The New Woman International – Review by Brooke Duffy

New on the shelves is The New Woman International: Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s through the 1960s, edited by Elizabeth Otto and Vanessa Rocco. Rocco, formerly an assistant curator at the International Center of Photography, has also taught a history of photography class at the ICP School, and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Pratt Institute. ICP curator Kristen Lubben contributes to the book with her essay “A New American Idea: Photography and Amelia Earhart”.

Before reading The New Woman International, I confess that I did not have much familiarity with the term “New Woman”, except the general associations of suffragette and flapper. The forward by Linda Nochlin and introduction by Otto and Rocco confirm these notions of the New Woman: cigarette-smoking garcon, Louise Brooks, sexually adventurous flapper and party girl, and the Weimar New Woman. Having established this, the essays plunge into less-chartered historical territories such as the New Woman in India, Mexico (“the flapperista!”), and Japan, exposing the sinuous relationships between women and photographic media since the 1870’s.
Some images show women eroticized and objectified, but in new, challenging ways, bucking social mores. Others depict women shirking gender roles in various ways, including wearing men’s clothes, doing men’s work, or engaged in erotic acts with other women. Other essays explore woman-made images such as the photomontages of Hannah Höch and Marianne Brandt, artists who used magazine and newspaper clippings to investigate and critique modernism, society, and their own experiences as New Women.

For me, the compelling collection of photographs and film stills is the heart of the book. Not only are these images rich with meaning, they are raw and scintillating, fascinating to gaze at even decades later. This book is particularly relevant in this current era, in which it is more important than ever for us to be adept at analyzing messages in visual media.  This is a necessary and potent text for anyone interested in visual culture and feminism. You will find yourself referencing it again and again in your research and image-consuming.

The New Woman International :  Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s through the 1960s / Elizabeth Otto and Vanessa Rocco, editors ; foreword by Linda Nochlin.
TR681.W6 .R63 2011

Brooke Duffy, intern at the ICP Library, is a graduate student of Art History and Library and Information Science at the Pratt Institute. She has a BFA in Photography from the Hartford Art School.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s