Opinions & Features Workshop (Oct 26th)

Illustration by Noureen Elsayed

Exposure Photography Festival moves exhibits online

By Yasmine Elsayed, March 17 2021—

Due to the pandemic, the Exposure Photography Festival moved its exhibits online. The festival featured all types of photography — from portraits to landscapes, from aspiring photographers to professional photographers. 

The exhibit Anemoia: Nostalgia for a Time I Never Knew features works from seven women photographers each of her own time, each ahead of their own.

Each photographer has explored different styles of photography, each of them capturing photos of nostalgia. The photos uncover the daily lives of many people, portraiture and architecture. 

The exhibit features architectural photographs by Berenice Abbott, candid photographs by Esther Bubley, Fanny Foster, Gerti Deutsch, Edith Tudor Hart, Nancy Sheung and her amazing work in portraiture and the first female photojournalist in India — Homai Vyarawalla. 

The photographs were all taken in black and white, which truly encompases the reality and the authenticity of each image. 

The first series of images were by the Ohio born photographer, Berenice Abbott. Born in 1898, Abbott lived through many historical events. She was well known for her architectural photography, specifically during the interwar period. Abbott moved to New York City when she was in her 20s to study sculpting, but left university after only two semesters. She then moved to Paris and became an assistant to Man Ray, a visual artist, who was looking for someone with no knowledge of photography whatsoever. Before Abbott took to architecture photography, she used to take portraits of very influential people, especially when she was working under Man Ray. After expanding her knowledge in Berlin and Paris, Abbott returned to New York City in 1929 and was immensely surprised by the great change that the city had undergone. After the Great Depression, Abbott took it upon herself to document the city. This inspired her series, Changing New York. Anemoia showcased some of her well known work from that series. 

Candid photographer, Edith Tudor-Hart, was an Austrian-British photographer born in 1908, who was also a spy for the Soviet Union. Because of her position, she would document the daily lives of people, specifically the working class throughout the 20th century. She was trained in photography at the Walter Gropius School of Architecture in Dessau. Her communist ideals began to make an appearance in her photography and she weaponized it to expose the British government and their treatment to the average people. This forced her to flee to Wales to avoid political persecution and later to Brighton, England where she opened an antique shop as she could not live off photography alone. The photos that she took mainly in Great Britain were showcased in the Anemoia exhibit. While her intentions were to bring reality to light, her photos were just photographs of normal people in their everyday lives. 

Wisconsin born Esther Bubley specialized in expressive or candid photography of regular people in their everyday lives. She documented what American people went through in the 20th century as well as what being American looked like during that time.  She was mainly a freelance photographer and she was also the first woman to solely make a living off photography, after a great deal of struggle. Bubley was initially inspired by various magazines and this is when her love for photography began to grow, specifically in photojournalism — her main style throughout her photos. Bubley went on to study photography at the Minneapolis School of Art, now known as the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She went on to win many awards and she achieved great success in her dream career. Most of her freelance work, mainly seven photos, are currently being exhibited. 

The British photographer Fanny Foster was born in 1891 in South Wald, Great Britain. Her interest in photography was heavily influenced by Yugoslavian culture because at the time, she was caring for a refugee boy that escaped the Balkan wars. Because of Foster’s interest in the culture, the Yugoslavian government hired her to take photos of Yugoslavian people. She was awarded The Order of Saint Sava by King Peter the II of Yugoslavia. Foster’s photos documented the lives of people, specifically between World War I and II that changed perspectives of the people at the time. 

Gerti Deutsch was a photojournalist that initially wanted to be a concert pianist but due to an illness, she could not achieve that dream. Her photojournalism took off when she documented Jewish refugees arriving in London, as well as prisoners of war who arrived in the city. 

Homai Vyarawalla was also known as “The First Lady of Photography.” She was the first woman in India to make it in photography. She picked up photography in college and because she was a woman, had to publish either under her husband’s name or under a pen name. Homai credited her success to her anonymity which helped her quickly gain the attention of many publications of her time. She relied on street photography to represent her subjects and to bring Indian culture to light.

Finally, Chinese portrait photographer Nancy Sheung was born in 1914 and lived quite a dangerous life. She worked in an opium factory to fund her education. At the age of 44, she went to a European photography exhibit and at that moment she decided that she wanted to try photography herself. She heavily gravitated towards portraiture, especially contemporary photography as well as minimalist photography. She took a liking to geometric shapes and portraiture of women in 1960s Hong Kong. 

Final thoughts

Each of these photographers are absolutely amazing. They made do with what they had at the time and every single photo they took is timeless, legendary and beautiful. 

Although Bernice Abbott’s style is not my favorite type of photography, the context that surrounded her photos as well as the stories behind them, gave her pictures something that ignited a sense of wonderment. 

Edith Tudor-Hart’s photos were beautifully captured. They were photos of everyday people doing their jobs, playing or painting. There is humanity in these photos — they are almost effortlessly taken which adds to the beauty of each photograph. Her political motives were very clear, but she was a good photographer that accidentally captured something that is not politically based.

Esther Bubley’s photos were simply amazing. The feelings that were captured in every photograph put a smile on my face. Taking a photo is one thing, taking a photo with feelings is another. Bubley is an amazing photographer. Words do not encompass the beauty of her work. 

Fanny Foster was a different type of candid photographer. She focused on Eastern European photography, which was — to me — a bit different than what I am used to. She captured a lot more than just people — she captured cultures, traditions and the basic lives of Yugoslavian people. 

Gerti Deutsch was very diverse with her photographs. She mainly focused on women that were older, which is also quite different than what I am used to. Her photos did not make me feel any sort of specific feeling. However, they were very well taken. Her technique is really unique. 

Homai Vyarawalla is a photographer that needs to be remembered. Her photos were exceptional. They were one of a kind, different and overall beautiful. I really liked her exhibit, she fought through a lot to get recognition and I’m glad she did. The world would have missed out on her for sure. 

Nancy Sheung’s approach to photography is experimental in a time where experimentation was not favored. Her approach to portraiture, especially at that time, was eye opening. Moreover, the fact that she became recognized in her 40s made her even more inspiring. Her manipulation of sunlight to work in her favor was quite smart which made her photography exceptional. Finding the right buildings that create that sort of shadows, especially in a geometric manner, is extraordinary. She definitely set a very high bar when it comes to portraiture. 

The photographers mentioned above are legendary for a reason. Compared to photographers today, they are much superior. All they had was film and possibly a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera and they managed to take photos and broke the rules of photography that were set at the time. The photography community can be quite challenging and competitive as to who is considered a photographer — promoting the idea of gear over art or years of experience over the love for photography. Simplicity does not translate to a bad photographer. If these photos were not taken by memorable ones, current photographers would argue that these photos are good but not good enough. While viewing these photos, I realized that I go above and beyond with editing, composing and having the best lens rather than enjoy the actual act of taking photos. The community set standards that don’t necessarily need to be there. Anemoia proved that all you need is a camera that does the job, the photographer and that’s it. After all, the art of photography is measured by the photographer and not their gear. I would highly recommend that you check the exhibit out here.



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