Wednesday, October 1, 2008
aperture spotlight: women, in the photography
last night i went to the "Women in Photography" talk in Aperture's new Spotlight lecture series, hosted by the super Laurel Ptak. the talk was packed to the gills! i'd visited the Women in Photography website several times, so it was interesting to hear the perspective of the founders, Cara Phillips and Amy Elkins.
i knew the site was aimed at increasing visibility for female photographers working in the contemporary fine art mode, which is a lovely thing, especially if that's your passion. but i hadn't realized, until (the very well-prepared and well-spoken) Cara pulled out a powerpoint of statistics, how much the site's mission came out of a direct desire to remedy the fact that women face inequality as an identity category in the commercial art world--an inequality that they measured in major institutional credibility as well as dollars and cents. the discussion reminded me of many i've had among my white, middle class peers in, say, Women's Studies classes in college. especially when Cara offered the perspective that it was important for women to "learn to be powerful" and that if one believes in good things like equal pay, then it makes sense to identify as a feminist. but, you know, i think these things just feel more complicated for some people.
i think i am in a privileged position to not want to measure success by the number of solo shows women have had at MoMA last year (1 out of 18) or the number of women among the top grossing artists. i do not dispute that these facts are real and that they really affect people. however, i'm mainly interested in work that is successfully provocative and discourse-inducing. even if it is less popular, more difficult to track down, or made by people without genders. but hey, if i were out there trying to pitch myself to Gagosian right now, i might be feeling a lot more like Cara and Amy.
Amy quoted Imogen Cunningham, who, when asked how being a woman had affected her life as a photographer, replied "I'm a photographer, not a woman." i couldn't tell Amy's intention in conveying the quote, or whether she felt critically that it reflected a sad necessity of Cunningham's era. (interestingly, Diane Arbus had a similar, but maybe less revolutionary, twist on this: "Look, I'm a photographer, not a woman photographer.") personally, i find Cunningham's remarks fascinating at face value--but don't feel a stake in prioritizing or analyzing her identifications. but i imagine that for many of the photographers featured on Women in Photography, being a woman is primary among their personal identity politics.
the discussion also reminded me that i should push harder in my own quest to seek out interesting, diverse work to think about and talk about, and not just pick through the obvious links. (once again, these events make me feel like the internet can sometimes make itself a small place.) it also made me realize that focusing on portraits on Subjectify has seemed to mean that i single out female-identified photographers more often than not. i definitely wonder why that is--and whether my eye, my identity, or an affinity for portraiture might be a cause.
overall, i was very happy to hear personal stories from panel photographers Elinor Carucci and Robin Schwartz, and to see previews of more of their new work. (i had seen Carucci's work a lot and had questions about how female beauty, nudity, and confessionalism factored in. so it meant a lot to hear about the work from her perspective--and i especially enjoyed her thoughts on the erotic tension of family relationships. one of her photos, "My Mother and I, 2000," is featured above.)
i deeply appreciate all of the panelists for their honesty, humor, and willingness to share.
(and tonight Justine Kurland was presenting at Aperture but i got sick and couldn't make it. YouTube, anyone?)