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5 Unsung Women Photographers You Should Know

The infamous gender imbalance in the arts did not leave photography unaffected. Women’s contributions to photography dates back to  the 1800s and the list of pioneers in the field is endless. Charitable organisations, such as Hundred Heroines, advance public awareness of women in photography and investigate inequalities and social issues.    Often left out of photography books, the lifework of these 6 photographers is ground-breaking and inspiring. Let’s have a look!  

Marion Palfi (1907-1978)

Palfi was a social documentary photographer born in Germany who emigrated to the U.S. to escape the Nazi army. Once in New York, she addressed crucial issues in American society, such as racial injustice against African Americans, Native Americans’ living conditions and poverty. She realised the cover shoot for the first issue of Ebony magazine and worked on projects to encourage social change. She dreamt of a world where all people have equal opportunities, documenting protests for civil rights all over the U.S.

Check out her work here!

Anne Brigman (1869-1950)

Photographer, artist, and feminist icon, Brigman freed herself and the women she photographed from corsets and clichés, revolutionising female nude photography. Her photography focuses on capturing graceful silhouettes, elegantly immersed in nature. Anne Brigman represents the unheard voice of those women in constant need to fight for the claim on their own bodies: ‘my pictures tell of my freedom of soul, of my emancipation from fear.’ 

Check out her work here!

Ylla (1911-1955)

‘I don't have a country where I live that's my home. Fortunately, animals don't ask what nation I belong to.’ 
Camilla Koffler, known as Ylla, was a pioneer of animal photography. She always had a great passion for animals, taking care of stray cats and dogs since her childhood. In 1932, she opened a studio to photograph pets, under the name ‘Studio Ylla Photographies d’Animaux’. She travelled all around Africa and India and captured remarkable pictures of wild fauna. Ylla photographed animals as they lived in their natural environment, analysing a single subject for several months, in order to deeply comprehend the animal’s behaviour and thinking. 

Check out her work here!

Nancy Sheung (1914-1979)

Nancy Sheung was determined to break all the rules and conventions of her time. She rode a horse in the streets of Suzhou to get to school and carried a gun for protection. Sheung’s photography combined visually fascinating architectural patterns and deeply spiritual depictions of women. Equipped with her Rolleiflex camera, she portrayed female figures immersed in diamond shapes, stripes and curves. 
 

Check out her work here!

Mariana Yampolsky (1925-2002)

One of Mexico’s most influential and talented photographers, Yampolsky captured the essence of Mexico by dignifying agrarian work, praising the indigenous flora and people of the land and focusing on significant themes such as death, poverty and disease. ‘I’ve never been interested in expressing my own ego,’ the photographer affirms, ‘on the contrary, I was interested in reflecting a moment in the lives of people that others perhaps don’t see or don’t value.’ Drawing inspiration from Mexico’s unique folklore, many of her photographs can appear macabre and uncanny to the spectator.

Check out her work here!

Maria D'Aniello

UC London '21

BA Comparative Literature at UCL
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