In photography, the traditional place for women is in front of the lens. Visit a modern photography tradeshow like Photokina in Cologne, and most of the visitors you see swarming past are male, with their photography gadgets slung round their necks; whilst the models posing at each booth waiting for you to take their picture on new, state-of-the-art cameras, are predominantly young and female. You could say this is a picture of photography convention: as it has always been, and as it still is now.
Look at any advertisement for a new camera, you will usually see the kit beheld by a male hand, with the image of a young woman visible through the lens or emblazoned onto the glass itself, as though the camera were always meant to be a male eye, gazing out onto a world of female subjects. 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-at’ and admired mainly for their outward appearance. Photography, then, has been a mirror for conventional gender roles in western society.
What is it like, then, to be a female photographer, to be a woman who has seized hold of an instrument of which she traditionally remains in front, and to use her eye to view the world, rather than use it to throw back a soft, muted glance into the receiving end of a male gaze? It may sound primitive to talk of the female photographer in such a way, but as the photographers of 30 UNDER 30 women will undoubtedly profess, resistance – or discrimination, even subtle – can be common even today. We will each have our own stories of how being a woman has hindered, or even unfairly aided, our pursuit of this profession.
One might say that looking at the work of 30 female photographers is ‘positive discrimination’, and so it is, to the necessary extent where a focus is placed on the work of women, whether or not you view their work as intrinsically ‘female’ or ‘feminine’ – or simply human. The women here photograph men, women, animals, landscapes, objects – and even themselves, which, in cases where one’s work as a female photographer is questioned, can be even more problematic. Female self-portraiture is a genre unto itself; and with the advent of digital cameras, access to computer processing, and photo-sharing, more and more everyday women have taken up the pursuit of picturing themselves, in images which on one hand perpetuate the notion of the feminized subject, and on the other hand, defy the rules of traditional positioning by pulling the strings to their own visual representation. Whichever work you enjoy most of these women in 30 UNDER 30, see it as you will, but sustain an open mind, take your time in relishing the imagery and bearing in mind the different experiences of every artist involved.