A World History of Women Photographers

Review by Melanie Chapman ·

Ain’t I a Photographer? Let Us Now Praise Not-So-Famous Women.

If you are interested in expanding your knowledge of photographic his/herstory, if terminology such as “oppositional gaze” “self-commodification” and “inclusivity” gets your attention, if you celebrate any gift giving rituals around this time of year, or if you just love spending time with stimulating imagery, then you will want to be aware of the impressive new Thames and Hudson publication “A World History of Women Photographers.”

You may also want to pause for a moment to consider why women, despite being 49.6% of the world’s population, are still in the year 2022 relegated to a Sub-category (have you seen any books or articles on “Male Artists” or “Male World Leaders” lately?). If you can move past this, and it is increasingly challenging to do so in these political times, or perhaps even if you cannot, this outstanding new compendium edited by French historians Luce Lebart and Marie Robert should be a MUST-have for your photobook collection.

Born of a partnership between Kering and Rencontres d’Arles, this ambitious reference book/ “manifesto” shines well-deserved attention on 300 women photographers from throughout the five continents who have created lens-based images during the last two centuries. For fans of photography, famous names such as pioneers Julia Margaret Cameron, Tina Modotti, and Lisette Model, can be found as well as contemporary artists like Cindy Sherman, Rineke Dijkstra, Carrie Mae Weems…the list goes on.

But for this reviewer, it is the inclusion of a vast array of less-famous photographers, both living and long passed, from regions such as Ukraine, Guatemala, Turkey, and Palestine, that make this such an inspiring book. Some photographers found their voice in the pictorialism movement, some women traveled to far-off regions such as the colonial era Congo, some focus the lens on themselves. Some had access to camera and darkroom equipment courtesy of exceptional family privilege; some broke with convention, cross-dressing in order to document historically male spaces such as the battlefield, or created sly critiques of power by subverting familiar tropes of beauty and tradition.

As there is no singular version of what it means to have lived as a human on this planet during the past two centuries, there is of course no singular Female point of view. But what does unite all of these photographers and the 160 female writers who provide invaluable biographical detail and social context about the work, is the recognition that a camera will record light/time/motion/expression no matter the gender of the person creating the image. What a joy to see the world as it was, as it is, as it can be, through such a generous and democratic medium. “A World History of Women Photographers” offers those of us who care about such things a sense of community, presence, hope, and a voice. 

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Melanie Chapman is a Contributing Editor and a Southern California photographer

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A World History of Women Photographers, Editors Luce Lebart and Marie Robert

Publisher: Thames and Hudson, 2022 – Original first edition: “Une historie mondiale des femmes photographes” by Editions Textuel (France) copyright 2020 

Essays: Luce Lebart and Marie Robert, translated by Ruth Taylor and Bethany Wright with additional editing and typeset by Andrew Brown at Art Books Publishing Ltd.

Hardcover, stitched binding, 504 pages, printed and bound in Belgium by Graphius, ISBN: 9780500025413

Book design: Agnes Dahan Studio

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are copyright of the authors and publishers.

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