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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Pioneering Women Photographers in Africa, 1930s-1970s

We are excited to announce a major project the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, is starting: In support of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, we will be digitizing and describing 14 collections created by women photographers in Africa! All of the women photographers were trailblazers in their respective fields and professions – art, anthropology, architecture, art history, geography, photojournalism, travel – and used photography as a tool for documentation, ethnographic field research, or ‘salvage photography’ to produce fleeting glimpses of what were perceived as rapidly ‘vanishing’ cultures and ways of life. These women exercised different cultural and social sensitivities when it came to photographing indigenous peoples in local and domestic settings.

These photographic collections include field expeditions by Marie Louis Bastin (Angola); Constance Stuart Larrabee (South Africa); Barbara Blackmun (Benin, Nigeria); Jean Borgatti (Northern Nigeria); Christraud Geary (Cameroon, Senegal); Marilyn Heldman (Ethiopia, Nigeria); Marilyn Houlberg (Nigeria, Haiti); Aylette Jenness (Northern Nigeria); Natalie Knight and Suzanne Priebatsch (South Africa) Betty LaDuke (Ethiopia, Eritrea); Lynn McLaren (Kenya, Tanzania); Eva Meyerowitz (Republic of Benin; Ghana); Marvin Breckinridge Patterson (Cape Town to Cairo trip); and Marli Shamir (Djenne and Timbuktu, Mali). Through the cataloging of these collections, we hope to inform the narrative of women’s history, address historical gaps in African photography, and advance dialogues about gender, power relations, and other understudied but crucial topics.

Each month we will feature a different woman from the project. Stay tuned – in November we will explore the life and photographs of Constance Stuart Larrabee!

Constance Stuart Larrabee and friend photographing among Ndebele women, 
near Pretoria, South Africa, 1936

Eden Orelove, Photo Archivist
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art

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