The New Woman Behind the Camera

Reading Time: a few minutes

The Metropolitan Museum associated with Art’s latest photography exhibition, closing this Sunday, provides the overlooked contributions associated with over 120 female professional photographers from 20 different nations

“And in the beginning, they will thought I was just fooling around, just showing off or something, and they didn’t consider me seriously, ” states Homai Vyarawalla, India’s 1st female photojournalist, in a video clip playing at the entrance of The Met’s tantalising and sometimes overwhelming exhibition, The New Lady Behind the Camera . Presenting the overlooked contributions of over 120 female photographers through 20 different countries is not any small task. Yet, the exhibition’s curators have made a brave and studious attempt with a refreshingly international perspective. Organised into thematic sections, close to 200 photographs, photobooks, and illustrated magazines from your 1920s to the 1950s aim to enrich and expand the particular understanding of photographic history and modernity. Art history apart, the exhibition is an uncommon opportunity to see the political plus social transformations of the initial half of the 20th-century as documented by women.

The particular exhibition’s title brings on the phenomenon of the new woman: the educated, self-employed, confident, and creative person that sought a radical split from gender roles and societal expectations in the aftermath of WWI. She moved into the public domain to pursue careers unavailable to decades of women before her.  

The proverbial she had been by no means every woman. She has been primarily middle-class and, mostly, but not always, white. The exhibition includes among others Vyarawalla, Tsuneko Sasamoto, Japan’s very first female photojournalist and the exhibition’s only living photographer, plus Lola Álvarez Bravo, the first Mexican female photographer. Apart from expanding the canon, their own work is a much-needed counterpoint to the insensitive and unoriginal portrayals displayed in the anthropological segment of the show.

The particular interconnectedness of photography with all the drive for self-determination is certainly pronounced in the exhibition’s starting section, composed almost completely of self-portraits. These self-portraits operate as visual manifestos that assert the composite details of a newly gained independence. They also establish the pivotal role professional function had in forming the identity of the new woman. Alma Labenson’s 1932 self-portrait, initially titled Photographer at your workplace , is really a closely cropped frame associated with her hands—one adjusting the lens, the other holding the camera, which signals the particular photographer’s identification with the equipment of her trade. The lady was, unapologetically, defined by her work. She was also what she wanted to become.

Multiple exposure, photomontage, and unconventional cropping are among the creative explorations outlined in the Avant-Garde Experimentation section. An interesting example from the choice is a photomontage by the German-born Argentinian photographer, Grete Strict. Dream No . 1: “Electrical Appliances for the Home” (1949) is part of Los Sueños , a series of photomontages accompanying a weekly column in a women’s magazine that invited its readers, mostly lower and lower-middle-class, to submit their dreams for psychoanalysis. In the exhibited photomontage, a man’s hand is on the switch of a lamp. The lamp’s base is a woman. The switch is under her curved knee. If subtly, Stern’s surrealist photomontage inserts a feminist critique into an industrial context guided by gender roles and psychoanalysis.  

Elsewhere, The City section of the exhibition is invigorated by photographs by migrant, Judaism women, who like Strict and Auerbach, had to flee Nazi Germany. Among them, are the Swiss-born Hildegard Rosenthal and the German-born Alice Brill. Their digital cameras captured scenes from their brand new home, São Paulo. Alongside their work are the more known photographs of New York City’s architecture, urban design, and street life, correspondingly by Beatrice Abbott and Helen Levitt, as well as sights of Paris, London, Mexico City, and Mumbai.  

Wisely, Dorathea Lange’s Migrant Mother is not part of the display. Instead, the two of Lange’s photographs in the Social Documented section bring forth the plight of Japanese Americans within the aftermath of the Pearl Harbour attack. In one of the images, all of us see a prominently placed “I Am an American” sign on the storefront of a Japanese-American-owned grocery store in Oakland, Ca. Lange’s other photograph catches a young Japanese American college girl clutching her lunch bag with one hand, her right hand on her coronary heart while reciting the Promise of Allegiance. A couple of months after Lange took a photograph, the schoolgirl, together with more than 200 thousand Japanese-Americans, was moved by the U. S. authorities to military internment camps.    

The Reportage portion of the exhibition contains many firsts: Margaret Bourke-White was the first woman certified by the US military to photograph combat zones and the first foreign photographer allowed to take pictures of Soviet industry under Stalin’s five-year plan. Meanwhile, Gerda Taro was the first woman photojournalist to have died while covering the frontline in a war.

The photograph Vyarawalla had taken of her fellow art college students in Bombay is positioned in the Modern Bodies section. Most of the exhibited bodies there are athletic, dancerly, partially or fully disrobed, and lovemaking. Vyarawalla’s classmates are not one and all of the above. They are taken taking turns swinging from the vine in an outdoor courtyard, enjoying a break from their studies. To look at this photograph almost a century after it has been taken is to still recognise such scenes of female freedom and happiness as utopias and cherish them all—past, present, and future.

Sumeja Tulic

Sumeja Tulic is a Libyan-born Bosnian writer and photographer. The lady writes about art, turmoil, and everything in between.

No Newer Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *