after the rush

Wow. There’s been quite a flood of traffic here over the last few days, but it’s slowing down now. Last week I corresponded a bit with the author of 500 Photographers about some of the issues I mentioned in my recent post about women in photography. He refused my request for permission to quote some of his emails here, saying that he didn’t want to enter the discussion publicly because he doesn’t know enough on the subject and his blog was never intended to engage in that subject. I suppose I could quote him without his permission, but I’d prefer not to.

Still, the correspondence got to me. On the same day, I attended training at work about the requirements of new legislation regarding workplace violence and harassment. The training raised three stories from the last decade(ish) involving workplace violence and harassment. Two of the three stories involved women being harassed by men in positions of power in their workplace while their employers did virtually nothing. Lori Dupont and Theresa Vince. They are horrible stories. When I got home, I got a package in the mail from one of the derby girls I photographed. She had a document on her fridge when I went to her home called Domestic Violence Bill of Rights. She left an abusive relationship three years ago, and she still needs this reminder on her fridge. I asked if I could have a copy of it for my project, and she was happy to oblige. She said, “Every time I think about throwing it out, I put it back on the fridge.” When I opened her envelope the other day, it was the original that she sent, while she kept the copy. So it was a heavy day.

The next day, a friend sent me to this book review. It is worth reading. No doubt the book is worth reading too. I’ll do it when I’m feeling less raw.

Anyways… Friday was my day off, and I was still thinking about women and photography. I decided to do the numbers on resources that I think represent women fairly well. I also want to find out more about how many women are studying and practicing photography, to see how those compare with the people getting shown, but I think that will take more effort. Anyways, I emailed Flak Photo to see if there was an easier way to count the contributors, like a textual list of names or something. As part of the correspondence, I gave him a link to my post, and he decided to broadcast it through his channels. It caught me off guard, because it’s such a rambly and barely coherent piece of writing, but now people are commenting on it and discussing it elsewhere too.

Most of the discussion seems to be happening on Flak Photo’s facebook page and in the comments on the original post. But it’s also happening on flickr here and a little bit on the original thread I referenced. It seems to be dying down now.

I spent a couple hours counting the proportion of women on Flak Photo and Fraction Magazine. They both show photography I like, so it was quite enjoyable. My numbers were off on Fraction, as the editor, David Bram, pointed out in the comments to my post. He got 43 percent. My counting on Flak is probably a bit off too, but it’s a large enough sample size that it’s probably reasonable. On Flak, I went back to Nov. 1, 2009 and counted 211 photographers in total that have been shown since then. 41 percent of them are women.

Also, one of the admins from La Familia Abrazada asked for clarification of my comment that the photos of mine that got in were cheesy or overly sentimental. When I went through the photos that made it in the pool, I realized there were two that made it in that I quite like and think are good photos and not cheesy. But two made it in that I do think are cheesy. Don’t get me wrong, I like them. As pictures of my kid. But not as fine art photography. Anyways… I would share the images, but I don’t want to sidetrack the conversation, which I never really intended to be about my work. Some commenters, particularly on the facebook thread, have gone down that rabit hole, and honestly, I’m fine with the idea of my work being crap. I don’t think it’s all crap, but I’m not convinced that the photos I posted in my post are at all good. I’m still very early in my journey, and I still have a lot to learn. Maybe I would be more concerned about people thinking my work is bad if I was further along in my journey, but I’m not. I guess I just needed to get that bit off my chest.

We live in a sexist world. I was about to get sidetracked into a rant about how thoroughly our society encodes gender in our children despite our best efforts, but thanks to the delete key, I just saved you from it. So I will just say, read this book review.

yes, I’m probably obsessed

On Monday night I went to Greta Garbage’s home. I think this is my favourite shot:


But I’m also pretty fond of these:
She’s studying woodworking at college, and she actually made that cabinet on the right. With her own hands.


A couple weeks ago, I went to Gunmoll Mindy’s home.




I swear, people’s pets are SUCH prima donnas. They always want to be in the shot. Most of the time I let them, although more often than not they’re right on the edge of the frame, just an unidentifiable lump of fur. So I say all the way in or all the way out.

Someone asked me the other day what the families of the derby girls think of my project. I leave it up to the derby girl who they want to participate. Sometimes they leave it up to their family members… anyways, I have to say pretty much everyone has been totally open and willing. I have gotten the sense occasionally, that the family members aren’t exactly excited to be involved, but I haven’t encountered any resistance.

* * *

I’ve been feeling pretty raw for most of the week. I seem to be taking the world’s wrongs almost personally. And I’m getting SO sick of the unintentional argument. That if you didn’t intend to exclude or insult some demographic or individual, it’s ok. You just need to apologize and be done with it, and don’t worry about, you know, actually CHANGING your behaviour in the future or becoming more aware of your prejudices.

* * *

On the plus side, I finally submitted work to a competition. I’ve had all kinds of calls for entry marked in my calendar all summer long. But every time the deadline comes I decide all my work sucks and it would just be a waste of my money to submit. I was probably right, but I do think the process of submitting is good for my work, because it forces me to edit my work, write or refine my statement about it, and think about what works and what doesn’t work in it. If I didn’t have deadlines I probably would never get around to it, because I much prefer the early stages of a project when it’s all ideas and optimism. I also like having the possibility of winning to look forward; it’s kind of like buying a lottery ticket that way.

* * *

Last night we found a bird’s nest by the side of the road. It had someone’s (ours?) laundry lint incorporated into its roundness.

this afternoon

Today I went to Karyn’s house (aka Inna’Goddess Da-vida) to photograph her and her lovely family (and their awesome home!) for my project. I fear I didn’t do them justice.



(She plays the piano for her church. She was actually playing when I shot this, a beautiful piece that made me wish I’d brought my audio recorder.)

Earlier, she sent me something she wrote about herself, and especially about the last five years for her. I love what she wrote about, so I’m sharing it here with her blessing:

I think I’m must be on some kind of metamorphosis kick; speeding-towards-menopause with some life-infusing reckless stops along the way…

“I turned 45 this month. I’ve been married nearly 25 years to a supportive, laid-back guy who sells books and makes me laugh and loves me like crazy, even when I go crazy. Birthed and raised two pretty fantastic, independent, creative, fun loving intelligent man-children ages 22 and almost 20. I like to think I was a pretty good self-sacrificing; attachment-parenting, kids-got-the-lime-light kind of mom…put some dreams on hold while the man went to grad school, blah blah blah…All in all, it’s been pretty good.   Oh, I’m a Mennonite church lady…I play piano, sing,  and do leadership stuff at church when asked and I get something out of it, too, most of the time. I do it because I can, and it’s not too stressful. For money, I am a 10 yr veteran child protection worker.  Stressful, but sometimes I make a difference. I do like people most of the time and usually can see the good.

At 38 I decided never, ever to dye my hair. [My family] greys early.
At 40 I lost 50 pounds. At 41 I had a breast reduction…I started to RUN – 5k, 8k…10k!
At 42 my best friend tried to end her life but accidentally pressed “send” in a goodbye email to me, and then we found her.  Alive. At 42 I started therapy.  Big time.  And I got a personal trainer.
At 42 I bought some roller skates and joined a roller derby team – talk about physical empowerment, and – holy shit, can we drink!! Sweat, bruises, and no more free time, but another awesome reason to exist. Beautiful, real, new friends and a demanding, punishing, unique sport requiring everything I could give.
At 43 got dreadlocks and smoked pot for the very first time in my life (don’t tell my mom).
At 44 I took a three month stress leave from the heaviness of child protection and after a few weeks of hiding under the covers, began to further evaluate life, self acceptance, the meaning of empty-nested motherhood. I started checking in with some feelings that I’ve been ignoring for a long time, and went about the business of deciding what to do with a sometimes soul-sucking job and with the rest of my life….
At 44 I decided I was going to pursue the career that has been beckoning me from the other side of the risk-river: Midwifery – and made a plan to get that started during my 45th or -6th year.
At 44 I ran a half marathon and even beat some of the speed walkers.
And, at 44 I finally got my vintage-y colourful bird/mixed flower tattoo that symbolizes both nothing and everything…it’s just a part of me.  The bird on my front perches over my heart…it’s a sparrow – a bird known for being common, flitting-ly gregarious and it mates for life – it is singing it’s little heart out, just givin’ er.  The second sparrow on my back is literally taking off into flight (or maybe landing?)…no regrets, bravely, not looking back.  All drawn together by a collage of flowers -experiences/beauty/people in my life.  My tattoo artist is a woman, and the process of getting this extensive tattoo was a really wonderful experience.

