Man Ray was sure of that. In the photographs, women were satisfied above all to look young and beautiful, while the men, yes, had a much more sophisticated idea of their image, they wanted the shot to give them authority, sex appeal, power or intelligence. Exactly the opposite of what emerges from the exhibition I, she, the other. Portraits and photographic self-portraits of women artists that on 18 March will be inaugurated at the Warehouse of ideas in Trieste.
Among the 90 works present in the exhibition, produced and organized by ERPAC (Regional Body for the Cultural Heritage of Friuli Venezia Giulia), you can see faces with a sly smile, ironic femme fatale in black and white, statuesque and powerful nudes, dancing and elusive bodies in front of the camera.
"It is impossible to put the women protagonists of the exhibition in a single category" explains Simona Cossu, curator together with Guido Comis and Alessandra Paulitti. "The main theme of the exhibition is the search for identity , its emancipation and even before the role of women. How has it changed over the centuries? The woman has gone from a model , sometimes an assistant in the service of an artist to a creative figure and finally active".
Men and women in comparison
About thirty lenders, including foundations, museums, private collectors and archives: portraits made by men - those of Man Ray, Edward Weston, Henry Cartier-Bresson, Robert Mapplethorpe - are combined portraits and self-portraits of female artists and photographers - Wanda Wulz, Inge Morath, Vivian Maier, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman, Marina Abramović.
"I would say that the most interesting aspect of the exhibition" confirms Guido Comis "is that of comparing two different points of view, since some portraits and self-portraits are made by women, while others have a male hand. The comparison is therefore between representing and being represented".
There is a particular detail: all are artists, some are models such as Tina Modotti, the Marquise Luisa Casati, Meret Oppenheim, Annie Leibovitz. Of course, we have granted ourselves some exemptions "he underlines" like Oriana Fallaci, Madonna, Peggy Guggenheim, very close to the world of art and aware of what it entails to stand in front of the camera, figures that do not they are content to appear like this, but with a particular idea and for which photography represents a means of self-introspection and self-analysis".
A story that begins in the Middle Ages
“It all starts ideally from the end of the Middle Ages” explains Simona Cossu again “when women were involved in the arts but in unrecognized crafts, such as the creation of manuscript miniatures. Then we arrive at the beginning of the 1900s, but women are still absent in the early days of photography.
Only towards the 1920s and 1930s did she manage to conquer her role ". Just think of Berenice Abbott, or Lee Miller herself, Man Ray's assistants and muses, who are not even mentioned in the American photographer's autobiography, despite his fame as a photojournalist. "The feminist ideal" concludes Cossu "begins to take shape in the 1920s, when photography is perceived as a means of communication for busy women.
Before, the woman always photographed the domestic environment and the dimension was that of the housewife, the woman finally faces the society, politics and culture that until then were the prerogative of men. In the 60s and 70s the female body becomes a controversial topic , as in the shots of Francesca Woodman or Nan Goldin. Marina Abramović in her self-portrait shows a star of David on her belly, then there are the images of Inge Morath, Cindy Sherman, Wanda Wulz, or the photos of Paola Mattioli.
The woman in commercial communication
"In the 70s the image of women was the one that passed through advertising and television" the Milanese photographer Paola Mattioli, pupil of the philosopher Enzo Paci and assistant to Ugo Mulas, in 2020 she curated Dior's autumn / winter 2020-21 campaign inspired by feminism.
"The photographs taken by authors like me tended to bring the female image back to normal, as opposed to the patriarchal stereotype that we still recognize today. In the 70s there is a great disconnect between what a woman should have been in the eyes of others and what she really was, we are experiencing a period of great freedom feminine, rather than a claim, in which the camera becomes useful and is used with great pleasure ".
She explains about a self-portrait of her present in the exhibition "That image has nothing static, it is in constant motion, it represents the desire to hide, not to want to be caught and defined. It is a shot that she wants to say: you will not be able to take me, I am elusive, unclassifiable”. Like any woman.
Cover photo: Deborah Feingold, Annie Lennox, New York 1983 – Courtesy photo