Women have been pioneering photographers since the earliest days of the art form. This expertly curated set of three volumes in the renowned Photofile series brings together 190 women photographers from all over the world, working in all styles and genres. From the imaginative experiments of the 19th century to the thriving art movements of the 20th century and on to the digital world of the 21st century, this rich and diverse overview will inspire readers to explore the work of some of the greatest photographers of all time.
1 – Pioneers
When women began working as photographers in the second half of the 19th century, the rules of the medium had not yet been codified and experimentation was the order of the day. As early as the 1870s, Julia Margaret Cameron was a pioneer of the use of soft focus in her depictions of figures from Arthurian legend. Some women opened their own studios, like Ellen Auerbach and Grete Stern, who were innovative figures in the flourishing field of advertising. Others were obliged to work anonymously or under pseudonyms. As the 20th century dawned, women embraced genres ranging from documentary realism to surrealist photomanipulation, fearlessly exploring the boundaries of photographic possibility.
2 – Revolutionaries
As global tensions rose and the Second World War began, many women photographers found themselves under threat or forced into exile. Others, such as Lee Miller and Margaret Bourke-White, worked as war reporters or documented the aftermath of the conflict, but a great number found new creative energy and an increased engagement with political themes. Photography became a universal language to communicate around the world, and it was used to demonstrate empathy with those outside the establishment and to provide glimpses into the daily lives of women everywhere.
3 – Contemporaries 1970 – Today
With the rise of feminism, women photographers conquered the mainstream, with an increasingly commodified art world now viewing them simply as photographers and not merely a novelty or subcategory. Some women combined their photography practice with video, installations and other media, while others, such as Cindy Sherman, used the camera as a tool for questioning the concept of imagemaking itself. Others explore collective memory and the way it is imprinted on the landscape, like Sophie Ristelhueber in Lebanon and Kuwait, and Sally Mann in the United States. A rising awareness of environmental concerns has gone hand in hand with the issues of globalisation and diversity.
About the author:
Clara Bouveresse is a lecturer at Université d’Evry Val d’Essonne and a photography specialist and curator. She co-organized the exhibition ‘Magnum Manifesto’ at the International Center of Photography, New York, in 2017, and edited the accompanying book, which was published by Thames & Hudson.