Almost a hundred years ago, in April 1906, Hartford’s all-male Camera Club hosted an exhibition titled Photographs made entirely by women. According to a Press release in the Hartford Daily Courant, “This was the first time in the history of ‘new photography’ that women photographers were asked to organize an exhibition exclusively of their own work.” This event took place several decades after ‘Anna Atkins made him first cyanotype, but again, it was considered a revolutionary event.
Equity has improved over the past century, but women continue to be underestimated. Since its inception, photography has been a boys’ club, and women have established themselves as rebels and heroines for infiltrating the clubhouse when neither should exist (nor the clubhouse or the need for rebellion). We shouldn’t be considered heroic to be women photographers, but rather for the way we insist on using the medium to tell our stories through our unique feminine gaze and a nuanced perspective. We are also heroic, because we refuse to underestimate ourselves even when we have been told otherwise, which is the best form of rebellion of all.
In every woman I have deeply respected throughout my life, I have witnessed equal amounts of courage and vulnerability. Photography requires both a dime a dozen, especially when using film. Like life, cinema is inherently unpredictable and requires us to be patient and present; it challenges us to reflect on our past choices as we learn through our mistakes. When using film we have to be open to various outcomes to see the beauty out of order when things fail miserably. When selecting women for this article, I chose works that spoke about this resilience – this fierce vulnerability.
I am drawn to a work that invites me to participate beyond a simple spectator and allows me to learn more about the world through the eyes of the artist. Whether an image expresses a personal narrative, takes a stand, celebrates the beauty of other women, or finds happiness in the mundane and the absurd, I seek the connection. These twenty women do it with breathtaking bravery and intelligence. Some fit into the image and take back control of the male gaze. Others bend the limits of the medium to their will through innovative techniques of multiple exposures, film soup and experimental darkroom practices. Some of these women have graduate degrees and exhibit around the world, while others just found a camera at a garage sale, and with the first click of the shutter, they found their true voice. .
We elevate each other by sharing ourselves and leaving space for others to do the same. It was with this in mind that I started Vigilante Darkroom Zine. I strive to be a woman who uses her voice to empower and inspire other women. I believe that we can be this soft landing space for each other through collaboration and cooperation instead of comparison and competition. With our cameras to protect us, we can find ourselves exactly where we are taking even the spookiest parts of the world into smaller, less terrifying pieces, one frame at a time, together.
~ Shana Cruz-Thompson