Hanna Putz, Catherine Opie & More Female Photographers to Watch (Photos)

From invisible Iranians to dealing with an overweight body, see works from female photographers to watch.

(c) Hanna Putz

(c) Hanna Putz

Hanna Putz

“Untitled” (Nave 2), 2012.


Mallarme said that everything in the world exists in order to end in a book. Today everything exists to end in a photograph.” —Susan Sontag


Hanna Putz nurtured her awareness as a photographer, starting out as a model in front of the camera. Echoing Sontag’s sentiment, she has looked for ways to shake up the “permanent posing” of her generation. In creating portraits of friends who had recently given birth to their first children, she noticed a remarkable shift in awareness. “Their attention is mainly on their child, and [they] are also in some kind of a transitional phase, as they are adjusting to the new role that has just been given to them,” said Putz in an interview with British Journal of Photography.


The following gallery observes femininity through the lens of the female photographer, featuring work from 15 talented women who represent a range of remarkable awareness as lovers, daughters, mothers, and artists foremost.

(c) Alessandra Sanguinetti, courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Alessandra Sanguinetti

“The Models,” from the series The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams, 2000. 


In the late 1990s, New York–based Alessandra Sanguinetti was photographing animals at her father’s farm in rural Argentina when a pair of cousins named Guille and Belinda kept getting in the way. “Beli and Guille were always running, climbing, chasing chickens and rabbits,” Sanguinette told The New Yorker. “Sometimes I’d take their picture just so they’d leave and stop scaring the animals away, but mostly I would shoo them out of the frame.” Then in the summer of 1999, Sanguinetti found herself spending every day with the girls—and began photographing them instead. The series that followed, The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams, captures the cousins over the first few years of their acquaintance with Sanguinetti, in a variety of make-believe scenarios, including pretending to be journalists, or at funerals, or imitating da Vinci paintings. This photo, “The Models,” was taken in 2000 and was part of an exhibition at Yossi Milo Gallery in 2004.

(c) LaToya Ruby Frazier; Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

LaToya Ruby Frazier

“Grandma Ruby and Me,” from the series A Haunted Capital, 2005.


LaToya Ruby Frazier’s series ‘A Haunted Capital’ documents the decline of her hometown, Braddock, Pennsylvania, through 40 photographs, including many of her family. Braddock, which was home to one of America’s first steel mills, now has a population of less than 2,500 and has been declared a “distressed municipality.” This photo, taken in 2005 and titled “Grandma Ruby and Me,” is part of an exhibition of Frazier’s work on display at the Brooklyn Museum from March 22 to August 11 this year.

(c) Elinor Carucci

Elinor Carucci

“Kissing my son,” 2007.

“Holding Emmanuelle,” 2008.


Israeli-American photographer Elinor Carucci often uses her own body and relationships as subjects for her work. In her series Born, Carucci unflinchingly records the process of becoming a mother to twins—both through what she has described as traditional “Madonna and child” portraits and photos of the rawer, more difficult parts of motherhood. “You’re tired, the constant need to breastfeed them. This I feel is less documented in photography and I’m shocked at how those moments live side by side,” she told Time. “Kissing my son,” on the left, was taken in 2007, and “Holding Emmanuelle” was photographed in 2008. The series has now captured Carucci’s relationship with her children over the course of nine years and will be published in a collection entitled Mother by Prestel next winter.

(c) Katy Grannan, Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco and Salon 94, New York

Katy Grannan

“Anonymous,” San Francisco, 2010.


In Katy Grannan’s Boulevard series, taken while Grannan roamed around Los Angeles and San Francisco from 2008 to 2010, she captures in minute detail the personalities you might not otherwise give a second glance to on the street. But by placing them against a white stucco wall in stark California sunlight, Grannan forces you to soak in some of the street’s most fascinating characters: performers and celebrity impersonators; a sunburned, shirtless man with a rabbit in each hand; a frowning older man with a high blond ponytail and red lipstick. Or, as in this photo (titled “Anonymous,” like all the others in the series), a woman coyly showing off her wrinkled legs. Boulevard went on display at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery in 2011.

(c) Newsha Tavakolian

Newsha Tavakolian

“Sahar Lotfi,” from the series Listen, 2010.


Self-taught Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian captures female singers, ordinarily banned from performing on their own or producing albums because of regulations installed after the 1979 Iranian revolution, as if they are performing for an adulating crowd: eyes closed, in midnote. In reality, the singers’ photos (several of them shot as potential CD covers) were taken in a small private studio in Tehran. This photo depicts the singer Sahar Lotfi. “For me, a woman’s voice represents a power that, if you silence it, imbalances society and makes everything deform,” Tavakolian wrote on her website. “The project ‘Listen’ echoes the voices of these silenced women. I let Iranian women singers perform through my camera while the world has never heard them.”

(c) Claudine Doury

Claudine Doury

“Sasha,” 2007.


To French photographer Claudine Doury, photographing women is a means to understand the world. “It is important to me to be close to people I photograph … Whenever it is possible, I live with them for some time, I share their lives, their activities, their emotions. That is also the only way for me to feel allowed to take their pictures.” She has applied this to her work in Siberia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and beyond—and she brings the same philosophy to this series of photos, chronicling her daughter Sasha’s transition through adolescence. Put on exhibition in 2012 at Paris’s La Galerie Particulière, “Sasha” captures Doury’s daughter in fantasylike forest settings, standing in a cloud of dry ice or cocooned in grass—as well as in heavier settings, such as in her living room with her head trapped inside a bell jar, or with a long braid of her blonde hair chopped off and preserved in a wooden box.  

(c) Jen Davis, courtesy Lee Marks Fine Art

Jen Davis

“New Haven bedroom,” 2006.


