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.
Yoshino Ōishi (Japanese photographer, 1944-) is a prominent female photojournalist who sought out to give a voice to people around the globe suffering from the horrific consequences of war. Ōishi was born in Suginami-ku, which occupies the western part of the ward area of Tokyo. She acquired a photography degree from Nihon University and went on to work in West Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe. At the age of 27, she held a big private exhibition of photographs in the Nikon Salon and then dedicated the next three years of her life photographing New Guinea. Yoshino worked mostly on portraiture and documented the effects and atrocities of war, while searching to find the meaning of peace at the same time. Her work on the Vietnam War won her the Domon Ken Award and she won the Annual Award from the Photographic Society of Japan twice – once in 1982 and once in 1989. Ōishi also worked as a professor at Tokyo Polytechnic University and her work is rightfully in the permanent collection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Her work features the unforgettable faces and landscapes of 20 th century warfare and her approach is both human-centred and artistic.
Roswitha Hecke (German photographer, 1944-) dreamed of becoming a photographer since she was a teenager. She began a 3-year apprenticeship as a photographer at 18, and then met theatrical director Peter Zadek. Hecke photographed his theatre productions for the seven years of their relationship and then started working on other stage works and films, both in Germany and in France. She travelled around the United States for the better part of the 1970’s and published a book together with author and poet Wolfgang Wondratscheck. The two of them are known as “the dream team of modern travel documentary”. In 1978 Hecke published the book Liebes Leben about a Zurich prostitute. The book received the 1979 Kodak Prize for Best Photography Book and the Stiftung Buchkunst award for the Most Beautiful Book, in 1982. The German photographer was first acknowledged for her black and white theatre photography and has sequentially portrayed numerous artists, actors and musicians throughout the course of her career. Her work ponders both on the unknown and the banal, in a very non-staged and precise way. Roswitha is known for her professional sensitivity and eagerness to help – via her photos – those who society often views as “outcasts”; transvestites, prostitutes and homeless people. Her work has been published by many renowned magazines and has been part of both private and group exhibitions, from 1978 until 2008. She’s lived a full life; from teaching the Masterclass of Photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg to living in a tent in Morocco for 3 years.
Candida Höfer (German photographer, 1944-) is best known for her meticulously composed, large-scale color images of empty interiors, despite the fact that she initially worked with black and white photography. A former student of German conceptual artists and photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, Candida started working for local newspapers as a portrait photographer, producing a series on Liverpudlian poets. She also studied daguerreotypes, film and photography. She was one of the first of Bechers’ students to use color, showing her work as slide projections. Her sudden rise to fame came with a series of photographs showing guest workers in Germany and soon enough, Höfer was the expert on photographing empty interiors and capturing the psychological residue left behind in empty public and institutional spaces. Her imagery consistently focuses on depopulated interiors and she groups her photographs into series that have institutional themes, as well as geographical ones. Ever since her first solo exhibition at the age of 31, Candida’s internationally recognised work has been shown throughout European and American museums. In 2018, the Sony World Photography Awards recognized Höfer for her Outstanding Contribution to Photography. Höfer’s images focus on symmetry, the architecture’s sense of scale and proportion and have a strictly conceptual approach.
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 do my work. My work is my statement. Generally, I think, there is too much interest in what an artist has to say. Or what she or he looks like, instead of what she or he does.