So, what’s the sum of it all? To be mother of men, roller derbying, grey dread headed, churchy, tattooed, more honest-than-I’ve-ever-been-before midwife wannabe… ?
I am loving becoming more defined yet less definable.  Less invisible, yet needing the lime-light less.  Less serious yet more determined. Responsible, yet hopefully spontaneously responsive to the world around me. Faith-ful yet Open.  Working on it, anyway.”

While I was there, I think I may have discovered the title for this series:

Yes, these bones shall live.

It’s from a passage of the book of Ezekiel, and somehow it’s gotten embedded into Karyn’s word template or settings or something. So it popped up, and it called to me as soon as I saw it. I guess I’ll live with it for a bit as a working title, and see if it sticks.

a post I’ve been thinking about writing for a long time

I’ve been thinking about the subject I’m about to write about for a long time. But there’s a real risk in writing about it… Ever since a wee run-in with a certain very well-known photography blogger shortly after I started this blog, I’ve shied away from saying anything potentially contentious here. Sometimes I feel handicapped because I don’t have any formal education in art, so the words don’t come easily to talk about photography. Or I worry I’ll say something that’s just plain wrong, and I don’t know it yet. But I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and I think the time has come.

So I might as well just get into it.

Have you noticed that feminism seems to have become the new F word? When you utter it in polite circles, people – both men and women – often respond as though they’ve been slapped. Well, maybe more like you just started talking about the time you had a pilonidal cyst. Some horror, some revulsion and a generous helping of fear for what’s about to come out of your mouth. When I was in university in the 90s, feminism, in those circles at least, was almost always referred to in the plural, because there were as many feminisms as feminists. But a decade later, it seems like in more mainstream circles there is only one kind of feminist, and she hates men and she’s frothing at the mouth she’s so enraged. That is not the kind of feminism I subscribe to.

I don’t blame individual men for the changes that still need to be made to achieve gender equality. Men are subject to the same cultural messages we women are. To me, feminism is about equality for all and about challenging our beliefs about gender; not about disempowering men to empower women. And membership is open to men as well as women. My husband considers himself a feminist. I consider him a feminist too, in case you’re wondering.

It seems like the singular, currently popular definition of a feminist only serves to hinder discussion on issues that we really need to talk about.

For example.

500 Photographers, which I’ve been really enjoying following, as far as I can tell, has only covered 17 women out of the 94 photographers it’s so far covered. That’s 18 percent. Now, I’m not blaming the author of the blog. I think it’s a great undertaking, and as I’ve said, I’m really enjoying it, for one. The fact is photography is dominated by men. Although women have been using cameras ever since their invention, they just don’t seem to stick around in the canon in the same numbers as men. Just look at Magnum’s group photo from its annual general meeting in June. There are 3 women. Out of 38 full members, that’s 8 percent. Not even 10 percent. And that’s rounding up!

I really think the problem is that the standards by which photography is judged are male standards. There are women who can meet the standards, obviously, but what about the women who can’t or don’t want to?

