Francesca McColl is a photographer based in Bath, United Kingdom. She has recently graduated from Bath Spa University, where she studied Photography. Her work is based on a documentarist approach, exploring the fascination for people and their surroundings. Recently, the focus has been on communities, while exploring familiar and unfamiliar topics and environments.
About ‘Wild Women‘ – words by Francesca McColl:
Wild Women focuses on a community of intrepid women who brave the winter waters of England’s rivers and lakes.
Wild Swimming has been part of our cultural history since the middle ages when it was believed to have had healing powers and figured in early medical and scientific research. Today, wild swimming attracts a diverse range of participants, with women being central to this community.
Feelings of vulnerability during these swims are surpassed by the shared joy and exhilaration experienced while swimming in these groups. Women offer support, laughter and empowerment, showing strength and beauty in the cold months of Winter.
I made the series during my final year at University. I decided that for this project, I wanted to return to the natural landscape in my photography. Whilst I was researching possible ideas, I came across an article regarding the benefits of cold-water swimming. I was immediately intrigued by this story, particularly being a keen swimmer myself. It brought feelings of nostalgia, as I could remember wild swimming when I was younger.
For the portraits in this series, I wanted to show strong, powerful women. When speaking with them about why they wild swim, particularly in winter, a common theme was empowerment. I wanted to translate this confidence in my portraits, so I took a simple approach and got these women to simply stand before me in the landscape, looking directly into the camera. They stood in these rural, open landscapes in just a swimsuit or wetsuit, completely unphased by the cold, winter conditions. I admired their no-nonsense attitude and how they dominated the landscape.
I got in contact with individuals and groups of women across the UK through various social media platforms. After my first visit with one wild swimming group, I decided that as well as photographing these women, I would swim with them. I wanted to have a mutual respect and trust between us and for them to feel comfortable with my presence. So, experiencing these cold waters for myself allowed me to do this.”