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2 minutes to read Posted on Friday March 8, 2024

Updated on Friday March 8, 2024

SHE_SEES: Rewriting women into maritime through photography and textiles

For Women’s History Month, Sarah Mott tells us how a physical installation and digital exhibition is using photography, textiles and storytelling to expose women’s contribution to the maritime industry.

A woman standing in front of a building that says pilots in a sign over it
Jill Burns, © Emilie Sandy Photography 2024

According to the International Maritime Organization’s Women in Maritime Survey 2021, women currently only account for 29% of the overall industry workforce – a figure that drops to only 2% when it comes to female seafarers within the crewing workforce.

The Rewriting Women into Maritime initiative, led by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage & Education Centre in partnership with Lloyd’s Register and other leading maritime and heritage organisations, sought to uncover the extensive history of trailblazing female voices in the UK maritime industry, providing inspiration to change the tide on diversity in 2023.

The first year: representation matters

The first year of the initiative was marked with SHE_SEES, an exhibition that formed part of London International Shipping Week. Blending the art of photography, textiles and storytelling, the SHE_SEES exhibition, hosted at the headquarters of the International Maritime Organization, featured historical stories of female trailblazers contributed by partners and researchers alike as well as portraits of inspiring women working in the maritime industry today – from maritime law specialists to ship emergency response teams. It also combined hand-woven textile work created from historical maritime fibres: flax, hemp, and jute. These softer components within the installation highlighted the significance of textiles within maritime historically, with fibres grown specifically for the use of the project by partners around the UK and India.

Representation matters. How can young women and girls consider a career in the maritime industry otherwise? Without seeing previous generations before them, how can we expect them to see themselves in maritime? We hoped the exhibition and wider initiative would bring to life the amazing stories of women within the industry and become a catalyst for diversity and change.

SHE_SEES exhibition at the International Maritime Organization
SHE_SEES at the International Maritime Organization © Emilie Sandy Photography
SHE_SEES exhibition at the International Maritime Organization

The digital platform

The digital exhibition needed careful consideration - how could we communicate the power of photography and weaving that were fundamental to the physical exhibition in a digital form?

In total, it showcased over 50 stories of maritime women - ropemakers, captains, the first female engineers, nurses and beyond – encompassing both historical and contemporary inspirational stories of women’s lives and careers. It was important that the stories we collected lived beyond London International Shipping Week and complemented the women and their portraits.

Each photograph was accompanied by a QR code, allowing the photographs to remain impactful in physical form and the women’s stories to instead take centre stage, digitally.

Another powerful digital element was our use of videography. We projected a compilation of short snippets of the women blinking into the camera onto the walls of the International Maritime Organization - a clever way to bring the women to life away from static portraiture. People could look into their eyes and reflect on their careers and the barriers they face and question the future of women in maritime. The videography provoked reflection and confronted people with the idea that women have and will continue to provide meaningful contributions to the maritime industry. Our hope was that through various forms, both physical and digital, the initiative could help provoke conversations and turn the tide in having a more balanced, inclusive and diverse workforce in maritime.


In 2024, we plan to expand the initiative globally, collecting stories of women in maritime historically and photographing women who hold a variety of different roles in the commercial maritime space today.

For those in the cultural heritage sector wanting to acknowledge and highlight women’s history in their own collections, collectively we must acknowledge and understand that women aren’t just ‘found’ in the archive. It requires searching for, looking behind the men’s stories, and sometimes the absence of women is in fact the story to tell.

Find out more

We are looking to expand the Rewriting Women into Maritime initiative internationally, and expand our partnerships and collaboration opportunities. Explore the digital exhibition and partnership opportunities here.

You can also explore Women's History on