I make art now only intermittently, and I would have to say that in my experience it isn't a choice to be an artist, and it is an absolute luxury to be able to practice artmaking.
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 techniques, 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, some were struggling to surpass their male counterparts and work towards gaining respect and recognition for their work.
Carla J. Williams (American photographer, 1965-) was born in Los Angeles and majored in Photography at Princeton University. At the age of 18, she started making self-portraits for practical reasons, because she wanted to learn how to use a film camera without asking for help. She soon became attached to "the way self-portraiture collapsed the relationship between the photographer and the subject. It eliminated a third party; it was just me and the camera. I could perform for it". Williams continued practicing and slowly evolved her self-portraiture, which lasted 15 years, throughout her life as an undergraduate at Princeton and as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. This body of work was only seen by the artist herself and by her classmates. After a while, Williams decided to take a break from photography. She edited photo journals and co-wrote the ground-breaking survey The Black Female Body: A Photographic History with Deborah Willis. In 2014, she moved to New Orleans and opened a store specializing in vintage material by Black artists. The photographs remained with Williams all the while, preserved in acid-free boxes and sleeves. After more than 30 years, Williams' thrilling self-portraits are now available for the first time in a monograph titled Tender, published by TBW Books. The book collects pictures that Carla took of herself between 1984 and 1999. Tender chronicles a young woman becoming, interrogating, and making and unmaking herself again and again. In Tender Carla plays pinup, framing herself with a cherished gaze. She lives inside her images and relishes in the delight and playfulness the erotic offers. Carla is the 1994 winner of the International Center for Photography's Infinity Award. Her work has been featured in key galleries and museums, such as MoAD, the Museum of the African Diaspora. She has also been featured in articles for Hyperallergic, All About Photo, and Apollo. Williams has been exhibiting her work since 1986, while her most recent exhibition at Higher Pictures Gallery in Brooklyn has been extended until January 2024. The show consists of a total of 72 black and white and color photographs, installed unframed against brown craft paper, in the main gallery space and the office area. Williams's work is very smart and aware, both of the history of the medium and its prominent flat spots. She dares to ask the art world to make room for this young Black photographer and her persistent questions, grafting a richness of Black female identity onto aesthetics that largely left those concerns aside. At the same time, she expands the available possibilities with thoughtful personal risk-taking.
I really thought that by making all these images, I was filling in a gap of something I didn't see and hadn't seen before.
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.