Ever since its invention back in the 18th century, photography has been documenting life. At the same time, it focuses on inviting audiences to a rather subjective world while trying to be taken seriously as an art form. Photography has always been considered a male dominated profession, but luckily things are changing. Scholars, writers, bloggers, photography students and enthusiasts have been giving due to the female pioneers of the field. Most of them were always standing and/or hiding in the shadows, oblivious to how much they could acclaim and accomplish. Arguably, the technique, concepts and themes female photographers use, differ from those of male photographers. When most women were convinced that their place was in the kitchen and certainly not in the dark room, there were those who were struggling to surpass their male counterparts and work towards gaining respect and recognition for their work.
20th Century Female Photographers
You can’t expect to take a definitive image in half an hour. It takes days, often years.
María Cristina Orive (Guatemalan photographer, 1931-2017) was arguably the first female photographer to establish a professional reputation in her home country. Together with Argentinean photographers Sara Facio and Alicia D’Amico, she founded the Buenos Aires publishing house La Azotea, which specialized in publishing the work of Latin American photographers. Orive first worked as a radio and newspaper reporter covering art, music and theatre for Radio Faro Aviateca and El Imparcial. She later moved to Paris to work as a correspondent for El Imparcial. She also presented ORTF Spanish-language television programmes on Latin American artists and then started to work as a photojournalist for ASA Press, contributing to journals such as the Spanish version of Life. She later moved to South America, sailed through the Panama Canal on a Soviet ship, took impressive images of Eva Duarte and the funeral of Juan Perón, and eventually met Salvador Allende and other celebrities. During her La Azotea years she published the work of women photographers such as Annemarie Heinrich, Grete Stern and Adriana Lestido. The first business of its kind in South America, La Azotea published the work of some 100 photographers, many publications running to the second or third edition. Orive is an important figure in her field and has been known for championing the work of many Latin American photographers, particularly women.
Fay Godwin (British photographer, 1931-2005) is best known for her black and white landscapes of the British countryside and coast. She first became interested in photography in the mid 1960’s, as a result of taking pictures of her young children. She was later introduced to the London literary scene and produced portraits of dozens of well-known writers, photographing almost every significant literary figure in 1970’s and 1980’s England, as well as numerous visiting foreign authors. After the publication of her first books, Godwin started working mainly in the landscape tradition to great acclaim. She soon managed to become the nation’s most well-known landscape photographer. Her early and mature work was informed by the sense of ecological crisis present in the late 1970’s and 1980’s England. Her work has sometimes been linked to a tradition of romantic representations of the British landscape, but more often than not, Godwin makes the land in her photographs reveal traces of its history, through mankind’s occupation and intervention. In the 1990’s she was offered a Fellowship at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television and was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in 1990. She had a major retrospective at the Barbican Centre in London in 2001 and her legacy includes numerous book publications and exhibitions.
Sara Facio (Argentinean photographer, 1932-) is one of Argentina's foremost artistic photographers. She was born in San Isidro, studied Fine Arts in Buenos Aires and then in Europe. She began working for newspapers in Argentina and abroad in 1957, and went on to become photographer Annemarie Heinrich’s assistant. She specialized in portraiture and produced some rather important work that established her as a pioneer on the subject of photographic history in her home country. Her career didn’t take off until 1960, when she opened a productive studio with fellow countrywoman Alicia D’Amico. In 1982 she and D'Amico received the Premio Konex, given by the Fundación Konex to outstanding individuals who work in the cultural field. In the course of 15 years Facio and D’Amico published several books together and in 1973 they founded La Azotea together with Guatemalan photographer María Cristina Orive. In 1985 she founded Fotogalería del Teatro San Martín, where she curated more than 160 exhibitions. In the 90’s, Facio continued to publish photography collections independently and became staff curator at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA) from 1995 until 2010. Facio’s work is in the permanent collection of MoMA.
Alicia D’Amico (Argentinean photographer, 1933-2001) was born in Buenos Aires, where her family ran a photographic business. Growing up around photography equipment, it was natural for D’Amico to be interested in the craft. She took painting and music lessons during her school years and studied Fine Arts at a later age. She became friends with Sara Facio during their time at Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes and they ended up running a productive studio together for the next 20 years. D’Amico spent a big part of her life publishing photography books, but her real focus was feminist issues and the role of women in photography. She even helped found a local Feminist Union and attended feminist debates and study groups to raise public awareness. D’Amico worked with a few psychologists to address issues like lesbianism and femininity, while also being in charge of the photography section of a local newspaper for 8 years. D’Amico’s photographic style was very artistic, clear and equilibrated. Her passion was portraiture, especially in black and white. She would often break the rules and use her own vision, which is what helped her succeed.
We will continue talking about female names that left their mark in photography and about contemporary female photographers who are still to emerge. There are a lot of female photographers out there deserving of praise and we can only hope to cover as many of them as we can. Please, follow this space to find out more.
I know that, since the start, my photographs had a rigour of composition that could remember to other masters, but I formed my competitive basis in my time in the National Academy of Fine Arts.