Jen Davis spent her earliest years as a photographer capturing what she later described as “self-portraits, except I wasn’t in them.” Her subjects seemed lonely and isolated—then, at age 23, Davis decided to step in front of the camera as a way to address her own battles with loneliness and isolation. This turned into a decadelong project, where she shot hundreds of images of herself—extra weight and all the rest of the insecurities. Some depicted fantasies (a man wrapping his arm around her in bed), while others captured everyday difficulties (a closeup of her fingers struggling to button a tight pair of jeans). But after 10 years of seeing no change in either her body or the sadness present in her photographs, Davis underwent Lap-Band surgery and lost 95 pounds. This photo, simply called “New Haven bedroom,” was taken while she was working toward an M.F.A. at Yale in 2006.

(c) Malerie Marder, courtesy of Violette Editions

Malerie Marder

“Past Present,” 2007, from Carnal Knowledge, published 2011.


Though Malerie Marder frequently appears within her own work, this photograph (taken in 2007 and called “Past Present,” included in a 2011 monograph titled Carnal Knowledge, published by Violette Editions) is a portrait of an actress recreating the severe bruising Marder suffered after a fall. “I used to have anxiety about my pictures exposing things too private,” Marder wrote in an email conversation with Philip-Lorca diCorcia. “But the real intimacies are censored out. I still get pangs of self-consciousness, but it’s too late for regret.” Ambiguity, fate, eroticism, nostalgia, awkwardness, narcissism, transiency: these are just some of the emotions Marder felt as she took the photos in Carnal Knowledge.

(c) Martina Hoogland Ivanow

Martina Hoogland Ivanow

From the series Satellite, 2010.


Stockholm-based photographer Martina Hoogland Ivanow describes this award-winning series thusly: “‘Satellite’ deals primarily with questions and thoughts about alienation and community, but I also see the project as a reason to investigate a seemingly ever-growing phenomenon, or perhaps partly a growing need among young people to seek out other options of living.” Even normally rambunctious scenes like an outdoor barbecue become overwhelmingly silent and enigmatic because of the photograph’s dim lighting and its subjects’ lack of discernible facial features. Ivanow says this is meant to inspire both wonder and insecurity in the beholder. In this untitled photo from Satellite, two girls face each other, the exact nature of their exchange obscured.

(c) Lorna Simpson, via le Jeu de Paume

Lorna Simpson

“The Waterbearer,” 1986.


Today Brooklyn-born artist Lorna Simpson is known for both her photography and video art. But in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when a young Simpson was inspired by film but lacked the budget to make her own, she chose to fuse photography and text instead, often using alliteration and double entendres. Female models, usually dressed in plain white shifts, turn their backs to the camera, looking passive but retaining an element of control since we cannot see their faces. In this 1986 photograph, “The Waterbearer,” a woman, pouring water out of a steel jug on one hand and a standard water bottle in the other, stands above the words “She saw him disappear by the river, they asked her to tell what happened, only to discount her memory.” Simpson has an upcoming exhibition at Jeu de Paume gallery in Paris, opening May 28.

(c) Michal Chelbin, courtesy the artist and Andrea Meislin Gallery

Michal Chelbin

“Nadia, sentenced for narcotics, women’s prison,” Ukraine, 2010.


Israeli-born artist Michal Chelbin’s exhibition Sailboats and Swans at New York’s Andrea Meslin Gallery featured photos of Ukrainian prisoners. This photograph, taken in 2010, shows a woman named Nadia who was arrested for narcotics. 

(c) Catherine Opie, courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles

Catherine Opie

“Diana,” 2012.


Catherine Opie’s approach to representing feminine power and strength has been evolving throughout her career; balancing the formal hallmarks of classical portraiture on the edges of contemporary subculture, while continually subverting critical expectation for what her next subject will be. The difference a decade makes—in a notorious self-portrait made in 1994, her face is sheathed in a shiny black hood with the word “pervert” carved elaborately into her bare chest, for which the 1994 photograph is named. A decade later, Opie is again seated in front of her camera, yet now tenderly nursing her infant son; an intensely physical study in contrasts that emphasizes her approach to the world and rejection of the notion of singular identity.


The remarkable range of her work is on view at Regen Projects in Los Angeles, including her portrait series on her friend, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. Over the course of two years, Opie photographed Diana in pursuit of her lifelong goal to swim from Florida to Cuba, a study in endurance and dedication revealed simultaneously by both photographer and subject. 

(c) Hannah Starkey, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

Hannah Starkey

“Untitled,” May 1997.


This May 1997 photograph from London-based Hannah Starkey showcases the artist’s strength at portraying youth and the early adolescent, pre-drinking-age years that come before womanhood. Rather than capturing an isolated moment in time, it looks more like a film scene, with a past, present, and future—and an ambiguous tone. Should we be concerned for the girls or smile in nostalgia?  

(c) Lise Sarfati, courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Lise Sarfati

“Vinny Ann, Hollywood & Highland,” from the series On Hollywood, 2010. 


French photographer Lise Sarfati first encountered her inspiration to photograph women of Los Angeles while on a cross-country road trip in 2003. Living and working in the United States ever since, her work has mingled the exploration of her own identity within the vernacular of American culture. On Hollywood, shot in the vivid and discontinued Technicolor of Kodachrome 64, has an unmistakably cinematic aura. The aspiring actresses of the series are captured in a suspension of glamorous fantasy and banal melancholy. The feminine is found most readily in women’s relationship to the world, “between themselves and in the way they struggle for their life in the society,” said Sarfati in a 2011 interview. The myth of Hollywood Boulevard is unveiled by Sarfati’s subjects, as a crossroad between the power of beauty and the dependence on others to give validation.