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.
Françoise Demulder (French photographer, 1947-2008) was the first woman photographer to win the World Press Photo of the Year award. She studied philosophy, but went on to work side jobs ranging from modelling to checking press proofs, in order to support her love of travel. As a young model, Françoise followed a photographer in Vietnam and thus began her career as a wartime photographer. The self-made photographer covered the Vietnam War for three years before travelling to other places of crisis in the world including Angola, Lebanon, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Cuba. At a time when it was exceptional for women to work in the male-dominated field of war photography, Demulder was one amongst a talented group of French female photographers who carved out a place for themselves through their work in Vietnam. Her work appeared internationally in publications such as Paris Match, Newsweek and Stern. The prizewinning member of the talented cohort of French female photojournalists, helped crack open the male-dominated field of war photography. Demulder was always on the front line and that is obvious in her photographs; they are courageously honest and full of sentiment.
Susan Meiselas (American photographer, 1948-) is one of the thirteen female photographers who have been a part of Magnum Photos. She started associating with the agency back in 1976 and became a full member in 1980. Meiselas is still an active documentary photographer to this day and frequently places women at the centre of her projects. Over the decades, her wide-spanning practice has evolved across boundaries, from photographing young girls who hung out in her New York neighbourhood, to the women of America’s travelling girl shows of the 1970’s to more recent portraits of rooms within a domestic violence refuge in the UK. Throughout, Meiselas has offered an alternative to the default position of the male gaze, asking, ‘Who has the power to look, and why?’. The Magnum photographer is often drawn to those women considered most vulnerable and marginalized in society. She is determined to ensure that the authentic voice of her subjects can be heard. Susan earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Visual Education, before going on to working as an assistant film editor. She is well known for her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America and her photographs are included in North American and international collections. In 1992, Meiselas was made a MacArthur Fellow, received a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), and most recently the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize (2019) and the first Women in Motion Award from Kering and the Rencontres d’Arles. Mediations, a survey exhibition of her work from the 1970’s to present, was recently exhibited at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Jeu de Paume, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Instituto Moreira Salles in São Paulo. Reflecting more widely on the feminist movement, Meiselas believes that women still live in a society that is not ideal and that all women are still fighting for something that was declared urgent long ago. Meiselas produces powerful images to shake her audience and make it aware of life’s grim reality.
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 think photographer has a huge potential to expand a circle of knowledge. there's a reality that we are all the more linked globally and we have to know about each other. photography gives us that opportunity.