Met's 'New Woman Behind the Camera' exhibit lauds female photographers

UPPER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (WABC) -- A new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art called "The New Woman Behind the Camera" features more than 200 photographs taken by women in the mid-20th century.

It is an attempt by the Met to give long overdue recognition to more than 100 female photographers from around the world who worked against the odds to give us their visions.

They operated in the decades between the 1920s and 1950s, before the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s.

The term "New Woman" came in after World War I, when more women entered the workplace.

Freedom for a few came behind a camera, but the show makes clear they faced considerable obstacles.

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"The New Woman Behind the Camera" speaks to us from the previous century, but her work was so ahead of its time that the images remain as relevant as when they were made.

"This has just completely expanded my view of what photography was at this time," curator Mia Fineman.

Women were both artists and commercial photographers, and some of the featured images are familiar with a handful of names are already well-known.

But a total of more than 120 photographers are represented in the show, and dozens of them all but forgotten.

"Many of these women just haven't been written into the narrative of photo history," Fineman said.

She noted that in some cases, men even got credit for the work of their female partners.

"Photography at this time was a male dominated field," she said. "And for women to move beyond, say, working at the front desk in a photo studio to working behind the camera really took grit."

A video made by the Met makes clear the odds faced by these pioneers.

"They thought I was just fooling around with the camera," Indian photojournalist Homai Vyarawalla says in the promo. "Just showing off or something, and they didn't take me seriously."

The global nature off the exhibit breaks new ground, but in one corner, the legacy of racism in the United States is all too evident.

"This woman's husband as just been lynched," said Fineman, pointing to an image by Consuelo Kanaga of Annie Mae Merriweather. "And this portrait, which is so soulful and beautiful, shows the pathos of her situation."

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There is much pathos to be sure, but also joy and beauty and much to cheer: A celebration of the power of the female gaze to give all of us universal truths -- and those truths come from so many different angles and diverse viewpoints.

The show runs until October 3. CLICK HERE for more information.

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