‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’ celebrates how women photographers shaped the medium

July 1, 2021, 7:57 PM UTC
Ilse Bing Self-Portrait with Leica, 1931.
Courtesy of Ilse Bing Estate

From the 1920s to the 1950s, women transformed the art—and industry—of photography. A new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows exactly how these pioneering photographers did that.

“The New Woman Behind the Camera” documents how women behind the lens were essential in showing the public the “new woman” who appeared in life and in their work. That “new woman” was “easy to recognize but hard to define,” the museum says.

In street scenes, high-end fashion, and self-portraits, photographers like Margaret Bourke-White, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Louise Dahl-Wolf, Helen Levitt, and Lee Miller observed and shaped these trends. Their work captured the typical bobbed hair and Vogue-inspired style of a “new woman” of this era, at the same time providing a visual testimony of the social and political transformations of the period.

This was possible in part because cameras during this time became smaller, more lightweight, and more affordable tools, making the technology more accessible to women photographers and artists.

The exhibit’s 185 photographs by 120 photographers will be on display at The Met from July 2 to Oct. 3 before traveling to the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 31 through Jan. 30, 2022.

Scroll below to preview some images that will be on display.

The New Woman Behind the Camera-Homai Vyarawalla_The-Victoria-Terminus-Bombay_early-1940s
The Victoria Terminus in Bombay, early 1940s, photographed by Homai Vyarawalla.
Courtesy HV Archive/The Alkazi Collection of Photography
The New Woman Behind the Camera-Japanese-American-owned-grocery-store,-Oakland,-California,-March-1942
Japanese-American owned grocery store in Oakland, California, March 1942, photographed by Dorothea Lange.
Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC/Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
The New Woman Behind the Camera-Tsuneko-Sasamoto,-Tokyo_1940
Tsuneko Sasamoto, Tokyo, 1940.
Courtesy Tsuneko Sasamoto/Japan Professional Photographers Society
The New Woman Behind the Camera-Lola-Álvarez-Bravo_The-Freeloaders_ca.-1955
The Freeloaders, ca. 1955, photographed by Lola Álvarez Bravo.
Courtesy of Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

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