Celebrating Women's History from Behind the Lens

February 22, 2022

Celebrating Women's History from Behind the Lens

Image credits, left to right: Brita V. Brookes, Buffalo Fancy Shawl ; Patty Carroll, Chandelier ; Donna Ferrato, Diane, Living with the Enemy, Minneapolis ; Darlene Kaczmarczyk, Ties that Bind: Park Ranger ; Claudia S. Liberatore, Garden Nymph #2, Joyce Tenneson, Ranunculus ; Sarah Wong, Authentic Self .

Since 1987, the month of March has been declared Women’s History Month, a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society. Women’s History Month grew out of a weeklong celebration by a single school district in Sonoma, California before becoming a national reflection on the often-overlooked contributions of women to United States History.

The same can be said about the history of photography within the United States, with names like Eastman Kodak, Ansel Adams, and Richard Avedon driving the popular knowledge of photography. While not credited with the invention of photography, women have played an active role in photography since its inception. One of the first women to play a part in the development of photography was Constance Fox Talbot, who is considered to be the first woman to take a photograph. Constance worked side-by-side with her husband who invented the Calotype photographic process, an early photographic process. Around the same time, Anna Atkins was experimenting with the cyanotype process and botanical specimens. She published the first book ever photobook—a book primarily featuring photographic images.

The GVSU Art Gallery would like honor and recognize all the amazing women artists of the GVSU art collection beyond just the month of March, but we take this opportunity, Women’s History Month, to highlight a few of the women photographers in our collection.

Brita V. Brookes (b. 1967)
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Brita V. Brookes has pursued careers in architectural design and graphic design, but always comes back to her passion for photography and photojournalism. Brookes has found herself immersed in a number of different cultures with her camera, from the music scene of Michigan to local tribal communities. Brookes' Native American imagery comes directly from first hand experiences participating in Pow Wows of the Three Fires Confederacy area of Michigan and Ontario. Although not of Native American heritage herself, she has actively been involved in Native American communities across the country.
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Patty Carroll (b. 1946)
Since the 1970s, Chicago-based photographer Patty Carroll has been known for her use of highly intense, often life size, saturated color photographs. Especially in her most recent collection, many of Carroll’s images address women and their complicated relationships with domesticity and the perceived obsession of collecting, designing and decorating. Her photographs of draped women camouflaged by domestic items create a humorous game of seek-and-find between the viewer and the anonymous woman in the image.
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Donna Ferrato (b. 1949)
Donna Ferrato is an internationally recognized photojournalist and activist best known for her documentation of the hidden world of domestic violence. Her first book, “Living With the Enemy,” documents her time in New York City photographing the heady nightclub culture at legendary establishments such as Studio 54 and Xenon. There she met and began documenting the life of prominent swinger couple known as Garth and Lisa. One night she witnessed Garth beating Lisa, a night that would forever change the path of Ferrato’s life and career. For the next decade, Ferrato traveled across the country and became immersed, with her camera, in the hidden world of domestic violence, riding in police cars, sleeping in shelters and staying in homes of victims of violence.
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Darlene Kaczmarczyk (b. 1950)
Darlene Karczmarczyk is professor emeritus at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her inspiration comes largely from commercial advertising of the 1950s, styles that still exist today in modern culture. She focuses on iconic feminine apparel such as handkerchiefs and aprons, turning them into satirical representations of the social status of women. As a photographer she enjoys using alternative photographic methods like pinhole and photograms to create her work.
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Claudia S. Liberatore
Paradox has always been of interest for local Grand Rapids photographer Claudia S. Liberatore. Through her photographs she combines close and far, warm and cool, inside and outside, people and place, while playing with what is both familiar and unfamiliar to the viewer. Early in her career Liberatore focused mainly on black and white photography, later she began to add color which gave a new dimension to her work, allowing her to better control the mood of the image. She experimented with her work through creative techniques in the dark room, creating double images that bring new meanings to her photographs.
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Joyce Tenneson (b. 1945)
Joyce Tenneson earned her master's degree in photography from George Washington University after starting as a model for Polaroid. Still today, she primarily shoots with a Polaroid 20x24 camera. Her work has been published in books and major magazines and exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, making her one of the most influential women photographers.
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Sarah Wong (b. 1962)
From 2003 to 2018, Sarah Wong followed and photographed the lives of cross-gendered children. She was invited into their homes, schools, and daily life activities, proving they are regular children that are living the lives they have always wanted. These images were the first official photos of transgender children from the Netherlands. Originally published in the Dutch daily newspaper, “De Volkskrant (The People’s Paper),” Wong created the series of photographs, which later became a published book titled, “Inside Out: Portraits of Cross Gender Children,” to bring awareness and inform people about this vulnerable population.
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Page last modified February 22, 2022