Sometimes you need a woman’s perspective. That’s why the Newseum in Arlington is featuring “National Geographic’s Women Photographers: A Different Focus,” which opened yesterday and will run until at least December 2002.
The exhibition highlights the work of 40 National Geographic photographers, specifically focusing on the work of five women: Annie Griffiths Belt, Sisse Brimberg, Jodi Cobb, Karen Kasmauski and Maria Stenzel. The show also contains the first photograph in National Geographic taken by a woman (in 1914) Eliza Scidmore’s “Young Japanese Girl.”
Based on a recent book, “Women Photographers at National Geographic,” by National Geographic senior staff writer Cathy Newman, the exhibit includes 117 pictures of high visual impact that successfully capture five separate themes: “Insight,” “Women’s Work,” “Balancing Act,” “Lured by the Horizon” and “Incandescent Moment.”
“Every image in the collection talks about the people, the environment, the moment in a special way,” Newseum Managing Editor Margaret Engel says. “These women photographers have illuminated so many corners of the world that we wouldn’t have seen if not for their talent. The windows they open on the world are more important now, more than ever.”
The photographs were taken in many different countries, which helps the exhibit effectively promote understanding and acceptance across multicultural lines.
“We see ourselves in these photographs,” Ms. Engel says, adding that they inspire the viewer to “connect with humanity and the scene in a way rarely accomplished by words.”
Miss Stenzel’s photograph, “Ice From Below,” taken in 1995 in Antarctica, is an example of the quality work in the exhibit. Miss Stenzel, who lives in Washington, began her photographic career with National Geographic in 1991.
“The weather conditions made these shots of the ocean into extraordinary patterns that are framed beautifully,” Ms. Engel says.
Miss Cobb, also of Washington, began working for National Geographic in 1977. She has a work in the exhibit titled, “Miss Universe Contestant.” She took it in Hawaii of Wendy Fitzwilliam, Miss Universe 1998, who was a law student from Trinidad at the time.
“Jodi had photographed everywhere around the world,” Ms. Engel says. “But she said the hardest place to get access to was Miss Universe’s hotel room as she was getting dressed.”
From the moment Miss Brimberg lifted a camera at age 17, she never let it go. “I suffered from dyslexia in school,” says the Mill Valley, Calif., photographer. “A lot of ways for me to learn came through seeing and listening. I practiced being a photojournalist for a long time.”
“Young Wedding Attendant,” a photograph she took in 1990 in Manila, was her first picture to appear on the cover of National Geographic. She has published more than 20 photo essays in the magazine.
“After the photo ran, I got a letter from the father of the girl saying he didn’t remember giving consent to the cameraman,” Miss Brimberg says. “I wrote him back saying I was happy with the cover and that I was no cameraman. I was a ‘camera woman.’ I also reminded him that he gave consent.”
Miss Brimberg, who came to the United States from Denmark, says she has dealt with gender stereotypes throughout her career. Once she got inside the doors of National Geographic, she was determined not to leave. Now, she hopes other women will follow in her path.
“A successful photographer in people’s minds is always a male character,” she says. “But in reality, it’s female, too.”
Miss Belt went to great lengths to capture certain images throughout her career. Her photo “At a Pay Phone” depicts three Middle Eastern men, one with a machine gun slung over his shoulder as if it were a backpack. This image conveys the common nature of violence in that culture, which would surely shock others who are not from that part of the world. Miss Belt lives in Great Falls, and began working for National Geographic in 1978.
Being a female photographer has its disadvantages in certain cultures. “For a series Annie did in Israel, she had to dress up as a male to get some of the shots of Hasidic Jews,” says Cissy Anklam, the exhibit’s curator.
Miss Kasmauski’s photo of “Girl in the Fields,” portrays a contemporary feminine moment. Taken in Tennessee in 1986, it shows a Mennonite girl fashioning a leafy bandanna in a field of sorghum cane. The piece captures an unusual, whimsical moment in the life of people known for stoic religious traditions.
A casual viewer might not realize that the pictures were taken exclusively by women.
“I tried to make sure the selection left you puzzled over whether it was a woman or a man who took the photo,” Mrs. Anklam says. “Is there really a difference between a man and a woman photographer? Viewers can draw their own conclusions.”