The genre of photography has often been seen as a crowded place for men. It is undoubtedly a male-dominated field that constitutes an unsettling gender gap. At the 2017 World Press Photo exhibit, only 5 out of 46 photographers who showcased were women, with such statistics being described as "the norm". The ecology in photography is seemingly arduous for females due to several factors in relation to gender disparity. Female photographers have proven their capabilities as visual storytellers, and still, their existence in the scope of photography finds itself overshadowed by male counterparts. It goes without saying that they withhold the capacity to provide different perspectives, with the following photographers in this feature persisting to rise to the top of the field.
Optimistically, this ecology is changing and growing towards a more diverse inclusivity. In 2017, Vietnamese-American photographer Daniella Zalcman acted on these disparities and launched Women Photograph. Women Photograph is an initiative that elevates the voices of women visual journalists. The private database includes more than 850 independent women documentary photographers based in 99 countries and is available privately to any commissioning editor or organization. This is just one of the many efforts that female photographers have taken on to increase awareness and accessibility of their craft.
From Mika Ninagawa’s artistic personifications of goldfish to Fatemeh Behboui’s moving narratives of the war between Iran and Iraq, these women continue to shape photography for the better be it through journalistic documentary or artistic practice. Take a look at these female photographers who continue to push the genre forward:
Installation view, 'RINKO KAWAUCHI - ILLUMINANCE', KUNST HAUS WIEN MUSEUM HUNDERTWASSER | Wien. Image courtesy of the artist.
Rinko Kawauchi is a Japanese photographer who shoots primarily with a six-by-six format camera, capturing serene landscapes and natural phenomena. She is inspired by the Japanese aesthetic of ‘wabi-sabi’, a philosophy that is underlined by reduction, modesty and the beauty of imperfection. Her use of color and attention to small gestures so as to create enchanting dreamscapes has gained her international acclaim, as have her series ‘Illuminance’ and ‘Ametsuchi’. In ‘Illuminance’, Kawauchi explores the fundamental cycles of life by extracting the extraordinary from the mundane. In ‘Ametsuchi’, she shifts her attention from the micro to the macro, bringing together images of lost figures in landscapes and of controlled burn-farming in Japan.
Kawauchi has had over 60 international solo exhibitions from New York to Madrid, Cologne to Sao Paulo. Her works reside in notable institutions worldwide, including the Foundation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain, Paris, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California.
Dayanita Singh, Museum of Chance book object at the Dhaka Summit, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.
Dayanita Singh hails from New Delhi, India, with her primary format as the book. For Singh, her photography is inseparable from the way she presents them. She has described herself as a “bookmaker who works with photography” - she’s even warned people at a press conference in London that she twinges every time someone refers to her as a photographer. She cites the idea of the book as an exhibition and has published 12 books thus far. Collaborating with the famously detail-oriented publisher Gerhard Steidl, Singh created ‘Museum of Chance’, a book about how life unfolds in relation to the axis of time. Inspired by the notion of Chance, it features parallel timelines and patterns of recurrence and returns.
Singh has had a solo feature on the New York Times and has exhibited at major institutions worldwide including the Serpentine Galleries, London and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing. Her works are also in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.
Sarah Choo Jing’s practice finds itself centered on social alienation and isolation. She is a multimedia artist from Singapore known for her interdisciplinary approach to not only photography but also video and installation. Her works are set in contemporary urban societies, yet depict private narratives that include identifiable moments and characters. One feels themes of voyeurism and the uncanny when they come across her works. In 2017, her work ‘Art of the Rehearsal’ was included in the group exhibition ‘Personal Structures’ held alongside the 57th Venice Biennale. This work underlined the “tension between present and future, existing and becoming, presentation and authenticity”. That, together with the multi-ethnic makeup of the performers, allowed for a deeply Singaporean feel.
