Dazzling Femininity

Chiang Li-HuaAssistant Professor at Department of Fine Arts, National Taiwan University of Arts

Browsing through Women’s Voices-International Photography Exhibition 2014 (hereinafter referred to as Women’s Voices), I can’t help but recall a 1971 publication titled, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?, by American art historian, Linda Nochlin (1931- ). In it, she raised the question whether there might be common attributes of “femininity” that reveal a connection amongst the styles of female artists. The ten female photographers invited to participate in Women’s Voices utilize a variety of homemade pinhole cameras, traditional cameras, and mixed media for their works.  Additionally, they applied photographic papers used across various eras (gelatin silver print, Polaroid film, digital fine art paper, etc.), diverse techniques of expression (experimental photography, direct photography, reporting or directing style of photography, etc.), and different presentation methods (mounted frames, handmade display books, interactive devices, etc.) to compose a rich visual feast. The contents of this exhibition explore such topics as “care for the female physique”, “gender and cultural differences”, “role-playing across time, space and gender”, “mythology and environmental issues”, “definition of happiness”, and “stories of female growth” that fully showcase diverse artistic perspectives. And so, what kind of “femininity” can we use to connect the styles of these female photographers?

The first female photographer to be recorded in the history of photography was Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879). When Cameron was 48 years old, her daughter gave her a camera, which started her career as a photographer. She was renowned for her skill in capturing beauty in arranged settings. These images led Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) to state in his book, Kleine Geschichte der Photographie, that the lively era of Cameron and other photographers marked a golden era in photography. Cameron earned a seat in the history of photography due to a few reasons. In addition to her skill in photography and experimental darkroom post-productions, she also drew inspiration from historical stories and literary works to assist in materializing her beauty [1] pursuits. This unique and elegant creative style of hers was the main reason she will always be remembered in the history of photography.

Similarly, the group of female photographers participating in Women’s Voices seem to share Cameron’s ability to capture the beauty around them: female bodies, motherhood, female poets and women’s culture of écriture féminine. Through these ways, a dazzling “femininity” is exhibited as a style that is both elegant and perseverant is constructed. Here, we are able to observe this type of style presented in Women’s Voices. It is as if women’s art herstory added another page to the history of photography.

Written in Taipei, Taiwan on May 13, 2014

[1]Cameron said”I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied.”