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We put together a list of 10 female photographers that we hope will inspire you. Many of these talented women have made their mark in the photo world and continue to make work that adds to the history of the medium and encourages the viewer to continue creating. 

We encourage you to have a look at our list but keep in mind there are so many more female photographers out there worth knowing with amazing work. 

Cindy Sherman is an American artist who plays with the construct of identity alongside visual culture and traditional visuals of the arts. When she was 23, she started Untitled Film Stills (1977-80) where she photographed herself in various settings and costumes to resemble scenes from 20th movies. Featuring only female characters, she uses cinematic conventions in the photographs. This series is her best known and has become a jumping-off point for discussions on feminism, representation, and how women are seen in the media. Many of her images respond to mass media – using images from advertising, film, television and magazine as inspiration for her art. In Sherman’s photographs, she is not only the photographer but also the subject, the director, the makeup artist, stylist and the hairdresser. She is still an active artist today and continues to dress up and create self-portraits to examine women’s roles in society and history. 

Cindy Sherman – Untitled Film Still #4, 1977

Annie Leibovitz is an American photographer known for her intimate and quirky celebrity portraits. In 1970, she began work as a commercial photographer at Rolling Stone Magazine where she became the first woman to be named chief photographer there. During her time at the magazine, she took her most famous photo featuring Yoko Ono and John Lennonhours before his death. From Rolling Stone, she moved on to Vanity Fair where she was the resident rock music photographer and developed a large body of work. Leibovitz was the first woman to have a solo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC in 1991. 

Annie Leibovitz – Whoopi Goldberg, Berkeley, California , 1984

Sophie Calle is a French writer, photographer, installation artist and conceptual artist. Her art is often a combination of photographs and writings – inspired by Duane Michals. Calle’s projects cover a large range of topics like intimacy, romantic relationships, grief, loss, obsession, vulnerability, and personal narrative. A major theme is public versus private – this leads her work to be voyeuristic and questions truth and fiction. One of her most famous series The Hotel (1981) involved Calle becoming a maid at a hotel. Their she photographed people’s belongings and rooms. 

Sophie Calle – Room 45 from ‘The Hotel’

Ana Mendieta was a Cuban-American sculptor, painter, performance artist, video artist, and photographer. Born in Cuba, Mendieta moved to Iowa at 12 after the Cuban revolution. As a graduate student at the University of Iowa, she began the interdisciplinary work for which she is known for today. Her early performance art deals with violence against women. She often used her body as the subject and object of her work causing herself distress or interacting with the natural landscape. Mendieta described her work as “earth-body” because she would use the silhouette of her body in different landscapes and incorporate natural materials like blood, dirt, fire, and water to address absence, presence, and interaction with the natural changes of seasons.  

Ana Mendieta – Untitled: Silueta Series

Originally from Kentucky, Stacy Kranitz has been living and taking photographs in Appalachia, USA since 2009. She focuses on the poorest areas of the United States. Her images are honest, intimate, and do not shy away from issues of inequality, class, or poverty. Her work in Appalachia is an ongoing narrative that addresses addiction, the decline of coal mining, the economics of the region, the lack of government support, and the negative portrayal of locals in the media. In recent years, Kranitz’s work has garnered worldwide attention for her gorgeous photographs that respectfully tell the story of her subjects without judgement. 

Stacy Kranitz – From the series As It Was Give(n) to Me.

Carrie Mae Weems was born in Portland, Oregon in 1953. She is a dancer, photographer, video artist, performance artist, photographer and social justice advocate. Activism is central to Weems’ practice where she explores race, sexism, political systems, family, class, and gender identity. She is influenced by other photographers that have documented the Black experience such as Roy DeCarava. In Kitchen Table Series, Weems is the main subject and explores womanhood. All 20 photographs in the series revolve around the kitchen table with different characters and props.  

Carrie Mae Weems – Kitchen Table II: Untitled (Brushing hair), 1990/1999

LaToya Ruby Frazier is an African American artist born outside of Pittsburgh in 1982. Braddock, her hometown, was an old steel town that had seen a sharp decline before and during Frazier’s childhood – this heavily influenced her photographs. Frazier’s work focuses on herself and her family at home in Braddock and the social, economic, racial, and environmental realities that come along with it. Not only is she an artist, but she is also a social justice advocate dealing with topics such as industrialism, Rust Belt revitalisation, environmental justice, access to healthcare, access to clean water, worker’s right, and human rights. 

LaToya Ruby Frazier – Andrea Holding her daughter Nephratiti outside the Social Network Banquet Hall, 2016-2017

Tracey Moffatt is an Australian Aboriginal filmmaker and photographer who has had over 100 solo exhibitions worldwide. Her work combines pain and humour with storytelling which has a narrative non-linear approach in both her photography and film. This leaves the viewer wondering exactly what is going on. Moffatt explores themes of desire, history, collective memory, structures of power, popular culture, and the way Australian Aboriginal people are seen in cultural and social terms. Her most famous series Scarred for Life (1994), addresses suburban life and how ‘everyone has a tragic tale to tell. In 2017, Moffatt represented Australia at the 57th Venice Biennale.  

Tracey Moffatt – Something More #1, 1989

Born in a traditional Muslim household in Morocco, Lalla Essaydi raised her family in Saudi Arabia before moving to France and eventually the United States where she now lives. Her work explores Islamic calligraphy, art, and architecture, the female body, art history, politics, public and private space and her own personal experiences. Essaydi’s photographs often combine Orientalist imagery from Western paintings to address the complexities of being a woman from an Arab background. She uses a diverse range of mediums such as photography, paintings, installation, and film.  

Lalla Essaydi – Les Femmes Du Maroc: La Grande Odalisque, 2008

Pixy was born in Shanghai, China and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She has exhibited and performed internationally. Pixy’s work explores gender norms within relationships, femininity, masculinity, intimacy, and Chinese culture all with a degree of humour. She often creates staged photos with her and her boyfriend as models. She draws ideas from the art history of mass media. 

Pixy Liao – Kiss Exam, 2015
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Open call

Festival submissions for Head On Photo Festival 2023 are open. Head On Photo Festival is an inclusive arts festival for all experience and skill levels.

© Tim Smith (detail)