A still, visual form of storytelling — roots of photography goes a long back. As a photographer, I like to take a dip in the history of photography sometimes. It roots me.
There are many materials available online which are helpful. But most of the time when I try and look for the history of women photographers, I ended up with less information and a very handful of introduction. As always, history cared less for women!
Currently, where social media is playing a strong role in delivering information all across the globe, I got connected with one Instagram handle called “womenphotographershistory”.
New to Instagram but promising. It is featuring women photographers from history from all over the globe. Pola Ossandón, a graphic designer, is the curator of this handle.
War, fashion, street, and whatnot, women from across the photographic genre have worked should-to-shoulder with men and are featured in the Instagram handle that upholds the work of those powerful figures who’ve left a mark in history.
By profession, Ossandón is a graphic designer. And I found it very interesting to see a graphic designer featuring women photographers from the past.
It is fascinating to see how women photographers masterfully performed on the field — when the world was still coping up with having women in life outside the home — and were also trailblazers.
It makes me curious to know more about her and this project. So I ended up with a brief conversation with her. Here’s presenting the interview, slightly edited for clarity:
What is the idea behind making “womenphotographershistory”?
Pola: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to talk a little bit more about this beautiful project that I’ve been working on for the past 5 months.
The idea is very simple (in theory at least) to learn more about the role of women in the history of photography and give them space specially dedicated to them and their work.
You are a graphic designer, what drives you to unfold the history of women photographers?
Pola: My profession, as well as my job, is graphic design, but photography has always been a big part of my life too and is very close to my heart, my dad was a photographer and I studied photography before graphic design.
When I started to take this art more seriously (about 17 years ago) all my referents were men: Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, and later I discovered the amazing Annie Leibovitz, she opened my eyes even more.
Nowadays, thanks to feminism, new generations can discover a little bit more easily the work of women in the arts through history, so I take this chance to create a space specifically for women photographers because I would have loved to have this access and all this information when I was younger.
You are definitely an artist. Are you a photographer by any chance?
Pola: I think I already answered this on the last question, but yes, I’m a photographer too. But it has been hard for me to see myself as an “artist”, and I know it is all about self-confidence.
I also know (now) this lack of self-confidence is because of the lack of women references in my youth. When you see (as a fact) that another woman took a road similar to yours 100-years ago and she made it through it, when you see her strength in her face, when you know more about her life and know all the obstacles she overcame in this particular field when you see her work and the way she saw the world through her camera, knowing all this about a particular woman, gives you confidence as well, not in a comparative but in an inspirational way: “I can do it too”, “This can be my life too”.
How many female photographers have you discovered and featured in @womenphotographershistory so far?
Pola: I’ve featured 95 female photographers, all mainly born between 1790 and 1960, but I have a list of 97 more to be featured.
So I’ve discovered 192 in total but I’m certain I will discover more because every time I research a photographer, in particular, I discover 1 or 2 more, it’s like this photographer introduced me to her friend.
Do you follow the work of present female photographers? Do you want to name a few of them whose work inspires you?
Pola: I have to name Annie Leibovitz again. I admire her so much, not only for her work but also for her life, she was the first important female photographer I discovered, so is super special for me.
She has a documentary “Life through a lens” (2007) that I recommend. Also, thanks to WPH, I’ve had the luck to be in touch and to post about amazing female photographers, still present: Cathleen Naundorf, Haute couture-fashion photographer, dreamy work, and super sweet person.
And Kate Simon, literally a photography badass and super kind person, she has photographed, literally, every music icon.
Both have been featured in WPH, and both not only gave me her authorization to make a post about them but also sent me their photographs, which was super surreal for me because I’ve admired their work long before this.
And I would like to name more incredible female photographers I love: Frida Alin (Mexico), Silvie Blum (EEUU), Sara Aliaga (Bolivia), Emma Summerton (Australia), Namrata Vedi (India), Valeria Sigal (Argentina), Zanele Muholi (South Africa), Zaida Gonzalez (Chile), Alina Gross (Germany). All on Instagram, if you want to know more about their fabolous work.
