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Women In Street Photography

When one reflects on the history of photography, many men come to mind. However, for each of those men, there is an equal woman. Women have been underrepresented and overlooked throughout the history of photography. Recently there has been a greater acknowledgment of their contributions to photography.


The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes street photography as " a genre of photography that records everyday life in a public place. The very publicness of the setting enables the photographer to take candid pictures of strangers, often without their knowledge. Street photographers do not necessarily have a social purpose in mind, but they prefer to isolate and capture moments which might otherwise go unnoticed."


Artists like Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Brassai, Eugene Atget, Robert Frank, Jeff Mermelstein, Alex Webb, and Saul Leiter. These names might jostle around in your head. Oh, and by the way, Helen Levitt and Diane Arbus, too, and maybe Vivian Maier for good measure. Nevertheless, unfortunately, it has been a male-dominated field so far.


While Levitt and Arbus, true masters, are included in most mentions of the form, the point is that street photography has always been perceived through a mostly male lens. Nevertheless, it is 2022, and we can start looking at things differently and broadening our conception. Diverse perspectives are always relished.


Moreover, women were involved in photography from the beginning of the process. Among them, most of whom were from Britain or France, had close relationships with the families of male pioneers, or were married to them. Women first entered the photography industry in northern Europe, opening studios in Denmark, France, Germany, and Sweden in the 1840s. Britain had women from well-to-do families developing photography as an art in the late 1850s. However, the first studios run by women opened in New York City in the 1890s.


Alfred Stieglitz established the Photo-Secession movement in 1902 to support so-called pictorialism and encouraged women to join. In Vienna, the use of photographic studios as fashionable meeting places for the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy was pioneered by Dora Kallmus.


Moreover, women were first photographed as amateurs in the United States, exhibiting their exemplary work at key exhibitions. They not only produced portraits of Native Americans and celebrities but also took landscapes, especially from the beginning of the 20th century. In the early 1900s, women's involvement in photojournalism started but gradually picked up during World War I.


Photography leaped forward when George Eastman introduced the Original Kodak camera in 1888. It was handy and had the fixed-focus camera loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film. Now, photographers can shoot with a simple, portable machine rather than struggle with a glass-plate negative for each exposure. In addition, Eastman Kodak's introduction of the Brownie in 1900 made photography more accessible and affordable.


The 1920s and 30s gave rise to historic female photographers whose work is what we now call street photography. While most women photographers were photographing friends at home or making portraits in the studio then, Beals was out in the world, capturing images inspired by reality and with moxie. The Library of Congress noted, "Her courageous example encouraged other women to pursue photography." She taught herself to use flash powder, making her the first female night photographer. 


Although technological advances in photography were becoming available globally, gender roles had a different meaning in some parts of the world. Some meant females were distant from freely roaming the streets or even able to buy a camera for themselves.


Berenice Abbott strove to capture the changing New York City. The first western photographer permitted into the Soviet Union was Margaret Bourke White, a photojournalist in 1930. Dorothea Lange had left her portrait studio to partake in the Resettlement Administration. She had some of the most enduring photographs, like "Nipomo, California, Migrant Mother," of 1936. It has become one of the most famous photographs in history.


Leica launched its first commercially available 35mm camera in 1925. It was handy and equipped with fast shutter speeds and well-crafted lenses. 


Meanwhile, Homai Vyarawalla in India is known by her pseudonym Dalda 13. She was the country's first woman photojournalist. She started working in the 1930s and was often spotted on the streets of New Delhi riding her bicycle carrying a camera bag slung over her shoulder. Then, in a few years, another Indian photographer, Li Gotami Govinda, went on an assignment in western Tibet. It was one of the last records of her life and culture before the Chinese occupation.


Rosie the Riveter presented a new perspective of female strength and determination. As a result, attitudes about "a woman's place" in the home began to shift. When the war was over, the majority of women were sent back to their abodes and resumed domestic duties, but new independence had taken hold. 


Vivian Maier, the Icon of Street Photography. Whenever you think about Street Photography, she is the most famous female Street Photographer. She represents what this genre is all about. Being a silent observer wandering through the streets, she documented Chicago in her way, leaving a collection that remains a testament to her own time.

Vivan Maier was born in 1926 in New York City and died in 2009, but it was only after her death that her pictures came to life and reached a vast audience. With her Rolleiflex, she came close without being disturbing, capturing candid moments in the streets of Chicago. Although very introverted, her job as a nanny gave her a good reason to wander the streets and document the city as she experienced it.

Her images often show a classy side of society, focusing on other women's fashion or general lifestyle but are never obscene.


Often, she implies a sense of humor when showing juxtapositions that are very timeless and understood even to this day. It is the reason why her images are truly classic and have aged very well. They may be 50 years old, but very up-to-date. Vivian Maier has quite a legacy. Near 1949 she began pursuing photography. It was in 2007 that everyone was aware of her work. She continued for almost 50 years, compiling over 100,000 negatives but never sharing them. In 50 years, her ability to process film and print her images varied.


All were resulting in a massive backlog of unprocessed color and black-and-white film. She had packed away all her photo supplies in a storage unit at the end of the 1990s. They all sat there until 2007. It was when she failed to be persistent in the payments on the team, and the contents were sold off. Days after she had perished away, John Maloof started posting the pictures on the internet in 2009. However, he was unaware at the moment. Maier, after her death, became an icon of street photography. She had numerous exhibitions, publications of her work, and a documentary about her life. 


Moreover, one of the prominent artists in the development of photography was Constance Fox Talbot, the wife of Henry Fox Talbot in the 1830s and 1840s. She had herself experimented with the process as early as 1839. Also, a hazy image of a short verse by the Irish poet Thomas Moore was attributed to her by Richard Ovenden. It made her the earliest known female photographer. 


