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  • Writer's pictureDebora Masetti

Women and Photography

Female Models & Photographers Stories

As many of you already know, my passion for photography, and in general for visual arts, has started when I was a kid.

But it was at the University when I began to understand deeply the art of photography and, why I felt so connected with it.

I would like to share with you the stories of those women who with the photography make use of their body as performance poised between voyeurism, exhibitionism, fetishism, investigation of sexual ambiguity and the breakdown of gender, political ideology.

At the beginning of the 20th century, fine arts such as paintings and sculpture held the artistic power of representation and unlike painting, photography did not require extensive study in male-dominated academies but could be learnt from instruction manuals or a short apprenticeship in a professional studio. This situation allowed women to be able to experiment freedom without the conditioning of men, in addition to using a medium that was itself seeking artistic legitimacy, as it was considered for amateurs.

From the 1880s, Kodak’s advertised for their new female clientele as both producers and consumers of photography. Embodying the popular iconography of fashionable ‘Kodak Girl’ pictured with her camera emblematised a generation of women seeking empowerment, economic and sexual autonomy in the public arena.

Across the 1800s and 1900s women chose to express their art through photography, they early understood the importance of their body as a symbol of their identity. They were able to reclaim their own image from the male-gaze who used to portray them as feminine and celestial creatures. Furthermore, they were able to translate their image from object to subject of their art.

Throughout the 20th century, women were attracted numbers to photography as a hobby and as a profession, and enjoyed visible success in a number of fields; social documentary, photojournalism and press photography, commercial portraiture, fine art, and fashion.

Women, at that time, manifested the desire to break the passive link with their body that was considered as an object by the society. They managed to regain their image, the right to explore their body and their sexuality and use of nudity in opposition to a society that requires gender and sexual clarity. Photography became an important tool of second-wave feminism to critique the established visual conventions through which gender, sexual, racial, and class identities have been constructed. An act of rebellion by the restricted codes imposed by the society in clothing, fashion and beauty.

It’s also important to mention that in the contemporary era, for women working outside of the privileged domain of Western art, photography remained a powerful tool for exposing social inequalities experienced within national boundaries and questioning the persistent stereotypes of non-Western identities in a globalized world.


F. Muzzarelli, Il corpo e l’azione, Atlante, Bologna 2007, Introduzione pp. 5-19.

S. De Beauvoir, Il secondo sesso

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