Women Photographers: From Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman.
By Boris Friedenwald
A generous and handsomely presented array of photographs is the primary attraction of art historian Boris Friedenwald's coffee table book, Women Photographers: From Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman. Fifty five photographers are introduced alphabetically, each with a large single page biographical sketch, a small portrait of the artist, and several examples of work accompanied by detailed captions. Although she is mentioned in the title, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) is neither the earliest nor the first alphabetically. The earliest historically, biologist Anna Atkins (1799-1871), worked with cyanotype, "photogenic drawings," with which she became acquainted through Henry Fox Talbot. Also an acquaintance of Sir John Herschel, another early scientific photographer, Atkins made the first book of photographs. It consisted of "cyanotype impressions" of algae (16).
Friedenwald's introduction raises often-discussed issues of the meaning or gaze of a "woman" photographer, explaining that to some of the artists he writes about the designation is limiting. A least one, Bettina Rheims, sought to envision photographs as if taken by an amateur male photo-grapher (182), and to many, the gender of the artist is simply beside the point. Similarly, Friedenwald raises the art / craft dichotomy, a division that might be more profound in the field of photography than any other discipline, though he does not align himself with an opinion or position. Throughout the book he succinctly describes the particular experiences and affinities that have led individual women to take up photography.
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Specific entries typically narrate important events in the artists' lives. In writing about the earlier ones, such as Madame d'Ora (Dora Kallmus), who photographed celebrities in 1920s and 1930s Paris (Fig. 1) and Vienna, Friedenwald is engaging but predictable. His entries on living ones are more lively, possibly reflecting personal interviews. The biography of Sally Mann begins, "Her childhood was in many ways different from that of other children: Sally Munger and her two brothers were the only children to spend the Bible study class in the hallway, waiting for it to end." Near the conclusion of this essay, he writes, "[F]or Sally Mann, the creation and the beauty of life, its laws and phenomena in all its facets including transience and death, are all connected on one another through love" (142). He notes controversies associated with individual photographers, such as the persistent critiques of Mann's photographs of her naked children. Friedenwald also describes the cameras and technical approaches preferred by individual artists.
The volume is lightly sprinkled with provocative quotations set in an eye-catching font. "In reality, all we photographers photograph is ourselves in the other ... all the time," Evelyn Hofer is quoted (91). "I did not admire Mrs. Cameron's large heads, taken out of focus. The best of the life ones were Lady Hawarden's," says Lewis Carroll, comparing two of the featured artists (79). Unfortunately, no citations are given for these interesting tidbits and other quotations and information in the text. There is a simplified bibliography, but an index would have added an important component.
It is a pleasure to page through this non-academic but well-informed introduction to photographers. The images are well presented and the ones in color are true to the type of film used. The group is international with a slant toward Europe and America. The omission of some significant artists is perhaps inevitable. These include Diane Arbus, Lorna Simpson, Annie Leibovitz, and Sabine Weiss, who was honored internationally with exhibitions surrounding her ninetieth birthday last year. The fact that the striking cover image of Margaret Bourke-White was taken by a man (Oscar Graubner) could spark a conversation or two, and perhaps that's a good thing. *
Robin Rice is an educator, and curator. Author and co-author of books, catalog essays and articles, her recent curatorial projects include solo shows for David Stephens (2014) at the Center for Art in Wood, Philadelphia, PA and "GLASS!" (2014) for the Huntingdon Museum in Clinton, NJ.