Women Power in Photography

The High Museum of Art presents until Aug. 1 “Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection”, an exhibition featuring more than 100 photographs from the Museum’s collection, including many that have never before been exhibited. The artworks demonstrate the notable contributions of women throughout the history of photography, spanning from innovators of the medium to contemporary practitioners who investigate the intersections of photography, representation and identity. 

Mickalene Thomas (American, born 1971), Les Trois Femmes Deux, 2018, dye coupler print, 2018.214, High Museum of Art, Atlanta. purchase with funds from the Friends of Photography. 

Mickalene Thomas creates vibrantly layered artworks that reclaim iconic images to center Black female subjectivity in the history of art. A direct response to Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, this photograph transposes the scene of three White figures having a picnic in a park to an interior view of three exquisitely coiffed and adorned Black women (including Thomas’s partner at right) gazing directly and confidently at the viewer. The colorful, wood-paneled living room, complete with fake plants and mismatched African textiles, evokes Thomas’s 1970s childhood and the aesthetics of Blaxploitation cinema, known for its audacious, dangerous, and sexually confident gun-toting heroines.

For nearly all of photography’s one hundred eighty-year history, women have shaped the development of the art form and experimented with every aspect of the medium. Conceived in conjunction with the centennial of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted suffrage for some women, this exhibition showcases more than one hundred photographs from the High’s collection, many of them never before on view, and charts the medium’s history from the dawn of the modern period to the present through the work of women photographers.

“With this exhibition’s focus on women photographers, ‘Underexposed’ highlights a trajectory of participation and influence extending from the earliest days of photography to a leading role in defining the medium today,” said Rand Suffolk, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director.  

Sandy Skoglund (American, born 1946), Gathering Paradise, 1991, dye
coupler print, 47 x 60 ½ inches, 1991.270. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James L.
Henderson, III.

Like many of installation artist and photographer Sandy Skoglund’s surrealist views of domestic spaces, this macabre, pink-tinged scene of squirrels running riot across a patio suggests the frenetic anxiety that bubbles beneath the placid appearance of suburban life. Eschewing digital manipulation, Skoglund meticulously constructs room-size theatrical sets—in this case, complete with sculpted squirrels—which she then photographs. At once funny and unsettling, her photographs of everyday spaces invaded by a menagerie of fantastical animals reveal the nightmarish aspects of the American dream.

Organized roughly chronologically, each section emphasizes a distinct arena in which women contributed and often led the way. Among the artists featured are pioneers of the medium such as Anna Atkins as well as more recent innovators and avid experimenters, including Betty Hahn, Barbara Kasten, and Meghann Riepenhoff. The exhibition also celebrates the achievements of numerous professional photographers, including Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, and Marion Post Wolcott, who worked in photojournalism, advertising, and documentary modes and promoted photography as a discipline. The exhibition also highlights photographers who photograph other women, children, and families, among them Sally Mann, Nan Goldin, and Diane Arbus, and those who interrogate ideals of femininity through self-portraiture. Also on view will be works by contemporary photographers who challenge social constructions of gender, sexuality, and identity, including Zanele Muholi, Sheila Pree Bright, Cindy Sherman, Mickalene Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems.

Ilse Bing (American, born Germany, 1899-1998), Self-Portrait in
Mirrors, Paris, 1931, printed ca. 1941, gelatin silver print, 1987.14. High
Museum of Art, Atlanta. Purchase with funds from Georgia-Pacific
Corporation.

Ilse Bing (American, born Germany, 1899–1998) received her first camera as a teenager and continued to explore the medium as a complement to her doctoral studies in art history. By 1929, she decided to pursue photography professionally and moved from Frankfurt to Paris, where she quickly established herself as a leading photojournalist. Read more

Originally conceived in conjunction with the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment“Underexposed” pays homage to the work of women who have pioneered and championed the art of photography, from its earliest days through today. The exhibition is arranged roughly chronologically and showcases distinct arenas in which women photographers flourished and often led the way: as professionals working across multiple genres; as avid experimenters pushing photography into new directions; as teachers and patrons who supported the growth of the medium; and as creative, critically engaged artists exploring such issues as gender, identity and politics.   

Paula Chamlee (American, born 1944), Nude Collage #1, 1998, gelatin
silver print, 7 ¾ x 9 ½, 2012.603. Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the
Bunnen Collection. ©Paula Chamlee.

Paula Chamlee’s work stretches beyond the realm of straight photography and into assemblage, painting, and drawing. This collage was inspired by photocopies of prints that her husband, the late photographer Michael A. Smith, intended to share with a prospective collector. Because the photographs’ dimensions did not match with that of the copy machine, the images required cropping and taping. Intrigued by the nature of these cast-off bits piled together and the relationship of the parts to the whole, Chamlee created this collage by piecing together images of her body that Smith had taken.

The exhibition opens with a selection of work by artists who transformed the practice of photography from the 1920s through the 1950s. Coinciding with the global rise of the feminist ideal of the “New Woman in the late 1900s, practitioners including Ilse Bing, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham emerged as savvy leaders in the fields of documentary, fashion and fine art photography. The exhibition continues with a section focused on artists who have experimented with photographic technologies and alternative processes to redefine the expressive and material limits of the medium. Works made in the 1970s and 1980s by artists including Barbara Kasten, Olivia Parker and Sheila Pinkel join pieces by contemporary makers, such as Meghann Riepenhoff and Elizabeth Turkwho continue to expand the language of photography. 

Judy Dater (American, born 1941), Self-Portrait on Deserted Road¸ 1982,
gelatin silver print, 14 ¼ x 18 ¼, 1982.274. Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for
the Bunnen Collection.

Over the course of her career, Judy Dater has primarily photographed women, including herself. This work is from a series she made during ten trips to national parks in the West between 1980 and 1983, where she photographed herself nude amidst the grandeur of nature. Seemingly stranded on an empty, endless road, she appears vulnerable and lost, but across the larger series, her photographs veer from savage self-examination to carefully constructed performances that explore identity, subjectivity, and femininity. One of the key influences on Dater’s photography is the work of Imogen Cunningham, who was also a close friend.

The second half of the exhibition explores how women photographers have used photography to reflect on and interrogate the personal, social and cultural dimensions of gender and identity. Works by Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Susan Meiselas, Anne Noggle and Clarissa Sligh reveal different ways women have looked at and photographed other women. Similarly, works by Sheila Pree Bright, Sandy Skoglund and Susan Worsham deconstruct ideas around domesticity and feminine ideals. The exhibition closes with a selection of portraits and self-portraits by Judy Dater, Zaneli Muholi, Cindy Sherman, Mickalene Thomas and Carrie Mae Weems, among others, that explore the intersections of photography, representation and identity. 

High Museum of Art 1280 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA 30309

 

About the High Museum of Art
Located in the heart of Atlanta, the High Museum of Art connects with audiences from across the Southeast and around the world through its distinguished collection, dynamic schedule of special exhibitions and engaging community-focused programs. Housed within facilities designed by Pritzker Prizewinning architects Richard Meier and Renzo Piano, the High features a collection of more than 18,000 works of art, including an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American fine and decorative arts; major holdings of photography and folk and self-taught work, especially that of artists from the American South; burgeoning collections of modern and contemporary art, including paintings, sculpture, new media and design; a growing collection of African art, with work dating from prehistory through the present; and significant holdings of European paintings and works on paper. The High is dedicated to reflecting the diversity of its communities and offering a variety of exhibitions and educational programs that engage visitors with the world of art, the lives of artists and the creative process. For more information about the High, visit www.high.org.  

 


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