Since completing her MFA at the Slade School of Art in London in 2015, she has since been awarded First Place in the 2015 Moscow International Foto Awards and won Gold at the 2016 PX3 Prix de la Photographie, Fine Art Category.
Ashima Narain, Maha Kumbh Mela, Allahbad, Morning of the full moon. Image courtesy of the artist.
Ashima Narain’s practice comprises of photography film and includes a diverse range of subjects that have taken her through the mudflats in search for flamingos for the Discovery Channel, to driving across India in vintage cars for Cartier. She is represented by the National Geographic Image Collection and is also the former photo editor for National Geographic Traveller India. In 2017, she was made a Sony Artisan, the first female photographer in India to have been awarded this. That same year, she was one of 19 female photographers who helped raise a million dollars for the UN Foundation, with her works subsequently exhibited at the UN Headquarters.
Narain is also a photographer who uses her practice to highlight the necessity for feminist inclusivity unbound by societal constructs, having been involved in an international campaign with Dove, Getty Images and GirlGaze. This campaign sought to create a more inclusive vision of beauty in the world of media and advertising.
Xiaoxiao Xu was born in China but emigrated to the Netherlands at a young age. This drastic change from the East to West not only had a massive impact on her but also allowed her to observe characteristics of the two from a distance. Her photographs of landscapes and the subjects in them allow her to comprehend her identity, highlighting her musings as both an insider and an outsider and the overarching stories between them. She states that as a result, photography has allowed her to be more aware of herself and her position in the world. ‘The Sequel - The way to the golden mountain’ is a series dedicated to her hometown of Wenzhou, where many residents in this region since moved to Europe for economic reasons. In this series, Xu captures those who stayed behind.
Xu has exhibited internationally, from India to Portugal, Germany to the United States. She has received multiple grants for her work, taken part in a residency at the Osservatorio Fotografico, Ravenna, Italy, and has been featured in over 40 publications.
Fatemeh Behboudi, Mothers of Patience. Image courtesy of the artist.
Fatemeh Behboudi hails from Tehran, Iran, and has consistently worked for Iranian news services including the Iranian Quran News Agency (IQNA), student news agency Pana, Bornanews and Mehr (MNA). She is at the forefront of Iranian creatives who are currently garnering international acclaim as a result of her powerful and intimate images.
Behboudi was born during and lived through the war between Iran and Iraq that started in 1980 and lasted 8 years. Her series, ‘Mothers of Patience’, documented stories of the mothers of Iranian martyrs, narrating their 25 years spent in pain waiting to find the corpses of their children all up till the last days of their lives. This moving narrative was derived from her personal experiences of accompanying her family to welcome the bodies of unknown martyrs and seeing mothers searching for their sons.
Behboudi has won second prize in the 2010 Doorbin.net symposium and placed first in the Feature Picture Story - Freelance/Agency category of Pictures of the Year International. She was also one of the 5 photographers who exhibited at the Obscura's Asian Women Photographers’ Showcase.
Mika Ninagawa is a photographer who is equally renowned for her filmmaking. The only female photographer to have gained pop icon status in Japan, Ninagawa’s images depict brightly colored landscapes and elements of nature. However, she began her career as what is known in Japan as a ‘girly photographer’, a term given to a generation of young female photographers who documented their own lives and the generation they were in. Maturing into nature, her 2004 series ‘Liquid Dreams’ homed in on goldfish, a traditional Japanese subject across many forms of artistic practice. She uses goldfish as subjects as if to evoke grotesque individuals, shimmering masses, or aesthetic beings.
Ninagawa’s solo exhibition in 2008 entitled ‘Mika Ninagawa: Earthly Flowers, Heavenly Colors’ toured museums across Japan and attracted over 180,000 visitors. She has published over 100 photobooks to date, and more than 200,000 copies have been sold. She is the winner of the 26th Kimura Ihei Award, Japan’s most prestigious photography award, and her works reside in notable institutions worldwide such as the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum and the UBS Art Collection.
