The Woman in the Photograph by Stephanie Butland

Book Review

the woman

Book Description

1968. Veronica Moon, a junior photographer for a local newspaper, is frustrated by her (male) colleagues’ failure to take her seriously. And then she meets Leonie on the picket line of the Ford factory at Dagenham. So begins a tumultuous, passionate and intoxicating friendship. Leonie is ahead of her time and fighting for women’s equality with everything she has. She offers Veronica an exciting, free life at the dawn of a great change.

Fifty years later, Leonie is gone, and Veronica leads a reclusive life. Her groundbreaking career was cut short by one of the most famous photographs of the twentieth century.

Now, that controversial picture hangs as the centrepiece of a new feminist exhibition curated by Leonie’s niece. Long-repressed memories of Veronica’s extraordinary life begin to stir. It’s time to break her silence, and step back into the light.

My Thoughts

The book opens in 2018, with an exhibition about to start of the work of photo journalist Veronica (Vee)  Moon.  It appears that she is unwell and has been away from the photography scene for some time.  There is a photograph of her old friend Leonie that seemingly ended her career! At this stage in the book we have no idea as to what this photo shows.

As the book moves along from the 1960’s to 2018, we learn of Vee’s life and career from her time with her wonderfully supportive father in her home town of Colchester, to the events that get her noticed and onto becoming a successful and much sort after photo journalist.  She also tells us the story of how she meets Leonie, who after meeting at the Dagenham Ford Factory at the time of the women’s’ strike for equal pay, introduces her to the feminist movement that goes on to shape and change Vee’s career.

The book is split into sections: Subject, Light, Focus, Distance, Movement, Exposure and Developing.  Each section starts with a description of a particular photograph of Vee’s , due to be part of the exhibition, explained in technical terms and when and where it was taken.  It then lists real life events that took place that year, with the following chapters telling us the story from Vee’s perspective, of how the photo came about.  I really liked this way of breaking the story up into parts as not only did it make the journey of Vee’s life and career very readable, but I also liked the way it allowed us to get a real sense of each photograph and how it would have sat in the real life context.

There has been a wave of fictional books published recently with a feminist element at the core of it’s story-line, but there are a number of things that I felt made this one slightly different from the others.  It’s partly set in the past but a recent enough past for me to have heard of the events it mentions.  The combination of said events and the authors fictional characters have been expertly woven together within the feminist movement of that time.  I also thought it was a nicely balanced look at active feminism.  On one side you have Leonie, a very loud, dedicated member of the movement and on the other Vee, learning as she goes, committing to it in a much quieter fashion.

Leonie is a very strong, if not particularly likeable character, who likes to be in charge of the other members of the group always shouting angrily about the injustices women face, whereas Vee quietly gets on with her new found job ‘fighting’ for the cause in a much different way.  It seemed to me that although Leonie liked to shout and protest, if things didn’t happen in the way she wished them to, she would disappear off into a sulk.  There is also another story threaded through the book that involves Leonie’s niece who is the curator for Vee’s exhibition which adds enormously to the book and which I very much enjoyed.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this book.  It was engaging, informative and a very interesting look at a much written about topic.


Thank you to the publisher and to Netgalley for my advance copy.

I read this as part of a buddy read with some great book bloggers and thoroughly enjoyed our chats!  Thanks Ladies, Women,  BLOGGERS!




2 thoughts on “The Woman in the Photograph by Stephanie Butland

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