Watching more telly while having to stay at home is no bad thing if you find something that you would have missed in normal times. I wouldn’t have subscribed to Netflix if I wasn’t spending so much time indoors. Searching around on there I came across a documentary based around the photographic book Emergence by Cynthia MacAdams.
The book was published in 1977 and is a collection of portraits of women making their mark on the feminist movement during that time. The documentary Feminists: What Were They Thinking? by Johanna Demetrakas is a series of interviews carried out with some of the people who appear in the book and also shows the reaction to the book by women from a younger generation.
Finding a copy of the book was a real challenge. It is a rare book. Even secondhand most were way over my budget. However, I did manage to track one down on an Internet auction site from Germany.
Looking at the photographs, I’m pretty amazed how contemporary they feel. Sure, you may have to over look the fashion of the 70s but the message in images over forty years on is still relevant today.
When I started this project, the photographers and artists was from a very small pool. My knowledge was based on seeing work by the big names in bookshops or galleries. The longer I have been doing this, the more my eyes have opened to the ocean of great work that is sometimes hidden. It does annoy me how far superior artists or photographers, many of them women, get overshadowed by ones with a good publicity machine.
As you may know, it takes me ages to read books and I have just finished reading Representing Women by Linda Nochlin. It is one of those books that I will need to read twice to take it all in. So I’m not going to do a full review but here are the key points I picked up.
In the final chapter Nochlin suggests that the female nude wasn’t always the main preoccupation of (male) artists but is only a fairly recent thing. Kenneth Clark in The Nude confirms this in which he “observed how, in the 19th century, the nude came to mean, almost exclusively, the female nude”. I don’t remember seeing if Clark explains why this is but Nochlin suggests that the rise of photography as one of the reasons.
To me this makes a lot of sense. Paintings and sculptures are not portable unlike the photographic print. And not to mention the ability to mass produce photographic prints which allowed connoisseurs to purchase the art at a fraction of the cost of commissioning a piece of work.
The lack of women having the funds to practice photography at the dawn of the technology means that the archive is based from very much a male perspective. A tradition which is sadly still very much the norm today. Model portfolio websites whose members are mainly male photographers and female models.
In another chapter of Nochlin’s book she discusses the work of Mary Cassatt, an artist that I wasn’t aware of before now. Trying to find a decent book about Mary Cassatt has not been easy. A lot of the books are out of print or not in stock at Waterstones. I am hopeful that I will be able to find something soon.
In the post today I got my copy of 209 Women which was a project from 2018 to coincide with last year’s centenary of some women getting the vote in the UK.
The project was an exhibition of all 209 female UK Members of Parliament taken by 209 female photographers. And this book is the collection of images from that exhibition.
I never made it to the exhibition when it was on display in one of the Parliamentary buildings in London. Even though I work nearby it just wasn’t to be.
It does make me sad that this collection of 209 images will get drowned out by the millions of photos of women in passive, submissive positions.
During the course of this project there have been times when I have thought about the work I have been creating and whether the space I’m taking up could be a space for someone else. As this book shows, there are plenty of women photographers who are just as good and some even better than Rankin, Bill Brandt, Ralph Gibson, David Bailey, Horst, Spencer Tunick, Terence Donovan or Helmut Newton. Maybe it is time for me to take a step back and not try to compete with these women for the stage.
And you can find a list of all 209 photographers here.