Isabel Bateman in the Character of Queen Henrietta Maria, 1874 © Julia Margaret Cameron
Self-Portrait, Canal Saint Martin, Paris, 1930’s © Ilse Bing
American Girl in Italy, 1951 © Ruth Orkin
In 1865, The Photographic Journal published a review of the work of Julia Margaret Cameron. It ended with the line, “We are sorry to have to speak thus severely on the works of a lady, but we feel compelled to do so in the interest of the art.” On more than one occasion, she was dismissed, belittled, and even mocked, and in some cases, critics made special reference to her gender.
Now, a century and a half later, we recognize Cameron as a pioneer who left an indelible mark on the history of photography. “In many ways, Julia Margaret Cameron was a feminist even if there wasn’t a word for it,” Daniel Cooney, the gallerist behind Daniel Cooney Fine Art, tells me. “She was one of the first female practitioners of photography, and she was making images that revealed women as complex, intelligent people, even though they had very few rights.”
Beginning with that brilliant Victorian lady and extending through the Second, Third, and Fourth Wave, Cooney’s exhibition Into the Light honors generations of women behind–and in front of–the camera.
Cooney chose this summer for a reason. “It feels like an especially important time to celebrate the many significant contributions by women and the other groups of people under attack by our President and his administration,” he explains. Throughout Into the Light, female perspectives cut through decades of misogyny and silence to reveal true, and often complex, stories. A shared sense of community and courage runs through these portraits, and, at the same time, we find a wide array of experiences.
“The more contemporary work addresses issues of gender, race, and sexual orientation more directly than we see in the historical work,” Cooney reflects. “I think the more contemporary work is more concerned with voice than beauty.” And still, these images belong together.
I asked the gallerist if he ever thought about Cameron would respond to Into the Light had she lived to see the day. “I hope she would be thrilled to see so many women thriving and creating provocative, thoughtful imagery,” he replied. In the age of Trump, Into the Light offers a defiant, rebellious, and ultimately tender story about modern womanhood, told by women. See it at Daniel Cooney Fine Art through August 3rd.
Mother and Daughter, West Oakland, 1970’s © Joanne Leonard
Self-Portrait with Connie, 1978 © Joyce Culver
Girl in Red Dress, 1990’s © Arlene Gottfried
Eleven, 2015 © Kia LaBeija
Lill, 12, Transgender Girl, North Central California © Annie Tritt
Brigitte Adjoua, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, 2014 © Emilie Regnier
Self Portrait © Pixy Liao
All images courtesy Daniel Cooney Fine Art