Early days of Photography: 5 sharp women

Posted by Sophie Tappeiner on 24th October 2012

Since the beginning of photography, women have made significant contributions to the medium of photography; below, Rise Art introduces five of these remarkable women, whose work has had an impact on many of today's artists.

Claude Cahun (1894-1954)

Lucy Schwob, who later took on the name Claude Cahun as a tribute to her great-uncle, was a French artist, encompassing theater, writing and photography. Although she considered herself mainly a quick-change artist, she was an outstanding photographer. With her androgynous name, look and joy in re-inventing herself, she captured gender issues and played with sexuality. Her self-portrayed and self-exposing work strongly influenced later generations of artists such as Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle or Nan Goldin.

Tina Modotti (1896-1942)

Aged 16, Italian-born model, actress and later photographer Assunta Modotti joined her father in San Francisco. Moving to Los Angeles, she met Edward Weston, who - it is said - taught her photography as a means of documentation and fine art. Together with Weston, Modotti moved to Mexico in 1922, where they quickly integrated into the bohemian circles; among their friends were Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Five years later, she joined the Communist Party, marking the date in which her work turns more politically motivated and Tina turning into a political activist.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)

A pupil of Man Ray's, Berenice Abbott's work as portrait-photographer quickly became as sought after as her instructors. Peggy Guggenheim became a client and supporter. After spending a few years in Paris, the American went back to New York, where she created the body of work she is best known for - black and white photography of the city, illustrating the development of technology and society. In addition to these works, she made important contributions to scientific photography, as well as inventing aides for photography, such as the autopole.

Lee Miller (1907-1977)

Elizabeth 'Lee' Miller, later Lady Penrose was an American born fashion model in New York City before going to Paris to become a successful photographer. Man Ray was her mentor and lover. It is said she helped Man Ray discover the process of 'solarisation' in photography (look at the portrait of Lee Miller above), thereby contributing its further development. Not only was she an acclaimed fashion and portrait photographer, but also one of the few women who documented events such as the liberation of Paris and the London Blitz as well as concentration camps.

Inge Morath (1923-2002)

Austrian-born Inge Morath was among the first female members of Magnum Photos, which to this date remains male dominated.  Morath married the playwright Arthur Miller and relocated permanently to the States. Among her most important achievements in photography are her portraits, as she created the idea of taking people in intimate settings. Philip Roth, a writer and one of her subjects, describer Morath as "the most engaging, sprightly, seemingly harmless voyeur I know".