In Real Life: Six Women Photographers

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sills's (Inspirations: Stories About Women Artists) eye-opening introduction to a half-dozen strong, often pioneering women photographers focuses on how their lives, experiences and imaginations influenced their work. At the beginning of the century, Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) staged deliberate and stylized compositions that proved photographs could not only record real life but also "be an artist's creation." (O'Keeffe fans can't help but notice the similarity between Cunningham's photograph Magnolia Blossom, 1925 and the painter's close-ups of flowers; the two artists were contemporaries.) Dorothea Lange's (1895-1965) photographs, on the other hand, were deemed "documentary." Her work chronicling Dust Bowl casualties and the plight of sharecroppers during the Depression precipitated government relief in the form of food and improved living facilities. Lola Alvarez Bravo (1907-1993) wanted her work to lovingly "stand for a Mexico that once existed," as she photographed a post-revolution Mexico. She acknowledges a debt to her painter friends, such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Jos Clemente Orozco (who taught her about light, composition, etc.). For the three modern photographers included, Sills offers much less biographical information and therefore readers may feel more distanced from them. Still, she makes a strong case for the contributions of Carrie Mae Weems, perhaps best known for a series of photos that takes a critical look at the way U.S. culture views African Americans in "American Icons" (1988-1989); and of Elsa Dorfman, whose friendship with the Beat poets inspired her to record "everyday life." In perhaps the most accessible example for young readers, Sills makes the connection between Cindy Sherman's childhood love for playacting and dress-up, and her famous staged self-portraits, each of which hint at a mysterious story. Supported throughout by well-chosen selections of each woman's work, this attractive volume may inspire a new generation to take up the camera. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Both black and white and color photographs represent the work of six women photographers in this well-written, interesting, and careful account. These biographical sketches are a great choice for girls contemplating photography as a career. 2000, Holiday House, Inc., $19.95. Ages 10 to 12. Reviewer: A. Braga SOURCE: Parent Council, September 2001 (Vol. 9, No. 1)
Children's Literature
Sills's exquisite profiles tell much about the art of photography, but even more about the nature of women working within the profession's confines. Confines is used because the first three women assessed—Cunningham, Lange and Bravo—fought tooth and nail to seize their places within the world of photography, losing husbands and families along the way in the name of their Art. It is because of the sacrifices of women like them that the last three, more contemporary photographers, could ply their professions. Even so, the personal obsession with the camera can still be seen in Weems's "Kitchen Table" series and the complete self-absorption of Cindy Sherman. This is a most thoughtfully written book. Its words as well as its superbly reproduced photographs lodge in the mind, creating recurring images and ideas. This should be a must for art classes and thinking kids and adults, too. 2000, Holiday House, $19.95. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
This multifaceted gem of a book succeeds on several levels. Sills presents brief biographies of six women along with samples of their best photographic works. Some photographs are well known, such as Imogen Cunningham and Dorothea Lange. Others, such as Carrie Mae Weems and Elsa Dorfman, are still making a name for themselves. Each uses her camera in a different way—some to focus on shapes, textures, and patterns; others to reveal the suffering of thousands of people or the sheer complexity of being human. The quality of the photographic reproductions, whether black and white or color, is exemplary. The biographical essays are beautifully written. Each essay describes the photographer's life, why she chose her profession, and her personal philosophy of the art of photography. Often several insights are presented in the artist's own words. These essays could be used as supplemental reading in photography and art units, especially those that apply to women's history, or as vocational guidance for students exploring a career in the field. A closing section encourages readers to think of the camera as an extension of the eyes and mind to see beyond the image to the inner meaning of the picture. A page called "Camera Basics" explains how cameras work and functions as a glossary because of the many photographic terms it explains. The bibliography cites general resources on photography in one portion before listing sources about each woman. Relevant Web sites where each photographer's work can be viewed are listed as well. Purchase this wonderful book for junior high and high school collections. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal;Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Holiday House, 80p, Index, Illus, Biblio.. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Debbie Earl VOYA, February 2001 (Vol. 23, No.6)
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-A celebration of the diverse careers and artistic styles of six photographers whose work spans nearly a century. Veterans Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, and Lola Alvarez Bravo are featured along with relative newcomers Elsa Dorfman, Carrie Mae Weems, and Cindy Sherman. In an upbeat voice, Sills traces the women's early lives and the events that propelled them to explore the world with a camera in hand, often breaking down ethnic and gender barriers in the process. While she does justice to the biographical details of her subjects, her discussions of their individual techniques suffer because there are too few photographs. The chapter on Lange, for example, has only nine photographs, and while five of them depict her evocative portraits of Dust Bowl refugees, they fail to reveal the breadth of her talent. Chapters on Bravo and Weems include just six representative works of each artist. However, an excellent bibliography and list of Web sites will point readers to sources containing additional visual elements.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The author of Inspirations (1989) and Visions (1993) perceptively profiles six more female artists, focusing here on photographers—selected less for their fame, than to contrast distinctive styles and sensibilities. Represented are Imogen Cunningham's lush aesthetic; Dorothea Lange's eye for telling documentary; Lola Alvarez Bravo's atmospheric Mexican scenes; Carrie Mae Weems's verbal and visual celebrations of African-American families; Elsa Dorfman's joie de vivre; and the dark, disturbing self-portraits of Cindy Sherman. Sills provides glimpses of her subjects' private lives, professional careers, and working methods, but is at her best when commenting on their art. "In the face of one person, [Lange] was able to show the troubles of a nation," and of Sherman's Untitled #143, "His wounds, blackened complexion, and glazed eyes make one wonder if he has fallen in a battle. Is his head attached to his body? Even without knowing what has happened, the viewer gets a creepy feeling." Her insights make it impossible to remain indifferent to these stirring, joyful, haunting images. The pictures are less crisply reproduced than those in previous volumes, but still convey their intended effects, and correctly assuming that viewers will be eager to see more, the author supplies a healthy bibliography, along with a list of Web sites. Once again, she not only is going to draw strong immediate reactions from young readers, but provides food for longer thought, and deeper responses, to modern art. (Collective biography. 10-14)Spiegelman, ArtSpiegelman, Art & Françoise Mouly—Eds.LITTLE LIT: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies Ed. by Françoise Mouly the contributorsHarperCollins (64 pp.) Oct. 31, 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780823414987
  • Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 80
  • Age range: 12 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.34 (w) x 10.28 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2001

