Friday, October 03, 2008


It was one of the great pleasures during my work producing the programme for the London Festival of Tantra (see Previous Posts) to discover the work of Jennifer Esperanza on the theme of the Goddess.

This Santa Fe-based photographer has a beautiful, sophisticatedly simple eye and her photographs of women are quite simply superb. They manage, by turns, to be strong, emotional, erotic, graceful and elegant, playful and serious.

She has a wonderful sense of colour and composition and it is clear that the images are infused with a deep spirituality and social commitment; the book includes peace activists and pictures Esperanza took India after the tsunami.

She has now produced a wonderful book 'Tears of Venus' through print-on-demand company Blurb, which you can buy directly from them. The images in it are stunning on the pdf she sent me. On the phone, she tells me the print quality in the book is first-class.

In the introduction she writes: ' The women in this book are like wild flowers that grow between the cracks in the sidewalk, strong and free. They are living aspects of the Goddess. Working with each of them was an honour. I enjoy to photograph and work with other women. To share with them an appreciation of their own bodies and souls, as they help me to heal my soul. We made these photos toether to control the world of control and shame; to shake and shift time. We worked together to pull back the walls and free ourselves in the act of worshipping her, the Goddess.'

You can also get a look at her work on Flickr, where she has a portfolio of images, entitled Its All the Goddess In Me, some of which are included in this book.

The theme of this post also gives me a chance to recommend some previously-published books from The Generalist's library that address similar themes.

I have had Return of The Great Goddess for years (first published in 1986) and have often gone back to it for further investigation. It is a beautifully produced pocket-size anthology of images and quotes on the theme of the title. The images include photos, sculptures, illustrations, artworks of all kinds accompanied by literary extracts, pithy spiritual thoughts, poems, short essays. The combination is inspiring, eye-catching and food for thought.

Edited and created by Burleigh Mutén, the Introduction begins: 'After a five-thousand-year reign of malee icons in the Western world, we have the exhilarating privilege of witnessing a global re-appearnce of the Divine Feminine in the arts and in religious ceremony. Women's history suddenly reveals a legacy of authority, leadership, and wisdom, dating back some thirty thousand years, inspiring a new integrity in the women of this cendtury and in our daughters and sons and their daiughters and sons to come.'

The Intro is prefaced with a quote from Rilke, one of my favourite poets: 'You must give birth to images/They are the future waiting to be born.'

(Left): The artist and sculptor Louise Bourgeois by Annie Liebowitz

Another favourite of mine is Women, a photobook by Annie Liebowitz with introductory essay by Susan Sontag, published in 1998.

One of the world's most famous women photographers, who carved a career at Rolling Stone and is now top photographer at Vanity Fair, Liebowitz's work is of course extremely well-known and largely celebrity driven. Her pictures demand attention. 'Women' is my favourite of her books because she draws together images of women of all ages, ethnicity and social situations to construct a book that challenges our notions of the feminine.

In the intro, entitled 'A Photograph Is Not An Opinion, Or Is It?', Susan Sontag writes: 'This celebration of variety, of individuality, of individuality as style, saps the authority of gender stereotypes, and has become an i9nexorable counterforce to the bigotry that still denies women more than token access to many occcupations and experiences. That women, in the same measure as men, should be able to fulfill their individuality is, of course, a radical idea.'

Leibowitz and Sontag had a decade-long relationship and the photoshow of this book in Washington DC contained many personal pictures of Sontag, including some 'showing her battle with cancer, her treatment, and ultimately her death and burial.' [Wikipedia]

Finally, mention should be made of the fine, seminal work done by Whitney Chadwick into the history of women in art. Two of her key books are 'Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement' and 'Women, Art and Society.' Also important is 'Significant Others: Creativity and Intimate Partnership' which she edited with Isabelle De Courtivron, insightful profiles of famous artistic partnerships, including Rodin and Camille Claudel.

This is an extremely good set of links to Women in Art sites
It includes the National Museum of Women in the Arts

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