In 2019, women represented only 25% of the artists exhibited at fairs, and in public collections. Yet, women artists, and especially women photographers, are numerous.
Why are they so poorly represented in the market? Why do their works attract fewer buyers – both private and public – than those of their male colleagues? Are we so formatted by the codes of a modern art history written by men? Yet, it is admitted that the canons put in place by figures such as Alfred Barr and Edward Steichen are largely outdated. “Arts does not have any gender, but artists do”, wrote Lucy Lippard in Spare Rib (1974). While declarations and laws have awarded them a different social status, women still pay the price of their gender, forever marked by the shadow of inferiority. They need our attention to gain visibility and legitimacy. We must, again and again, propose projects dedicated to women. Without them, the public would miss wonderful discoveries.
The circuit Elles x Paris Photo dedicated to women photographers and initiated by Paris Photo and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs takes form in two axes. The first gives their place back to the women who have remained in the shadows of the history of photography – we wished they were more numerous. The other axis, turned towards the younger generations, features creative women, endowed with tremendous strength, energy and determination.
For the 2020 edition, we have selected around forty women photographers whose projects are excellent.
Organised in five themed chapters, Elles X Paris Photo proposes imaginary bridges that demand to be built. An occasion to highlight the proximity between generations, sensitivities and aesthetic choices.
Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska, curator of the circuit Elles x Paris Photo
We often hear that theoretical research on photographic matter is a space reserved for men. The same could be said about geometrical forms. We know, however, that these fields of research are not gendered. In the history of art, since the birth of abstraction, photographers have participated in this adventure. Throughout technical evolutions, photosensitive matter – turning into a new palette – opened up many possibilities. The photographic laboratory became a true alchemist’s chamber, where female creators conducted studies on light and colours, where they explored the very characteristics of photosensitive materials.
We know, since Max Ernst’s collages and Dora Maar’s photomontages, that modified realistic images permit the transmission of the fantastic. Photography, contrary to what it is originally thought to be, is able – despite its realism – to visualise fantasies and non-existing universes. With the growing increase of rules surrounding the construction of the photographic image, the female artists learnt to divert from them, to betray them in order to achieve miraculous effects and produce strange visions.
From snippets of colours and matters, new images emerged. Photographs are painted, embroidered, sewn, cut out and glued back together. In the end, the result has little or nothing to do with the initial material. These new images provoke a rupture of meaning and form, and allow transgression.
While photography seems to be a limitless field nowadays, offering a space favourable for experimentations, it has retained, in parallel, its primary function: bearing witness. A selective and tendentious witness, sometimes reflecting more the viewer’s point of view than that of the one they are watching, but always transmitting an aspect of the observed reality. It requires a capacity of observation, synthesis and a master’s reflex. In the 19th century, taking pictures of the streets, of events, remained a privilege reserved for men. Emancipation and the boom of the illustrated press in the 1920s changed the situation. Women documentary photographers such as the Japanese artists from the 1960s and 1970s are still struggling to make history.
Photographic image as a tool of expression or struggle is the result of a long tradition. It was not until the end of the 1960s, however, that women artists started producing militant images massively – actions before the camera, or performances. Anxieties, desires, visions of the body, or claims are many subjects to study through images or videos. A true revolution that is still continuing today… The website, a light and easy-to-share tool, allows us to perpetuate the circuit and to make it accessible at a time where travels are limited.