Female in Focus: Meet the winning photographers

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This year, British Journal of Photography launched its inaugural Female in Focus award, with an open call inviting female-identifying photographers to submit their work to be part of an exhibition at United Photo Industries Gallery, during Photoville in New York. The aim of the exhibition was to bridge photography’s gender imbalance and to elevate the work and careers of women. The two winning series and 20 winning single images have now been chosen, and the first Female in Focus exhibition will open at United Photo Industries Gallery on 22 October 2019, and run until 15 November 2019.

One of the defining features of the exhibition is that there is no strict theme. Each image has been shot through the female gaze, a perspective that rarely frames the images we see. However, beyond that, the photographs vary hugely in style and subject matter, resulting in a diverse exhibition. 

The Sentinels from the series Smoke Bombs and Border Crossings © Nancy Newberry

Among the winning single images is Nancy Newberry’s photograph, The Sentinels, which has been taken from her series Smoke Bombs and Border Crossings, a contemporary Spaghetti Western staged at the Texas-Mexico border. “I have always been interested in the American archetype and particularly the notion of the Wild West,” says Texas-born Newberry, “And how its self-image is perpetuated in film and television.” Newberry’s series merges the tropes of documentary with dreamlike creations, to investigate notions of nationalism and community. 

Alongside Newberry’s photograph is Fiona Morris’ portrait of two teenage Meter Maids working on Australia’s Gold Coast – Hannah, 15, and Jessica, 18. Meter Maids have become a tourist attraction in Australia, where they have operated since 1965, topping up parking meters so that drivers avoid fines. They traditionally wear bikinis and heels, and many see the role as a stepping stone into modelling and promotional work, but they are often subject to derogatory remarks. “It interests me that society, and in particular male onlookers, didn’t question the appropriateness of older men leering so overtly at a fifteen-year-old,” says Morris. 

The Meter Maids © Fiona Morris

Female in Focus was conceived in reaction to the startling gender imbalance in the photography industry; while 80 per cent of photography graduates are female, only 15 per cent of professional photographers are women. British Journal of Photography set out to understand what was happening to these promising graduates, and to re-engage the talent getting lost along the way. The award is both an acknowledgment of the industry’s failures, and a celebration of the diversity of perspectives available to us. 

The artists behind the two winning bodies of work are Priya Kambli and Katinka Schuett. Kambli’s series, Buttons For Eyes explores issues of loss, memory, and the photographer’s hybrid cultural identity, by physically manipulating old family photographs and then rephotographing the altered artefacts. Schuett’s series, Cosmic Drive, questions how contradictory spheres of fantasy and hard science can be made visible.

View the winning images here, and see the photographs at United Photo Industries Gallery, Brooklyn, New York from 22 October to 15 November 2019 (opening hours are Tuesday – Friday from 11am – 6pm). The exhibition has been framed in partnership with Larson-Juhl.

British Journal of Photography has been championing photographers since 1854. Female in Focus is one of six awards dedicated to platforming the next generation of talent.

f you’re a woman-identifying or non-binary photographer looking to get your work noticed by industry leaders, apply to Female in Focus today

I am Working Hard from the series Buttons for Eyes © Priya Kambli
Dried riverbed of the Rio Tinto in Andalusia, Spain, from the series Cosmic Drive © Katinka Schuett
Poodles © Erin Lubin
Sausage Dogs © Vicki Couchman