“To face the camera is to open a conversation, to make yourself both vulnerable and powerful at once,” says Muholi in an interview begun before lockdown, ahead of the South African artist’s planned survey exhibition at Tate Modern opening this autumn
This month’s digital issue centres around the intersection of art and activism, with an interview with Zanele Muholi ahead of her survey show at Tate Modern
Mark Sealy guides us through the work of eight artists from an exhibition he originally curated for FotoFest 2020, examining the relationships between contemporary African life, the diaspora, and global histories of photography and colonialism
The South African photographer’s series of self-portraits addressing race, gender, and identity has been awarded the prestigious photobook prize
The shortlists are out for the Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards and the result for the photobook prize is striking: this year, all three shortlisted books are by women, with Laia Abril’s On Abortion (Dewi Lewis Publishing), Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph, and Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi (Aperture) all making the grade.
But says chair of the Kraszna-Krausz, Brian Pomeroy, that fact shouldn’t stand out as remarkable. “We’ve had female winners before,” he says. “It just shows talent is equally distributed, and you wouldn’t expect anything else. There have been very strong female photographers since the beginning of photography, I don’t think it’s something new.”
Liz Jobey, associate editor of the FT Weekend Magazine and a member of the photobook jury along with Chrystel Lebas, photographer and Kraszna-Krausz Book Award Winner 2018, and Anne McNeill, director of the Impressions Gallery, agrees, adding that the jury wasn’t deliberately looking out for books by women. But, she says, it’s an interesting time in which photography – and society and culture more generally – is opening up to other perspectives, and that was naturally reflected in this year’s shortlist.
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.”
History confirms it – the first photobook was made by a woman, with British photographer Anna Atkins publishing Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843, a year before Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature. Still, many historians, including Allan Porter in his introduction to The Photobook: A History, dismiss Atkins’ work as “photographic prints” rather than photography.
“Unfortunately, this is far too often emblematic of the uphill battle women photobook-makers still encounter when we talk about their history,” says Russet Lederman, co-founder of 10×10 Photobooks. “As we conducted research for the How We See project, we discovered that although women photographers produce relatively equal numbers of photobooks to men, their representation in the higher-profile sectors was, and still is, disappointing.”
Only a small percentage of the 400 books that Ben Krewinkel has collected and featured on his website, Africa in the Photobook, are actually African. Many are historical publications, political pamphlets, or children’s books, written, photographed, and published by Europeans – including old colonial texts, which seem to obsess over hairstyles and traditions of scarification. Even the books by contemporary African photographers are mostly published in the West. As a collection that covers more than a century from 1897 to 2018, Africa in the Photobook follows the changing visual representations of the continent through the medium of the photobook – and soon it too will be transformed into a series of photobooks.
Krewinkel, a Dutch photographer, curator, and educator, is working with South African publishers Fourthwall Books on this series, and hopes to publish volume I by the end of 2019. Focusing on Africa under colonialism, it will include a long historical introduction, 40 case studies, and plenty of space to show large spreads from the books. Volume II will sketch a path from the beginnings of decolonisation in the 1950s to the late 1990s, marking the end of Apartheid and also the “re-evaluation of African photography”. Krewinkel then hopes to create a third volume, focusing on contemporary African photo books.
“In the EU today, we take women’s rights for granted,” says Marina Paulenka, director of Organ Vida, a three-week international photography event held annually in Zagreb. Founded in 2008, the festival has always been driven by political context, and this year, for its 10th edition, its all-female team have chosen to emphasise female-identifying perspectives from around the globe.
“In a time of post-capitalist global turmoil, technological advancements, with the strengthening of rightwing extremism, the growing influence of religion that limits women’s rights again, and the semblance of democracy in the 21st century, we are facing a situation in which women must fight anew for the rights that had been won long ago,” Paulenka insists.
“I became interested in photography in the late 1940s and began to look at magazines such as Life, Look, and Picture Post,” David Goldblatt told Colin Pantall, writing for BJP in 2013. “In the early 1950s, I tried to become a magazine photographer. I sent my pictures to Picture Post and got rejected. Then, when the African National Congress became active in their struggle against apartheid, Tom Hopkinson, the editor of Picture Post, contacted me and asked if I could make something. So I went to an ANC meeting and photographed everything I saw. That was in 1952.
“I shot and I shot and I shot and then I realised that I was using a long roll of film – film that had failed to engage on the sprocket of the Leica I was using. It was an incredibly basic mistake. But the other thing I realised was that I wasn’t really interested in what was happening around me.
“After the ANC meeting, I discovered I had to understand what I was competent in and what I was interested in. That took some years to probe, until I could get to the underbelly of the society that underlay South Africa. And to understand it visually, I also had to get a grasp on the history of the country. So I did a degree, which included courses in English and economic history. This taught me how to think and understand what was happening around me.
“My father died in 1963. I was 32 with three children and a family, but I sold the shop [the family business] and, with a couple of Leicas and the capital to keep on going for a year, I became a full-time photographer.”