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Nineteen Women and Non-Binary Photographers Who Shaped Photography's Past and Future
Nineteen Women and Non-Binary Photographers Who Shaped Photography's Past and Future
by The Luupe
Our second installment of The Luupe's ongoing series on trailblazing image-makers.
Last August, we celebrated World Photography Day with a story on women and non-binary photographers who have dramatically transformed the medium. From Julia Margaret Cameron to Dana Scruggs, it was an iceberg tip of inspiration – and we're building on it.
Like our first feature, many of the photographers below are acknowledged for being "the first." Nadine Ijewere, for example, broke ground as the first woman of color to shoot covers for British and American Vogue, and Tsuneko Sasamoto, in the early 1900s was the first (acknowledged) Japanese woman photojournalist. We also include countless others for how their vision has shaped and continues to shape the medium going forward.
Above image © Rania Matar, from her series She.
Above image © Rania Matar, from her series She.
Nan Goldin is an American photographer whose work honors LGBTQ+ subcultures with a raw, honest, and empathetic lens. Her early work during the 1970s focused on New York City’s punk and post-punk subcultures She is most recognized for her series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” which captured her friends and family during the 1980s. Goldin focused on those impacted by the HIV/AIDS crisis while also making self-portraits of herself as she went through an abusive relationship.
Goldin’s influence on narrative, documentary photography and the larger photographic landscape are unnumerable, specifically her process of humanizing those she photographs. Her work is widely collected, and exhibited in major museums and collections, and was the subject of Laura Poitras's 2022 documentary film All The Beauty and The Bloodshed, which was just nominated for an Academy Award.
▲ Nadine Ijewere's covers for British and American Vogue
“As a young Black woman, I didn’t imagine that I would one day have the opportunity to shoot a cover for American Vogue,” Ijiwere told The Cut in 2021. The cover, an honest and powerful portrait of Selena Gomez was not her first groundbreaking experience - she was also the first Black woman to photograph a cover for British Vogue, in 2018.
Beyond these momentous achievements, the London-based photographer's personal, commercial, and editorial work looks at identity and diversity through her own Nigerian / Jamaican lens, often with a focus on non-traditional faces with the goal of creating “ a new standard of beauty and giving life to the uniqueness of disparate cultures”
Ruth Orkin was an award-winning photojournalist and filmmaker. The child of Mary Ruby, a silent-film actress, and Samuel Orkin, a manufacturer of toy boats, she grew up in Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s and at ten, began photographing her friends and family. In her early twenties, she began photographing babies and nightclubs to save money for a professional camera and was soon commissioned by major magazines like LIFE to photograph musicians like Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Aaron Copland, Jascha Heifitz, Serge Koussevitzky, and many others.
In 1955, her work was included in the legendary Family of Man exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, and during the 1960s and 1970s, she was included in major exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Nikon and had solo shows at The Rizzoli Gallery and many others.
Matar’s cultural background as a Lebanese-born American woman and mother directly informs her photographer and subject matter – womanhood. Photographing in the United States and The Middle East, Matar uses rich, in-depth portraiture to address personal narratives and complex collective identities of women.
Matar’s work has been widely exhibited and she has published four books, most recently including the widely acclaimed (it was on our best-books-of-2021 list!) She, her ongoing series of photographs of adolescent women around the world. Her work has been widely recognized and exhibited internationally, with highlights including a 2018 Guggenheim fellowship, and the 2022 Leica Women Foto Project Award.
▲ Transcendents: Spirit Mediums in Burma and Thailand © Mariette Pathy Allen. Courtesy of CLAMP, New York
Mariette Pathy Allen has been photographing the many faces and experiences of the transgender community in The United States, Cuba, Burma, Thailand, and beyond for over forty years. Her approach ranges from photojournalistic and documentary to intimate and personal, and always with a celebratory point of view of a continuously misunderstood community.
She has published several books of her work, including The Gender Frontier, which won the 2004 Lambda Literary prize. Her work, which is currently represented by New York City’s Clamp Art gallery, is currently being archived by Duke University’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Library and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s Studies for its incredible contribution to gender, identity, and photographic history.
Lorna Simpson first became well-known in the mid-1980s, around the time when she received her MFA from San Diego, for her large-scale photograph-and-text works that challenged traditional views of gender and cultural identity and representation. Many of her photographs include sections of the body, repeating, isolated gestures, and portraits made from behind, working hand-in-hand with text to create a new narrative and storyline. In the 1990s, her work expanded into large, multi-panel photographs printed on felt that depicted the sites of public, yet hidden, sexual encounters. Her work continued to evolve into other media, mainly film, and video, and also includes sculpture, painting, and drawing – all of which explore similar issues.
