Grrrls on Film

Grrrls on Film

“To me, Riot Grrrl means DIY.  If you have an idea, you just get on and do it,” says 20 year old British photographer Jade French. A long time enthusiast for the early 90s underground feminist punk movement, French had the idea to put together a book about the scene and, well, just did it.

“I guess I noticed that with Riot Grrrl, so many people either don’t know what it is or they think it’s long dead,” she explains. “Going to Ladyfest London last year was a kick up the arse. I saw that the movement was still alive and well in many ways there. I really wanted to share what I’d seen and I felt the best way to do that was to photograph the Riot Grrrls themselves.”

Based in Nottingham, French is currently studying in the final year of her Photography Degree. We meet in a bar where the walls are covered in photographs of bands that have played there. It feels appropriate since, if it hadn’t been for French’s intense love of music, she would never have embarked on the project. She recalls the first Riot Grrrl club night she went to in her youth, “I went when I was, like, 15. I got in under-age. I’d never been in a place like that, they played music I loved, everyone was like me and I was, like,” she sighs and raises her eyes upwards “Hallelujah!”

Riot Grrrl sprang to life in Olympia, Washington, with bands like Bikini Kill and Brat Mobile reacting against the male dominated music scene and becoming politically vocal through self publishing, work shops and events. With her own book, however, French wanted to steer clear of this well worn history lesson and take a more personal look at the movement. “In this book I didn’t want to be like ‘Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill started it…’ since she’s pretty much irrelevant. Riot Grrrl was never about X people in this place above all others, it was about creating a community for women.”

Today is an exciting day because French has just received one of the first copies of her book ‘Riot Grrrl and I’ from the printers. We both pore over the pages filled with images of self identified modern Riot Grrls and those who admitted to having been inspired by the movement.

She started out in May 2008 by taking quick snaps of people at feminist themed club nights “But I’ve ended up scrapping most of them because they looked unprofessional. Those pictures didn’t do the subjects, or Riot Grrrl, any justice”

Back at the drawing board, French quickly figured out that, for her images to have any consistency, she would need to create her own pop up photo booth to take to events. “I would take along my camera, my tripod, a huge background, a big flash gun, a stool,” she tells me, miming how she would strap each piece to herself, like some sort of over-prepared camper “And I’d get to the place and just set up a little booth where people could sit. Then I’d basically wander around the club and talk to people, drag people over.”

French took her pop up Riot Grrrl photo booth all over Britain, to feminist conferences, club nights and Ladyfests. It was at one Ladyfest when a woman approached French and expressed remorse that her friend from overseas was not present to have had her picture taken for the project “And I thought; I’ve missed a trick here, what about all the people I can’t photograph myself?”
Not a woman who does things by halves, French quickly set about expanding the project from national to global, by putting the word out for photographic contributions through Riot Grrrl community websites and social networking sites such as Myspace.

“I just said; ‘Send me what you’ve got, send me what you like. As long as it’s a picture of you and you’re happy for people to see it.’ I got loads of good stuff so I was really pleased,” she beams. “I started it in June last year and I’ve probably got, about, 500 since then. I’m still getting them, actually.”

Whilst collecting together photographic submissions from people around the world, French found herself entering into correspondence with feminists who were keen to share their stories. “The women who were writing to me were definitely people who thought they were in a way, not to be clichéd but, saved by Riot Grrrl,” she tells me. “They found something really important in the movement. These people wouldn’t be the people they are now if it hadn’t have been for Riot Grrrl.” Some of these personal stories have also found their way in to the book.

Our chat is interrupted by a sharp burst of ‘No Sleep Til’ from old Brighton based band Huggy Bear. For a split second I think it might be a sign from the goddesses of Riot Grrrl but no, it’s just French’s mobile going off. After a quick apology (“It’s probably my friend calling for photography advice”), it seems a good time to ask French to name her favourite Riot Grrrl act.

“When I was very young it was all about Courtney Love. But then I went to see Babes in Toyland and that was it. I wanted to do that, I wanted to be Kat Bjelland! I was 13 at the time, pretty young to be at a gig. I remember my Mum and Dad were waiting outside!”

With young Riot Grrrls like French now fully grown Riot Women, the story of the movement is being committed to paper by those intent on establishing its rightful place in history. However, French is keen to point out that her book is different from others that may act as a eulogy to the movement.

“This book is not a history of Riot Grrrl. There are books out there already that cover that, so there’s no point in regurgitating the facts. This book is about what is going on now in the Riot Grrrl scene. These are actually real people who do this stuff all the time. They’re not ‘Dead’ They exist!”

‘Riot Grrrl and I’ is now available to buy from

By: Sarah Barnes, 28.06.2009 | Comments (0)
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