    Simple Introduction to Six Outstanding Women Photographers

    Knowing that women artists in all fields tend to suffer from a lack of public exposure, I took a look at this volume hoping to find some good work that I had not seen before. My hopes were rewarded when all six photographers proved to be talented, interesting, and stylistically different from each other . . . and four of them were new to me. With the two artists I knew before, the biographical essays added to my knowledge, making every aspect of the book a pleasant surprise. The book is organized around the concept that 'cameras do copy which is front of the lens . . . [but these images are also] creations of the artist's intention and unconscious mind.' The essays are especially rewarding for their balance in explaining the artists' family lives, their relationships with the men in their lives, how they started into photography, their technique, and descriptions of their aesthetic values. Leslie Sills is pleasantly succinct: Imogen Cunningham: 'liked to examine life closely' and focused on 'shapes, textures, patterns' in nature. She also captured the 'essence' of people. Dorothea Lange: The camera was an 'activist tool' which 'revealed the sufering of thousands and motivated others to help' during the Depression. Lola Alvarez Bravo: Captured the real 'Mexico after the Mexican Revolution' occurred there. Carrie Mae Weems: Showed the 'complexities of being human' especially in 'squelching stereotypes' and 'honoring African-American culture.' Elsa Dorfman: 'Celebrates humanity' with her oversized camera that captures people to look more naturally like themselves than photographs normally do. Cindy Sherman: Sees the camera as an 'instrument to copy her constructed scenes' which are 'puzzles that challenge her audience.' It has not been easy to be a woman photographer and these women succeeded because they persevered, as well as because they were so talented. Their stories are as inspiring as any I have read, and also tell an interesting tale of how your work can help you express your inner self. Here are my favorite images from the book: Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom, 1925; My Father at 90, 1936; and Morris Graves, Painter, 1950. Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936 (Series of 3). There is a wonderful description of how this series was shot on a day when Ms. Lange was exhausted and had driven past the migrant labor camp in the rain before deciding intuitively to turn back and try her luck. Lola Alvarez Bravo: Por culpas ajenas, c. 1945; Elsueno de los pobres 2, 1943; and The Two Fridas, c. 1944. Carrie Mae Weems: Mom at Work, 1978-1984; and Untitled (Letter Holder), 1988-89. Her work also included long interviews with her family. Elsa Dorfman: Robbie and the Dinosaur Femur, 1970; and Terri Terralouge and Aileen Graham, 1989. Cindy Sherman: Untitled #224, 1990. Given that these styles are so different and so vivid, I encourage you to use this book to inspire you to create some art. It doesn't have to be photography. Whether you like to sketch, sculpt, paint, or make colored soap bubbles, give yourself the chance to live freer and take a little time to express yourself. You'll feel so much better, and the rest of us will be enriched by your gift. Express yourself . . . to find yourself! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution

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