Her photography and multimedia work, which Hauser and Wirth Gallery currently represents, has been widely exhibited and is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and Haus der Kunst; Munich and many others.
Zachary Drucker is a photographer, multimedia artist, activist, and producer whose work “breaks down the way we think about gender, sexuality, and seeing” Her 2008-2014 photography series Relationship, made in collaboration with her partner Rhys Ernst cinematically documents the couple as they each transitioned. The series was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and subsequently published by Prestel in 2016.
Drucker’s impact on photography and how we see goes beyond her own photographs – in 2017 she guest curated Aperture’s “Future Gender” issue, which explores the relationship between photography, transgender lives, histories, and communities. And in 2019, Drucker collaborated with Broadly to launch a collection of free-to-license stock photography entitled: The Gender Spectrum Collection: Stock Photos Beyond the Binary. The collection includes nearly 200 new images of trans and nonbinary individuals intended to fill the void of many popular stock photography libraries while portraying them in new, expansive, and dynamic ways that break the popular clichés.
One of the most studied and textbook-famous photographers on this list, Arbus’s direct, frontal portraits and street photography focused on people living in society’s margins and a range of individuals who she lovingly identified as “freaks.” This ranged from carnival strippers and sideshow performers to nudists, people with dwarfism, and others, many of who she befriended. Given her subject matter, her work was not without controversy. While many viewers see the work as normalizing and humanizing, many critics see Arbus’s work as exacerbating their “otherness.” Arbus’ work has been and continues to be widely published, collected, and exhibited, with countless influences on contemporary portraiture.
Like Arbus, Sophie Rivera is known for her direct, front-facing portraits of New Yorkers who were often overlooked by mainstream narratives. In Rivera’s case, it was people of Puerto Rican descent living in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Rivera was also an avid street photographer, capturing various communities throughout New York City over several decades, and frequently made self-portraits, which notable curator Cecilia Fajardo-Hill described as “thinking about the body, about love, about representation and self-representation and what that means for a Latina — and a woman.”
10) Sarah Angelina Acland
Sarah Angelina Acland was an English amateur photographer, known for being a pioneer of color photography, which she began experimenting with as early as 1899. In 1900, she was elated as a member of the Royal Photographic Society in the UK, and three years later, exhibited thirty-three color photographs in their annual exhibition. Acland experimented with a range of photographic processes, including the Autochrome process, which was developed by the Lumiere brothers in 1907. In 2012, the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford published Sarah Angelina Acland: First Lady of Colour Photography, a survey of her life's work.
Tsuneko Sasamoto, who was born in Tokyo in 1914, was Japan's first female photojournalist. Sasamoto originally intended to become a painter, and began working as a newspaper illustrator in her mid-twenties. At 25, she began photographing stories for various newspapers. Her work ranged from striking coal miners to portraits of General Douglas MacArthur and his wife Jean in 1947 during the U.S. Occupation; the Imperial Family; Hitler Youth visiting Japan; and famed Japanese novelists, poets, and artists, and the 1955 portrait of Socialist Party head Inejiro Asanuma the day before he was assassinated.
She described herself as being hugely inspired by Margaret Bourke White, knowing that she “could be like her one day.” In 2016, The Lucie Foundation honored her with a lifetime achievement award. Sasamoto continued photographing through her 100th birthday before passing at the age of 107 last year.
Graciela Iturbide is widely recognized for her work on indigenous communities, particularly in Latin America. While she was exposed to photography early in life, having originally intended to be a film director, she did not take to it as a means of expression until her late twenties after the death of her seven-year-old daughter. At this time, she traveled throughout Latin America – mainly to Cuba and Panama, and in 1978, was commissioned by the Ethnographic Archive of the National Indigenous Institute of Mexico to document Mexico’s indigenous population. She focused on the Seri Indians, a group of nomadic fishermen who lived in the Sonora desert in Northwest Mexico, along Arizona’s border.
Iturbe’s almost exclusively black-and-white images capture culture and communities through portraiture, candid images, and ephemera, consistently presenting them as nuanced and complex.
Rinko Kawauchi is widely known for finding visual poetry in life’s everyday moments and making them magical. She first fell in love with photography while studying design at Selan University of Art and Design and initially began working as a commercial photographer before pursuing her personal work full-time. You can see the influence of design on how she sees and photographs, mainly her attention to psychological subtleties of color. The vulnerability in a soft-focus still life of a nearly-eaten slice of watermelon…a rainbow-haloed pathway…an egg about to hatch…all moments filled with optimism and delight.
