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National Gallery of Art, Washington

The New Woman Behind the Camera

with curator Andrea Nelson

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‘The New Woman Behind the Camera’

In the 1930s, after a photo shoot in New York’s ‘skid-row’ Bowery District, photographer Berenice Abbott was confronted with the comment, ‘Nice girls don’t go down on the Bowery’. Her answer? ‘Well, I’m not a nice girl. I’m a photographer. I go anywhere.’


The opportunity to ‘go anywhere’ with a camera in tow enabled early twentieth-century women to access new freedoms. ‘What makes the ‘new woman’?’ was the guiding question our ‘Restoration Conversation’ organised in response to the ‘New Woman Behind the Camera’ exhibition, currently on show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.


The event, co-organised by Calliope Arts and The Florentine, saw exhibition curator Andrea Nelson in conversation with host Linda Falcone and revealed a time of intense change as a group of 120-plus women created photographs of calm and drama. From the 1920s to the 1950s, they carved their professional careers, whether on the front-line in wartime or inside the fashion-studio; from surrealist self-portraits to the depiction of collective events that changed history.


“The camera was a powerful tool for women to have opportunities that they didn’t have before: to earn their own livelihood and to express themselves personally,” says Nelson. “It also shows how women were depicting themselves and pushing the boundaries of certain genres in photography.”

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