The year in review: Photography

The world of photography in 2019 was marked by movements of change and activism, and expansive dissections of contemporary politics and the status quo. We also saw exciting experimentation in both images and exhibitions. Here, Diane Smyth looks back at the year

If 2018 was the year that #MeToo hit photography, bringing with it high-profile resignations from photographers and picture editors accused of inappropriate behaviour, 2019 was the year that greater diversity seemed to really bed in. Cindy Sherman got a huge retrospective at London’s National Portrait Gallery, and Susan Meiselas won the respected Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, only the sixth woman to have done so in 23 years.

Over in France, women figured large at Les Rencontres d’Arles, a year after the prestigious photography festival was called out for the lack of women in its programming via a letter in the French newspaper Libération. This year Arles featured both well-established female image-makers such as Susan Meiselas, Helen Levitt and Eve Arnold, and emerging artists including Pixy Liao and Alys Tomlinson, and it also featured a new initiative, the Women in Motion awards, designed to promote and recognise female image-makers, which was scooped by Meiselas.

Top image: Photo from A Girl’s Guide to Egg Freezing by Juno Calypso, shown at TJ Boulting in London in the exhibition Birth in October and November. Image © Juno Calypso; Above” Tunbridge, Vermont, US, 1974, from Carnival Strippers by Susan Meiselas. From the exhibition Unretouched Women, Les Rencontres d’Arles 2019. Image © Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos

Women photographers made an impact in other important ways with, for example, images from the 209 Women initiative – in which 209 female photographers shot the 209 Women MPs in the UK Parliament – bought into the Parliamentary Art Collection. This was a huge shift for a collection previously made up of paintings of men, as noted by Julia Fullerton-Batten, the photographer behind one of the acquired images.

In advertising, meanwhile, Collier Schorr shot a high-profile campaign for the Pharrell Williams adidas Originals Now Is Her Time collection, featuring artists and activists leading the way in arenas of gender, sexuality, race, and equality. The images feature Isabela Rangel Grutman breastfeeding her daughter Vida, activist and mother Tyra Mitchell with her two children, and heavily pregnant models Nada Vasiljević and Pania Rose, opening up the possibility that not only can women photographers take an equal footing alongside their male counterparts, so too can women’s experiences and perspectives.