Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

12 iconic portraits of women who transformed the American landscape

March 30, 2018 at 9:42 AM

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1978. (Lynn Gilbert)
Julia Child, 1978. (Lynn Gilbert)

I never planned on becoming a photographer,” Lynn Gilbert told In Sight this week. Gilbert, who just celebrated her 80th birthday and is arguably an icon in her own right, photographed famous women in the late 1970s for her bookParticular Passions: Talks with Women Who Have Shaped Our Times.” While the book featured a grand total of 46 women, 12 of the photos will be available from Throckmorton Fine Art at The Photography Show, next week.

When “Particular Passions” was published in 1981, it was revolutionary for shedding light on the accomplishments of women. In 2018, Gilbert believes the show is particularly timely.

Fifty-three years ago, Gilbert started taking pictures of her children. “When my children came into the world, everything changed,” she said. “I documented their lives and created a photography workshop out of the school my children attended.” Some years later, when the Pace Gallery commissioned her to photograph Louise Nevelson in 1976, she said her life changed yet again. And so began her “Passions” project to photograph women who were pioneers in their fields.

“Unearthing these women was not simple,” Gilbert said. “In the late 70s, the Internet did not exist. Information on groups of women was nonexistent. Ladies’ Home Journal published the first comprehensive list of 75 distinguished women in 1972, which included women like [President Richard] Nixon’s secretary, Rosemary Woods, and Rose Kennedy, whose positions were predicated on their relationship with men.”

Instead, Gilbert spent time identifying and finding subjects on her own. “First, I determined the disciplines — art, medicine, science, law and so forth — and then consulted experts in those fields and asked for their recommendations,” she said. “Some were well known, even world-renowned, while others weren’t but were just as significant in their own fields.” She set the criteria that each subject needed at least three referrals by solid sources in their industry before she would consider including them.

Throughout her process, her goal stayed consistent: to create a body of work that identified key women who were the first to create opportunities in fields traditionally dominated by men. “Change will continue, but these are the women who were the pioneers of this change,” Gilbert said.

Here are some of those women.

Louise Nevelson, 1976. (Lynn Gilbert)
Gloria Steinem, 1977. (Lynn Gilbert)
Betty Friedan, 1978. (Lynn Gilbert)
Diana Vreeland, 1978. (Lynn Gilbert)
Billie Jean King, 1978. (Lynn Gilbert)
Barbara Walters, 1980. (Lynn Gilbert)
Grace Murray Hopper, 1978. (Lynn Gilbert)
Joan Ganz Cooney, 1977. (Lynn Gilbert)
Lucy Jarvis, 1977. (Lynn Gilbert)
Bella Abzug, 1978. (Lynn Gilbert)

More on In Sight:

To upend perceptions of race, this artist explores face-painting traditions and masks

A photographer’s 7,200-mile journey following the mighty Mississippi

A photographer confronts racism in post-Brexit England and explores what it means to be British Asian

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

Karly Domb Sadof is an award-winning photo editor at The Washington Post, currently working on the national news desk. She is also a contributing writer for In Sight, The Post’s photography blog. She joined The Post in 2016.

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