Ever since its invention back in the 19th 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 serious 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 thematic female photographers use differ from those of a male photographer. At a time 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.
Barbara Spohr (Canadian photographer, 1955-1987) was born in Vancouver and studied painting and printmaking at the Alberta College of Art and sculptural weaving and photography at the Banff School of Fine Art. In 1979, she taught, and was artist-in-residence for one year at the Apeiron Photo Workshop in Millerton, NY. From that time on, photography was her art form. In 1980, Spohr and nine other prominent Alberta artists were invited by Douglas Clark, Curator of Photography at the Edmonton Art Gallery, to participate in A Photographic Project: Alberta 1980, and to document selected rural and urban communities. In 1981, Spohr moved to Nelson, British Columbia where she continued with her own photography; from 1982-1983, she also acted as assistant curator at the David Thompson University Centre's MacGregor Gallery. In 1983, she took a writing course at Selkirk College, Castlegar, BC, and did finish-line photography for horse racing associations. During this time she also worked on her Nelson Portrait series, photographing the town, its people and flowers from unusual angles. Intrigued by the life and dairies of Frieda Hume Bottons, an early 20th century Nelson resident, Spohr incorporated excerpts from Bottons' diaries in the borders of many of the photos. Around 1985, Spohr began creating printed borders for her photographs, using patterns. During this period, she also made a whimsical series of feet self-portraits. In Spohr's last untitled and undated series of works, she created a wide range of images and enclosed the photos with painted borders of textured brushwork. The Canadian photographer began showing her work in the late 1970's in Montreal, then continued, often in photography galleries. Her work is included in the collections of the Getty Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, the Banff Centre Collection, and the Art Gallery of Alberta. In 1987, after a life-long battle with Hodgkin's disease, Spohr died at the age of 32. After her death, there were memorial exhibitions of her work in Calgary, Edmonton, and Banff. Every two years the Walter Phillips Gallery awards the Barbara Spohr Memorial Award to a recent Banff Centre Visual Arts residency alumni. Created by the family and friends of the late artist Barbara Spohr, this award is intended to encourage the development of Canadian contemporary photography by providing financial and creative assistance to an artist whose work has made a significant contribution to the field. Observing and recording, Barbara was interested in capturing the moments of everyday life and revealing that beauty is always present, even in the ordinary. Without much manipulation after the fact, her photographs narrate and record daily life - seeking out and discovering those small intimate moments that many may overlook. Full of spirit, her photographs are playful and hopeful. The embellished borders of her pieces add to their whimsy and serve as a reminder of Barbara's eye for beauty and her past as a painter.
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.