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In Real Life: Six Women Photographers Hardcover – October 1, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
Sills's (Inspirations: Stories About Women Artists) eye-opening introduction to a half-dozen strong, often pioneering women photographers focuses on how their lives, experiences and imaginations influenced their work. At the beginning of the century, Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) staged deliberate and stylized compositions that proved photographs could not only record real life but also "be an artist's creation." (O'Keeffe fans can't help but notice the similarity between Cunningham's photograph Magnolia Blossom, 1925 and the painter's close-ups of flowers; the two artists were contemporaries.) Dorothea Lange's (1895-1965) photographs, on the other hand, were deemed "documentary." Her work chronicling Dust Bowl casualties and the plight of sharecroppers during the Depression precipitated government relief in the form of food and improved living facilities. Lola Alvarez Bravo (1907-1993) wanted her work to lovingly "stand for a Mexico that once existed," as she photographed a post-revolution Mexico. She acknowledges a debt to her painter friends, such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Jos Clemente Orozco (who taught her about light, composition, etc.). For the three modern photographers included, Sills offers much less biographical information and therefore readers may feel more distanced from them. Still, she makes a strong case for the contributions of Carrie Mae Weems, perhaps best known for a series of photos that takes a critical look at the way U.S. culture views African Americans in "American Icons" (1988-1989); and of Elsa Dorfman, whose friendship with the Beat poets inspired her to record "everyday life." In perhaps the most accessible example for young readers, Sills makes the connection between Cindy Sherman's childhood love for playacting and dress-up, and her famous staged self-portraits, each of which hint at a mysterious story. Supported throughout by well-chosen selections of each woman's work, this attractive volume may inspire a new generation to take up the camera. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-A celebration of the diverse careers and artistic styles of six photographers whose work spans nearly a century. Veterans Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, and Lola Alvarez Bravo are featured along with relative newcomers Elsa Dorfman, Carrie Mae Weems, and Cindy Sherman. In an upbeat voice, Sills traces the women's early lives and the events that propelled them to explore the world with a camera in hand, often breaking down ethnic and gender barriers in the process. While she does justice to the biographical details of her subjects, her discussions of their individual techniques suffer because there are too few photographs. The chapter on Lange, for example, has only nine photographs, and while five of them depict her evocative portraits of Dust Bowl refugees, they fail to reveal the breadth of her talent. Chapters on Bravo and Weems include just six representative works of each artist. However, an excellent bibliography and list of Web sites will point readers to sources containing additional visual elements.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
With its strong feminist tone, the biographies show the struggles of women who must often balance motherhood and career, and choose between financial security and artistic freedom. Reinforcing this notion of sisterhood, Sills often uses the pronoun "she" to refer to all artists.
A sculptor and author of two other biographies on female artists, Sills lends her creative expertise to the passages. Her voice is one of lyricism, a refreshing approach for a non-fiction work. A few mistakes do surface in the text. The word "mission" is spelled incorrectly and there are a few inconsistencies with the verb tense.
The title offers actual examples of their work too-from black and white still shots of the early 1900s to the more abstract camera work of modern-day photographers. These images bolster the ideas set forth in the text. Unfortunately, some major works are included in discussion, but the image is omitted.
Some basics about cameras and words of advice for novices are included. Additionally, an extensive bibliography suggests further reading. The index is comprehensive, spanning three pages.
Indeed, younger children will enjoy the vivid photography. Still, this book is best suited for a fifth-grade or sixth-grade student, as they are old enough to understand some of the more abstract concepts, such as photography as a form of self-expression.
In Real Life: Six Women Photographers makes a great addition to any school or public library. The slender volume speaks to amateur photographers, those interested in the history of art, and young female readers who embrace "girl power"-making it one of those more-bang-for-your-buck books.
The book is organized around the concept that "cameras do copy which is front of the lens . . . [but these images are also] creations of the artist's intention and unconscious mind."
The essays are especially rewarding for their balance in explaining the artists' family lives, their relationships with the men in their lives, how they started into photography, their technique, and descriptions of their aesthetic values. Leslie Sills is pleasantly succinct:
Imogen Cunningham: "liked to examine life closely" and focused on "shapes, textures, patterns" in nature. She also captured the "essence" of people.
Dorothea Lange: The camera was an "activist tool" which "revealed the sufering of thousands and motivated others to help" during the Depression.
Lola Alvarez Bravo: Captured the real "Mexico after the Mexican Revolution" occurred there.
Carrie Mae Weems: Showed the "complexities of being human" especially in "squelching stereotypes" and "honoring African-American culture."
Elsa Dorfman: "Celebrates humanity" with her oversized camera that captures people to look more naturally like themselves than photographs normally do.
Cindy Sherman: Sees the camera as an "instrument to copy her constructed scenes" which are "puzzles that challenge her audience."
It has not been easy to be a woman photographer and these women succeeded because they persevered, as well as because they were so talented. Their stories are as inspiring as any I have read, and also tell an interesting tale of how your work can help you express your inner self.
Here are my favorite images from the book:
Magnolia Blossom, 1925
My Father at 90, 1936
Morris Graves, Painter, 1950
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936 (Series of 3)
There is a wonderful description of how this series was shot on a day when Ms. Lange was exhausted and had driven past the migrant labor camp in the rain before deciding intuitively to turn back and try her luck.
Lola Alvarez Bravo:
Por culpas ajenas, c. 1945
Elsueno de los pobres 2, 1943
The Two Fridas, c. 1944
Carrie Mae Weems:
Mom at Work, 1978-1984
Untitled (Letter Holder), 1988-89
Her work also included long interviews with her family.
Robbie and the Dinosaur Femur, 1970
Terri Terralouge and Aileen Graham, 1989
Untitled #224, 1990
Given that these styles are so different and so vivid, I encourage you to use this book to inspire you to create some art. It doesn't have to be photography. Whether you like to sketch, sculpt, paint, or make colored soap bubbles, give yourself the chance to live freer and take a little time to express yourself. You'll feel so much better, and the rest of us will be enriched by your gift.
Express yourself . . . to find yourself!