ISBN – 9781928257417
ISBN – 9781928257417
Geoff Blackwell, Ruth Hobday
Photography: Kieran E. Scott
Geoff Blackwell is an award-winning publisher, author, photographer and film director. He was an originating publisher for Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, and has conceived and developed numerous best-selling books, exhibitions, and film projects principally focussed on humanity, equality and the environment. His most notable personal projects include M.I.L.K.: Moments of Intimacy, Laughter and Kinship; 200 Women: Who Will Change the Way You See the World; mewe: Love, Humanity and Us; Human Nature: Planet Earth In Our Time; and I Know This to Be True, a series made in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation focussed on leaders that became the basis for the Netflix documentary series Live to Lead that he also created and directed.
Ruth Hobday has been the principal editor and producer for Blackwell & Ruth projects for over two decades. She has worked on a number of award-winning books, five of them by the late Nelson Mandela including New York Times bestseller Conversations with Myself, and the Great Cookbook series which was published in five editions and has generated over $1 million for food security initiatives, and co-authored 200 Women: Who Will Change the Way You See the World and Human Nature: Planet Earth In Our Time. She was Producer for the Netflix documentary series Live to Lead presented by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and made in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Gloria Steinem once said, ‘You can’t empower women without listening to their stories.’ We agree. This book was inspired by that belief and our subsequent idea to persuade two hundred women in different parts of the world – whether they be rich or poor, black or white, educated or uneducated, famous or unknown – to sit or stand in front of a plain sheet of fabric and to be photographed and filmed while answering five fundamental questions. Our goal was not to make a book about just successful and powerful women; those stories are important, but we wanted diversity, and above all, authenticity. Two hundred ‘real women,’ with ‘real stories.’ We sought to cut away distractions and the visual context of each woman’s life and to simply focus on her humanity as we asked: What really matters to you? What brings you happiness? What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? What would you change if you could? Which single word do you most identify with? We travelled as a small tight group. At every stop, we would set up our humble sheet of fabric in the quietest and lightest space we could find, from a dusty rooftop above the streets of Kolkata to a snow-covered art gallery in northern Sweden, to a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, to a hotel suite we could barely afford in New York, to a township in Cape Town where we were surrounded by beautiful kids who thought a Polaroid picture was a magic trick, to the earthquake-damaged hills of Nepal, to the leafy suburban streets of Sydney and to many other places. With our backdrop in place, and a call for ‘Quiet on the set,’ one of us would begin asking each interviewee about her life and when they were ready, we would quietly ask our five questions, and we would listen. The list of interviewees was a mix of well-known women and others we learned about as we researched and travelled. Many were introduced to us by generous friends, friends of friends, colleagues and kindred spirits in various corners of the globe. Among them artists, activists, entrepreneurs and even an astronaut, alongside business leaders, a goat herder, a nurse, and a brave Nepalese woman who has spent most of her life living on the streets of Kathmandu selling cigarettes – one at a time – to support her family. Their responses simultaneously educated, humbled and inspired us. Some came from a place of deep sorrow, but over and over we encountered uplifting examples of kindness, selflessness, strength, wisdom, inspiration and the most compelling of all, truth. Writ large was the value, beauty and privilege of being able to just listen to these women, to truly see their humanity, and to recognise our own in doing so.