Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Women have been consistently contributing to the world of photography ever since the early days, despite being often neglected, ignored and not given much recognition. This blog is a short compilation of some of the early trailblazers! If you know someone who should be featured here, please comment below!
Born in 1799, Anna Atkins was a botanical scientist, a feat in itself, however was also considered the first female photographer in the world. Atkins was known for using cyanotype printing in her research. She used dried algae as negatives and put them on light-sensitive paper in the sun. Anna's innovative use of new photographic technologies merged art and science, and exemplified the exceptional potential of photography in books. She issued the first photographically illustrated book and produced thousands of prints for her book British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.
Read more about Anna Atkins below!
Julia Margret was born in Calcutta and believed that photography was the means to create a complex bond of ideality and reality. She was in her forties when she took up photography and clicked solely for aesthetics. She used to make people dress up as characters from the Bible and Shakespeare. She was known for using various props, different focus and soft edged warm toned portraits. Her photographs were unique, audacious and modern, due to which she also had to bear the criticism that she didn’t know how to operate her equipment. Another interesting fact about Cameron is that the classic novelist Virginia Woolf was her great-niece!
Read more about Julia through the links below!
A confident risk taker who took the subject matter of the photography beyond normal. Arbus earlier worked as a fashion photographer which she left in search of something of her own. She took herself to the streets capturing people on the fringe of society which led the people to describe her work as unsettling photographs of freaks and eccentrics. Arbus, once said her pictures sought to capture “the space between who someone is and who they think they are,” . After her death her work was exhibited in Venice, Museum of Modern Art in New York and further around the world in Australia, Japan and New Zealand. The New York Times art critic Hilton Kromer wrote “Her work is the overwhelming sensation of American pavilion.” And as Arbus herself put it, “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”
Read more about Diane using the links below!
One of the few women who believed that female nude was a subject which could also be captured by female artists. Bernhard’s nudes work was different from the others. A genre where the female body was sexualized and objectified, Bernhard’s work showed modesty and real art. She said “I felt that so many artists treated the female form badly like it was an object that was tied up with sexual desires. I wanted to show the female form as filled with grace.” In the 1940s Bernhard also became part of f/64 group, a group dedicated to photography which was clear and detailed. She published several books of photographs, and her work is in collections at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Read more about Ruth below!
Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first female photojournalist was born in 1913. She attended the J.J. School of Arts. She was introduced to photography by Manekshaw Vyarawalla. A freelance photographer whose work was published in local newspapers as well as platforms like The Illustrated Weekly. She photographed her most iconic images after independence covering the departure of British, funerals of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Her work also includes candid, close-up photographs of celebrities and dignitaries who visited India including China's first Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, Queen Elizabeth II and US President John F Kennedy. She said “I have never asked anyone to pose for me. I don’t like it, because the moment the subjects know that they are being photographed, a change comes over their countenance. The whole atmosphere changes. The body becomes stiff and eyes open up a bit, which is not natural. When you take a picture, it’s always in a split second. You either take it or miss and that must be the right moment.” She clicked her last photograph in 1970 and was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 2011.
Read more about Homai below!
In 2007 John Maloof, an author bought a box of negatives depicting Chicago in the 60s and this is how the astounding work of Vivian Maier was discovered. Vivian was a free spirited, independent woman. She worked as a caregiver and in her leisure clicked photographs, which she kept hidden from the others, she also made homemade documentary films and audio recording. She left behind her work comprising over 100,000 negatives. Currently her work is being archived and cataloged for the enjoyment of others and for future generations by John Maloof himself. Maier’s work is part of the renaissance in interest in the art of street photography.