work then!


What do you wish you’d known about motherhood before having kids?

I always wanted to have children and I’m quite a child myself still…but John and I were busy working as photographers and building up our Corbin O’Grady Studio brand in Central London, so we didn’t really focus on having a family until I was in my mid 30s.

I felt pretty fulfilled by what I had achieved in my career, which I’d started aged 22 years old, but becoming pregnant with our twins Daisy and Louis in my mid 30s was the most fulfilling and completing life experience I could ever have had…I was literally full of life and joy and energy, John and I had been living and working together for 13 years and to create two beautiful babies in one go was like hitting the jackpot!

Being a mum is still the most important part of my life and it always will be.

I can’t think of anything specific that I wish I’d known but having our children has taught me so much, how to be silly, how to dance around the kitchen, how to be the mistress of distraction tactics, how to understand that everything happens for a reason, how to nurture patience and fairness, how awesome that feeling of pride when both children receive a First Class honours degree and how wonderfully grounded a big hug from your kids makes you feel!


Finally, happiness is…

Dusk in the summer garden with the hose pipe on, watering the roses, some BBQ smells coming from the patio…the whole family together including da boys (dogs), friends, waifs and strays always welcome too.

Cracking open a beer or two and sitting around the fire pit as the witching hour falls….the cherry on the top…. John playing guitar and signing some blues.


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Wonderful Women Interview With Portrait Photographer Anita Corbin - Honest Mum


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