This month, we celebrate some of the women who have made their own deep impression on the history of photography. Illuminating the wide range of the medium, women have brought their own unique view of the world, challenging expectations and broadening the spectrum of composition, technique and subject.
Widely praised for her technical skills, Sally Mann’s career in photography has followed an almost evolutionary path, showing the stages in her life as both an artist and a mother. She uses an 8x10, large-format camera for all of her work, although her work has a spontaneous feel to it. Over the years, Mann has received three Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment from the Arts, professional fellowships, and more. In the 1980s, Mann released a collection of her work titled At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women, and then followed that collection with a photo journal of her own children, titled Immediate Family. Her work has garnered some controversy in the last decade or so, mainly because of her nude photos of her pre-adolescent children. Mann insists these are the innocent poses of children, which at times are misinterpreted by adults. As her children have grown older, Mann has turned her lens to the unpopulated rural landscapes of the American South, as well as to depictions of her husband.
In 1967, Annie Leibovitz enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute to study painting and also enrolled in a night school photography course. Three years later, she walked into the office of Rolling Stone magazine and convinced them to give her an assignment. A short time later, she persuaded the magazine to let her do a cover shot of John Lennon and by 1973, she was named the magazine’s chief photographer. Considered one of America’s best living portrait photographers, Leibovitz has captured arresting and creative images of scores of celebrities. Not infrequently, her work has stirred controversy, such as the image of a naked John Lennon clinging to a fully clothed Yoko Ono. Moving from Rolling Stone to Vanity Fair, Leibovitz continued to develop her individual style of portrait photography and branched out to shoot a series of advertisements for American Express. Her photographs are some of the most widely recognized portraits in popular culture today.
Considered a mixed-media artist, Simpson is well known for her provocative installations that combine photographs and small blocks of text. Her installations can be quite large and themes focus on black women and how they are treated in society, gender-defining institutions, and the male worldview. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960, Simpson has had many notable achievements already. In 1990, she was the first African-American woman artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennial, and the same year had a one-woman exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 2007, her work was the subject of a 20-year retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art. Her newest gallery show in London, “Unanwserable,” features work of photography, screen print and photography and shows that she is continuing to develop the language of the found image as a source for her work. Incorporating photographs from vintage Ebony and Jet magazines from the 1950s to 1970s, Simpson reflects upon the ongoing exploration of contemporary culture.
To learn more about Lorna Simpson, we suggest Lorna Simpson by Okwui Enwezor and Picturing People: The New State of the Art by Charlotte Mullins (which includes work from Lorna Simpson, as well as other artists)
Vivian Maier’s work was unknown until after her death in 2009. An American street photographer who grew up in France but then worked for about forty years as a nanny in the Chicago area, Maier’s photographs were unknown and unpublished during her lifetime and many of her negatives were never printed. Maier had rented a storage space, but in 2007, after she had failed to keep up with payments, the storage space was auctioned off. Three photo collectors bought part of her work, with John Maloof purchasing the largest amount of her work because he, at the time, working on a book about Portage Park. Maloof discovered Maier’s name in the boxes, and while he wasn’t able to find out much about her, when he linked his blog to a selection of her photographs on Flickr, the results went viral. Public fascination with Maier grew and her work has now appeared in gallery exhibitions, several books and two documentary films. Maier’s best-known photographs depict street scenes in Chicago and New York City in the 1950s and 1960s and her work demonstrates a sophisticated technique. According to people who knew her, Maier had an unobtrusive presence as a photographer, taking photos openly, with the confidence that her presence would elicit little reaction from her subjects.
There is currently an exhibit of Vivian Maier’s photography at the International Photography Hall of Fame (February 21-May 26, 2018). To learn more about Vivian Maier, we suggest Vivian Maier, Out of the Shadows by Vivian Maier and Vivian Maier: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife by Pamela Bannos
These are just a few of the amazing women who have shaped the history of photography. We welcome you to explore our collection; ask any of our friendly Fine Arts staff to show you the photography section (and we’ll even bring you books from the Stacks)!