Lola Alvarez Bravo was the first Mexican woman photographer to be acknowledged within the canon of photo history for her immaculate sense of composition, her connection to Mexico’s burgeoning early twentieth-century art scene, and her close friendship with Frida Khalo, and her role in preserving Mexican culture.
Early in her career, she taught photography and photographed cultural stories for local magazines and newspapers. In 1935, she began cataloging photographs in the Department of Education and two years later was hired to run the photography workshops of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where she remained until her retirement in 1971. Her work has been widely exhibited and recognized in collections like the Museum of Modern Art, with her archive located at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Vera Jackson was a pioneering photographer for the Black press, known for photographing African-American life and celebrities including Jackie Robinson, Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, Mary McLeod Bethune, Dorothy Danridge, and Lena Horne.
She frequently photographed for publications like The Califonia Eagle, a prominent newspaper in the Los Angeles Black community, while getting her Master's degree in teaching. When she became a teacher in the Los Angeles University School District, she continued working as a freelance photographer.
Her work has been exhibited at the UCLA Gallery, the Riverside Art Museum, the Black Gallery of Los Angeles, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, as well as the Los Angeles Country Public Library, the Afro-American Museum of History and Culture in Los Angeles and the Museum of Art in San Francisco.
▲ SueZie, 51, and Cheryl, 55, Valrico, FL, 2015 from the series To Survive on This Shore. © Jess T. Dugan. Courtesy of Dugan and CLAMP New York.
Over the past decade, Jess T. Dugan has made some of the most significant photographic portraiture celebrating LGBTQ individuals in the United States. Like August Sander’s wide-ranging portraits of German people in the early twentieth century, Dugan’s sensitive, affirming portraits serve as a historical document and proof of existence. This became most apparent in their series and book To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults.
“Drawing from my experience as a queer, non-binary person,” says Dugan, “my work is motivated by an existential need to understand and express myself and to connect with others. My intention is to create work that facilitates intimacy and encourages empathy, understanding, and critical conversations about identity and contemporary social life. As I pursue these aims, I continually explore what it means to live authentically and how visual representation—particularly photographic portraiture—plays a powerful role in that process.”
Dugan’s work has been widely published and exhibited, and has received many awards, most notably, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, an ICP Infinity Award, and, during the Obama administration, the honor of an LGBT Artist Champion of Change.
As we discussed in last year’s feature regarding the important work of Wendy Red Star, photography has a long history of misrepresenting indigenous people worldwide. Like Red Star, Matika Wilbur’s work and activism make remarkable strides towards a long overdue shift, “to unveil the true essence of contemporary Native issues, the beauty of Native culture, the magnitude of tradition, and expose her vitality.”
Her most notable ongoing project, “Project 562.” which began in 2012, documents, shifts, and humanizes Native American culture throughout the United States through photography, video, and audio testimonials. Wilbur has been welcomed into hundreds of tribal communities, engaging in conversations about tribal sovereignty, self-determination, wellness, recovery from historical trauma, decolonization of the mind, and revitalization of culture.
Florestine Perrault Collins was born in 1895 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Having been pulled out of school at an early age to help with her family’s income, she became a photographer in her early teens, assisting white photographers while often having to lie about her race to get work. A few years later when she was finally able to publically acknowledge that she was Black, she became known for her portrait photography and her ability to present her subjects with a sense of pride, dignity, and sophistication.
Collins's photography business helped her family to survive the Great Depression – she was also one of 101 Black women photographers in the 1920 United States Census and the only one based in New Orleans. In 2012, a few years before her death, Colliins’ great niece, Arthe Anthony published a book about her work and life’s story.
Ka-Man Tse's film, video, and large-format photography deals with the visibility, representation, and intersection between LGBTQ and Asian, and Pacific Islander communities. Her most widely acclaimed series, Narrow Distances, includes portraits and chaotic landscapes focused on the often hidden LGBTQ culture and identity in contemporary Hong Kong.
Tse describes a desire to claim ownership within a culture that often does not publicly acknowledge that LGBTQ individuals exist. Throughout her work, she aims to reconcile public and private moments and establish personal space, identity, and community despite these societal circumstances.
Her work has been widely exhibited and awarded, most notably as the recipient of the 2014 Robert Giard Foundation Fellowship, the 2015 Silver Eye Photography Fellowship, The 2018 Aperture Portfolio Prize, and the 2019 Lightwork Residency.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Luupe is a one-stop production company that is raising the bar for professional brand imagery on a global scale. With a highly curated and diverse network of professional women and non-binary photo and video creators across 65+ countries around the world, we are reinventing how brands produce original, local, and authentic visual stories that connect with a global audience. Our mission is to champion and amplify diverse perspectives from around the world — in front of and behind the lens.