Pioneering Women Photographers

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by Miriam Silverberg

“At the forefront of history, these photographers enabled the public to see life, to see the world, to eyewitness great events.” Henry Luce, Founder and editor-in-chief Life Magazine

Pioneering Women Photographers

Just when we tomatoes are finally standing up for ourselves and speaking up, the NY Historical Society (CPW and 77th) has a wonderful exhibit, “Six Pioneering Women Photographers” all of whom worked for the old, late Life Magazine.  These prominent women photographers helped create modern photographic  journalism.  It features more than 70 images by Margaret Bourke-White, Marie Hansen, Martha Holmes,Lisa Larsen, Nina Leen and Hansel Mieth.  These were the only six women photographers employed by Life during its run as a weekly out of 101 photographers on staff.  Yes, you read that right—six women out of 101.

“At the forefront of history, these photographers enabled the public to see life, to see the world, to eyewitness great events,” to quote Life’s founder and editor-in-chief, Henry Luce.  For decades, Americans saw the world through the lens of the photographers at Life, the first magazine in the U.S. to tell stories with images rather than text.  These innovative photo essays became the trademark of the publication.  The exhibition provides context to this unique storytelling format through published and unpublished photos, including vintage prints, copy prints and contact sheets.  The back story of one photo by Martha Holmes is particularly interesting. 

On view are photos from the 1950s of mixed-race singer Billy Eckstine (remember him?) being embraced by a white woman fan.  Holmes felt it was one of her best and Luce told her to “run it.”  The story drew vicious letters from the public and the fallout damaged Eckstine’s career.

I loved this exhibit.  It’s on until October 6th and you should definitely see it.  In fact, you might want to see it more than once.


Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity agency in Manhattan. She may be reached at silverbergm@mindspring.com

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