Photography: a feminist view - pt. 1
What does it mean to be a woman and a photographer?
During my year of ESC I had the opportunity to work as a photographer and reporter in Hungary, a choice dictated by my passion for everything related to the world of art and which I was able to do freely, without worrying too much that it was an accessible area. for me or not. But in the history of female art this has not always been the case, for centuries women have been excluded from many aspects of what is now considered everyday life and photography represents an enormous milestone for women.
If it is common to imagine the artist as a man holding a brush or a chisel, ready to revolutionize the vision of the world of his time, women artists have long remained "invisible", relegated to convents or in the walls of their homes, destined to devote himself to the so-called "minor" arts such as embroidery, weaving, miniature. Throughout the course of the Middle Ages they were prevented from following any type of apprenticeship in artisan or art workshops, a deterrent to ignore, at least until the sixteenth century, all their artistic aspirations, considered unsuitable or distant from the idea of beauty shared at the time. Even if there have been women able to obtain some kind of recognition, this has only happened under a pseudonym: it is starting from the sixteenth century that some painters manage to break through the city boundaries and to impose themselves.
It is in the nineteenth century that we begin to feel the need to let women into art schools, driven also by the existence of ever more numerous groups of "Odd Women", or single women, odd because they were left without companions, who could not find a place in a world of work that required more and more specialization.
Despite the re-evaluation of the female role in this area, women still found themselves having to fight against the male claim to maintain its leading role within the professional environment. In fact, men are asked for collective recognition of the new figure of the artist as a legitimate profession, with increasingly strict selection criteria.
Harrison and Cyntia White, studying the Paris art market in the second half of the nineteenth century, claim that about 4,000 painters worked in Paris, 25% of whom were women, destined to increase. But already in 1881 it is possible to see a significant change: at the Salon, now self-managed directly by professional artists and no longer by the state, the female artists dropped from 1081 to 658, demonstrating how the recognition of the male artist as a professional equivalent to an exclusion of the figure female.
It was in 1970 that the real mass entrance of the artists into art took place. If before there had been several attempts, in recent years the feminist movement and its protests also give greater strength to all those who until then had been cut off from this sphere. From 1970 to 1985 there was a strong activity on the part of groups of women who, first in America and then in Europe, began to become part of the mainstream of contemporary art.
As difficult as it is to be able to identify a predefined style that characterizes the feminist movement in art, it is still possible to recognize a common thread capable of uniting several artists: photography. The combination of women artists and photographs has already begun from the birth of the medium, with personalities like that of Julia Margaret Cameron: one of the few names that escaped the oblivion of official history, is fascinated by this new scientific device halfway between dream and reality.
Photography, like women, was hardly establishing itself since the end of the nineteenth century, struggling hard to get out of the margins of the artistic empyrean to which it had been relegated, thus immediately becoming the emancipatory territory of many women. The interest in the photographic medium can easily be translated as an interest in doing and acting, a need to see an identity recognized for a long time denied: the performative act, which photography helps to capture and fix, assumes for the artists a decisive role in her attempt to present herself as a subject and no longer as an object.
De Lauretis, T., 1990, Eccentric Subjects. Feminist Theory and Historical Consciuosness, <<Feminist Studies>>
POLLOCK G., “Vision and difference. Femmininity, Feminism and the Histories of Art", Routledge, Londra, 1988
RANDY R., “Moving into the mainstream” da “Making the mark: women artists move into the mainstream”. Abbeville Press, New York, 1989