Landscape and Gender
[28Mar22 p.153] The cmat. reminds us of the legal and social status of women in the Victorian era and that meant that they were under-represented amongst landscape photographers. The names mentioned are "Evelyn Cameron, Laura Gilpin, Frances Benjamin Johnson and Elizabeth Ellen Roberts".
b: 1868 Streatham
d: 1928 Montana
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b: 1891 Colorado
d: 1979 Santa Fe
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b: 1864 West Virginia
d: 1952 New Orleans
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b: 1822 Dunbartonshire
d: 1865 London
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The cmat. suggests that sketching was considered a suitable pastime for ladies but implies, by not mentioning the matter, that photography might not have been considered so in the Victorian and post-Victorian eras. Anna Atkins, Julia Margaret Cameron, Lady Hawarden and Lady Elizabeth Eastlake are mentioned, with the comment, "the work produced by these kinds of [UK] aristocratic figures was more closely aligned with the family album, documentary and performance, rather than anything as topographic as the activity on the other side of the Atlantic [such as Gilpin]" (LPE p.154).
Bill Jay researched the prevalence of professional women photographers in 19th and early 20th centuries, largely from census records and concludes that,
there were 7,423 professional women photographers in Britain and America by 1900, which means that there was one female to every 4.6 male photographers. This is a much higher ration than is reflected in the historical literature Bill Jay, 2001, p.72
Ignoring such figures as about Riefenstahl and Lee Miller in the interim, the cmat. skips straight on to the 1970s,
Feminist discourses since the 1970s have rejected the monopoly of the male gaze and articulated ‘female points of view’ in relation to the landscape. Social and technological d evelopments have also made serious photographic excursions into the landscape considerably more accessible. LPE p.154
Recent definitions seem regard a monopoly as "a commodity controlled by one party" (Merriam-Webster, 2022). As an economist by training in the distant past, I seem to recall that the technical definition of an effective monopoly 50 years ago was control of 80% of a market. Notwithstanding Bill Jay's researches (see above), it is undoubtedly the case that female workers in all professions have been disadvantaged and discriminated against throughout history and the situation remains unequal today. The world wars, particularly WW2, saw women entering the workplace in unprecedented numbers and sectors (anecdotally, my mother (1920-2020) worked in a munitions factory in the 1940s and in the civil service before and afterwards): that, the feminist movement of the 1960s onwards and consequential equalities legislation have sought and had some success in redressing the balance, but that has not yet been achieved.
b: 1959 Crawley
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The cmat. cites "Barbara Kruger, Karen Knorr, Roshini Kempadoo, Susan Trangmar, Elina Brotherus, and Helen Sear" as, "just a few female practitioners who have, in one form or another, engaged with feminist politics in relation to the landscape and the concept of nature, as well as the male gaze" (pp. 154-5). Most of these have been encountered before but Kempadoo and Trangmar are new to this site.
† The Kempadoo bears a striking resemblance to my I&P Asg. 5, which I thought of as quite deft but was described by my tutor as "done so often that it has almost become a separate genre".
‡ Information on Susan Trangmar, beyond the superficial, is hard to come by.
b: 1934 London
d: 1992 London
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And so to Jo Spence, as mentioned elsewhere, one of my true photographic heroes. While some practitioners were foraging in the foothills of photo-politics, Spence engaged with the big issues through grand gestures. The Tate describes Spence as,
a writer, cultural worker, and a photo therapist. She began her career in the field of commercial photography but soon started her own agency which specialised in family portraits, and wedding photos. In the 1970s, she refocused her work towards documentary photography, adopting a politicized approach to her art form, with socialist and feminist themes revisited throughout her career. Self-portraits about her own fight with breast cancer, depicting various stages of her breast cancer to subvert the notion of an idealized female form, inspired projects in 'photo therapy', a means of using the medium to work on psychological health. The Tate
As examples of her work, I'll examine two books she was involved with, one early and one late. Several of Spence's books were collaborative efforts. It is important to remember that Spence was as much a femino-political activist and polemicist as she was a photographer and this informs her work
One of Spence's early publications was a beginners' guide book, Photography (1977), written with Richard Greenhill and Margaret Murray. It can be read as a straightforward introductory guide to all aspects of photography (at the time) — film, cameras, lenses, developing and printing, shutter speed, depth of field and so on and as such it is comparable to the books of the time by John Hedgecoe (though in a smaller format), and with similar illustrations. But the book is also run through with a socially aware commentary and so there are sections on the ethics and politics of photography. The first chapter, Why photography, includes privacy issues; when and when not to photograph people and to display them; and viewers' preconceptions and interpretation. A chapter on documentary photography considers editing, selection and control of imagery. Alternative approaches covers the value of local community photo-projects, including the "Hackney Flashers Collective [that takes] pictures in an effort to counteract the distorted and stereotyped view of women as portrayed in mass media" (p.37). Throughout the book's 96 pages, readers are confronted with the intellectual issues that accompany all the technical decisions and choices. The book is a minor masterpiece.
