Skip To Content
    Posted on Dec 14, 2015

    An Exhibition In France Is Celebrating Two Centuries Of Pioneering Women Photographers

    Who Is Afraid of Women Photographers? showcases an extraordinary collection of photos of women taken by women.


    The exhibition Who Is Afraid of Women Photographers? at Paris's Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie is dedicated to the contribution women have made to the medium's development over the years.

    The work on display reaches as far back as 1839, up to 1919. The Musée d’Orsay said in a press release: "From Anna Atkins, the author of the first work illustrated with photographs, to Frances Benjamin Johnston and Christina Broom, pioneers in American and British photojournalism, over 70 photographers are brought together around photography."

    Take a look at a selection of the photos, which helped pave the way for women photographers:

    "The Picnic Party (Oystermouth Castle)", 1854, by Mary Dillwyn

    Private Collection

    S. Hoare, "Indigène des marquises", 1880-85

    © Digital image 2015, Musée du quai Branly/Photo Scala, Florence

    "Vivien and Merlin", 1874, by Julia Margaret Cameron

    © Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

    This British photographer took up the art at the age of 48 after her daughter gave her an early camera. Her influence is widespread, though it was not until 1948, almost 70 years after her death, that her work became the subject of serious study.

    "Intérieur", 1865, by Lady Frances Jocelyn

    © Courtesy of Washington National Gallery of Art

    "Mrs Herbert Duckworth", 1867, by Julia Margaret Cameron

    © Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France

    "Trude and I masked, short skirts", 1891, by Alice Austen

    © Courtesy of Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island, New York

    Born into relative wealth in Staten Island, Austen took around 8,000 photographs of life in New York, before being declared a pauper in 1950 and sent to the poorhouse. Her old home, Clear Comfort, now known as Alice Austen House, was dedicated as a national landmark in 1976.

    "Mills Thompson travesti", 1895, by Frances Benjamin Johnston

    © Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

    "Self-portrait in the studio", 1896, by Frances Benjamin Johnston

    © Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

    One of the earliest American photojournalists, Benjamin Johnston received her first camera from George Eastman, the inventor of the Eastman Kodak and a family friend. She became a tireless and noted advocate for women’s photography as well as a documenter of key historic events. When she opened her own studio in New York in 1894, she was the only woman photographer in the city.

    "Autoportrait en travestie vélocipédiste", 1899, by Frances Benjamin Johnston

    © Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

    "The Red Man", 1900, by Gertrude Käsebier

    © Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

    "Stairway of the Treasurer’s Residence: Students at Work from the Hampton Album", 1900, by Frances Benjamin Johnston

    © 2015. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York / Scala, Florence

    This noted series of photographs, taken in 1899 to advertise the success of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, was exhibited at the World Fair in Paris in 1900.

    "US President Theodore Roosevelt, Edith Roosevelt and David Rowland at the Universal Exposition in St Louis, Missouri", 1904, by Jessie Tarbox Beals

    © National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Joanna Sturm

    She may have won her first camera in a competition, but Tarbox Beals was soon taking historic pictures of American life. In particular, her images of the St Louis World Fair in 1904 are highly regarded – especially considering the 50lb in camera equipment, ankle-length dresses, and big hats she was required to cart around with her.

    "Gertrude Käsebier O’Malley jouant au billard avec William M. Turner", 1909, by Gertrude Käsebier

    © Photo courtesy of the J.Paul Gatty Museum

    "Young suffragettes promoting the Women’s Exhibition in Knightsbridge, London", 1909, by Christina Broom

    © Christina Broom/Museum of London

    The upstarting Broom taught herself photography at the age of 40, subsequently becoming known as the UK’s first female press photographer and official photographer of the Household Division military unit.

    "Bishareen children, Aswan, Egypt", 1914, by Helen Messinger Murdoch

    © Royal Photographic Society / National Media Museum Science & Society Picture library

    In 1907, Messinger Murdoch discovered the Autochrome colour process originated by the Lumière brothers and used it in her work including images such as this, taken on a world tour in 1913-14, when she was 51.

    "Self-portrait with Camera", 1933, by Margaret Bourke-White

    © Digital Image Museum Associates/LACMA/Art Resource NY/Scala, Florence

    Bourke-White’s picture of Fort Peck Dam appeared on the first cover of Life magazine in 1936 and she became America’s first female photojournalist during the second world war, after which she took acclaimed pictures of the partition of India – including a shot of Gandhi taken hours before his assassination.

    "Woman with Flag", 1928, by Tina Modotti

    © 2014. Digital image, The museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

    This image is typical of the later, more politicised work of Modotti, who was also an actor and a model. She set up a photography business with Edward Weston in Mexico, before dying of a heart attack aged 45, in a cab home from dinner at Pablo Neruda’s house.

    "Self Portrait", 1933, by Elfriede Stegemeyer

    © Digital Image Museum Associates/LACMA/Art Resource NY/Scala, Florence

    "Embryo", 1934, by Ruth Bernhard

    © Photo courtesy of the Keith de Lellis Gallery, New York

    Bernhard was best known for her studio portraits, still lives, nudes, and lesbian-themed imagery. Her aim was “… to transform the complexities of the figure into harmonies of simplified forms revealing the … spirit … and the underlying remarkable structure".

    "Descente du col de Djengart la frontière de la Chine", date unknown, by Ella Maillart

    © Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne /Fonds Ella Maillart

    Maillart competed in sailing in the 1924 Olympics for Switzerland, and was a renowned skier before undertaking some pioneering early photojournalism, specialising in perilous journeys across the world. She also wrote a book about living in India with her cat, Ti-Puss.

    "Human Erosion in California (Migrant mother)", 1936, by Dorothea Lange

    © Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung Fotografie © Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum, Oakland, USA

    "Annie Mae Merriweather", 1936, by Consuelo Kanaga

    © Collection International Center of Photography

    "Beim Rennen in Longchamp", 1936, by Regina Relang

    © Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung Fotografie, Archiv Relang

    The same year as Lange’s picture, above, was taken, Relang was well on her way to becoming Germany’s best-known fashion photographer, working for a host of magazines including Vogue, Madam, and Harper’s Bazaar.

    "We are Three Women. We are Three Million Women", 1938, by Barbara Morgan

    © Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung Fotografie

    Morgan was the pre-eminent chronicler of America’s greatest early modern dancers. Choreographer Martha Graham, a close friend to the photographer for six decades, said of her: "Barbara Morgan, through her art, reveals the inner landscape that is a dancer’s world."

    "New York", 1940, by Helen Levitt

    © Estate of Helen Levitt © Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

    Brooklyn-born Levitt was teaching children art when she bought herself a camera to document the chalk drawings they were making on New York’s streets. Her works were very influential, but she struggled to make a living in her lifetime.

    Who Is afraid of Women Photographers? is on display at the Musée d'Orsay and the Musée de l'Orangerie from 14 October to 24 January 2016.

    BuzzFeed Daily

    Keep up with the latest daily buzz with the BuzzFeed Daily newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form