Illustrated magazines like National Geographic and Photo Books found growing worldwide audiences in the second half of the 20th century. Moreover, some women photojournalists became known for their work on exotic places and people.


A German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, created propaganda films for the Nazi regime during the 1930s-1940s and turned to photography in the 1960s. She evolved her photography through the photographs of tribal life in southern Sudan and became known through her books Die Nuba von Kau ("The Nuba People of Kau") and Die Nuba (translated as "The Last of the Nuba"). 


Susan Sontag, an American photography critic, saw "fascist aesthetics" in the images and elaborated on her kind of criticism. The interpretation of archaic African lifestyles and the foreigner's view in her collection of essays On photography, where she argues that the proliferation of photographic images had begun to establish a "chronic voyeuristic relation" of the viewers to the subjects portrayed.



It brings me to the point of today's post. In March, the book, "Women Street Photographers," was published (Prestel, 2021). The book was curated by Gulnara Samoilova and contained an introduction by Melissa Breyer. Both women are accomplished photographers in their own right. Samoilova is a former Associated Press photojournalist and World Press Photo winner. Breyer's photographic work has been featured nationally and internationally in publications ranging from National Geographic to the New York Times.


Gulnara Samoilova, a Tatar photographer, embarked on a long journey after winning the World Press Photo Contest for her images taken on September 11 after the South Tower collapsed. On the journey of healing from the trauma, she survived that day among thousands of people at Ground Zero. She began working as a wedding photographer and quit photojournalism, celebrating the power of family, community, and love.



After establishing an incredibly successful business, Samoilova realized something was missing from her life: her passion as a teenager—walking with a camera in hand on the streets of her native Ufa in the Republic of Bashkortostan. Street photography gave her the perfect escape from the strains of daily life, and it became a refuge as she returned to time and again over the next 40 years.


However, street photography resists the careerist aspirations that have catapulted the medium into the industry and art in recent years. Instead, it is mainly done for pleasure and love, permitting photographers to freely engage with the world and further push the generic boundaries into new realms. Samoilova realized it was about time to return to her first love after taking Mary Ellen Mark's final workshop in 2015. Finally, she was ready to make the change.


When Donald Trump was elected, President fate took control. His bald sexism triggered memories of discrimination that Samoilova had experienced throughout her life. She shortly understood that personal success was not enough and to create a community where she could provide the opportunities and aid she had wished for throughout her career. In 2017, Samoilova started Women Street Photographers. 


Women Street Photographers has grown from a strong Instagram platform over five years to include traveling exhibitions across three continents, an artist residency, an inspirational film series, and a landmark photography book, Women Street Photographers (Prestel, 2021). Throughout it, all Samoilova has been focused on elevating women who are transforming commonly held notions of street photography.


Samoilova says. "Every time you go to a different neighborhood, you feel like traveling and encountering new cultures. I consider myself a classical street photographer, and it is always interesting and exciting to see what photographers worldwide are doing in their environments."


Where traditional street photography focuses on life in urban environments, Gulnara Samoilova adopts a comprehensive approach, engaging with artists who work in the countryside or at the beach. She finds inspiration among photographers who bring abstraction to their work, be it through reflections, light, color, or composition.


"Expanding on traditional techniques, Sandra developed a deeply personal photographic process, which ultimately led her to fantastic results," Magnum Photos member Gueorgui Pinkhassov writes in the book's foreword. "Sandra almost magically absorbed the acquired knowledge and transformed it into her understanding of street photography, pushing the boundaries of its documentary nature."


Photography's early years were tinkering and teeming with images of nature and simple scenes. However, it was not until the French artist and chemist Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre came up with his namesake daguerreotype in 1839 that the world had its first commercially successful photographic process. The Daguerreotype (1839) is the first successful technique of capturing and fixing a permanent image. Calotype became superior to the Daguerreotype because this process only produced a single positive image and no negative image to make duplicates. However, the Calotype was revolutionary because it created a negative image from which endless positive prints could be built. 


In Paris, Ilse Bing used Leica to create surrealist images. Surrealism was an artistic, philosophical, and literary movement which developed in Europe after the first world war. It aimed to transform the human experience by celebrating the treasures of the unconscious mind over a rational vision of life. On the other hand, Marianne Breslauer captured fleeting moments off the streets, in gardens, and along the Seine.


At this point, innovations in photography were most notably taking place in the West—our focus here, given street photography's strong Western roots—but that is not to say that photography was not happening elsewhere. Europeans brought daguerreotype cameras to China as early as the 1840s, for instance, and soon after that, Chinese photo studios developed their style of photographic representation. In India, daguerreotype cameras were available in Calcutta a year after their invention, and by the 1870s, Indian photographers were opening commercial studios.


Daguerre used his new process to create the first known photograph of a human in the late 1830s. The image, captured on a silvered copper plate, reveals a scene of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. Strolling figures passed by too fleetingly to be registered by the plate's long exposure, but a man getting his boots shined remained still enough to be immortalized forever in the historical image. 


An engineer at Eastman Kodak built the first digital camera in 1975. However, in Japan, we had to wait thirteen years before Fujifilm launched the first fully digital camera. Whereas the earliest women street photographers were primarily Western and often had to defy social norms, the digital camera revolution made photography more affordable and accessible in almost every country. However, despite this continuing increase in women picking up a camera worldwide, women remain under-represented in photography, especially in Africa and Asia.


Street photography needs more recognition, and communities like "Women Street Photographers" uplift women to participate and bring their talents to the surface. The genie is out of the bottle, but the word needs to be spread further. 


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