What is your take on social media? How does it influence your work?
Pola: Social media has gained a big part of our time and interest, and I don’t think that is a bad thing, especially now with this outbreak that we force ourselves to keep physical distance from each other, but we still can be “In touch” thanks to social media.
And I think has influenced me a lot in this particular project because you not only can communicate with your friends or closer ones, you can also learn a lot.
Cooking, languages, how to take care of your hair, how to take care of your dog, fashion… and why not to learn about photography history? Why not learn about other women? Why not learn to support each other? and use all these platforms in our favor.
Here is the link to the Instagram account of WomenPH.
I would like to take this opportunity to showcase the brilliant works of a few great female photographers who are featured by @womenphotographershistory.
Vivian Maier – Street photographer (1926 – 2009)
An American street photographer who dedicated all her life as a nanny mostly in Chicago’s North Shore and New York city was discovered and recognized after her death.
Vivian Maier (pictured above) worked for about 40 years as a nanny and she started photographing in her leisure. She took more than 150,000 photographs during her lifetime. Maier’s massive body of work would come to live at a local thrift auction house in Chicago in 2007.
Gerda Taro – War photographer (1910 – 1937)
Gerda Pohorylle, known professionally as Gerda Taro, was a German Jewish war photographer active during the Spanish Civil War. She was companion and professional partner of the photographer Endre Ernő Friedmann. Together they photographed under the pseudonym, Robert Capa.
Reporting the Valencia bombing alone, Taro obtained the photographs which are her most celebrated. She is regarded as the first woman photojournalist to have died while covering the frontline in a war, at 26 years old. She had died in Spain covering the Battle of Brunete during the second year of the Spanish Civil War.
Deborah Turbeville – Fashion photographer (1932 – 2013)
An American fashion photographer , though started out as a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, she became a photographer in the 1970s.
In her work in fashion photography, she tried to avoid a “stereotypical ideal” and glamour: “It wasn’t the perfectly beautiful girl who made me want to take photos, but the girl with an intrigue in her face, with a profoundness below the surface.” She is widely credited with adding a darker, more brooding element to fashion photography. Her aesthetic tended towards “dreamy and mysterious”.
Ruth Orkin – Photojournalist and filmmaker (1921- 1985)
An American photographer, photojournalist, and filmmaker. Is known for photographing celebrities, New York City and classical musicians as well as many other subjects.
At the age of 10 she got her first camera and at the age 17 she took a monumental bicycle trip across the United States from Los Angeles to New York City to see the 1939 World’s Fair, and she photographed along the way. She was also a filmmaker and made the classic award-winning film “Little Fugitive,” in 1952.
Francesca Woodman – Fine art Photographer (April 3, 1958 – January 19, 1981)
An American photographer best known for her black and white pictures featuring either herself or female models. Woodman took her first self-portrait at age thirteen and continued photographing herself until she died.Her work continues to be the subject of much positive critical attention, years after her death at the age of 22, in 1981.
Homai Vyarawalla – Photojournalist (December 9, 1913 – January 15, 2012)
As India’s first female photojournalist broke down social barriers from 1938 to 1973, the duration of her career, she captured India’s journey of political awakening through her unbiased lens.
From the British Rule’s descent, to the rise of Indian democracy and all the challenges that plagued it through the disillusionment of post-partition, Homai recorded this country’s most iconic moments throughout history.
From the last salute of Lord Mountbatten, to the deaths of Gandhi and Nehru, to the landmark conference that voted for the Partition of India, and even the country’s first ever Republic Day parade, her black-and-white legacy will be referred to by historians for the rest of time.
In 1956, she photographed for Life Magazine the 14th Dalai Lama when he entered Sikkim in India for the first time via the Nathu La. Most of her photographs were published under the pseudonym “Dalda 13″.
The reasons behind her choice of this name were that her birth year was 1913, she met her husband at the age of 13 and her first car’s number plate read “DLD 13″.
In 2011, she was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award of the Republic of India.
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