Women in Photography
April 21, 2008
Well, we are close to launching, Amy Elkins is a force of nature. It is really nice to be working on a project with someone who has such a great attitude. We are still ironing out the site design, but June 1 we should be up & running. We have received many great submissions and hopefully once we are online we will get a lot more.
If you are interested in getting info, go to: Women in Photography. The site’s url will be changing once we launch but for now all the submissions details are there.
I am really excited to be a part of the project because more and more I see the complexity of life for women, not just in photography. For instance, this Sunday’s NY Times had an article which promoted Robert Downey Jr’s new action flick. The article presented him as an overcoming the obstacles success story. Here is a man who spent years damaging himself and his loved ones trapped in the cycle of addition. But now, clean & sober, he is being given every possible chance to get back his acting career. The article lauds him for starting over. I certainly agree that we should not penalize people who suffer from this type of adversity. But it made me think about the challenges I am facing trying to start a new career well past the age most people begin. Instead of spending my 20′s building a career path to success, I spent it overcoming depression and an eating disorder. Recently, it was related to me that someone felt sorry for me, because I was trying to get established in photography at my age. I have to say, it really hurt to hear that. I try very hard to be proud of myself for going back to finish my Bachelor’s well after the age of 18. And for being willing to try to get into such an impossible field. It is not easy to confront one’s own failures and to do something to fix them. But photography is brutal. There are so many talented people, so many young people at there trying to break into the business, that it is difficult sometimes to stay positive. Then I start to consider how women feel who try to back to the work force in their late 30′s & early forties after being stay at home Mom’s. They are likely to find their supervisors 10 years younger than them. How do they relate to their workplace and deal with starting from scratch again. The same goes for even older women re-entering the workforce after a divorce. To be 50 and expected to start at the bottom must not be easy. I watched my mother confront that reality.
My reality is that from the age of twelve, I suffered from an eating disorder and depression which made it very difficult for me to make anything of my life. The overwhelming nature of my body issues made me lose out on a lot of things other people take for granted. While I have been better for many years now, those experiences still live inside of me. I know some people keep all these things to themselves, out of shame, but I feel that I should be proud that I came out of it. Yes, I will probably never be 100% free of the feelings that led to my struggles. Photography has provide me an outlet to see my personal pain, through a cultural lens. The number of women with eating disorders is growing everyday. And there are plenty of women whose obsessiveness with food borders on a full fledged disorder. I know that the criticism I experienced at age 8, about my looks and body as a child model left a lasting imprint on how I viewed myself. But it was not the only factor for me. In the end there are two options for me. To focus on what I lost or to use my experiences in my work. I suppose there are people who find me difficult due to my past. And yes it is my personal struggle. If you have never had to overcome something like this, perhaps is too alien for you to relate to or you feel threatened because you are failing to overcome your own issues. I do notice that the language used for men, when it comes to addition, depression or other things is often, ‘suffering from.’ Whereas the language used for women is ‘victims of.’ What that means I am not sure, but one seems to imply it is a temporary fixable state, while the other is a permanent condition. Once you are categorized as a victim it is hard to shake.
One photographer I love who confronted self-concept and found great freedom in that pursuit was Anne Noggle. She came to photography at age 47, while her name is not very well none any longer, her work prefigures a lot of the cultural issues now facing women. The California Museum of Photography labels her work “Critical Self-Portraiture.” and it has been described as having: “unvarnished directness.” There is a quote in the opening of her book, Sliver Linings, which to me speaks to more than just the artistic process.
The artist‘s life, whatever the medium, whatever the accomplishment, never becomes easier on a day-to-day basis. While the odds of more frequent or continued success may increase, there‘s little comfort in this knowledge: the possibility of failure right now, this time, seems as great as ever. To cut off comforting everyday contacts, the sort of human transactions that are prompted by unqualified affection rather than superior performance, to voluntarily court opportunities for seeing how signally one can fail, to close one‘s life into an intense solitude requires great discipline and courage.
My goal with Women in Photography project, is to focus on providing support and opportunities for women of all ages. We are not doing this because we are victims of anything. While our work may not share subject matter, approach or form, we are all connected in our pursuit.