Three photographs, three photographers, and the contemplation of the women by women.
It was while visiting the Stills Gallery in Sydney to see the works by Mary Ellen Mark, that I was totally struck by the ambiance of a photograph titled: The Damm Family in Their Car, Los Angeles, California, USA, 1987. (it is reproduced larger below)
Besides the stand out nature of the total composition, the car, the children, the hands around the woman, it was the faces on the mother and the daughter that glued me for much more than the standard time one usually spends with any work in an exhibition. Then I could not help but return to it several times.
While contemplating the look captured by the photographer, two other photographs lined up across my thoughts and I quickly envisaged the work of three women photographers being shown together.
The first photograph could be Dorothea Lange’s image of Florence Thompson that is now referred to as Migrant Mother. I still consider her original caption is worth knowing to understand the photograph: Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936.
Next I imagined looking again into the face of the three people in Vale Street by Carol Jerrems, 1975. There was a stand out exhibition of Carol’s work at the National Gallery of Australia recently that really pushed the boundaries on the appreciation of the photography of this artist. So many other exhibitions of her work tell just her story, this one was very much about the photography. It was a beautiful exhibition (curated by Gael Newton – wonderful person).
Finally there’s the image by Mary Ellen Mark as I saw it here in Sydney at Stills (wonderful gallery). Besides the look on the face of the mother, there’s that deep gaze from the daughter in the back seat. While joint gaze of the father and son and the mother has a particular nuance, they look off-camera whereas the daughter is looking straight at the camera – at us.
This is a photograph about the future of this family, they live in this car. More to the point, this is a photograph and a message from the daughter, asking what is my future?
These are three photographs by talented women, of other women. There’s a complex exhibition waiting to happen here of these three artists’ work.
For more on Vale Street and Carol Jerrems – click here
For more on Dorothea Lange – click here
Paul Costigan, 5 June 2014