There is no single female gaze. When women look at women, the gazes are as varied as the personalities of the photographers and their models – anyone visiting Johanna Breede‘s gallery this summer can see this for themselves. We encounter tender glances and encouraging ones, those that look cautiously behind façades and those that are thrown at a person as if casually catching a glimpse. On the gallery walls in Berlin’s Fasanenstraße, it is mainly silent glances from women to women that we get to see. Glances that do not impose themselves and yet sometimes penetrate deeply into the soul of the portrayed. Most of the female photographers whose pictures of women are shown in the exhibition are quiet observers. No big words are needed – and yet each picture is a dialogue between women.
For example, there is the dialogue between the artist Kate Baker and a woman who dances herself into a deep self-absorption. There is the dialogue between us as viewers and Franziska, a woman with Down syndrome. The well-known photographer Sybille Bergemann shows the young woman with a self-confident posture, wrapped in a golden robe. “Here I am,” you can hear her speak. “Look at me.” In general, emancipation and self-empowerment speak from many of Bergemann’s portraits. Like hardly anyone else, she knew how to give people visibility with her photographs. And then there are the dialogues from woman to woman or from Birgit Kleber to the people she portrays. As early as the 1990s, the photographer went into resistance against common ideals of beauty with her series “Women in the Hotel”. Her goal has remained the same to this day: “I want to release women from their object role in my photos.” Particularly impressive: her portrait of Ilse Bing. A female photographer photographs a female photographer, the hint of a smile disappears in the reflection, we are drawn right into the visual dialogue.
There is a female perspective in photography, Rita Ostrovska is convinced of that. Whether men, women, children or couples, she always tries to see the beauty in people. “But when I photograph a woman, I understand her better.” Even more so when it is family. The Ukrainian artist looks her mother and her aunt Nadja directly in the eyes with her camera, into two human souls with whom visitors to the exhibition in particular immediately enter into an inner dialogue. Yin & Yang – as human beings we carry both within us, according to Nomi Baumgartl. In the past decades, the photographer has dealt a lot with turned gazes in photography: “For me, the gaze is always a love story. It’s about exposing with a loving eye.”
Whether Lillian Birnbaum, Barbara Klemm, Miriam Tölke or Ulrike Ottinger – what all the artists in the exhibition have in common is their approach. We are dealing with fine observers who look at more than skin and hair and lascivious poses. The photographers sometimes wait patiently until the picture choreographs itself in front of their camera. Waiting instead of intervening. Capturing personalities instead of mere poses. Asking questions instead of giving answers. And in the best case, casually catching the moment when the people in front of their cameras inadvertently forget to play a role – even if only for a few seconds. Time enough for the artists to transfer authenticity into a photograph.
Valerie de la Dehesa
Gundula Schulze Eldowy
June 24th till October 14th 2023
Johanna Breede PHOTOKUNST