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
These days it’s harder to photograph the Mafia because they’re graduates; they wear suits, and work in banks and politics. It’s not the same peasants we saw in the past.
Letizia Battaglia (Italian photographer, 1935-) is a key representative of the art of photojournalism and best known for her work on the Italian Mafia. Born and raised in Sicily, Battaglia took up photojournalism at the age of 36. She took about 600,000 images for the local paper L’Ora, and documented the crimes and ferocious internal war of the Mafia, in raw black and white pictures. She had to report the bloody turf battles of the mobsters during the 80’s and early 90’s and witnessed the murders of senior police officers, politicians and judges. She would often find herself at the scene of 4-5 different murders daily. She produced numerous iconic photographs that ultimately represent Sicily and the Mafia and received many death threats because of that. Her work is distinguished by her zealous commitment for social and political transparency. The power of Letizia’s photographs and her bravery and dedication helped to finally bring the Mafia reign to an end. Battaglia is also involved in environmental and women’s issues and fights for the rights of female prisoners. She has received the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, the Cornell Capa Infinity Award and many other honours and awards. Shooting the Mafia, a documentary film based on her life and work, was released in 2019.
Claude Batho (French photographer, 1935-1981) is mainly remembered for the black and white detailed images of her home and intimate portraits of her loved ones. She was introduced to photography by her father, who gave her her first camera. Claude graduated in photography in 1956, went on to work in the documentary reproduction department at the French National Archives, and met her husband, photographer John Batho. She was 42 years old when she exhibited a selection of pictures at a gallery in Paris, and gained recognition thanks to Antoinette Fouque, the director of the Des Femmes publishing house, who offered to publish a volume of her works. Batho’s vision transforms the banality of everyday life into a visual experience, in which women turn into the vehicles of her research. Shortly before she died, Batho photographed Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny.
Dianora Niccolini (Italian photographer, 1936-) is specialized in fine art photography and is widely known for her photography of the male nude, a style relegated to homosexual circles and was considered taboo back in the 70’s. Niccolini was born in Italy, to an American mother and a father from an old Florentine family. She lived in Florence throughout WWII and migrated to the U.S.A. at the age of 9. At 18, she went to New York to study Art, but didn’t pick up photography until the age of 27, when she met Weegee. She consequently focused her career on photography and began to create photographic bodies of work which resulted in exhibitions. She first started photographing and exhibiting the female nude, and soon after that started doing studies of the male nude. Niccolini is considered one of the first female photographers of male nude and her work and aesthetic approach have influenced many other photographers. She remained active all through the 80’s and 90’s and has published a handful of books since then. She was the first president of The Professional Women Photographers and served while PWP became recognized as a leading professional organization for women photographers. Niccolini taught photography and in 2005 began working with Mega Muscle Productions, a publisher of photographs of male fitness models. Her last exhibition was back in 2011. Niccolini celebrates many years’ experience in her professional network and has been noted for achievements, leadership qualities and the credentials and successes she has accrued in her field.
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.