Nancy Honey: Renowned Photographer And The Woman Behind ‘100 Leading Ladies’ Talks Courage


1. Tell us about you – what motivates you?

I have been photographing for more than 35 years. All my work is about people and everyday life. My personal projects have all centered on my identity and experience as a woman. 100 Leading Ladies is my most recent project. The inspiration for it evolved over many years.  In it I look at women of my own generation and older. These 100 senior British women, over 55, are people who have influenced our culture.

I always wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember, but without a role model it took me a while to get there. First I was a painter, then a graphic designer until I finally became solely a photographer. I have always loved photography and grew up in the heyday of Life magazine, which my parents subscribed to and an early family snap shows me deeply engrossed in reading that magazine when I was about 5 years old. I grew up in a house full of paintings and sculpture 50s modern American design.

I married a Brit and we finally settled in the UK more than 40 years ago. I strongly believe that you should follow your dreams.

2. What does a day in the life of you look like?

I have a ridiculously strong work ethic. I wake up early every morning and try to get to work by 9.30 am. At the moment I am crazy busy as I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the amazingly positive response to 100 Leading Ladies. The collection is currently being exhibited in the reception of Hogan Lovells’ London offices; the exhibition opened on the 8th June and will run until the 24th July (anyone is welcome to view the collection). I have been extremely busy recently preparing for the exhibition. This is the third time 100 Leading Ladies has been shown since last October when it was exhibited at Somerset House. I have a great assistant, but sadly can only afford her about once a week unless we are working on a commercial job, when it can stretch to twice a week. I have some trusted suppliers and lots of freelancers and I rely on them all. I was recently approached by a student about to graduate in English at Nottingham to intern for me in social media and she started on Friday night last.

I am working on photographically illustrating a book project for Hattie Garlick (who did all the interviews for 100 Leading Ladies)  entitled Born to Be Wild all about the need for children to have play and educational opportunities out of doors and to explore Nature. We are halfway through it and about to shoot Spring in about 2 weeks time, so there is a lot to prepare for that. Hattie’s book is published in 2016.

An expat group of women in Cyprus have invited me to present 100 Leading Ladies audiovisually and they are flying me out there this Thursday, so I am trying to get all the other work in hand liaised and organized so that it can carry on without me.

I have hundreds of 100 Leading Ladies books to sell, so I am always thinking of ways to do that. I am working on a private portraiture commission and just started work on a very new project, but that is in research. I mostly work at home so I usually don’t finish until at least 7 pm unless I make myself stop!

3. What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

Well, there have been a few, looking back like becoming a full time mature student with a 1 year old and a 3 year old because I’d chucked my degree to marry my British husband years before.

I’d say that breaking up with that man after being together 27 years was pretty courageous.

Self-publishing my first book, Woman to Woman, in 1990 with the help of an Arts Council grant was quite an endeavor.

But probably in terms of scale 100 Leading Ladies was the most brave as I mortgaged my home to fund it, then had to sell that home and severely downsize in what was the middle of the project, which including fund raising was three years work.

4. Tell us about your relationship to Change?

I don’t think I have a great relationship with change, but one of the things I do like about getting older is that, for me, I am better with it and less frightened of it now. I see it as a challenge and and an opportunity to learn. I now welcome stepping out of my comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean I find it easy. If anything I think I am becoming more anxious. I just tell myself that it makes life more interesting. I hate boring.

5. Who is your role model and why?

My famous example of this and one of the motivations for my project is that one of my role models as a young emerging photographer was the late Eve Arnold. When she was speaking about her work back in 1985 I was completely in awe of her and attended the lecture. I never ask questions as I am quite shy naturally, but as she’d mentioned her grandson I felt I just had to ask her how she managed to have such a fascinating international career and have a family as well. She answered, ” That is too painful to talk about.” That shut me up but I always kept wondering and that is why I was so curious to ask all 100 women how they managed the same thing. There is, of course, no easy answer.

I have many, many role models, a lot of who are in the 100 Leading Ladies book, so you will just have to read it. That is why it is so inspiring!

6. What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve read, seen or done in the last month?

I just came back from a much needed week away in southern Portugal, where I went by myself and loved every minute. I just saw While We Are Young and really liked that film. It sets up lots of discussion about generations and gender relations. I recently read and really enjoyed Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine and H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald