Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection
On view through August 1, 2021
For nearly all of photography’s one hundred eighty-year history, women have shaped the development of the art form and experimented with every aspect of the medium.
Conceived in conjunction with the centennial of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted suffrage for some women, this exhibition showcases more than one hundred photographs from the High’s collection, many of them never before on view, and charts the medium’s history from the dawn of the modern period to the present through the work of women photographers.
Organized roughly chronologically, each section emphasizes a distinct arena in which women contributed and often led the way. Among the artists featured are pioneers of the medium such as Anna Atkins as well as more recent innovators and avid experimenters, including Betty Hahn, Barbara Kasten, and Meghann Riepenhoff. The exhibition also celebrates the achievements of numerous professional photographers, including Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, and Marion Post Wolcott, who worked in photojournalism, advertising, and documentary modes and promoted photography as a discipline.
The exhibition also highlights photographers who photograph other women, children, and families, among them Sally Mann, Nan Goldin, and Diane Arbus, and those who interrogate ideals of femininity through self-portraiture. Also on view will be works by contemporary photographers who challenge social constructions of gender, sexuality, and identity, including Zanele Muholi, Sheila Pree Bright, Cindy Sherman, Mickalene Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems.
This exhibition is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Mickalene Thomas, Les Trois Femmes Deux, 2018Mickalene Thomas, Les Trois Femmes Deux, 2018
American, born 1971
Les Trois Femmes Deux, 2018
dye coupler print,
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from the Friends of Photography, 2018.214
Mickalene Thomas creates vibrantly layered artworks that reclaim iconic images to center Black female subjectivity in the history of art. A direct response to Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, this photograph transposes the scene of three White figures having a picnic in a park to an interior view of three exquisitely coiffed and adorned Black women (including Thomas’s partner at right) gazing directly and confidently at the viewer. The colorful, wood-paneled living room, complete with fake plants and mismatched African textiles, evokes Thomas’s 1970s childhood and the aesthetics of Blaxploitation cinema, known for its audacious, dangerous, and sexually confident gun-toting heroines.
Sheila Pree Bright, #1960Now_Ferguson_protest: National March..., 2015Sheila Pree Bright, #1960Now_Ferguson_protest: National March..., 2015
Sheila Pree Bright
American, born 1967
#1960Now_Ferguson_protest: National March in Ferguson, “We Can’t Stop” Mike Brown, Ferguson, MO, March 2015, 2015
Gelatin silver print
Purchase with funds from the Friends of Photography, 2017.222
Sheila Pree Bright is one of Atlanta’s most prominent photographers working today. For the ongoing series #1960Now, she travels with and photographs the civic actions and protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. The title refers to the similarities between these contemporary protests and the civil rights movement and photography of the 1960s. The hashtag in the title refers to social media’s growing role in circulating images and defining current events. Here, two young girls and a little boy are at the forefront of a march in Ferguson, emphasizing how the youth of today can be change makers for tomorrow.
Zanele Muholi, Zibuyile I (Syracuse), 2015Zanele Muholi, Zibuyile I (Syracuse), 2015
South African, born 1972
Zibuyile I (Syracuse), 2015
Gelatin silver print
Purchase with funds from the Donald and Marilyn Keough Family and the H. B. and Doris Massey Charitable Trust, 2017.300
Visual activist Zanele Muholi, whose personal gender pronoun is they, uses self-portraiture to address the politics of gender and race in the ongoing body of work Somnyama Ngonyama (which translates to “Hail, The Dark Lioness” from their mother tongue, Zulu). Muholi poses in locations around the world and incorporates everyday found objects such as props, costumes, and set dressing to build images that draw on their personal family history, consumer culture, and art history. In this photograph, Muholi addresses the viewer with a forceful, piercing gaze, challenging the conventional exoticized, othered, and sexualized depictions of Black female bodies.
Paula Chamlee, Nude Collage #1, 1998Paula Chamlee, Nude Collage #1, 1998
American, born 1944
Nude Collage #1, 1998
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection, 2012.603
Paula Chamlee’s work stretches beyond the realm of straight photography and into assemblage, painting, and drawing. This collage was inspired by photocopies of prints that her husband, the late photographer Michael A. Smith, intended to share with a prospective collector. Because the photographs’ dimensions did not match with that of the copy machine, the images required cropping and taping. Intrigued by the nature of these cast-off bits piled together and the relationship of the parts to the whole, Chamlee created this collage by piecing together images of her body that Smith had taken.
Doris Derby, Grass Roots Organizer, Mississippi, 1968Doris Derby, Grass Roots Organizer, Mississippi, 1968
American, born 1939
Grass Roots Organizer, Mississippi, 1968
Gelatin silver print
Purchase with funds from Jeff and Valerie Levy, 2007.188
Dr. Doris Derby is an educator, anthropologist, and photojournalist based in Atlanta. In the 1960s and 1970s, she was an active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and the Adult Literacy Project. Derby’s photographs reflect her interest in and concern for the role of poor, disenfranchised women during the movement. Many women had been fired from their jobs for registering to vote; in response, they built skill-based cooperatives and community groups that kept their families and communities together in very difficult times.
Nan Goldin, Cookie and Sharon on the Bed, Provincetown, MA, Sept. 1989, 1989Nan Goldin, Cookie and Sharon on the Bed, Provincetown, MA, Sept. 1989, 1989
American, born 1953
Cookie and Sharon on the Bed, Provincetown, MA, Sept. 1989, 1989
Dye destruction print
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection, 2005.337.7
One of the most important photographers of her generation, Nan Goldin is an artist whose personal life is at the center of her art. Her Cookie Portfolio documents her intimate friendship with Cookie Mueller. This photograph strikes a somber note as we see Cookie’s friend and lover Sharon sitting at the front of her bed, disconnected from a frail-appearing Cookie, who lies underneath her wedding picture. Cookie’s husband, Vittorio, died from AIDS the month this picture was made, and Cookie would die two months later. Despite the palpable loss sensed in the distance between the earlier and later works in the portfolio, Goldin conveys the steadfastness and tenderness of female friendship and support, which also infused her process: “I’m looking with a warm eye, not a cold eye. I’m not analyzing what’s going on—I just get inspired to take a picture by the beauty and vulnerability of my friends.”
Cindy Sherman, Untitled, from the Untitled Film Stills series, 1979Cindy Sherman, Untitled, from the Untitled Film Stills series, 1979
American, born 1954
Untitled, from the Untitled Film Stills series, 1979, printed 1989
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection, 1995.98.8
Cindy Sherman has used self-portraiture as a strategy to interrogate representations of identity, gender, and mass culture. In her breakout Untitled Film Stills series, she photographed herself in varied guises inspired by generic Hollywood depictions of female characters: the bereft housewife, the sultry vamp, the wide-eyed ingénue. She challenges traditional understandings of photography and self-portraiture and exposes mass media’s constructed norms and ideas about femininity. Although she shot the original series in black and white as a nod to mid-twentieth-century B-grade black and white films, she also reprised the themes in color works like this one.
Judy Dater, Self-Portrait on Deserted Road, 1982Judy Dater, Self-Portrait on Deserted Road, 1982
American, born 1941
Self-Portrait on Deserted Road, 1982
Gelatin silver print
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection, 1982.274
Over the course of her career, Judy Dater has primarily photographed women, including herself. This work is from a series she made during ten trips to national parks in the West between 1980 and 1983, where she photographed herself nude amidst the grandeur of nature. Seemingly stranded on an empty, endless road, she appears vulnerable and lost, but across the larger series, her photographs veer from savage self-examination to carefully constructed performances that explore identity, subjectivity, and femininity. One of the key influences on Dater’s photography is the work of Imogen Cunningham, who was also a close friend.
Doris Ulmann, Studious Girl, Fleischman Relative, before 1931Doris Ulmann, Studious Girl, Fleischman Relative, before 1931
Studious Girl, Fleischman Relative, before 1931
Doris Ulmann began her photographic career while attending the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York—the first art photography school in the United States. There she worked in the Pictorialist tradition, embraced the “painterly” qualities of soft focus, and manipulated surfaces. After undergoing a major surgery, Ulmann decided to pursue her interest in people “for whom life had not been a dance.” She began traveling throughout the southeastern United States documenting the folk traditions and people of the Appalachian Mountains. She made several sun-dappled portraits of this young girl (identified on other prints as “Kreiger girl”) in and around Berea, Kentucky.
Sandy Skoglund, Gathering Paradise, 1991Sandy Skoglund, Gathering Paradise, 1991
American, born 1946
Gathering Paradise, 1991
Dye coupler print
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James L. Henderson, III, 1991.270
Like many of installation artist and photographer Sandy Skoglund’s surrealist views of domestic spaces, this macabre, pink-tinged scene of squirrels running riot across a patio suggests the frenetic anxiety that bubbles beneath the placid appearance of suburban life. Eschewing digital manipulation, Skoglund meticulously constructs room-size theatrical sets—in this case, complete with sculpted squirrels—which she then photographs. At once funny and unsettling, her photographs of everyday spaces invaded by a menagerie of fantastical animals reveal the nightmarish aspects of the American dream.
Joyce Neimanas, Daytime Fantasies, 1976Joyce Neimanas, Daytime Fantasies, 1976
American, born 1944
Daytime Fantasies, 1976
Gelatin silver print with applied color
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection, 1992.357.6
For most of her career, Joyce Neimanas has created photographic images without directly using a camera, choosing instead to make complex collages and photograms of found imagery derived primarily from mass culture. In this work, Neimanas enlarged and printed a still from a 16 mm pornographic film to which she applied color and annotated with text drawn from the controversial Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). Made at a time of expanded conversation around gender, feminism, and sexual liberation, this work explores and challenges conventional representations of women’s sexuality.
Berenice Abbott, “El” Station Interior, Sixth and Ninth Avenue Lines, Downtown Side, 1936Berenice Abbott, “El” Station Interior, Sixth and Ninth Avenue Lines, Downtown Side, 1936
“El” Station Interior, Sixth and Ninth Avenue Lines, Downtown Side, 1936, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Purchase with funds from a friend of the Museum, 74.57
A towering figure of photography, Berenice Abbott learned the craft while assisting artist Man Ray in Paris. By 1926, she had established her own portrait studio, capturing the leading cultural icons of the day. She also befriended French photographer Eugène Atget and became his tireless champion, even rescuing many of his negatives after his death. After returning to New York in 1929, Abbott spent the next decade working on a major project documenting the rapidly transforming cityscape, which she published in the 1939 book Changing New York, produced with her partner, art critic Elizabeth McCausland. Although known for her urban views, in the 1950s, Abbott started working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore the potential for photography to illustrate scientific principles and phenomena, as shown in this picture.
Atlanta Journal Constitution | “Get excited about these 2021 art exhibitions”
Observer | “Celebrate Women Photographers this Women’s History Month”
Juxtapoz | “Underexposed: Women Photographers at the High Museum of Art”
Technique | “High curator talks female photography exhibit”
Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
This exhibition is made possible by
Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor
Exhibition Series Sponsor
Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Dr. Joan H. Weens Estate
Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters
Anne Cox Chambers Foundation
Robin and Hilton Howell
Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
The Antinori Foundation
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
Elizabeth and Chris Willett
Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
Farideh and Al Azadi
Sandra and Dan Baldwin
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Lucinda W. Bunnen
Marcia and John Donnell
Helen C. Griffith
Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
The Arthur R. and Ruth D. Lautz Charitable Foundation
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Margot and Danny McCaul
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren
Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.