Is Anatomy Destiny?
from the Historical Record
by Peter Palmquist
from the WIPI 20th Anniversary Tea Time Exhibition Commemorative
a men-only exhibition might be labeled sexist today,
we have largely respected a womans right to exhibit without
men. Why? Neglected throughout the history of photography, women
have traditionally been forced to gain peer support by associating
themselves along gender lines. To offer a quaint analogyif
individual women photographers were considered the equivalent of
scattered stars in a night sky, would not a constellation of such
stars have far greater visibility and impact? Thus, Women in Photography
International stands as a current Federation of women
photographers, and International Tea Time is but the latest in a
long line of women-only exhibitions which have enabled
women to more fully assert their collective strengths.
women have been involved in photography from the very beginning,
it is their male counterparts who invariably have held economic
and social power in an iron fist. This male prerogative was also
extended to photographic societies and routinely reinforced by means
of fraternal imperatives. Fortunately, not every woman has accepted
these male prerogatives.
of the earliest American photographic fraternities was the New York
State Daguerreian Association, a male organization formed in 1852.
By October, daguerreian Marcelia W. Barnes had become sufficiently
incensed to pose the $64 dollar question: What about female daguerreians?
Writing to the editor of Photographic Art-Journal, Barnes pressed
her point: I have been anxious to know whether female operators
are to share [the Associations] friendship and receive of
its benefits. From the silence maintained on the subject, I have
inferred that we were not cordially welcomed into the fraternity.
The editor demurred, and for the very first time womenMrs.
Barnes and Mrs. Agnes M. Armstrongwere duly elected as the
first female members of an American photographic association. This
early confrontation was but an early salvo in what was destined
to be a prolonged fight for equal opportunity for women in photography.
the movement grew, there were many new exhibition opportunities
for women photographers. In 1899 Frances Benjamin Johnston began
to assemble photographs for an exhibition entitled Photographs
by American Women to be included in the 1900 Paris Salon of
Women Photographers. Likewise, in April 1906, the Camera Club of
Hartford, Connecticut, sponsored an Exhibition of Photographs:
The Work of the Women Photographers of America and issued
a catalogue. By 1908 women were clamoring for an association of
female photographers that would encourage their advancement along
artistic, ethical and business lines. This climaxed in the formation
of The Womens Federation of the Photographers Association
of America, which had its inception at the National Convention held
in Detroit in 1908. During a social evening for the ladies,
and while the men had adjourned to an adjacent room, a group of
professional women photographers formed a little caucus of
their own. The first annual meeting and exhibition of the
Federation photographers was held in Milwaukee in 1910. Mary Carnell
of Philadelphia was named president, and a motto was established:
Every woman photographer needs, vitally, the Womens
Federation. By giving little, you will gain much. In preparation
for the event, The St. Louis and Canadian Photographer for December
1909 devoted its entire issue to women photographers, including
an editorial by President Mary Carnell.
a sense, elements of this independent womens imagery
was about to receive a big jolt. In the winter of 1978, a small
group of women who had become increasingly fed up with the male
photographers view of women, decided to retreat to a small
collective in Sunny Valley, Oregon, a community so small it lacked
even a post office. The land they lived on had but poor running
water and no electricity except from a battery. They referred
to themselves as Ovulars and made ambitious plans for
a picture publication to be called The Blatant Image, the first
copy finally reaching print in 1981. Among the Ovularss primary
goals was to establish guidelines for feminist photography and to
publish and promote photographs by women for women. Almost by definition,
they hoped to replace the traditional male gaze which
had so often objectified women. But, how would female photographers
avoid the problem of male objectification? Interestingly, while
most of the Ovularss photographs documented the everyday relationships
among women, others focused on mastectomy scars, menstruation cycles
and expressions of lesbian lovetaboo subjects for male photographers.
While these blatant images did not become mainstream,
they signaled yet another way that women photographers could take
charge of their lives. A number of womens photographic collectives
were formed in the 1980s, among them Monocrone in South
London, beginning in 1983. Similarly, ten women from Madison, Wisconsin,
associated themselves under the name PhotograpHERS during
the 1990s, and there are many more examples.
in Photography International was incorporated on September 29, 1981.
Devoted to the support of women photographers, this membership
organization was the largest of its kind. Based in Los Angeles,
the Women in Photography International leadership supported a wide
number of events, published a newsletter called f/2 and mounted
annual exhibitions of womens photography. Over the next ten
years, the organization presented a number of annual Distinguished
Photographer awards. Recipients included Eve Arnold (1983),
Linda McCartney (1987) Mary Ellen Mark (1988) and Joyce Tenneson
(1990). In 1992 WIPI fell silent until its reorganization and rebirth
in 2000. Incorporating the latest communication technology, WIPI
has become an online resource for women photographers worldwide.
This year, photographer Annie Leibovitz is slated to be presented
with the Women in Photography International Distinguished Photographers
Award for 2001.
as we move into the new millennium, we may once again ask the question:
Why continue women-only photographic events and exhibitions?
The answer remains the same: empowerment and representation. Through
united efforts many goals have been set by women photographers and
many goals have been achieved. More and more of the scattered woman
photographer stars have joined the collective constellation
which now shines ever-so-brightly as a guiding beacon to the female
photographers of tomorrow. Today, as we peruse the contents of this
catalogue, International Tea Time, Images of WomenImages of
Tea, we are not struck by the fact that these images were taken
by women, but rather that they are such fine photographs. As Catharine
Weed Barnes Ward stated so long ago: Good work is good work,
and that is precisely how it should be.
Founder and Curator
Women in Photography International Archive
article available on the Women In Photography International 20th
Exhibition commemorative CD. Please see Tea Time Link for purchase
for WIPI online Photograph of Bertie Forman, August 1914
from the personal collection of Chuck Behrman. firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo was created at White Way Photos, 1341 Broadway, NYC
Profiles are provided by Historian and Curator
Peter Palmquist, See Referency