Women Photographers Feminist Aesthetics

Women Photographers and Female Aesthetics

I’ll start by saying this book can be very heavy-going and the typical audience would be HE-level students and those well-versed in reading art-critique books. And as an indication, it has taken me nearly six months to get through with gaps of a few weeks between reading sessions. Having said that, I’m so glad I persevered because the last three chapters really struck a chord with thoughts I’ve been having recently about a forthcoming project. Not only that, there is a great list of further reading material.

Claire Raymond, the author, teaches Art History at the University of Virginia and her research focuses on aesthetics, poetics and the intersection of cultural trauma and representation.

What first drew me to this book was the notion I would discover a feminist style differentiating the work of women from that of men and the fact that among the twenty-two women photographers she critiques she has included both cis and trans women.

Furthermore, Raymond pays close attention to the way in which indigenous North Americans have been represented through photography and the ways in which contemporary Native American women photographers respond to this history: A subject I became deeply interested in as a result of reading Walter L. Williams “The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture”, which covers in quite some detail how two-spirit people (what Europeans call non-binary) lived in some tribes and were held in high esteem until European Americans systematically tried to destroy First Nation culture. A fascinating read if you’re interested in an alternative to the European narrative on trans/non-binary history and issues. But Williams’ book will be the subject of another review.

Raymond critiques a number of well-known women photography artists you will probably be familiar with – Julia Cameron, Claude Cahun, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Vivian Maier, Nan Goldin, Zackery Drucker, Sally Mann and Mary Ellen Mark.

I mentioned my hope of discovering a recognisable feminist style that I could apply to my own work making immediate sense to those viewing my own photographs. Fortunately, I didn’t. However, as Raymond discussed each artist’s work, their reasoning and thought processes behind their artistic output, so she weaved an interesting and enlightening fabric of feminist-based ideologies, which I could use as inspiration for my own work, surely leading to my own original work rather than copying a discovered feminist ‘style’.

As with any book that goes into this sort of depth re-readings will pay dividends and I’m sure I’ll be dipping into it again and again.

If you feel this book Women Photographers and Feminist Aesthetics by Claire Raymond would help take your own photography to the next level you can use the above link to order a copy. And if you do, why not leave a comment below with your thoughts and feelings.

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