Ellen Carey‘s research, on the contribution of women photographers to color photography, begins with Anna Atkins (1799-1871, England), the first female photographer and pioneer of color. Ellen Carey’s project is driven by the recent scientific discovery of tetrachromacia, a genetic exception found in some women who have 4 optical cones instead of 3, allowing them to see more color. The consequences of this discovery open the door to a reinterpretation of the history of visual arts.
The Women in Color exhibition was first shown at the Rubber Factory Gallery (NY, 2017); more European, the Parisian edition includes artists Claire Aho, Merry Alpern, Jo Bradford, Jo Ann Callis, Ellen Carey, Patty Carroll, Elinor Carucci, Susan Derges, Sally Gall, Meghann Riepenhoff, Mariah Robertson Chloe Sells, Brea Souders, Nancy Wilson-Pajic.
During her research Ellen Carey wondered “Where would color photography and women photographers be without the work of Anna Atkins?” Victorian Anna Atkins (1799-1871) is the first female photographer and the first to work in photography. color with the cyanotype, a method that Sir John Herschel had taught her, which she combined with the photogram of William Fox Talbot (1834), whose negative proofs – ghostly silhouettes of objects such as leaves and lace- , were drawn without color but produced sepia tones The contrast of the two works created a code: Atkins blue / feminine vs Fox Talbot sepia / male, reinforcing a division between the work and the gaze of men and women Another innovation of Anna Atkins: the writing in the work, delicate and filigree which reminds her studies in botany and announces the birth of the word art (the textual art) Ellen Carey defends the idea that the compositions of Anna Atkins’ sophisticated and elegant nudes precede abstraction and minimalism in photography. Her work foreshadowed artistic movements exploring off-field space; symmetry and asymmetry; a reduced palette of color; the dynamism of the rectangular frame; the line as form; size and scale; and a conceptual reflection around the final result. Fluids and sensitive, her creations have an immediate impact despite their small size. Anna Atkins published her photo book before William Fox Talbot. The New York Public Library holds an edition which was the subject of the recent exhibition Blue Prints: The Pioneering Photographs of Anna Atkins and the complementary Anna Atkins Refracted: Contemporary Works (2018-2019). The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam recently acquired another edition of the Atkins book.
Color is light, as shown by a rainbow and light, is the reference of photography (photos-graphs = to draw with light). The photogram and the cyanotype are transformed by nature; the term ‘sun pictures’ reflects and echoes the expression draw with light. Anna Atkins is thus a ‘woman in color struck by light’ – inspiration – and her work opens a debate about color and photography, structured by key concepts of object and form; visual and technological progress; innovation and gender. Recognizing the contribution of women photographers, collectively and historically underexposed, Carey completes a part of the information.
Yet women are well represented in photography, and many in color photography. “Why,?” Carey wonders? Are there any social, economic or political explanations? Historically, color photography is expensive and physically difficult to practice: by practicing it, do these women overcome social, economic or physical constraints? What role did photography play in this liberation? Why do women photographers choose color? Could there be aesthetic explanations? Is color more attractive or is color, historically misunderstood, still a ‘free field’ for women? In the same way, since photography is not considered an art, could women practice it more freely?
Another Victorian Lady Sarah Angelina Acland (1849-1930) continued the work of Atkins but with the Sanger-Shepard color development process. So we have the answer to Ellen Carey’s big question “Who was the first woman photographer? “It was a 19th century English woman, Women In Color: Anna Atkins, Color Photography, and Those Struck by Light, reframing the historical context of the color photographic work of women artists.
Recent scientific evidence of tetrachromacia shows the exceptional presence, in some women, of a gene that allows for increased perception of color. The perception of the color of these women is radically multiplied. In addition, daltonism is 20 times more likely in men than women. Would this discovery be the missing link in the history of photography and the role played by female artists?
From these new theoretical and gendered bases, the exhibition Women in Color reframes the debate provoked in 1971 by the essayist Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”, Today almost half a century later, and thanks to an important research in art and history, the framework of this debate has been enriched but prejudices persist. Openning a chapter of research called “raw woman” Ellen Carey hopes to contribute and revisit this topic.
“What is color?” Nature, innovation, wonder, creation, are entry points for the Women in Color exhibition: Anna Atkins, Color Photography and Those Struck by Light. Color structures the universe artistic and color theory (RGB = YMC) is the planet of photographers. Looking at different ways of looking, Ellen Carey’s research is multidisciplinary, between theory / art history, feminism / photography, aesthetics / technology, science / society. The artist’s own practice contributes to his reflections and Carey is clearly ‘a Woman in Color’: with her Polaroid Photography Degree Zero opus (1996-2019) and the one in photogram Struck by Light (1992-2019). In her writings Pictus & Writ (2008-2019) she wrote essays on Sol LeWitt (MASS MoCA), Man Ray (Aperture), and her own work (see The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology, exhibition and catalog orchestrated by The Foundation for Exhibiting Photography (www.fep-photo.org); and Mirrors of Chance: The Photograms of Ellen Carey, solo exhibition and limited edition catalog published by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (ACMAA)).
The “Zerogram” is the latest work by Ellen Carey, a series of photograms in color set up for her solo exhibition Mirrors of Chance: The Experimental Photography by Ellen Carey at the Miranda Gallery in Paris (2018); the series “Crush & Pull” presented in Paris Photo in 2018 by the JHB gallery, introduces her new photogram in Polaroid. In 2018 Ellen Carey was nominated by the British Royal Photographic Society, one of the 100 best female photographers in the world.
Ellen Carey is Associate Professor of Photography and Independent Scholar at the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford.
Women In Color
Anna Atkins, Color Photography and Those Struck by Light *
A collective exhibition with the works of fourteen artists:
Claire AHO, Merry ALPERN, Jo BRADFORD, Jo Ann CALLIS, Ellen CAREY, Patty CARROLL, Elinor CARUCCI, Susan DERGES, Sally GALL, Meghann RIEPENHOFF,
Mariah ROBERTSON, Chloe SELLS, Nancy WILSON-PAJIC, Brea SOUDERS
Curator: Ellen Carey
Women In Color : Collective exhibition
April 26 – June 15, 2019
21 rue du Château d’Eau