“You can’t tell the sex of the photographer by the photograph. A camera image is either good, bad or mediocre.”— Laura Gilpin
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — Famous German painter Hans Hoffmann once complimented influential abstract expressionist painter Lee Krasner, “This is so good you wouldn’t know it was done by a woman.”
Like other art media, photography has also historically been male-dominated.
To date, work by women artists makes up only 3 to 5 percent of major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe. From 2007–13, only 27 percent of those 590 major exhibitions by nearly 70 institutions in America were devoted to women artists, according to the National Museum of Women in the Arts website.
Beginning June 24 the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) will add to that percentile, presenting its summer exhibition “Women in Photography” through Oct. 1.
The group exhibition displays the personal visions and stories of 10 women artists in the Puget Sound region, and showcases a variety of techniques including traditional darkroom, Polaroid and digital photography; pinhole camera; “living photographic prints” using cyanotype medium; conceptual filmmaking; interactive installations; and Instagram feeds.
The artists are diverse in their artistic processes, content, age and ethnicity. Although this exhibit is not comprehensive or reflective of the entire field, it showcases a broad range of ideas and talent. The artists range from emerging artists in their mid-20s to masters in their 90s.
Artists include Megumi Shauna Arai, Ashley Armitage, Marsha Burns, C. Davida Ingram, Marilyn Montufar, Janet Neuhauser, Mary Randlett, Meghann Riepenhoff, Heather Boose Weiss and Linda Wolf.
The show, co-curated by BIMA Chief Curator Greg Robinson, Curatorial Assistant Amy Sawyer, and Wolf, is said to be unlike past exhibitions in content and display.
“We’re literally looking at careers with differences in 70 years,” Robinson said. “We are excited for BIMA to foster a dialogue about these women artists and their work, and to offer this chance to expand our personal experiences with, and notions of, photography.”
The multi-level show will feature between 40-50 pieces of art in the roughly 3,000-square-foot Rachel Feferman Gallery (the museum’s largest gallery space). However, the complete show is expected to consume most of the 4,000-square-feet of dedicated space embodying sections of BIMA’s main lobby and the Beacon Gallery.
The space, with ample amounts of natural light, creates an interesting dynamic. Unlike past exhibitions, a monochromatic color scheme — ranging in tones from white, charcoal gray, black and beige — will present the works in a serious, contemplative manner.
“We’re toning the museum down for this show,” Robinson said. “The whole idea behind it is the beauty and the seriousness, but pay attention to the subtle humor in it as well.”
Robinson, who’s been working in the visual arts world for more than 25 years, said there’s a lot of discovery in this show.
“It’s evolving very organically,” he said. “The photographer is literally capturing not just what they’re seeing but also what they’re thinking. We’re learning what that means. How do you vocalize something so visual? We need to help translate their visual expression to the public.”
Works will be displayed in a variety of ways, ranging from the biggest (a 20-foot-long series of “living prints” by Meghann Rippenhoff, in the Beacon Gallery) to smaller, contemporary photographic images by C. Davida Ingram.
Select images by Ingram are printed on transparent fabric, free flowing in front of a black textile background, while other pieces are conventionally framed.
“She wanted some movement to her work, almost like a ripple effect,” Robinson said. “Collectively, we’re trying to understand the artist’s intent. It’s my job to digest what they want to present and come as close as possible to achieve their vision.”
Robinson, working with Wolf, said the idea emerged when she approached him for a photography show nearly a year ago.
“I think [this show is] a little bit out of our comfort zone,” he said.
The nonprofit organization is celebrating its fourth anniversary this year and, Robinson said, “We can be in a bit more thoughtful, playful mode. As a curator, we can provide a discussion and see what types of conversation take place from it.”
In an attempt to engage as many people as possible in one show successfully, a viewer discretion area in the Rachel Feferman Gallery will house more controversial works.
“For some women in the show, it’s really about the identity of the body and notions of beauty and body image,” Robinson said. “Those are important aspects in the work of the artists.”
Wolf has several pieces featured in the viewer discretion area, including one of her newest pieces, “Pussy Hat,” a physically ambiguous underwater portrait.
Wolf has made several prints of the piece, and already has sold one.
Of the meaning of the piece, she said, “It means everything to me to encourage women’s voices, women’s authenticity and women’s self-expression. I hope they stand in front of it and vibrate with the reality that we women are absolutely empowered to have our own agency in this world.”
As a participant in the second-wave feminist movement, Wolf has spent extensive time studying the role of women in the art world. From the 16th–19th centuries, women were barred from studying the nude model, which formed the basis for academic training and representation, she said.
“The hidden story of photography has something to teach us now,” she said. “Women worked alongside their husbands in 1839 when the photograph was first created but were never recognized … Being able to express these facts as well as what they mean today is essential to women as a gender.
“In the climate of culture today, there is an uprise of misogyny, racism and homophobia. That makes it, for me, personally, an important time to speak out,” she added. “We’re in a paradigm shift between dominance and partnership. I want to see a partnership — power with, rather than power over.”
Robinson added, “There almost seems to be permission for forms of hatred to emerge out from under the rug.”
Korum Bischoff, marketing director of BIMA, said the show is not political in any sense, but the co-curators wonder what the reaction from visitors will be.
“I think this could be a lasting experience,” Robinson said. “The world is changing so rapidly and content of artwork is changing from three to 15 years ago. Photography is, in some ways a more visual, cultural way to learn the way that people truly see things.”
Wolf added, “The future is written by what we validate. When we are validated for our perspectives, it affects cultures going forward. The future gets created by the way we imagine, see and mythologize the world. This will have an affect on the future.”
The art museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; admission is free. BIMA is located at 550 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island. Online, go towww.biartmuseum.org.
Meghann Rippenhoff, an artist in the show, works with the cyanotype process (a similar process to the early cyanotypes made by the first female photographer, Anna Atkins). By combining chemistry with the natural elements, Rippenhoff is able to create works that ever-change from the elements it’s exposed to.
“From the very beginning, photography has been redefining itself from materials available,” Rippenhoff said. “The exciting thing about photography is it’s in a constant state of change. The medium is always redefining itself based on new technologies and developments.”
Rippenhoff’s featured piece in BIMA’s Beacon Gallery — three 20-foot-long hanging strips from her “Littoral Drift” series — is the largest work in the show.
The works created on Bainbridge are, according to Rippenhoff, an example of the changing nature of the landscape.
“I wanted to go back to the shoreline and take this antiquated process and use it in a new way and point back to place and the significance of work coming out of this region and let it be impacted by chance,” she said. “They’re never fully fixed and always susceptible to the environment around them. The changing nature of photography reflects the changing nature of the landscape and how nature of life itself has changed.”
“We find ourselves as creative people with all of these amazing voices,” Rippenhoff said. “We wanted to bring the focus back to women and how they’ve traditionally been omitted from the history of art and especially photography.
“This show features the various styles of women of the Pacific Northwest, it’s a nice range of women in a variety of age groups. It shines a light on people working in the field of photography, all based in this region in some way.”