I couldn’t help but notice that work from my Two-Powered series was very well-received in art circles outside of photography. My work was included in Mother/mother-*, an exhibition about motherhood (duh) that included works in ALL media. My work was seen there, and is being included in an academic book now about mothers in contemporary art. I say this not to toot my own horn, but to notice that my work has seen zero interest in photography circles. Maybe it’s just because the pictures suck, and I’m ok with that possibility. But there are photographers, and women photographers too, whose work is renowned in photography circles that also suck in formal terms. That are more about what’s in the photo than how beautiful it is.

* * *

There’s a group on flickr I’ve been a member of for a couple of years now, called La Familia Abrazada. It’s an interesting pool of work, inspired by such photographers as Nan Golden and Tina Barney among others, and it was even featured on Burn magazine last fall I think. Last summer, someone posed the question, why are there only women and children in the group’s pictures? Where are the men? Well, there certainly are more male contributors to the pool. It’s a moderated pool, so contributors first add their image(s) to be considered, and the moderator(s) decide whether to admit it into the pool. At the time of the discussion, there were no women moderators of the pool. I don’t know if that’s since changed.

But the discussion stayed pretty rooted in the question of subject matter, and how to get the male photographers out in front of the lens. Because the important thing, I guess, is to SEE men. I did try to broach what *I* think should have been the focus: who’s behind the camera of the images. I mean, if your pool is lacking women photographers, there’s a reason, and it’s not simply that only men are drawn to photograph their families. I’ll stick my neck out and say that in fact, I would guess MORE women are drawn to photograph their families than men, since it’s still a fact that women are more often primary caregivers than men. So the pool should at least have even representation.

Anyways, after the discussion, I gamely submitted a few images of my husband. But the pictures were rejected by the moderators. When I privately messaged one of them to ask why, he said they did not strike him, that they weren’t bad, they just didn’t have enough ooomph for him. The thing is, he’s right. They do lack oomph. But that was kinda the point of them. Domestic life is kinda like that, mostly lacking oomph. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family life, but it’s not really given to grand moments. I like my family/domestic pictures if they have ambiguity, if they’re open-ended. I like it when they’re a bit surreal, when you can’t quite figure out what’s going on, or when they suggest something that had absolutely no bearing in the original situation.

Just in case you’re wondering, these are the pictures I submitted then.



Maybe they are lousy pictures, I don’t know. But I do know that throughout my participation in the group, I’ve experimented with submitting photos to see which ones get in. And honestly? I have to say the ones that get in are the ones that I generally find to be a bit cheesy, overly sentimental, or plainly humourous. Which is odd since the pool itself is not cheesy or overly sentimental.

Now this isn’t a complaint about my pictures not getting in, and certainly not a complaint against the moderators, it just seems like this is yet another example of male domination in photography, and kind of a huge blind spot when discussions come up. I don’t think the discussion should be about subject matter all. Well, it’s part of the issue, but it’s more of a symptom, I think. And I hate essentialist ideas of gender, so I need to be careful here. And of course, I really don’t want to come off as a Rabid Manhating Bitter Old Feminist. Or sour grapes.

Gah. This is the part where I can’t find the words.

Ok, so I’m stuck. I decided to check out the ratio of men to women in some of my books. Image Makers Image Takers has interviews with 20 photographers. Five of them are women. (Incidentally, it was edited by a woman.) That’s 25 percent.

The photograph as contemporary art, by Charlotte Cotton, which I highly recommend btw,  discusses 219 photographers, give or take a few. Ninety-one of them are women, which is 42 percent. I went from the index, and I may have double counted one or two, so take the absolute numbers with a grain of salt. But still, that’s a vast difference from 8 or 18 percent.

I currently have Reframings: New American Feminist Photographies from the library. It has a foreword by Anne Tucker, in which she sites a source that says that by 1910, women made up 20 percent of the photographic work force in America. She goes on to say: “Women actively participated in every significant photographic movement and school of the twentieth century. [...] As a young historian I discovered that a little digging in any period yielded important women who had been exhibited and published locally, nationally, and internationally. Women’s representation and the acknowledgment of their contributions declined or disappeared only when later historians evaluated a movement. The more general the compendium, the less likely women were to be well represented.” Tucker goes onto to recount her experience in 1973 of writing The Woman’s Eye, which featured 10 women photographers. She notes, “Those knowledgeable about photography tended to dismiss it; general book reviewers and women’s publications praised it highly.” (I actually saw it at the library before I picked out Reframings, but I thought from the title it would annoy me, since woman and eye were singular. I didn’t notice the author’s name or I probably would have gotten it. Next time.)

