Leonora Saunders


Leonora - HeadShot

Leonora’s work is focused on exploring issues surrounding diversity, specifically gender equality and challenging the way in which we represent women through imagery.

Three books that have inspired you?

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

I was captivated by this story of the siege of Leningrad. Her poetic prose conjures up such vivid and powerful images of this period in history.

Her Brilliant Career by Rachel Cooke

This collection of stories of 10 pioneering women from the 50s exploring their personal and professional lives is fascinating. We have come so far in removing a lot of the barriers both socially and culturally but sadly there are still startling similarities in the experiences of women today.

Kathryn by Anya Seyton

I read this when I was about 14 and was totally riveted. It is a fictional story based on  the life of Kathryn Swynford who was the long time mistress of John of Gaunt. She was a controversial public figure and her descendants started the Tudor dynasty. Despite her huge historical significance few traces of her life have survived- a theme that I am exploring in a current project looking at the lack of representation of women from history.

Who are the women that inspire you, what is it that they have achieved that appeals?

There are so many women that provide inspiration, past and present.

A new project that I start shooting next month looks at 15 pioneering women whose work over the last 200 years has informed our archaeological, geological and paleontological heritage.

Jacquetta Hawkes, Honor Frost, Kathleen Kenyon, Dorothy Garrod – These women were all successful in their respective fields but few today have heard of them.

Probably the most well known woman who will feature is Mary Anning, who it is thought was the inspiration behind the tongue twister ‘she sells sea shells on the sea shore’.

Considering the percentage of women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) today is around 9%, imagine the difficulties faced by the women working 150 years ago! Truly against ALL odds and incredibly inspirational.
Photography wise, I love the work of Madame Yevonde. Her work in the early part of the 20th century was pioneering for its early colour  photography but also her creative and artistic expression. Her references to historical figures, gods and goddesses for example, I find inspirational. The work of Vivian Maier is also absolutely fascinating. Her story is so moving as well, such an enormous archive to have been found undiscovered after so many years, every frame on the contact sheet so beautifully composed, an incredible window into life in 1950s America, all shot by a woman who had no acknowledgement or recognition during her lifetime.

Tell us about a project that you’re currently working on…

I’m currently working on ‘Same But Different’ with BITC (Business In The Community) Through imagery and narrative, we want to challenge employer and media perceptions of working women and help them understand the challenges that women encounter, but also their needs, priorities and strengths. Women are not one homogenous group. Yet public discourse and imagery tend to generalise about women based on the experience of just a few – typically white women working in professional roles. This narrow focus limits understanding of women’s real experiences in work, and consequently we overlook the barriers experienced by many. When we see imagery of ‘women in work’ used by the media, or by employers, they are oddly the same. They usually portray those white women in professional dress. Sometimes an article about ‘women having it all’ or ‘work life balance’  will show us something like this – usually a woman juggling a child and a laptop, always immaculately presented.

SBD seeks to challenge this misrepresentation and produce a series of images that show real women and the many different experiences and challenges that they face.

Women’s roles in Photography, both in front of and behind the camera, have changed dramatically over the years. How have these changes impacted the way you work and what you have chosen to photograph?

I choose to work on projects that challenge stereotypes because I get satisfaction from working with people who are actively trying to challenge the status quo and improve things for everyone. We all benefit from gender equality, it isn’t just a ‘women’s issue’. Photography is also by and large male dominated, we are predominantly looking at imagery taken from a male perspective. I think thats why it is so important to keep celebrating the work of women photographers as it is an opportunity to view history and society through the female gaze.


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