From the advent of the daguerreotype (the first form of photography) in 1839, women have utilized the art form of photography to document and represent the female perspective. Whether you’re a photographer yourself, or a passive supporter of the art, it’s important that we take the time to acknowledge the female photographers who have changed the game.
Fortunately, May is #NationalPhotoMonth, and in honor of this celebration, we’re highlighting eight female photographers and their culturally significant work.
Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879)
Ms. Cameron is noted for her soft-focus technique, which was actually somewhat shunned while she was still alive for being “bad” photography. Nowadays, however, her emphasis on emotion (which was rarely shown in photographs of that era) sets her work apart. (See Cameron’s photograph entitled, “Sadness.”) Her photographic philosophy?
“I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied.”
View some of her photography here.
Yumna Al-Arashi (1988–present)
Al-Arashi is Muslim, and was raised in Washington, D.C. Perhaps her most popular series, “Northern Yemen,” portrays Muslim women as powerful figures against a backdrop of the landscapes of their home country. She told the website Artsy:
“My whole life I’ve been surrounded by Muslim women who cover themselves, and they’re such badasses and have such incredible depth—as much as any of the uncovered women I’ve met. As a Muslim woman, you’re often boxed into a single identity. I wanted to shift that stereotype.”
View her work here.
Lorna Simpson (1960–present)
Simpson is known internationally for her signature style, which combines graphic text and studio-like portraiture. In the eighties, she became well known for her large-scale works that sought to undermine “traditional conceptions” of identity, sex, culture, race, memory, history, and the like. One of her most lauded projects is “Guarded Conditions.” Sofía Retta writes of the work:
“Guarded Conditions, 1989, speaks overtly of the violence that black women face because of their gender and skin color. The photographs within the six panels line up imperfectly, breaking up the woman’s body even as they appear to combine into a whole image of her. Simpson’s subtle fragmentation of the photographs speaks to the mutilation of black women’s bodies, from the wounds of beatings and sexual violence during slavery to the ongoing killings at the hands of police.”
View some of her work here.
Annie Leibovitz (1949–present)
There is a near 100% chance that you have seen Annie Leibovitz’s work at least once in your lifetime, even if you didn’t realize it. She captured the iconic image of John Lennon naked, curled up next to Yoko, on the day he was assassinated. She got her start at Rolling Stone, contributing to the intimate photographs of celebrities that the magazine became known for. She was also the first woman to have held an exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery. Nowadays, she is known for her big-production portraits of celebrities, from Whoopi Goldberg to Queen Elizabeth II. She has said of her work:
“When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them. Anyone I know I photograph.”
View some of her work here.