What can a woman do with a camera was published in 1995, three years after Spence died: Spence and Joan Solomon are credited as the book's editors, though the preface extends the list and it comprises a series of essays on various aspects of the craft from the women's perspective. There are clear parallels between this and the 1977 book, with a chapter on technical matters and practicalities but most deal with the politics of photography.
Spence's writing served a political purpose and her photography did the same: she appeared not to be interested in photography as art but as an important skill in pursuit of her political and societal aims. Even when she was dying of cancer, Spence used photography, and indeed her body too in furtherance of her perspective.
Spence was one of our finest photo-polemicists.
Abigail Solomon-Godeau, in her memorable essay Sexual Difference (1994, pp. 256-280), a summary of women's work in the photographic arena to redress the gender imbalance in art generally, in terms of practitioners, subject matter and treatments, she describes the work of Spence (in collaboration with Dennett),
In Jo Spence and Terry Dennett's Remodelling Photo History, the object of critique is an officially sanctioned notion of discrete photographic genres (e.g., the art photograph, the officially sanctioned notion of discrete photographic genres (e.g., the art photograph, the ethnographic document, the crime photo, etc.). Deftly "remodelled" through the device of restaging them and labeling them, these various genres are made to yield new meanings,an operation that links them to the technique of photomontage. In the thirteen image/texts that comprise the work, Spence is herself the model (Dennett also appears in one sequence). In one of the photographs, for example, Spence has posed herself, nude, in an unmistakable parody of the pose taken by Eleanor, in one of Harry Callahan's most famous images of his wife. Only where Eleanor is depicted in a profusion of lush and jungle-like vegetation-again the trope of the woman as/in nature-Spence has posed herself in an altogether banal and pointedly cultivated field and trenchantly labelled the image "Industrialization." This in turn is paired with another nude image of Spence, in an industrial terrain vague, also occupied by electric pylons. By means of such interventions (one of the collectives Spence worked with - the Polysnappers - termed their work "didactic montage"), mythic configurations of the feminine are made ridiculous, hence untenable. More important, different correspondences, connections, relations are obliquely proposed: exploitation of land, exploitation of women, domination and capitalization of the environment, women as infinitely exploitable resource, and so forth. Finally, Spence's literal inscription of herself into the photographs suggests that she, as an individual, is subject to the same historical forces, determinations, and sexual and social relations that her photographs attempt to symbolize. This political symbolism is one which is generated from the particular and employs the image of the woman as a paradigm of all other forms of domination, a model to which Marx and Engels themselves subscribed. Thus, the two photographs captioned Victimization use the genre of the police scene-of-the-crime photograph (Spence sprawled out nude, under the wheels of a car, next to a sign warning trespassers off private property) with a close-up photograph of Spence's hands doing laundry in a bowl, to set up an infinitely expanding network of meanings that encompasses both domestic and property relations. Abigail Solomon-Godeau Sexual Difference in Photography at the dock., 1994 pp. 269-270),
As luck would have it, the cmat. features Victimization, describing it rather less fulsomely than Solomon-Godeau,
Jo Spence (1934–92), who worked in collaboration with Terry Dennett, created a series of self-portraits under the title Remodelling Photo History (1982). The work consists of a series of diptychs where two photographs of Spence are juxtaposed. In some pairs, the first is a parody of a more traditional pictorial image; the second shot is less conventionally framed and the irony is articulated with less subtlety. Some of Spence and Dennett’s concerns aligned with Godwin’s interest in access to land and ownership, but the pair Industrialization also subverts classical depictions of nude female figures within idealised settings. This work, and works by the practitioners mentioned above, places the female figure (often themselves) between the viewer and the view beyond, challenging the male gaze and the objectification of women. Rather than the female form being an extension of the landscape to be beheld for the viewer’s pleasure, the nude interrupts any such continuum. LPE p.155
Greenhill, R. Murray, M. & Spence, J. (1977) Photography. London: Macdonald & Co.
Solomon-Godeau, A. (1994) Photography at the dock. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press
Spence, J. & Solomon, J. (eds.) (1995) What can women do with a camera. London: Scarlet Press.
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