"Recollections: Ten Women of Photography," which began a crowded but rich one-month showing at the Corcoran this week, features 20 black-and-white works by 10 artists whose only ties to one another are age (all were born around the turn of the century) and sex. Their work spans 75 years of changing social mores and artistic tastes.
Long before modern attempts at liberation, when photography was still dominated by men, these true pioneers were wielding the new technology in innovative ways. The results, which are personal and poetic, never mind "feminine," embrace a range of subjects.
Guest curator Margaretta K. Mitchell notes in a stunning book accompanying the show, "It is a challenge to our iconographic memory to summon up images of great older women, to discover a positive, powerful image from our Western culture: a vision of the older woman whose strength of character, intellectual energy and artistic (or other) achievements in the world give white hair and wrinkles an unambiguous beauty." The portraits of these photographers hanging beside their work at the Corcoran aid our collective memory.
Questions hang over Ruth Bernhard's metaphorical depictions of female nudes, shells, plant forms, Lifesavers, a doorknob. Her "Dolls Head" is surreal: a bald wooden head is balanced in a mannequin's hand with a flat picture of a mountain landscape in the background. We feel disconnected, floaty, caught between human and dummy worlds.
Carlotta M. Corpron's light drawings, reflecting and distilling moving lines of light, are compelling early painterly abstractions, if self-conscious technical experiments. Lotte Jacobi's portraits of the famous -- Peter Lorre, Alfred Stieglitz, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost -- are formal studies, more interesting for content than for technique.
Barbara Morgan is famous for her collaborations with Martha Graham and other dancers. The double negative effects in her motion studies, riveting now, must have startled viewers in the mid-Thirties.
Laura Gilpin studies the Navaho people and southwestern landscapes. Berenice Abbott chronicles New York in the 1930s. Consuelo Kanaga's "Poor Boy" and "One of the Hundred Neediest," from 1928, show a humanistic eye; Nell Dorr reveals a romantic vision in several mother-and-child images. Two women who achieved acclaim as professional magazine photographers for 30 years or more, Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Toni Frissell, are included. Dahl-Wolfe captures two ripe, smooth eggplants, yin-yang in a bowl. Frissell's "The First Bikini," shot in Jamaica for Vogue in 1946, shows an itsy- bitsy, teenie-weenie polka-dot number, in black-and-white.
RECOLLECTIONS: TEN WOMEN OF PHOTOGRAPHY -- At the Corcoran through December 27.