In her debut photobook, Some Kind of Heavenly Fire, Female in Focus winner Maria Lax straddles a blurred line between familiar and foreign
In the 1930s, more than 70,000 people sought refuge in Britain from Nazi-dominated Europe. Among them were a group of women photographers, now brought together in a new exhibition
Female in Focus is an initiative purposed to discover, promote and reward a new generation of women-identifying and non-binary photographers around the world. In Linda Nochlin’s seminal 1971 essay Why Are There No Great Women Artists?, she poses a presiding explanation as to why, throughout history, those of us lacking the good fortune to have been born white, middle class and above all, male, have remained so steadfastly on the back foot (in the arts, as in a hundred other areas). “The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces,” says Nochlin, “but in our institutions and our education”. How, then, do we – as an industry, and as a society – collectively unlearn the centuries of artistic and cultural erasure of women? With the last decade’s unprecedented rise in popular feminism, wider attitudes are ostensibly changing. But the numbers? They’re just not. Between 2013 and 2017, men made up between 89% and 96% of commercial photographers. Less than 14% of leading US fashion magazine covers are shot …
What do Sophie Calle, Rineke Dijkstra, Susan Meiselas, and Hannah Starkey all have in common? They’re all on the list of 100 contemporary women photographers picked out by the UK’s Royal Photographic Society, after an open call for nominations. Over 1300 photographers were recommended to the organisation by the general public, which was slimmed down by a judging panel headed up by photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg.
The final list includes well-known names but also less recognised image-makers such as Native American artist Wendy Red Star, Moscow-based photographer Oksana Yushko, and Paola Paredes from Ecuador. Each Heroine will be awarded a Margaret Harper medal, named after the first female president of The Royal Photographic Society, and the first female professor of photography in the UK. An exhibition and accompanying publication will follow, all part of a bid to highlight women working in what is still a male-dominated industry.
“Although it was a truly challenging exercise having to consider 1300 women, being a part of the jury for Hundred Heroines was ultimately an incredibly stimulating and inspirational process,” says Luxemburg. “This final list reflects both the global expanse of female practice and the intergenerational input into contemporary photography. It reflects the wide range of methodologies, practices and diverse approaches of women working with the photographic medium. This is a moment of change and this list of heroines pays heed to it.”