Sunday, January 9, 2011

Women Photographers: What's 30 Under 30 Trying to Say, Exactly?

I just looked at the photos selected for the 30 Under 30 Women Photographers, put together by Photo Boite. The intro to the exhibit writes, "Photography, whether we like to admit it or not, is by and large a male-dominated arena where the 'looking' is a masculine act, and the subject is feminine, playing the role of 'looked' and admired mainly for their outward appearance. Photography, then, has been a mirror for conventional gender roles in western society."

Sure, duh, but browsing through the small galleries put up for each artist on the site, a selection of work that is supposed to be representative of these women's aesthetic ranges, their subject matter interest, their skill, etc., I'm a little disappointed to see that a large percentage of the photos on the site are, well, the same photo. Artist after artists seems to favor young, beautiful, long-haired models for their shoots (woa, men would never do that!), romantic, sun hazed lighting, flowing skirts and nests of taffeta in fields, orchards, by time-stained windows and rippling water. Haven't we seen all this before? Does the Victorian-era aesthetic need another comeback? And in such force! Some of the photos veer towards the urban, but again, waify girls in tat shops, looking hot and badass - it's like the bad sister that left her good sister in the field to mope. C'mon.

If the idea of singling out women photographers is to give them a chance to show the world how they see the female form in front of the camera, then the implications are worrisome. Just like for men, to many of these female photographers, women apparently are at their best lounging around in sun dappled nooks, looking languorous and pretty. If the idea is just to showcase some talented female photographers, who are underrepresented in the industry, then why choose so many that do work that looks so similar? Of the 30, there are few outliers whose work is noticeably different - Olya Ivanova has what looks like a series of portraits of Russian youths, Jocelyn Allen has a more conceptual series of portraits as part of her portfolio, Aislinn Leggett has what look like historical montages, Nina Cuviller has travel photography - while the rest are stuck on a romantic, some with a slightly absurdist Joel-Peter Witkin-esque twist, aesthetic.

I obviously don't know who submitted and whether different work was overlooked or the whole thing attracted a self-selected group of similar work that doesn't exactly push the envelope in terms of the photographic tradition or the female form. But I do know that there are women out there making photography that, to me, is fresher, more interesting, more exploratory. The Humble Arts Foundation, for example, also puts together an annual exhibit of women photographers where the work is varied, seeking, more thought-provoking, etc., even if most of it doesn't become my favorite, either. It's not that the artists featured in this 30 Under 30 are bad - a lot of the work is clearly done by technically proficient hands and is aesthetically nice - but I'm not sure what it's representative of. Is this a good sampling of what women under 30 are up to in the photography world? I hope not.

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