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An Uncompromising Look at Photography and Gender

In Photography after Photography Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s overarching goal is to offer a feminist critique of the art world.

Photography after Photography: Gender, Genre, History (image courtesy Duke University Press)
Photography after Photography: Gender, Genre, History (image courtesy Duke University Press) Photography and Gender

Abigail Solomon-Godeau’s anthology, Photography after Photography: Gender, Genre, History (Duke University Press) — a follow-up to Photography at the Dock: essays on photographic history, institutions and practices (1991) — focuses on social, political, and ethical questions around the work of individual artists. While Solomon-Godeau’s overarching goal is to offer a feminist critique of the art world — particularly of critical discourse around art — in some of her essays she also discusses topics that fall outside this lens, such as the role of desire in photography and images of torture. In this sense, the anthology reflects the range of Solomon-Godeau’s practice and interest as an art critic and scholar.

Solomon-Godeau, an emeritus professor of art history at the University of California Santa Barbara and a former Guggenheim Fellow, laments the marginalization of feminist theory in art criticism. She takes a page from her contemporary, the feminist critic Laura Mulvey, stating, “work that does not contest, destabilize, subvert, or otherwise ‘ruin’ dominant regimes of representation can only represent the way things are and therefore forecloses even the imaginative or utopian possibility that things might happen otherwise.” For instance, she identifies a historicizing process through which photographers Francesca Woodman and Cindy Sherman have been discussed less in terms of the politics of gender as scholarship on their work has progressed since the 1980s. In the essay, “Body Double” (2014), Solomon-Godeau objects to art critics frequently comparing Woodman’s work to that of male Surrealist painters and photographers, while overlooking meaningful parallels with Woodman’s own female contemporaries. In the essay, “The Coming of Age: Cindy Sherman, Feminism and Art History” (2014), she argues that Sherman’s career also underwent a mutation: as her position rose in the art world, Sherman’s work became discussed less in feminist terms, and more in general, universal ones — an approach that underplays the most powerful aspects of Sherman’s oeuvre, dealing specifically with sexist representation of women in art and in popular culture.

In “Inventing Vivian Maier” (2013), Solomon-Godeau traces the posthumous rise of Maier, from a Chicago nanny who constantly snapped pictures to an art sensation. Solomon-Godeau draws attention to how gender accentuates Maier’s mystique as most acclaimed street photographers were male, passersby female. This mystique is bolstered by the perception (discredited by critics cited in the book, such as a photographer and lecturer at Northwestern University, Pamela Bannos) that Maier had no technical training, to engender a myth of elusive genius.

Read the full review HERE >>> Source: Hyperallergic An Uncompromising Look at Photography and Gender

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