Why feminist photography?

A woman’s perceived value in society is constantly being underestimated and undermined and this is true too in the world of art. 

‘Shackled’ by Vanessa Thomas First appearance at the ‘No Boundaries’ Art Show hosted by the Dublin Arts Collective at the F. Co Gallery in Dublin, California

My first blog post in 2022 echoed similar sentiments and the loss of economic power and agency for females continues its downward trend.

Societal trauma following the first pandemic in 100 years seems to have resulted in increased misogyny and oppression of women globally in what I surmise is the patriarchy’s attempt to regain some sense of power and control in a world where we have discovered that we have rather little.

The situation has had a profound impact on my art and has ignited the fires of my feminist heart. It has always burned beneath the surface but the cold clutches of fear caged it. Floral photography is my usual playground as a way to find my flow and cope with the increasing pressures of life while offering some respite to the onslaught of negative news and climate change anxiety. So in a dramatic departure from my usual subject matter my muse emboldened me to create two works of feminist photography.

Every creative soul knows the feeling of being imbued with an idea that needs to be brought to life. To take the tacit dream and make it explicit. 

In a creative collaboration with fellow artist May Yin Giang the photographs ‘Shackled’ and ‘A Woman’s Grief’ were  brought into existence representing the anguish, frustration, grief and ire experienced by women following recent events. The images were captured on location at Dublin Pioneer Cemetery in California. 

Overturning Roe vs Wade and the subsequent impact on reproductive rights and a loss of bodily autonomy that has further oppressed the vulnerable and compounded the struggles of those already at the bottom of the economic food chain were the catalysts for creating ‘Shackled’ that provides a window into women’s suffering.  Women’s rights are human rights yet they appear to not carry the same weight as men’s rights. 

In ‘A Woman’s Grief’ the anguish of the losses faced by women is placed in the context of societal structures (including religious structures) built to contain, dominate and exploit the nurturing nature of women who have the power to produce life but are not empowered through it. Her innate strength though is reflected in the green hues of hope representing persistence in the face of horrors of the wounds inflicted by society. 

The responses to this work have been intriguing. Many have been surprised at the level of emotion elicited in response to it but others have been unable to fully allow themselves to uncap the bottle of thoughts and feelings that arise. 

If we can hide a woman’s pain we don’t need to find a remedy. 

‘A Woman’s Grief’ by Vanessa Thomas First appearance at the Pleasanton Art League Fall Members Show at the Harrington Gallery in Pleasanton, California

The feminine form is beguiling in the art world but art produced by females is deemed to have less intrinsic value compared to that produced by males. An interesting glimpse into the stats was recently presented in the Burns Halperin Report and commented on in an article by Katya Kazakina in Art News “Who’s afraid of women of a certain age? The market still dramatically undervalues female artists – but there’s more to the story.” that I saw posted on @artgirlrising. It begs the question – why? 

Women are exploited and preyed upon in their youth and child-bearing years and discarded and made invisible as they age. There was a time not so long ago when it felt like women where claiming their space and owning the incredible power of their bodies and minds. The show on Netflix “Feminists – What were they thinking?” includes the work of photographer Cynthia MacAdams and discusses 1970s portraits of women that reflected a feminist awakening and captures women being who they want to be and the images are both striking and empowering. 

Our art holds a mirror to society and the current reflection is grim. Yet we persist in pursuing the ideal that all women and girls will one day be free to reach their full potential and live without the constant fear of violence. 

There’s so much more to say but I’ll end with a quote from the book “A Radical Awakening” by Dr Shefali (page 173) 

Culture and in particular, the patriarchy are deathly afraid of the awakened and empowered woman. She is a threat to the status quo. A woman who is no longer docile, quiet, servile and dependent? No longer willing to compromise her worth for another’s comfort and well-being? No longer willing to take second place except when she consciously chooses to do so? That woman? Do you know what power she houses within her? She is a force to be reckoned with.

* Footnote ‘Shackled’ will be on show at the Museum on Main in the Imagination Expressed Show of the Pleasanton Art League from January 28 to March 25, 2023. 

Buy Prints of “Shackled” here.


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