How Young, Female Photographers Are Carrying On A Powerful Legacy

The Musée de l'Orangerie is a renowned art gallery in Paris, France. Although it's best known for housing Monet's "Water Lilies," the gallery is currently featuring an exhibit entitled "Who's Afraid of Women Photographers? 1839-1919." I was fortunate enough to see the exhibit, which includes the work of 75 female photographers — some famous, some unknown. The featured artists managed to overcome the sexist expectations and prejudices that were part and parcel of the era in which they worked and laid the groundwork for an industry in which female artists have continued to thrive.

Although relatively little attention has been paid to their work, many women have thrived as photographers over the past century. While many women discovered the art form on their own, the notion of female photographers gained much public attention in 1893, when George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, launched the "Kodak girl" — a series of ads featuring female photographers. This led other camera manufacturers to market their products for women. Gender stereotypes surrounding women's domesticity also bolstered the acceptance of female photographers: As the traditional protectors of family memories, women were expected to document these moments using photography.

Women rapidly began to look beyond the home and towards politics for inspiration. In fact, photography allowed women to control their public image for the first time. For example, women used photography at the turn of the 20th century to combat the harsh and radical portrayal of suffragettes in the male-dominated press and British suffragettes in turned gained visibility and attention thanks in no small part to the women who photographed them.

But despite this robust history of female photographers, women are still not treated equally to men in the field. A 2012 report from the American Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that there is a significant gender wage gap in the field and the National Endowment for the Arts estimates that the median income for women photographers in the United States is about half of that for men. A recent study also showed that large media companies were less likely to employ women photographers and women who were employed were assigned work less often and were more likely to work part-time than their male counterparts, according to a Time report.

But the next generation of female photographers seem to be pushing back and creating art on their own terms — particularly in terms of their domination of photography-based social media. 68% of Instagram users are women and over 90% of the 150 million people on Instagram are under the age of 35, according to Business Insider. Passionate young female photographers, therefore, have the potential to continue the historic legacy of women changing the world with photography — and offer much hope for the future.

More articles by Category: Arts and culture, Feminism, Media
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Chloe Hallinan
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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