Picks and Pans Review: Women Photographers

updated 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Edited by Constance Sullivan

What we have here is a collection of striking photographs burdened with a questionable concept and an unfortunate title.

Sullivan, who has edited such photo books as Legacy of Light, includes work by 73 accomplished women photographers in this handsome, finely engraved volume.

The photographs range from a circa-1850 hand-colored portrait of a 7-year-old girl by Maria Chambefort to Imogen Cunningham's sensual nudes of the "20s and '30s to Susan Meiselas's view of revolution in Nicaragua. Sullivan's selections present an array of emotion, a varied sense of style and an unquestionable degree of commitment. Clearly women have been a driving force in photography for all its 151 years. But Sullivan never makes a case for women's pictures being any different from men's. (Would anyone even consider producing a book called Men Photographers?)

Dorothea Lange, famous for "Migrant Mother," which she took in 1936 while working for the Farm Security Administration, once said, "It is no accident that the photographer becomes a photographer any more than the lion tamer becomes a lion tamer." A lion tamer is a lion tamer is a lion tamer, gender notwithstanding.

This book's text, by art historian Eugenia Parry Janis, dallies, offering only scattershshot information about the photographers and pictures. She not only doesn't explain I the book's theme; she essentially admits its pointlessness, writing that the volume's "images offer revelations that have little to do with women as a classification."

The best way to approach the book is to appreciate its 200 photographs on their own merits: Lee Miller's shocking photos of human remains and beaten prison guards in a liberated Nazi concentration camp, for instance, or Mary Ellen Mark's photos of Mother Teresa's home for the dying in Calcutta in 1980, full of vacant stares and shielded faces that reveal the sorrow of dying without dignity.

Cindy Sherman's grotesque, narcissistic incarnations of herself could have been left on the editing-room floor. And you might argue over inclusion of a couple of the other photographers. But femininity is irrelevant to their merits or lack thereof and the work of the other photographers in this book.

In 1929 Kodak introduced a small camera that came in such pastel colors as "old rose" and lavender. Advertised in women's magazines, it came packaged with lipstick and a compact. That was a long time ago. Women, photography, attitudes—all those things, baby—have come a long way since then. (Abrams, $65)

From Our Partners