Creating We are Bess

Portraits for We are Bess hang with the historic portraits in the Long Gallery at Hardwick

Portraiture has been used for centuries to provide a representation of a person beyond their physical characteristics. At Hardwick, portraits of many of those part of its story hang in the Long Gallery. To continue this tradition, the National Trust commissioned photographer Rachel Adams to create a series of modern-day portraits of the 'We are Bess' women.

It was a real honour to be asked to make the images for this project. A lot of my work focuses on the representation of women and I like to try to redress the imbalance a bit.

As subjects I find women and the way society perceives us interesting and complex. That’s why photographing women comes with its challenges. It can be hard to get women to trust that a portrait does not need to be flattering to have impact.

Getting the right balance

With a project like this there is a tension between trying to address inequality through the superficial prism of the gaze, and emphasising achievement over appearances. But my instinct is always to try and draw out character and I hope the women I’ve photographed see something new in themselves that they are proud of. I also hope visitors to the exhibition are inspired by the work, and that it goes some way to addressing the invisibility of women.

Creating a positive impact

As for Bess of Hardwick, it’s a huge privilege to have my work hang alongside portraits of her and it’s an honour that my images will go some way to bringing a more nuanced version of her story to a wider public.

I’m grateful to everyone I’ve photographed for trusting me to produce such a bold and  unapologetic version of themselves, and I hope the work I’ve produced comes across as a massive thumbs up for the work they do.

About Rachel Adams

Rachel Adams is a documentary and portrait photographer who works with sub-cultures
internationally, capturing otherwise unseen aspects of life. She is particularly interested in documenting style, performance and cultural practice that remain neglected by the mainstream media, placing personal stories at the heart of her work.