STORY BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
A new exhibit looks at photography solely from a woman’s perspective. “The Female Gaze: A Survey of Photographs by Women from the 19th to the 21st Centuries” showcases “master works across the medium’s genres including portraits, travel, landscape, documentary, and conceptual photography,” according to the press release.
William Williams, Professor of Fine Arts and Curator of Photography at Haverford College, culled 66 photographs from the school’s Fine Art Photography Collection. Featured photographers from around the world include: Imogene Cunningham, Nan Goldin, Tacita Dean, Julia Margaret Cameron, Carrie Mae Weems, and students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr colleges.
Williams started planning the show three years ago. He was inspired by the collection Haverford already had, which featured many works that reminded him of the important contributions female photographers had made. He decided to curate this show to collect more conceptual and color work, and pieces that filled in historical gaps.
To create this exhibit, he read and reread histories of photography. He bought pieces from art auctions, dealers and the online auction site Ebay. He’s especially happy to include former and current students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr.
“It’s nice to see your own students achieve things and do things to make a mark in the field,” he said.
Rebecca Robertson is one of Williams’ former students. Her piece in the exhibit shows a tree in a residential community; it’s cut and painted red, white, and blue. That photo is placed next to one featuring a woman portraying Mrs. Claus (taken by Cindy Sherman).
“These photos look at the transformation of well-known symbols into social commentary,” Williams said.
Robertson’s piece is part of a larger project that she completed after becoming curious about how people landscape their yards. “It was interesting the way patriotism and cultural ideas were put on this natural object,” she said. She continues to be fascinated by how nature “rubs up against culture.”
The project meant systematically searching neighborhoods in Queens, where she lives now, and other areas nearby to find gardens and other natural areas to photograph. Having spent time in California, in Pennsylvania when she was in school, and in New York, the diversity, even just in Queens, appealed to her.
“You have all of these incredibly different ideas of what nature should look like,” she said. “There was this global picture of nature all in this one borough.”
Robertson said she fell in love with photography while a student.
“It’s a way to make sense of the world, to analyze the world visually,” she said. “You have to make your art out of what’s in front of you. It has to be related to what’s there. You’re making something creative or beautiful, but you’re doing it with the real world.”
While taking classes with Williams, Robertson said she was most inspired by the photography of Dorothea Lange (known for portraits of migrant farm families) and Diane Arbus (known for portraits of off-beat or marginalized people).
“I loved looking at their work and going out to make my own,” she said. “It was totally thrilling to feel like you’re in a conversation with these people who are so inspiring.”
And to be included in the exhibit is exciting as well, she said.
Williams believes the exhibit showcases what photography is capable of and the great impact that women have had on it.
“Photographs are exciting. Images are exciting,” he said. “And it’s exciting to think that this is what humans have achieved” – these female photographers in particular.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Female Gaze: A Survey of Photographs by Women from the 19th to the 21st Centuries”
WHERE: Haverford College, Atrium Gallery, Marshall Fine Arts Center, 370 Lancaster Ave., Haverford.
WHEN: Exhibit runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; noon to 5 p.m. Sat.-Sun., through Nov. 30.
INFO.: Call (610) 896-1000 or visit www.haverford.edu/calendar/details/261550