Who is afraid of lady photographers?

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971), Self-portrait with camera,© Digital Image Museum Associates

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971), Self-portrait with camera,© Digital Image Museum Associates

Photography as a way of emancipation for women in the 19 th and 20 th century ? This is the theme of a marathon exhibition, set in two museums in and near the Tuileries gardens : Musée d’Orsay and l’Orangerie. Curated by Ulrich Pohlmann from the Stadtmuseum in Münich and Thomas Galifot and Marie Robert from Musée d’Orsay, it is a vast frescoe of talented and daring artists, some of which we already know well (Julia Margaret Cameron, Tina Modotti) others we discover here.

Lady Frances Jocelyn (1820-1880), Interior, 1865, Washington National Gallery of Art

Lady Frances Jocelyn (1820-1880), Interior, 1865, Washington National Gallery of Art

In the earlier stages, they come mostly from Great Britain, where Prince Albert created the Photographic Society and welcomed ladies as early as 1853. Alexandra, Princess of Wales, has a number of pictures exhibited but the star of l’Orangerie’s hanging, is definitely Frances Benjamin Johnston with many chefs d’œuvre.
After five large rooms with a theme such as “Masculin/Fémnin” or intimacy, self portraits, suffragettes in America, pictures referring to the first world war end the first part.

Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) Self portrait as as velocipede transvestite, Library of Congress

Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) Self portrait as as “velocipede” transvestite, Library of Congress

At Orsay, the atmosphere is different on the fifth floor of the museum. 20 th century pictures are more familiar, color appears regularly and self portraits are in fashion. Sexual flowers, (Tina Modotti) or plain fashion (Gisèle Freund) are quite striking, as are the first films in Afghanistan in 1939 or of trances in Bali in 1936.

All in all, it is a difficult exhibition to grasp for so many photographs are small, slightly faded, or badly  lit on purpose.  One has to concentrate on each one individually. The show gives a good idea of how much freedom, artistic endeavors could allow these young ladies.

Johnston, Frances Benjamin (1864-1952): Stairway of the Treasurer's Residence: Students at Work, plate from an album of Hampton Institute. Hampton, Virginia, 1899-1900.. New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Platinum print, 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 (19 x 24.1 cm). Gift of Lincoln Kirstein. Acc. n.: 859.1965.136.*** Permission for usage must be provided in writing from Scala. May have restrictions - please contact Scala for details. ***

Johnston, Frances Benjamin (1864-1952): Stairway of the Treasurer’s Residence: Students at Work,  (MoMA)

It can be a bit tiresome if you see both exhibitions at the same time so I would recommend a brisk walk in the Tuileries in between. But it is quite a fascinating journey in ladies’s talent, a hundred years ago and full of nice surprises. ( until January 14, 2016)

 

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