Featured Historical Gallery
Archive 8 - October-December 2001

For articles, see f2 eZine

Photograph of Bertie Forman, August 1914

from the personal collection of Chuck Behrman

Gallery Three
Historical Profile

Is Anatomy Destiny?

Notes from the Historical Record
by Peter Palmquist

Excerpts from the WIPI 20th Anniversary Tea Time Exhibition Commemorative CD

Whereas a “men-only” exhibition might be labeled sexist today, we have largely respected a woman’s 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 analogy—if 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.

Although 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.

One 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 Association’s] 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 women—Mrs. Barnes and Mrs. Agnes M. Armstrong—were 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.

As 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 Women’s Federation of the Photographer’s 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 Women’s 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.

In a sense, elements of this “independent women’s 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 photographer’s 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 Ovulars’s 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 Ovulars’s photographs documented the everyday relationships among women, others focused on mastectomy scars, menstruation cycles and expressions of lesbian love—taboo 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 women’s 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.

Women 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 women’s 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 Photographer’s Award for 2001.

Today, 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 Women—Images 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.

Peter E. Palmquist
Founder and Curator
Women in Photography International Archive

Extensive article available on the Women In Photography International 20th Anniversary
Exhibition commemorative CD. Please see Tea Time Link for purchase information.

Excluse for WIPI online Photograph of Bertie Forman, August 1914
from the personal collection of Chuck Behrman. chuck@chbphoto.com
Photo was created at White Way Photos, 1341 Broadway, NYC

Historical Profiles are provided by Historian and Curator
Peter Palmquist, See Referency Library


Gallery One

Christine Burgoyne
Professional Profile

Gallery Two

Karren Tolliver
Member Profile

Gallery Three

Is Anatomy Destiny?
Historical Profile

Gallery Four

Kanako Sasaki
Student Profile