History Photography

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‘A World History of Women Photographers’ Unearths Hundreds of Images that Enrich the Canon

May 4, 2023

Grace Ebert

A woman wears a headdress of iguanas

Graciela Iturbide, Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico, 1979. Image © Graciela Iturbide. All images courtesy of Thames & Hudson, shared with permission

Photography is often touted as one of the most accessible and democratic mediums, making it a prime choice for those with little institutional support or access to funding. A new book edited by Luce Lebart and Marie Robert and published by Thames & Hudson explores the work of more than 300 women, many of whom were underrecognized during their lifetimes, and all of whose practices centered around the camera.

Recently translated from French by Ruth Taylor and Bethany Wright, the hefty A World History of Women Photographers is a corrective encyclopedia highlighting those with outsized impacts on the medium. The 504-page book pairs hundreds of images with text by an international roster of 160 women writers, granting similar space to each photographer and unearthing a chronically undervalued group. “With this collection of artists, it is not so much a matter of producing a counter-narrative or of deconstructing histories that already exist but of completing them. We have no desire to burn idols or topple statues, only to erect new ones, and to create a narrative that is richer and more fair,” the editors write in the introduction. “In other words, there is an urgent need to write another history, and to write it differently.”


A woman and two dogs stand at the top of a pink outdoor staircase

Pamela Singh, Tantric Self-Portrait in Jaipur #18, c. 2000–2001. Image © Pamela Singh, courtesy of the artist and sepiaEYE, New York

Included in the chronologically organized text that spans from 1850 to today are luminaries like Carrie Mae Weems and Zanelle Muholi (previously), in addition to those who have only recently come into public view. The Argentine photographer Josefina Oliver (b. 1875) was largely unknown until her great-niece unearthed her archives in 2006, for example, and that same year, Karimeh Abbud (b. 1863), the first woman to establish a studio in Palestine in the early 20th century, was recognized for her distinct portraiture style in the first major exhibition of her work. “This ‘world tour’ enables us to re-evaluate some women who were celebrated and acknowledged in their own time, to remember others now unjustly forgotten, and to discover others whose work was never exhibited or discussed during their lifetime,” the editors say.

A World History of Women Photographers, created as part of the Rencontres d’Arles and Kering’s Women in Motion project, is currently available on Bookshop. (via Hyperallergic)


A leaf sprouts form a spindly root with several offshoots

Anna Atkins, Alaria esculenta, from Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, 1849–1850. Image © The New York Public Library 

A shirtless man and a woman embrace

Sandra Eleta, Putulungo and Alma, Portobelo couple, 1977. Image © Sandra Eleta. Courtesy Galerie Rouge, Paris

three women on the bank of a body of water, one seated and two standing

Sigriður Zoëga, Women on the Banks of the Lake, 1915. Image © The National Museum of Iceland, Reykjavik

A woman stands in front of the remaining rubble of a building, her dress blowing in the wind

Isabel Muñoz, Untitled, from the series ‘Bam,’ 2005. Image © Isabel Muñoz

A man and son sit at a dining table filled with empty plates and two serving dishes

Rita Ostrovska, My husband Alik with our son Sasha, Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, 1988. Image © Rita Ostrovska

A person glowing with light walks across rubble

Victoria Ivleva, Dosimetrist Yuri Kobsar climbs radioactive debris inside the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, 1991. Image © Victoria Ivleva

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