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Exploring the ways in which female identity is constructed and mediated through the art of photography is the central theme of this fascinating book
Posted October 18, 2008
The 72 full-page photographs from the exhibition at Washington, D. C.'s National Museum of Women in the Arts thru January 2009 following the three essays exemplify the best of "staged photography" dealing with women subjects, images, and themes. Such photography began as a definable field in the 1970s and began making its mark with works by Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, and Eleanor Antin. The former two are more prominent for making themselves subjects of their own photographs which appear straightforward, but are subtly ironic, and thereby subversive of the conventional image of women. Eleanor Antin's faux historical black-and-white photographs more overtly critiqued and explored the historical and cultural identity attributed to women. In her The Angel of Mercy series (1977), for example, she dressed up as Florence Nightingale in period clothing tending wounded in battles of the Crimean War. She explains, "Role-playing was about feeling that I didn't have a self and I didn't miss it...I just borrowed other people's or made them up..."; a comment which refers to how many women were struggling in varied ways with images imposed on them.<BR/><BR/>The editors and essayists break this staged photography into two periods. The first ended about 1990. The second continued to 2005. Whereas the photographs of the first period embodied the distancing necessary for irony, the photographs of the second were at once straightforward, more documentary in style, and in many cases, they were raw. The photographs of the second period represent and often project not women's identity as it has been commonly presumed, but women's circumstances and activities as they are in a time beyond the erosion of traditional identities and roles. While the photographers still sometimes used themselves as subjects, in the latter period the photographers mostly looked for instances of women's new, if still provisional, identities and activities. From 1990 on, there are photographs of girl basketball players, realistic, portrait-like photographs of woman of different ages, and also some stylistically experimental photographs nonetheless based on the contemporary situation for women. "Using the strong aura of realism that photographic representation allows, these new skilled practitioners [of the second period] bridged the divide between conceptual and documentary photography," Susan Fisher Sterling writes in her "Preface."<BR/><BR/>Although the field of women's staged photography has become one of artistic (as well as commercial interest) and is well-established with the probability of further evolution, all the women photographers "recognize that they are speaking with a constructed voice, mediated by internal needs and external demands along an axis between a realized and idealized self." The photography here is not pure art in that it is inherently or aspires to be transcendent; nor is it photojournalism meaning simply to record. As every photograph is meant to be a statement of sorts, this indicates that women's identity and role in society remains an open, even baffling, topic.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.