Celebrating Female Photographers

As this is the month we celebrate women, I thought I should dedicate my blog to the female photographers that have inspired me through my studies and my career. I was introduced to most of them during my studies and some only recently. Some have guided me towards portrait photography while others have inspired me to document my life.

Mary Ellen Mark

I was introduced to the work of Mary Ellen Mark by my lecturer at the Ruth Prowse School of Art while studying photography. At that stage I was convinced that I was going to be a documentary photographer,  which is why her classic documentary approach really spoke to me. I appreciate and admire her remarkable ability to win the confidence of her subjects.

  Mary Ellen Mark  -  The Damm Family in Their Car, Los Angeles, California, USA 1987

Mary Ellen MarkThe Damm Family in Their Car, Los Angeles, California, USA 1987

Mary Allen Mark was an American photographer known for her photojournalism, portraiture and advertising. She had 18 collections of her work published, including Streetwise and Ward 81.  Her work was widely published with exhibitions worldwide accumulating numerous awards along the way. Her photography addresses social issues such as homelessness, loneliness, drug addiction and prostitution, with children a reoccurring subject.

I feel an affinity for people who haven't had the best breaks in society. What I want to do more than anything is acknowledge their existence.

Mary was known for establishing the strong relationships she built with her subjects and to maintain those relationships. That is why there is such honesty in her portraits. There was a massive trust between the sitter and the photographer, something I aspire to.

  Mary Ellen Mark  - Tiny, Halloween, Seattle, 1983

Mary Ellen Mark - Tiny, Halloween, Seattle, 1983

Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz has been an inspiration since I was introduced to photography and my own personal idol. I will even say that I aspire to be the South African Annie!  

  Annie Leibovitz   - Yao Chen, the first Chinese UNHCR goodwill ambassador, 2016 Pirelli calendar

Annie Leibovitz - Yao Chen, the first Chinese UNHCR goodwill ambassador, 2016 Pirelli calendar

  Anne Leibovitz  -  Susan Sontag

Anne LeibovitzSusan Sontag

Anna-Lou "Annie" Leibovitz was born in the States on 2nd of October 1949. She was doing night classes in photography while studying painting at San Francisco Art Institute. She continued to develop her skill while holding on to several jobs until she started working for Rolling Stone Magazine in 1970 as staff photographer. Three years later she became chief photographer and continued to work with the magazine for 10 years and shot 142 covers.

Leibovitz joined Vanity Fair in 1983 and became known for her wildly lit, staged and provocative portraits of celebrities - Whoopi Goldberg submerged in water;  a nude and pregnant Demi Moore are great examples. To me, one of her most powerful works is the recent 2016 Perelli Calendar where her interpretation created a beautiful, powerful collection of portraits displaying unique, independent woman of our time. For my full blog on her development and accomplishments have a read here.

Rineke Dijkstra

I was introduced to the work of Rineke Dijksta while I was working as a gallery assistant at the Photographers Gallery za.  I loved this one image, Kolobrzeg, Poland, 26 July, and was amazed at how a simple pose and an uncomplicated setting could have so much power. I felt a connection with the subject which is when I realized that as photographers we are able to capture the connection between ourselves and the sitter in a way that viewers are also able to experience.

  Rineke Dijkstra  -  Kolobrzeg, Poland, 26 July

Rineke DijkstraKolobrzeg, Poland, 26 July

Dijkstra is a leading contemporary Dutch photographer born in 1959 and lives and works in Amsterdam.  Her career started by taking corporate portraits and images for annual reports. She was known for her single start portraits, usually concentrating on particular groups of people. In most of her series you can see a clear emphasis on capturing the awkwardness of adolescence. 

With young people everything is much more on the surface - all the emotions.  When you get older you know how to hide things.

'Beach Portraits' (1992-94) was life-sized colour photographs of young teenagers in bathing suits on beaches in the US, Poland, Britain, Ukraine and Croatia.  It resulted in international prominence after showing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Dijkstra concentrates on single portraits and usually works in series. Series that followed were 'Buzzclub/Mysteryworld', 'Tiergarten Series', 'Isreali soldiers' and 'Park Portraits' to name a few.

  Rineke Rijkstra -   Amit, Golani Brigade, Elyakim, Israel, May 26, 1999

Rineke Rijkstra - Amit, Golani Brigade, Elyakim, Israel, May 26, 1999

  Rineke Rijkstra -   Berlin, Tiergarten, Germany, 1999

Rineke Rijkstra - Berlin, Tiergarten, Germany, 1999

Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi only caught my eye a year ago when I saw her work on exhibition at the Zeits Museum of Contemporary African Art. I was blown away by her powerful female portraits.  

  Zanele Muholi -   MaID I, Syracuse, NY (diptych) , 2015

Zanele Muholi - MaID I, Syracuse, NY (diptych), 2015

Zanele Muholi is a self proclaimed visual activist. She was born in Durban and now lives in Johannesburg. She co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW) in 2002 and in 2009 founded Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media.  

Some of her work delves into very personal experiences, while other pieces comment on South Africa and its historical troubles. Her mission is "to re-write a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and the existence at the height of hate crimes in SA and beyond."

Read my blog for more about this extraordinary South African photographer.