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
There is no typical way in which I choose my themes. Sometimes it almost feels as if the theme chooses me, sometimes irresistibly so.
Katharina Sieverding (Czech-born German photographer, 1944-) is a contemporary photographer, known for her self-portraiture. She studied stage design in Düsseldorf, but later took up sculpture. Sieverding's work has an abstract quality, for the most part. Silhouette, contrast and extreme close-ups are her ways of trying to make the photograph more revealing of herself. Her large-scale portraits are usually tinted red or blue and aim to create a visually bold aesthetic that discreetly suggests to her conceptuality. Her often surrealistic work is about surveying the role of individuality within communities and societies. Her first – and perhaps most famous – photographic series, Maton (1969-72) comprises of composite self-portraits in a photo booth. The same portraits appear again in the Stauffenberg-Block series and their title is a reference to a German officer who attempted to assassinate Hitler back in 1944. Katharina doesn’t make art for the sake of art; her work is also political and she uses photography to make statements based on German and American history. Her art often causes both audiences and critics to debate on contemporary society and social and cultural affairs. She has been featured in numerous group and solo exhibitions all over the world and her work is held in both private and public collections. Sieverding has been awarded an array of prizes, including the prestigious Kaiserring of Golsar and is a guest professor at numerous international universities.
Markéta Luskačová (Czech photographer, 1944-) is considered one of the best Czech social photographers to date and is vastly known for her series of photographs taken in Slovakia, Britain and other places of the world. She has been a freelance photographer since 1968 and has been photographing children in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland since the 1990’s. Luskačová studied sociology in Prague and wrote her thesis on the traditional form of religion in Slovakia. It was accompanied by photographs of pilgrims and it was one of the things that prompted her to go on and study photography. From 1970 to 1972, she photographed stage performances of the Za branou theatre. However, the theatre was banned by communists in the spring of 1972 and Luskačová was forced to move on. The same year, she was allowed to display the cycle Pilgrims in the Gallery of Visual Arts in Roudnice nad Labem. After marrying her poet husband – a native of Prague, but a British citizen – Markéta had to ask for permission to go visit him in England. For the better part of the 1970’s and ‘80’s, Luskačová’s works were banned in Czechoslovakia, due to the communist censorship. Her international reputation was in jeopardy, but the Czech photographer kept on working. It was her great desire to visit the markets in London, since those were also forbidden in her own country. Brick Lane market became both her photographic subject and a source of cheap produce. She continued going there to take photographs and get her weekly supply of fruit and vegetables for over thirty years. As a Magnum Photos nominee, Luskačová photographed Chiswick Women's Aid in the 1970’s. After that, she went on to have a brilliant career, she exhibited her work all over the world and published numerous photography books. Her sensitivity and female perspective reflect on her photographs, as well. An extension of her personality, her work favours the humanity of her subjects, yet remains revealing and factual. Although well known in photographic circles, sadly Luskačová’s work in recent years has lacked the exposure of some of her contemporaries. Her photos are considered old-fashioned and colloquial, but she has undoubtedly devoted herself to documenting different cultures and traditions – especially the ones under threat of being consigned to history.
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.