Photography is for me a need, the need to express and to communicate. As long as the need exists, I will create.
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 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 thematic female photographers use differ from those of male photographers. 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.
Angèle Etoundi Essamba (Cameroonian photographer, 1962-) was born in Douala, educated in France, and then graduated from the Photo Academy of Amsterdam where she currently lives. Today, she is considered to be one of the most acclaimed African female photographers of her generation. Since her first exhibition in 1985 in Amsterdam, her work has continued to be exhibited in museums, institutions, art fairs, biennials, and galleries in Africa, Europe, the United States, Latin America, United Arab Emirates, and Asia. Essamba's work lies at the intersection of the social/gender and the artistic field. She uses her photography to bring her message across in a creative way. Her varied background and various travels and exhibitions have not only profoundly shaped her eye, but also made her outlook to be equally aesthetic, idealistic, realistic, and societal. Therefore, she joins the spirit of humanistic photography with a strong attachment to the values of communion. Women constitute the main subject of Angèle's artistic expression. She is a committed artist involved in a reflection on the identity of African women. She records in an aesthetic way a vision of African women and African culture, giving a new interpretation of contemporary Africa. In her work, she challenges and breaks with stereotypical representations of women, instead, she chooses to give her subjects meaning and greatness. Essamba's photographs have also been commented on in various publications among which: Passion, 1989, Contrasts, 1995, Symboles, 1999, Noirs, 2001, La Métamorphose du Sublime, 2003, Dialogues, 2006, Voiles & Dévoilements, 2008, Africa Rising, 2010, I-Dentity - Eye-Dentity, 2010, As it Is, 2010, Africa: See You, See Me, 2011, Desvelos, 2011, Black & Red Beyond Color, 2012, Women of the Water, 2013, Invisible: African Women in Action, 2015, Strength & Pride, 2016, Daughters of Life, 2018. Her work is also part of several public and private collections. Essamba is associated with DUTA (Douala Urban Touch of Arts) which allows Central African visual artists in Douala to share their work. Her social awareness of both Europe and Africa led her to create the Foundation Essamba Home in 2009, where she mentors street girls in Cameroon to build their self-esteem and self-worth, personally gives lessons, and teaches skills to help girls in Cameroon improve their living conditions and create careers for themselves. She works to inspire discussions between cultures and people and gives her subject value and voice. Her art is not only influenced by modernism but by her African descent and her country's diverse cultural environment. Drawing on her personal experiences, history, culture, perspective, and environmental influences, Essamba's photographs combine technique with a strong sense of emotion. Additionally, she defies the boundaries between realistic photography, social and political commentary, documentary, and formal photography, while displaying her aesthetic vision of the black, female body.
I think I've always had a passion for photography, consciously or unconsciously. I am fascinated by an image's power to immortalize an emotion or an expression.
We will continue talking about female names that left their mark on 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.