Special Exhibitions



January 12 – March 12, 2017


with works by e.g. Diane Arbus, Margaret Bourke-White,

Nan Goldin, Dorothea Lange, Lee Miller, and Ellen von Unwerth


A selection of over 60 works from the prestigious photo collection of CAMERA WORK AG gives an insight into more than a hundred years of the history of photography. It also comments on the lives and careers of 30 female virtuosos of photography.

Visual art writes visual history. This is reflected in visit to a museum: artworks give an insight into the past and let the beholder conclude on it. It catches one’s eye that mainly a »male perspective« on the centuries has been documented. Works of female artists are represented secondarily in most museum collections. Therefor, explanations are manifold.

Compared to painting the relatively young medium of photography has brought about some change: while men were able to attend photography schools from the 1850s on, at first there were no institutes open to women. However, this changed already at the end of the 19th century. In 1890, Lette-Verein opened Berlin’s first photography school for women and thereby became Germany’s first school where women could take professional photography classes. A second aspect contributing to that change was the rapid technological development of photography itself. For that reason, photography and camera operation became a mass phenomenon.

American photographer Gertrude Käsebier opened her own photo studio in New York in 1897. Two years later, her print of »The Manger« sold for $ 100–the most ever paid for a photograph at that time. Käsebier is one of the most influential exponents of pictorialism, a style of photography based on naturalism, impressionism, and symbolism which was popular from the end of the 19th century until World War I.

After World War I, pictorialism steadily lost ground to experimental photography which dealt with the mutually technical possibilities of photography. Female photographers like Berenice Abbott or Diane Arbus became accessible to different genres and had a great impact on forming a new way of seeing.

As a result of World War II, modern experimental photography came to a downfall, especially in Germany. »Some female photographers took refuge in apparently unpolitical regional-themed landscape photography,« elaborated Evelyn Schielke in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 23, 2001. By war’s end, artists began to focus on reality again. It were mainly female photographers who documented life among expanses of ruins. Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White became famous for their war and documentary photography of the late 1040s and 1950s. Lee Miller’s shots of the liberation of the concentration camps in Buchenwald and Dachau are among the most important photographs of the 20th century.

Female photographers also established themselves aside from war photography. They documented current affairs and also found their way into various work areas like fashion and  theatre photography, photo journalism as well as advertising and industrial photography.

Already in the 1920s, becoming a photographer had turned into a promising career option for daughters of upper class families, such as Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. From 1951 on, the daughter of a wealthy family wrote a column for Washington Times-Herald. Its name: »Inquiring Camera Girl.« Therefor, the young college graduate took pictures of residents of Washington, D.C. and interviewed them questions on current political issues. This experience and an assisting position at Vogue sensitized her eye for the power of images. Later on, her insight became extremely valuable for her future husband’s political career.

In the post war years, fashion photography experienced a renaissance and was further developed. Female photographers like Lillian Bassman and Louise Dahl-Wolfe contributed immensely to a new interpretation of fashion. Dahl-Wolfe’s style influenced the work of famous fashion photographers like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon significantly.

Photography has consistently allowed autodidacts to build up a career. German model Ellen von Unwerth, for example, found her passion for photography while being on a photo shoot in Kenya. She was soon able to publish her work in magazines like Elle, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. French photographer Bettina Rheims, too, first worked as a model before she began to work as an artist on such as topics of transsexualism and transgender.

A tour through the special exhibition »INQUIRING CAMERA GIRL–FEMALE VIRTUOSOS OF PHOTOGRAPHY« offers not only an insight into events and developments of this and the preceding century, it also illustrates the life and work of outstanding artists whose pictures shaped our view of the past and present.

Mark Shaw, courtesy CAMERA WORK
Mark Shaw, courtesy CAMERA WORK

Ellen von Unwerth, courtesy CAMERA WORK
Ellen von Unwerth, courtesy CAMERA WORK

Ellen von Unwerth, courtesy CAMERA WORK
Ellen von Unwerth, courtesy CAMERA WORK