Anyways, Reframings. I’m disappointed to tell you that I have only heard of four of the 45 women photographers in the book. I was planning to write that I’d heard of none of the photographers in the book, but I figured I’d better make sure that was true and finish looking through the images. That was when I discovered Carrie Mae Weems, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and Catherine Opie in the final chapters. I’d like to believe it’s just a coincidence that three of those four photographers were in the chapter entitled, “Sex and Anxiety,” but I’m not buying it. The fourth, Opie, is a lesbian, and much of her work is concerned with queer identity.

And the photographers I hadn’t heard of? A lot of the work is really good. I’ve seen other books of feminist art, and to be honest a good chunk of it left me flat. But that wasn’t the case with Reframings. So why I haven’t I heard of them?

I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this. It’s complicated, I know. Tucker said it too, when she noticed that Beaumont Newhall only mentioned 13 women photographers in The History of Photography – out of about 500 photographers in total! (I got tired of counting all the photographers by the L’s in the index, so I just estimated.) A footnote explains, “Evaluating Newhall’s support of women is complicated. In over 400 articles written on art between 1925 and 1971, he wrote about only six women: Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, Julia Margaret Cameron, Imogen Cunningham, Nell Dorr, and Barbara Morgan. Whatever his basis for excluding women from his publications, Newhall proudly supported his wife’s career and never discriminated among his students. He generously responded to men and women equally with shared research, advice, and recommendations.”

* * *

I started this post with 500 photographers, so I may as well end with it. Here are some ideas for women photographers he might want to consider sharing, in no particular order:

Rineke DijkstraThis series brought me to tears when I saw it in a book the other day. She photographed three women with their newborns, one was one hour after birth, another one day after birth, and another one week after birth. It was the one with the c-section incision that especially got to me.

Kate Hutchison – I’m particularly fond of her model husband series and also why am I marrying him, but all her work is great

Jodi Bieber

Katharina Bosse – especially Portrait of the artist as a young mother

KayLynn Deveney

Laura Pannack

Jen Davis

Araminta deClermont

Juliana Beasley – especially Rockaways

And that’s just off the top of my head. And being fair, I’d also have to recommend Don Weber. Because I haven’t counted, but there probably aren’t enough Canadians either. But that’s another post.

*Updated: Ugh. This damn post took me all morning, and now I see 500 photographers is up to 95. And it’s Canadian Joey L.


Ever since we moved to this house, just a week and a half short of two years ago, I have wanted to do a photography project on the family housing residence on campus. Until January, I walked by it every day, and I speculated about the families behind each window, thought about the clues that gave them away: the mother’s day cards between the pink curtains and the window, the chalk letters on the cinder blocks, another window with ripped curtains that I could almost peek through, the laundry hanging across the small balcony, the other balcony with the prayer flags, the tropical plants filling another window… I once tried to pretend that I wasn’t a voyeur, but I totally am. I suspect that all photographers are, except perhaps for wilderness photographers?

Anyways, today I walked to work/daycare and I walked by there again, and was once again overwhelmed with a desire to meet and photograph some of the people who live here. I haven’t been walking much lately, and I’ve also been coming close to depression, I think. Apart from the opportunities to work on my derby girls project, I haven’t really been making any pictures. This morning makes me think that I need to walk, that that’s what inspires me and keeps me curious about the world around me and the people in it.

I need to set up my life so I can walk more. A resolution, perhaps?

And in the meantime, I will keep wondering about the man who was eating a bowl of cereal in the door of his balcony, mostly hidden by the hanging laundry.