Office of Communications
Stanhope Hall
Princeton, New Jersey 08544-5264
Telephone 609-258-3601; Fax 609-258-1301

CONTACT: Ruta Smithson (609) 258-3763

Women Photographers featured in
Princeton University Art Museum Exhibition

Exhibition Dates: October 6, 2001, through January 6, 2002

PRINCETON -- "Camera Women," a selective survey of the history of photography from its inception to the present from the perspective of the woman photographer, will be on view at the Princeton University Art Museum from October 6, 2001, through January 6, 2002. The exhibition will travel to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, January 25 through March 24, 2002.

Organized by Carol Armstrong, the Doris Stevens Professor in Women's Studies and Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, the exhibition evolved out of the fall 2000 seminar "Women in Photography" and is drawn primarily from the Museum's collection.

"The seminar asked how a history of women photographers might differ from the history of photography as it is usually told. What could be gained by considering the photographic output of a single sex? Given the multitude of photographs that objectify the female body, what occurs when women are on the other side of the lens? Are the results any less objectifying? Assuming that 'femininity' is a culturally constructed notion, does it make sense to claim that photographs by women are necessarily feminine, or feminist?" writes Martha Weiss, graduate student in the Department of Art and Archaeology, in the introduction to the exhibition.

The nineteenth-century "lady amateurs" who open the exhibition were upper-class nonprofessionals with the time and means to devote to photography. Because the institutions that had long restricted women's involvement with arts such as painting and sculpture were not established for photography, the new medium was almost as accessible to these women as it was to their male counterparts. Within the confines of the domestic sphere, Julia Margaret Cameron posed friends, family, and household staff, and Anna Atkins created cameraless cyanotypes by placing botanical specimens onto photosensitized paper, which she then exposed to sunlight.

With a loosening of constraints on women's roles at the turn of the century, the camera women of this era made pictures under a greater variety of guises: as snap-shooting chroniclers of the family, professionals, and exhibiting artists. Frances Benjamin Johnston and Gertrude Käsebier had their own portrait studios, and almost all were involved with the Photo-Secession, the American organization that championed photography as art. For much of the twentieth century, women participated in the expanding roles of photography, as avant-garde and high-modernist artists, street photographers, photojournalists, and documentary photographers. Some works indicate the "feminine" through subject matter or emphasis on closeness and tactility, as in the work of Tina Modotti or Florence Henri. Others, such as Berenice Abbott's view of New York, do not overtly suggest the gender of the maker.

Many of the contemporary camera women are more explicitly feminist than their predecessors. Sherrie Levine's re-photographed version of Walker Evans's iconic work challenges male-centered notions of originality and genius, while the staged scenes of Cindy Sherman and Eileen Cowin mimic the depiction of women in film and television. Through strategies such as appropriation, staging, and the combination of text and image, these photographers seek to undermine sexual, and in some cases, racial stereotypes, or to critique modernist institutions such as the museum or art history itself. Others pursue the aesthetic ends of art photography in the traditionally "feminine" domains of the kitchen, attic, and private spheres of home and family.

The goal of the exhibition is not to present a comprehensive history of women photographers, but rather to raise the questions addressed in the seminar, and to suggest some possible, if conflicting, answers.

Related Programs

Gallery Talk: "CAMERA WOMEN" by Carol Armstrong, the Doris Stevens Professor in Women's Studies and Professor of Art and Archaeology. Friday, October 26, at 12:30 p.m. and Sunday, October 28, at 3 p.m. at the Art Museum

Conference: "WOMEN ARTISTS AT THE MILLENIUM," sponsored by the Program in the Study of Women and Gender and the Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. Friday and Saturday, November 9 and 10, 2001, 101 McCormick Hall

The Art Museum is open to the public without charge. Free highlights tours of the collection are given every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. It is closed on Monday and major holidays. The Museum Shop closes at 5:00 p.m. The Museum is located in the middle of the Princeton University campus. Picasso's large sculpture Head of a Woman stands in front. For further information, please call (609) 258-3788.