I look upon youth in admiration and admire them for their curiosity about the world, their shape shifting, their ideas about the future.
Ever since its invention back in the 19th century, photography has been documenting life. At the same time, it focuses on inviting audiences to a rather subjective world, while trying to be taken seriously as an art form. Photography has always been considered a male-dominated profession, but luckily things are changing. Scholars, writers, bloggers, photography students, and enthusiasts have been giving due to the female pioneers of the field. Most of them were always standing and/or hiding in the shadows, oblivious to how much they could acclaim and accomplish. Arguably, the technique, concepts, and thematic female photographers use differ from those of male photographers. At a time when most women were convinced that their place was in the kitchen and certainly not in the dark room, there were those who were struggling to surpass their male counterparts and work towards gaining respect and recognition for their work.
Polixeni Papapetrou (Australian photographer, 1960-2018) was a celebrated photo-media artist whose work explores the relationship between history, contemporary culture, and identity. Her subject matter has included everyone from Elvis Presley fans and Marilyn Monroe impersonators to bodybuilders, and for over a decade, she explored the representations of childhood in photography, featuring and collaborating with her two beloved children in various series. Papapetrou originally trained as a lawyer, graduating with a BA/LLB from the University of Melbourne in 1984. In 1997 she graduated with a Master of Arts from RMIT University and in 2007 with a Ph.D. from Monash University. Her interest in photography was sparked in the 1980s upon meeting artist and teacher Les Walkling, whom she later collaborated with on the realization of her prints. From the outset of her practice, the themes of performance, dress-ups, and the representation of identity have been a recurring and progressing thread in her work. Polixeni's work consistently reflects upon the different facets of childhood and presents a picture of a more knowing child. Themes of her work vary from drawing upon ideas about the representation of childhood from 19th-century photography, exploring the power of masks and dress-ups, revisiting the experience of childhood in colonial Australia, reflecting upon lost freedom and the regulated lives of children growing up in the world today, looking at the magical affinity that children have with animals or looking at the roles that children mimic from the adult world. Papapetrou was the recipient of numerous grants from the Australia Council for the Arts and Arts Victoria. She was the recipient of the William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize (2017), MAMA Art Foundation National Photography Prize (2016), Windsor Art Award (2015), the Josephine Ulrick and Win Shubert Photography Award (2009), and the Albury Regional Art Gallery National Photographic Award (2003). Her work has featured in over 50 solo exhibitions, and over 100 group exhibitions in Australia, the United States, Asia, and Europe. Survey exhibitions were held at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne (2013) and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney (2011), as well as a retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (2019). She has exhibited in major international photography festivals including and her work is also held in private and institutional collections.
When I see my work in a gallery I often wonder how I got to this point. Sometimes the process of making the work feels like a blur, and I look at the work and wonder how I actually made it.
We will continue talking about female names that left their mark on photography and about contemporary female photographers who are still to emerge. There are a lot of female photographers out there deserving of praise and we can only hope to cover as many of them as we can. Please, follow this space to find out more.