Tiana © Renée Jacobs
Sleeping Madje © Maggie Steber
Throughout her career, the photographer Renée Jacobs has heard men tell her about how women “should” be portrayed. She’s photographed hundreds of women and exhibited across the globe, all the while facing comments like “Women can’t look like this” and “They must look like that.” Now, she’s pushing back with Photos de Femmes, a traveling festival of images that depict women in ways that are truthful, raw, and resonant. Jacobs, along with her wife and collaborator Wendy Hicks, unveiled their first exhibition of many, womenSEEwomen, as part of the Porto Photo Fest. The show is now in its final weekend at the Centro Português de Fotografia.
womenSEEwomen includes nine female photographers, including Roberts, all bound by what Jacobs calls a quality of the “dreamy,” “mystical,” or “ethereal.” These images are truly labors of love, and multiple artists have employed time-consuming alternative processes–and devoted many hours to the darkroom–in bringing them to life. That sense of timelessness extends also to the women in the photographs, who range from girlhood into old age; Carmen de Vos photographs pregnancy, Jacqueline Roberts photographs her daughter in childhood and adolescence, and Maggie Steber photographs her mother. The recurring motif of women in nature recalls centuries-old mythologies and legends. Space, like time, morphs and extends in the works of Elisabeth Sunday, who has created portraits of indigenous women in Africa using a special mirror designed for that purpose, and Elizabeth Opalenik, who captures the female form in water.
Still, in spite of their dreamlike sensibilities, the images represented in Photos de Femmes do not exist outside of time or space. Jacobs and Hicks have introduced this festival at a crucial turning point in women’s history; in the background, we can hear the raised voices of the many women around the world who are at this very moment fighting back against abuse and oppression. They created the project in the belief that “Women can’t be heard if we can’t be seen,” and for that reason, the exhibition feels just as urgent as it is enduring.
As it happens, womenSEEwomen came together in a whirlwind of about two days after Hicks and Jacobs connected with Anna Gunn from the Porto Photo Fest, but all the stars aligned to bring these nine voices together. The location itself, the stunning Centro Português de Fotografia, feels appropriate. Formerly a prison, the building now stands as a testament to freedom of expression, and the photographs that adorn its walls serve as a promise–a vow to the world that an era of liberation sits just beyond the horizon. While the first edition included only women photographers, Jacobs and Hicks welcome artists of all genres and genders. Be sure to visit the Photos de Femmes website and sign up for the newsletter to keep abreast of upcoming opportunities.
Hope, Where It Once Was Forgotten © Anne Silver
After Midnight © Susan de Witt
Carolyn © Renée Jacobs
Untitled © Jacqueline Roberts
Lying Sarah Hadley
Geisha Minah © Carmen de Vos
Conversation © Elisabeth Sunday
Danielle © Elizabeth Opalenik
Nadya © Elizabeth Opalenik
Vanity © Renée Jacobs
All images courtesy Photos de Femmes