Although photography is one medium of the arts where women have been least ignored or most recognized, there is still much left unsaid about their contributions. Naomi Rosenblum in A HISTORY OF WOMEN PHOTOGRAPHERS explains that, contrary to popular belief, women were an active and essential part of photographic history from the very onset of experimentation with the chemical process. A Chinese woman scientist named Huang Lu is known to have toyed with a crude sort of camera in the early 1800’s, and a German painter named Friederike Wilhelmine von Wunsch made portraits with a light-sensitive material in 1839. In later developments, Lee Miller, an assistant and model for Man Ray, is supposed to have been the discoverer of the solarization effect that Ray would use for his acclaimed innovations. More often than not, male inventors of photographic technique were part of a joint team including a woman assistant or their wife. The woman in these pairings usually contributed significantly to discoveries and new processes but were not given credit.
As photography became popular and accessible, large numbers of women practiced in the medium for artistic pleasure and for business. Being a medium that was not as well established as painting, photography was a field in which women could be accepted more easily. There were no real traditions to break with such a new medium. It did not require years of formal training and with the advent of portraiture, photography proved to be a good source of income for skilled middle-class women.
Naomi Rosenblum’s ground-breaking work traces women’s contributions throughout the various movements and developments of photography and discusses in detail the contribution of women in these specific times. Her approach is thorough and methodical and provides a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in photography. Although women are the main focus of this project, it also provides an excellent overview of the history of photography in general.