National Gallery of Art Celebrates Revolutionary Female Photographers

Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Ilse Bing, Self-Portrait with Leica, 1931, gelatin silver print. Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg

Washington, DC — During the 1920s, the iconic New Woman was splashed across the pages of magazines and projected on the silver screen. As a global phenomenon, she embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. Featuring more than 120 photographers from over 20 countries, the groundbreaking exhibition, The New Woman Behind the Camera, explores the diverse "new" women who embraced photography as a mode of professional and personal expression from the 1920s to the 1950s. The first exhibition to take an international approach to the subject, it examines how women brought their own perspectives to artistic experimentation, studio portraiture, fashion and advertising work, scenes of urban life, ethnography, and photojournalism, profoundly shaping the medium during a time of tremendous social and political change. Accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog, this landmark exhibition will be on view from February 14 through May 31, 2021, in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It will then travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where it will be on view from July 12 through November 7, 2021.

In an era when traditional definitions of womanhood were being questioned, women’s lives were a mix of emancipating and confining experiences that varied by country. Many women around the world found the camera to be a means of independence as they sought to redefine their positions in society and expand their rights. This exhibition presents a geographically, culturally, and artistically diverse range of practitioners to advance new conversations about the history of modern photography and the continual struggle of women to gain creative agency and self-representation.

"This innovative exhibition reevaluates the history of modern photography through the lens of the New Woman, a feminist ideal that emerged at the end of the 19th century and spread globally during the first half of the 20th century," said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art. "The transnational realities of modernism visualized in photography by women such as Lola Álvarez Bravo, Berenice Abbott, Claude Cahun, Germaine Krull, Dorothea Lange, Niu Weiyu, Tsuneko Sasamoto, and Homai Vyarawalla offer us an opportunity to better understand the present by becoming more fully informed of the past."

In conjunction with the exhibition, the National Gallery of Art Library presents a new installation of some 30 photographs ranging from cabinet cards to digital prints from the department of image collections that explores the rise of women photographers from the late 19th century to the present day. Among the artists featured are Jessie Tarbox Beals, Margaret Bourke-White, Imogen Cunningham, Judy Dater, Laura Gilpin, Lillian Baynes Griffin, Lotte Jacobi, Frances Benjamin Johnston, Vivian Maier, and Sarah Choate Sears. An example of a Rolleiflex camera will also be displayed.

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