History confirms it – the first photobook was made by a woman, with British photographer Anna Atkins publishing Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843, a year before Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature. Still, many historians, including Allan Porter in his introduction to The Photobook: A History, dismiss Atkins’ work as “photographic prints” rather than photography.
“Unfortunately, this is far too often emblematic of the uphill battle women photobook-makers still encounter when we talk about their history,” says Russet Lederman, co-founder of 10×10 Photobooks. “As we conducted research for the How We See project, we discovered that although women photographers produce relatively equal numbers of photobooks to men, their representation in the higher-profile sectors was, and still is, disappointing.”
Lederman and her colleagues, co-founder Olga Yatskevich and director Michael Lang, found that between 2013 and 2017, 40% of the shortlisted photobooks for first book and dummy awards were by women. But when they looked at the shortlists for best book, author, or annual photobook of the year prizes, they found that it dropped to 23%. What’s more, during the same period of time, photobooks by women made up only 10.5% of the entries in the six major “book-on-books” anthologies, and in the online inventory of major photobook sellers, only 16% of the available titles were by women.
10×10 Photobooks hopes to change this by spreading a global awareness and appreciation of the women’s photobooks, both contemporary and historical. 10×10 has created a historical photobook anthology called How We See – Photobooks by Women, and will be opening a series hands-on reading rooms stocked with 100 books from the 21st century by women across Europe and Asia next year. Since setting up in 2012, 10×10 has offered several public photobook events and books-in-books, until now working on country-focussed projects on Japanese, American, and Latin-American publications.
For this project they took a global perspective, asking nine female historians, writers, and curators around the globe to recommend ten photobooks, six of which had to be be from their region; the remaining ten books included in How We See were selected by the female members of 10×10. The final lineup includes celebrated books by Laia Abril, Germaine Krull, Diane Arbus, Olivia Arthur, Sophie Calle, Maya Rochat, Zanele Muholi, Dayanita Singh, and Dragana Jurišić, among many others.
The goal is not to isolate these books, but to closely examine their content and design as a means of understanding their place within a more inclusive photobook practice. “Our projects are always shaped around many conversations and brainstorming sessions, as we try to define overlooked areas and bring fresh ideas,” says Olga Yatskevich.
“10×10 reading rooms is an invitation to discover and explore, it is a starting point. We hope that after spending time with the books people will be motivated and encouraged to learn more on their own.”
www.10x10photobooks.org How We See: Photobooks by Women reading rooms will pop up across Europe and Asia throughout 2019, with the accompanying publication available to buy at each event. Interested readers can follow updates on the 10×10 website.