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
What I'm trying to do is make photographs that are universally understood, that cross cultural lines. I want my photographs to be about the basic emotions and feelings that we all experience.
Mary Ellen Mark (American photographer, 1940-2015) is recognized as one of the most respected and influential photographers. Throughout a five decade career, she achieved worldwide visibility through her numerous books, exhibitions and editorial magazine work. She published photo-essays and portraits in very well known publications and travelled extensively to make pictures that reflect a high degree of humanism and sensitivity. Mark began photographing with a Kodak Box Brownie camera when she was only nine years old. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the age of 22 and went on to get a master’s degree in photojournalism. At 23, Mark received a Fulbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey for a year, from which she produced her first book. While there, she travelled to Europe and later moved to New York City, where over the next several years she photographed demonstrations in opposition to the Vietnam War, the women’s liberation movement, transvestite culture and more. Her photography addressed social issues such as homelessness, loneliness, drug addiction and prostitution. Mark was also well known for forming strong relationships with her subjects and her work is considered a landmark in the field of documentary photography. Mary Ellen was also a unit photographer on movie sets, shooting production stills of more than 100 movies. She joined Magnum Photos in 1977, but left in 1981 to join Archive Pictures. In 1988 Mark opened her own agency and later served as a guest juror for photography calls for entries at The Center for Fine Art Photography. She also taught workshops at the International in New York, Mexico and Woodstock. Mary Ellen Mark received the 2014 Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from the George Eastman House, the Outstanding Contribution Photography Award from the World Photography Organisation and numerous other awards and recognitions.
Elfie Semotan (Austrian photographer, 1941-) was born in Wels, graduated from the Austrian Fashion School of Design in Vienna and started her career as a model in Paris. In 1969, she returned to Vienna and worked as a fashion, advertising, and portrait photographer for many well known publications. She was introduced to photography in the late 1960’s by her partner at the time, Canadian photographer John Cook, who sparked her passion for working behind the camera. The art of photographic storytelling became her forte; photos that have the look of film stills, visual compositions and figural arrangements that tell stories extending beyond what is shown. Her artistic collaboration with fashion designer Helmut Lang and her campaigns for Römerquelle and Palmers made her famous internationally. In 2011, she was awarded the Austrian Medal for Science and Art. Semotan used the free spaces that existed within photography to conquer a medium that – like most other artistic disciplines – had long been dominated by men, and to assert her own feminine perspective. Her work is characterized by cool elegance, imperfect beauty and discreetly erotic subtexts.
Sarah Moon (French photographer, 1941-) studied drawing, as a teenager, and worked as a model in London and Paris between the ages of 19 and 25. She started taking pictures of her model colleagues and at 29, she decided to quit modelling and turn to photography professionally. She captured the “Swinging 60’s” in London and worked closely with famous clothes stores. She was the first woman to ever shoot the Pirelli calendar, in 1972. Working with Cacharel really put her on the map and soon Chanel, Dior, Comme des Garçons and Vogue followed. She quickly became well-known and respected for her unique vision and the signature style of her photography. In 1985, at the age of 44, Moon moved into gallery and film work. Her photographs are characterized by a painterly, ethereal aesthetic and are often saturated with jewel tones and feature romantic, magical imagery. Her images are soft, romantic, melancholic, outside of time, more dream-like fantasy than anything real.
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.
Today, people listen to me because I have something to say. People used to listen to me because they liked to look at me.