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Eight Girls Taking Pictures: A Novel Paperback – June 4, 2013

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2012: We rarely hear grown women called "girls" these days, unless they've gone wild, but it was common practice in the settings for Whitney Otto's affecting portraits of female artists. The author, who has spun tales of women and crafts before (eight other ladies starred in her 1991 best seller, How to Make an American Quilt), takes a fresh approach here. More a novel in linked pieces than a set of discrete works, Eight Girls Taking Pictures introduces a range of protagonists in various eras and countries, each with a shutter-happy dream and an obstacle in the way of achieving it. These roadblocks take the form of men--unrelenting fathers, unsympathetic husbands--and social trends, including racism, homophobia, and aversion to the idea of females as creative. Otto's intelligent, sensitive approach to the plight of these women gives Eight Girls its appeal: Safe in our modernity, we trust that their talent will win out in the end. --Mia Lipman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Inspired by the careers of such ground-breaking photographers as Lee Miller, Imogen Cunningham, and Grete Stern, Otto combines her personal passion for the art of photography with her perceptive impressions of what life must have been like for those women who pursued their own creative and philosophical muses during times when to be anything other than a wife-and-mother was to be an outcast from society. Through loosely interconnected tales, Otto introduces eight exemplary fictional women photographers whose lives and works document the exhilarating intersection of early-twentieth-century art and feminism. Traversing the world from Berlin to Buenos Aires, Otto’s heroines find themselves both catalysts for and captives of changing times and values. From the makeshift darkroom of the pioneering Cymbeline Kelley to the Parisian portrait studio of Amadora Allesbury to the New York landscapes captured by Miri Marx, Otto’s photographers battle society’s denunciations and personal demons as they seek love, acceptance, success, and harmony. A visionary and distinctive look at the sacrifices and triumphs of daring women artists. --Carol Haggas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451682727
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451682724
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #984,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Whitney Otto is the bestselling author of "How To Make an American Quilt" (also made into a feature film starring Winona Ryder), "Now You See Her," "The Passion Dream Book," "A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity," and her newest novel, "Eight Girls Taking Pictures." "Eight Girls Taking Pictures" was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award.

Please visit her at her website:, and on Facebook and tumblr.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amelia Gremelspacher TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 17, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Above all this book is about the world of women in the arts. Otto introduces the reader to the world of photography and it's inherent ambiguities. As a printed reflection of a moment in time, it would seem superficially to be more representative than other art forms. Yet we learn tha tphotography, as all art, is never just one thing.
So it is with women divided between the traditional roles of helpmate, parent , and homemaker competing with the often selfish role of artist. The girls in the book are born into worlds from the early 1900's to the present. The cameras they use vary. The settings range from the farm to pre war Berlin. They are the proverbial free woman or wife and mother. But each must master the contradictions in their worlds. Reactions to photography can be extreme, given that the nudes are demonstrably real people. Otto does a good job of leaving some judgements for us to desolate for ourselves.
Otto describes the worlds of these women in such a way that one can taste the internal conflict inherent in each. The first story presents a young mother, left to care for two children and a farm, while her narcissistic husband travels for his work. Her own photography is often caught in the bind despite her own superior credentials. I sighed, thinking here is the classic woman's story. But Otto takes it quickly into her interior world and brought me in. Cymbeline, trained in Berlin, is the first cameo, and her views reappear through this book. I think that the vignettes set in pre WWII Berlin were most bewitching to me. The frisson between the exquisite glowing world of the growth of the arts and the looming of the Nazi end of it all, plays out in the world of the girls taking pictures.
Otto notes that this is not biographical, but she did draw heavily on her researched stories of some prominent women photographers. The aesthetics she expresses read true and brought me to a new view of this art form. An interesting book to experience.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Cate Garrison on November 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Once again, Whitney Otto has woven together, melding fact and fiction seamlessly along the way, a handful of lives in a space/time continuum where the common threads are art (specifically photography) and the role of women in society. Her subjects are fascinating both in themselves, and in their interplay. In particular, the image of the woman, once a world-traveler and now, having started a family, taking pictures only through her apartment window, haunts the reader for a long time (I can't stop thinking of The Lady of Shalott). Woman trapped...if trapped she is...not only behind a lens, but also behind a pane of glass? And yet the photographs are she happy with her lot?
Several of these women are recognizable as historical figures, others not. This is a glorious book, and I recommend it highly.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By guiltlessreader on December 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Amazing! This makes it as another of my favourite reads for the year. With the same appeal as Otto's How to Make an American Quilt, this is altogether bold, romantic, tender and outspoken. I loved everything about it and I could relate on so many levels, as a woman, and as someone who has always been fascinated with photography and art in general.

The novel is broken up into eight sections, each featuring a famous female photographer and her story. The obvious common thread -- photography -- is just one among the many threads that hold the individual stories together. Spanning decades (early 1990s to the present), across several continents, during various historical moments -- these themes are the stuff of our lives. I just breathed it all in! I am betting that women readers will be able to relate to one (or more) of the eight characters in some way.

Women photographers are simply ordinary women who face the issues all women do: the men (or women) who we love, fulfilling the roles expected of women (or breaking out of them), feeling comfortable in one's sexuality, children (or none at all), of wanting to carve out one's one path personally and career-wise. What makes a woman happy? What makes you happy?

What sets these eight women apart is their vision (and tempestuousness) to continue with their craft -- and do so with great courage and passion -- despite (or inspite) of the many hurdles. They all managed to make their mark in photography in rather profound ways.

Each vignette opens with a photograph which figures in the story somehow (and which I tended to flip back and forth to try and see the image through that particular photographer's eyes).

The first photographer's story opens with the photo of an unmade bed with some hairpins.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Heather Letarte on November 28, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Eight Girls Taking Pictures presents a snapshot of the lives of eight different women who have chosen photography as a career. I liked the concept, and enjoyed the read, but found myself skipping over large chunks of text many times, which is why I gave the rating I did. The parts that I skipped were overly descriptive and most were where the author felt the need to show how artistic her protagonists were by thoroughly dissecting their prospective photographs.............tedious reading with little value.....but that's my opinion. Other than that, it was worth reading........contains some history, lots of culture, and the human condition.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Annie on December 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover
From the very beginning,and with rich detail, Otto draws you in to these unique and engaging women,leading you to understand their motivations and conflicts. Otto's writing is eloquent, yet subtle--even suspenseful at times. The book raises themes of father/daughter relationships,modernity, independence, love, sex, balance--entering the current debate of "women can/cannot have it all." One of our best book club discussions.
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