Musée d'Orsay: Who's Afraid of Women Photographers? 1839-1945

Who's Afraid of Women Photographers? 1839-1945

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Second Part: 1918-1945



Margaret Bourke-WhiteSelf-portrait with camera© Digital Image Museum Associates/LACMA/Art Resource NY/Scala, Florence

Women Photographers ?

Being a woman photographer post-World War I involved conquering new genres and fields. It entailed contributing to the emergence of modern photography and being part of the creative ferment of the cultural hotspots of Paris, Berlin, Budapest, London, New York and San Francisco. Some of these women were now looking through the viewfinder, having previously been subjects for the lens.

Being a woman photographer was also about carving out a role in the theory of photography and in writing its history. Women photographers played an active role in the institutionalisation of the medium by organising exhibitions in salons and galleries, by setting up schools and running commercial studios or photo agencies. For women, photography was now a multifaceted profession with a multitude of applications.

Being a woman photographer was also about setting up training and mutual assistance networks against a backdrop of great social mobility on an international scale and keen rivalry with men. Shared spaces, titles and status gave rise to anxiety, tension and conflicts. Fellow male professionals, critics, historians, journalists, and even sometimes husbands, strove to paint these women, who were also blurring the boundaries of the traditional division of labour and gender roles, as rivals.

The exhibition tour, which leaves the confines of the studio and engages with the world, aims to show, against the backdrop of a ravaged Europe, how women embraced the photographic medium as part of an artistic and professional empowerment strategy and conquered territories which were previously the preserve of men. This journey through the history of modernity also aims to offer a modern perspective on history.

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