In Eight Girls Taking Pictures, Whitney Otto has woven a well-crafted tapestry of vibrant, moving, historically based short stories about women ahead of their time and how the complexities of their lives enabled them to make distinct and wholly original contributions to the world of photography.
The stories span from 1910 through the 1990s and are set in locales from the United States to Europe and South America. Each story features a richly textured character and explores how specific facets of a woman's life can influence her vision, craft and ambition.
The Author's Note indicates that these stories were inspired by Otto's (How to Make an American Quilt) affinity for the work of six real women photographers from around the world: Imogen Cunningham, Madame Yevonde, Tina Modotti, Lee Miller, Grete Stern, and Ruth Orkin. Two additional stories are purely a product of the author's imagination, though one can make inferences to other noted female photographers. What Otto has done--with great skill and care--is craft a collage of stories using a factual basis of reality as a launch pad to creatively explore, via fiction, the undocumented parts of each woman's life and career.
Photography is all about perception, seeing the world through a unique vantage point. These stories evolve in a similar fashion, as they seek to reveal and understand how these women pursued their passion for photography through adversity, motherhood and the challenges of love and romantic relationships. The stories all share photography as a common thread and the medium is explored via aspects of photochemistry, black-and-white versus color, photojournalism/war, botanical, nudes, still life, advertising/fashion, travel and photographing everyday domesticity. But a deeper thread that emerges is the male influence on each of these women's lives, in particular the often complicated relationships between fathers and daughters. Many of the fathers of these photographers were progressive for their time, and it was that paternal bond and influence (however positive or negative) that encouraged these women to seriously pursue photography as a means of self-expression and ultimately, a fine art form.
You don't need to be a photographer or to be familiar with some of the most prominent female image-makers of the 20th Century to appreciate and admire Eight Girls Taking Pictures. But once you finish reading this well-rendered collection, you'll more than likely be inspired to learn more.
Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto
Scribner, $25.00, Hardcover, 9781451682694, 352 pp
Publication Date: November 6, 2012