Celebrating 125 years of fostering independence and individuality in their pupils, Putney High School GDST commissioned this empowering portrait gallery.
This series of portraits, all of trail-blazing alumnae who attended the school over the generations and have since gone on to make their mark in the world, were executed by Anita Corbin. Herself a Putney Alumna, and the artist behind the critically acclaimed Visible Girls and First Women UK exhibitions, Anita acknowledges the achievements of a range of exceptional alumnae who all display the same indomitable Putney spirit that remains at the heart of the current generation of pupils.
Commenting on her subjects, Anita Corbin said,
‘All these women, and the many that aren’t featured here, have a great deal in common. They have all gone on to find their own distinct pathways. The teachers at Putney treated us as independent young women and encouraged us to see beyond the stereotypes – we were taught that anything and everything was within our grasp.’
The exhibition was unveiled at an event on 8 November as part of celebration that mark the 125th Anniversary of the school, which first opened its doors in 1893. It also prompted the school to devise the Anita Corbin Award. Conceived to offer invaluable photography experience to a Year 12 student with a passion for art, the winner, Antonia Cheema-Grubb, shadowed Anita for five days. She was immersed in researching subjects, location finding, shooting and the curation and post production that followed, and was even invited to take the twelfth portrait, of Anita, herself (above).
One of the featured alumnae, Sandie Okoro, who is a lawyer and Senior Vice President at the World Bank Group, said of her time at the school: ‘Putney was never for one type of girl. Yes, it was academic, but it was also for the curious, the iconoclast, the creative, and for girls who wanted to change the world.’
‘My PHS friends haven’t changed,’ she continued, ‘they still have the same cracking sense of humour, the same warmth and not one of them takes themselves seriously even though they have all gone on to do amazing things.’
Echoing a similar sentiment, Pippa Greenwood, now a botanist, reminisced, ‘Putney gave me something which was very special – It made me think, quite rightly I believe, that anything was possible if you wanted it and if you tried. You didn’t get something by standing still with your hand out – you had to make things work.’
It is this ‘can do’ attitude that, for Anita, unified all the alumnae she met during the process. ‘Putney was always very respectful of the individual,’ she remembered, ‘finding what everyone was good at. They knew everyone was good at something and they helped you find it’.
A display of skilled photography – and The National Portrait Gallery in London has, to date, purchased 20 of Anita’s photographs for the national archive – this gallery depicts the brilliance that a school such as Putney High endows in its pupils. Gifts that patently serve them well as they leave school and find their feet, leading fulfilled and eclectic adult lives. Or in Sophie Simmet’s words: ‘I learnt so much, not just from lessons, but about myself, how to be, and how to be happy’.