Finished February 12
Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto
This novel has eight sections, each telling the story of a fictional woman photographer. Some of their lives are taken from real women photographers, and inspired by their work. Each section has a photo at the beginning, and the photo is part of that woman's story. The photos are real, and all by famous women photographers. While each story is separate, there are links between them. Some women visit the same places as previous women, or are inspired by their work, or meet them, or are linked to them in other ways.
The first woman is American. As the story begins, it is 1917. She married late, to a painter, but the marriage and motherhood didn't bring her the fulfillment she expected. She had studied in Germany, and had her own studio and a name for herself before marriage. We see her looking back to her earlier life, as she faces a crisis in her life that has her questioning her choices.
The second woman is English, one who finagled an apprenticeship with a female society photographer, and learned avidly at every opportunity, before opening her own portrait studio and then moved into advertising work. We see her from a young woman in the early 1900s through the end of the 1930s, much of that in a relationship and then a marriage with a man who is supportive by troubled.
The third woman is an Italian who emigrated to California in 1913 at the age of seventeen with her family. She lived a very bohemian life, first in California, and then in Mexico, where the rise of communism played a large role in her life. She was beautiful and impetuous, and loved new experiences. Here we see her in 1929 before we learn how she arrived to that life-changing point in her life. She started as a model and actress, and then moved into photography, urban images and then portraits.
The fourth woman is again American, daughter of an avid amateur photographer and wealthy candy manufacturer. She was unconventional and rebellious and raised in an unorthodox manner. Her story starts in 1915 and takes us through WWII. She too starts as a model, before moving into photography, first as an apprentice, and then having her own shows by the mid 1930s, and eventually into being a war photographer.
The fifth woman is a German Jew, and her story begins in 1927. She too has an unconventional upbringing, with a father who offered her the same advantages and opportunities as her brother. As the story begins, she is a window dresser for a large department store, but her innovations don't go over well. With a famous architect father and glass artist mother, she is able to apprentice to a good photographer and then study at the Bauhaus school in Dessau. She has a strong group of female bluestocking friends, mostly other Jewish women with careers. But the war interrupts her studio and advertising work, and takes her to a new life, first in London, and then in South America.
The sixth woman is an American, and her story starts in 1951 in Rome at the age of 29, and takes us into the late 1960s. She begin studying photography at the age of eight, encouraged by her mechanical toy-maker father and costume designer mother to choose a creative discipline.a developed a career taking photography assignments for magazines. Her stop in Rome on return from an assignment is to take stock of her life and decide whether to move in a certain direction. In Rome, she meets a woman who becomes her model and muse, and a friend who encourages her through her next stage of life. We see her domesticity and the creative way she uses her circumstances.
The seventh woman is also American, a woman whose romantic entanglement has led her into a partnership with her lover that isn't entirely satisfying. As she takes photos for a project on women and gender views, with her lover late for a shoot, she has a conversation with her model that has her making new decisions for her life. Her story is in the early 1970s.
The last woman is also American, but a woman who is most comfortable in the small town she grew up in, taking pictures of her children, her life, her surroundings. She asks for help in learning about the old camera her father bought her, and her skills bring her both admiration and notoriety as her career takes off in the late 1980s.
I really enjoyed these women's lives, their interaction with other creative people, and the men (and women) in their lives. It was interesting to see how reactions to some things grew more conservative over time, and other things became commonplace. This is a story of women artists, varied but all passionate and serious about their work.