Xyza Cruz Bacani, installation view of 'We Are Like Air'. Image courtesy of the artist.
Xyza Cruz Bacani a Filipino street and Documentary photographer based in Hong Kong, and uses her practice to raise awareness about under-reported stories with a focus on the intersection of labor migration and human rights. Before pursuing photography she worked as a domestic worker in Hong Kong for over a decade, and as a struggling photographer had to borrow money from her employer to purchase a camera. In her photo book entitled ‘We Are Like Air’ Bacani documents the migrant experience abroad in 8 chapters, marrying texts to her images. It speaks of the love for family that stands as the impetus for migrant workers having to leave their families behind to support them.
Bacani was discovered by documentary photographer Rick Rocamora on Facebook, and a profile that shot her to fame on the New York Times soon came after. To date, she has had over 20 exhibitions and has showcased at PHOTOFAIRS Los Angeles with Christina Park Gallery. She is one of the BBC’s 100 Women of the World 2015, 30 Under 30 Women Photographers 2016, Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2016, and a Fujifilm Ambassador.
Luo Yang, GIRLS, 2017. Images courtesy of the artist.
A Fine Arts and Graphic Design graduate of the Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts, Luo Yang currently lives and works between Shanghai and Beijing and is best known for her series ‘GIRLS’. ‘GIRLS’ explores coming-of-age narratives and themes within the context of China, exposing the confusing years of young womanhood. Luo does this through the documentation of “a group of mavericks who live their true selves and have their own pursuits” in life and finds parallels with their experiences to her own. The series gives viewers insights to the modern Chinese girl and their elements of ideas and desires, all whilst maintaining a certain level of intimacy throughout.
It is the intimate and raw nature of Luo’s works that caught the eye of Ai Weiwei, a household name in the world of contemporary art, so much so that he included Luo in his 2013 exhibition at the Groninger Museum, Netherlands. Ai has also cited Luo as one of the “rising stars of Chinese photography”. Over a decade on, ‘GIRLS’ continues to grow not only in numbers but also in subjects.
Niha Masih. Image courtesy of the artist.
Niha Masih is an Indian photographer whose practice is motivated by narratives of under-reported stories and movements that might not necessarily have come to light, or whose histories have been quietly buried. A graduate from the Columbia Journalism School, New York, she is an award-winning documentary photographer who specializes in long-form projects. Such projects report on human rights, conflict zones, and investigations, and have placed her in post-earthquake Nepal, the 2014 Gaza war and the struggles for democracy in Myanmar and Egypt.
Masih has edited the photo section of the Sunday Guardian and won awards such as the Toto Award for Photography for her diptych series, Heart of Darkness, shot in the aftermath of communal violence in the state of Assam. She is the recipient of the India Habitat Centre Fellowship for Photography 2013 and is currently India’s correspondent for The Washington Post.
Ishiuchi Miyako, Yokosuka Story #98, 1976–77. Image courtesy of the artist.
Born in Gunma and raised in Kanagawa, Japan, Miyako Ishiuchi’s artistic career began with a specialization in textile dying and weaving before leaving university to pursue photography. She began this journey in one of the most renowned generations in Japanese photography alongside male contemporaries such as Daido Moriyama and Shomei Tomatsu. Like them, she documented the experiences of a post-war Japan, including the documentation of her hometown that was transformed as a result.
Ishiuchi’s self-taught experimentations in a dark room she built in her home caused for a grainy, monochromatic style that has been praised by the aforementioned contemporaries. She is widely celebrated in her home country and abroad at institutions such as the Tate Modern and MoMA. In 2005, she represented Japan at the Venice Biennale with a series that depicted her mother’s belongings as a way of coming to terms with her death. This led to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to invite her to capture objects that had belonged to the victims of the atomic bomb, and later was invited by the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City to photograph Frida Kahlo’s personal artifacts. In 2014, she became the third Japanese photographer to receive the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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