Women and the blues

I have noticed that most of the photographers that I am drawn to who use alternative processes, particularly cyanotype, in their practice are women.

It has been puzzling me why that may be so.

I have always tried to avoid statements that allude to certain personality traits being more male or female; and even though I work within the natural environment (as opposed to human-made) I’ve never been comfortable labelling nature, Mother.

I’m certainly don’t recognise any stereotypical ‘female preferences’ in my own life, i.e. I don’t love shopping, I’m not one for gossiping; I don’t enjoy spa days etc. etc. But I do love silver jewellery – is that a typical female trait?

So is there any reason why from most of the photographers whose work has inspired me, most are women?

Predominantly working with the cyanotype, it was Anna Atkins who could be said to be one of my first inspirations. Maybe it boils down to my desire for women to be equal in all societies – for me there is still a long way to go –  but I suggest I am subconsciously drawn to supporting other women in photography.

Or maybe the processes I use, which are created by nature often outside in a manner that invites unknown outcomes, do not appeal to men. It could be that men feel a need to use more controlled alternative processes. It’s interesting to note that the two thorough papers/books on cyanotype/alternative processes I refer to have been written by Dr Mike Ware and Christopher James. Although the beginners guide Blueprint to Cyanotypes was produced by Malin Fabbri, with Gary Fabbri.

I appreciate this is in no way an in-depth consideration of what draws people to differing processes, and whether there even is a marked male/female preference – I simply may not have discovered any men working in the cyanotype processes yet that inspire me.

Of contemporary photographers, I am particularly drawn, among others, to Meghann Riepenhoff, Tania Love, and sculptor, Tasha Lewis who all use the cyanotype process – and the colour blue.

Having mentioned Riepenhoff’s working style in my blog post Using the Outside and In, it is her personal interaction with her surroundings that I feel most compare with my own philosophy on making images. A huge fan of the Littoral Drift series, which uses the cyanotype process, I am also drawn to her chromogenic photogram Eluvium series.

©Meghann Riepenhoff. Eluvium #03 (yell) 2012

She describes this as “the residual deposit of soil, dust, and sand produced by the wind. To create the images in this series, I cast sand on sheets of light-sensitive paper in the dark. I then spoke, sang, laughed, screamed, cried, and breathed in almost touching proximity to the paper, my actions moving the sand into formations. I exposed and processed the paper, titling each image after what I said or did to create it”.

An interesting way to include sand within the work.

Riepenhoff will be part of an exhibition, Women in Colour, that runs from August 19 at the Rubber Factory, New York. This show examines the “pioneering role of women in the use of color in photography”, with a mention of Anna Atkins and her use of cyanotype’s Prussian Blue. It also suggests that women have a heightened response to colour – could that be so?

With Tania Love, she describes the ethos behind her work as having “emphasis on tactile, hand crafted processes to invite quiet, slower rhythms and connection to natural cycles”. This is something I hope my work will invoke yet from that I also aim to provoke action. As with me, it is the allure of the colour blue that adds to Love’s use of the cyanotype process in particular, with her saying: “There is something about blue that compels, comforts and inspires us.”

©Tania Love. circulation 2016

In Tasha Lewis work, I find humour. She use the cyanotype process on fabric to make surreal animal models, and her Swarm butterfly series is something that revived my passion for cyanotype. Interweaving this process with sculpture provides a means of extending how the process is used and implemented. It links to how I am hoping to incorporate my work into a differing medium – glassmaking – and it shows how making images is not confined to a frame.

herd - 28
©Tasha Lewis. The Herd 2013

Although it seems to be women artists that are inspiring my own practice, men are not totally overlooked. Photographers such as Garry Fabian Miller have also attracted my attention, particularly the circular blue images he created in the Year One series.

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 12.35.30
©Garry Fabbian Miller. Edrinios Single No.63, 2005


Fabbian Miller left cameras behind in 1984 when he began making dye destruction prints by placing flora such as leaves or seed heads in a photographic enlarger. He went on to research photo synthesis techniques but eventually turned away from plant matter and began to use light beams, liquid-filled vials and stencils. He began making ‘luminograms’ and goes on to ‘digitally remaster’ the original works he makes. His works have intrigued me, and given that he returned to using plant matter in latter works, my suggestion that men are not drawn to certain alternative processes as the outcomes are based on external forces, may well be unfounded.

Whether certain ways of using alternative processes even exist between men and women photographers may be an interesting sideline to research in future. Or whether or not the colour of the cyanotype is more alluring to women.

For now, I’m not placing importance on who created the work but rather if it speaks to me – and that in itself makes it equal.

Online References:

LEWIS, Tasha. 2013. ‘The Herd’. Tasha Lewis Available at: http://www.tashalewis.info/TheHerd.html [accessed August 15]

LOVE, Tania. 2016. ‘circulation’. Tania Love Available at: http://tanialove.com/art/circulation/ [accessed August 15]

RIEPENHOFF, Meghann. 2012. ‘Eluvium’. Meghann Riepenhoff  Available at: http://meghannriepenhoff.com/project/eluvium/ [accessed August 15]

RUBBER FACTORY. 2017. Women in Colour. Available at: http://www.rubber-factory.info/programme/?rq=women%20in%20colour [accessed August 15]

Book References:

BARNES, Martin. 2010. Shadow Catchers. 2nd edn. London: Merrell.


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