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
The Diana’s made for feelings. Diana images are often something you might see faintly in the background of a photograph... sometimes, I feel I could step over the edge of a frame and walk backwards into this unknown region. Then I would keep right on walking.
Nancy Rexroth (American photographer, 1946-) demonstrated an interest in photojournalism just as soon as she completed her BFA in English at American University. At 25, she received her MFA in Photography at Ohio University. She has been using a Diana film camera since 1969 and that is primarily what made her famous; the soft-focus and vignetting of the camera allowed her to create her own perception of Ohio, in dreamlike landscapes and portraits. In 1977, she self- published these images in the book IOWA, to which the photographic community responded immediately and strongly. The book is considered a classic example of fine art photography and is a testament to how Rexroth managed to create beautiful, poetic images with a low-cost plastic camera. Rexroth’s second book was also published in 1977; a pamphlet on modern platinum printing entitled The Platinotype. This pamphlet was the result of her summer internship at the Smithsonian Institution, where she researched the platinotype process. During the course of her career, Nancy also taught at Antioch College and Wright State University and exhibited her work numerous times, both in group and solo shows. Her work is held in permanent public collections, like the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and others.
Annegret Soltau (German visual artist and photographer, 1946-) studied both at the Academy of Fine Arts Hamburg and at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, before receiving a scholarship to go in Milan. In 1973, she started freelancing as a painter and a graphic artist and in 1975 she incorporated photography and video in her body of work. Soltau’s experimental approach to art challenges the norms; the do's and don'ts and the conventionality of society and art itself. She’d focus on performance, photography and collage, mostly to portray the female body and its processes, often including herself. The German artist would admit that she had an inexhaustible search for identity and meaning, and that she could achieve so much more by firstly trying to comprehend and interpret her own psyche. Annegret’s story is one of personal conflict; she tends to react impulsively to her familial environment, to the marginal position of women in the social context, to gender discrimination and double standards. Her video performances process the subjects of female sexuality, pregnancy, birth, abortion, sickness and violence. One of her complex projects was Generativ (1994-2005), where she composes photographs of the naked bodies of her grandmother, her mother, her daughter and herself. This series shows the whole span of bodily change between young and old, between the fading body of age and the emerging body in puberty. Soltau’s work was included in the critically acclaimed exhibition Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution, the first comprehensive exhibition to examine the international foundations and legacy of Feminist art. Other important solo exhibitions include the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the Landesmuseum Hannover, the Maurer Zilioli Contemporary Arts, Munich, the Frauen Museum and more. Her work is also featured in the collections of museums, galleries and collections around the world. When Annegret was 36 years old, she was awarded a working scholarship by the Arts Society of Bonn and then later, at the age of 41, she won the Villa Massimo prize in Rome. She is also the recipient of the Maria Sybilla Merian Prize and the Wilhelm-Loth-prize of the City of Darmstadt.
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.