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Gendering eines Mediums. Frauen im fotografischen Gewerbe Wiens, 1860-1914

Ulrike Matzer
Research Grantee Academy of Fine Arts Vienna | Dissertation Completion Fellowship 2015|16


Based on five case studies on early professional women photographers in Vienna, I investigate the “gendering” of the then new medium. The structural openness of the photographic field and the freedom of trade facilitated accees to the profession. Even the gender stereotypes attributed to women could be turned into an advantage, especially in portrait photography, theater re-enactments and early forms of fashion pictures. Long before the establishment of an institutionalized vocational training, to which female scholars in Vienna were only admitted from 1908 on, they had to search other ways of apprenticeship. Besides the different ways of support on part of the family I’m also exploring in which respect women benefited from the affiliation to photographic societies and their transmission of knowledge. Partly women owed their skills to amateur photographic circles emerging around 1900. To what extent women were availing themselves of this democratization of photography in parallel to the professionalisation of photographic education will also be scrutinized, as well as the semantic “feminisation” of the medium at the turn of the century.

Beyond a local study my research exemplarily demonstrates the potential of gender as “a useful category of historical analysis” within the fields of photography and media archeology. On the basis of numerous sources I try to work out developments, dynamics and disruptions unnoticed so far, positioning myself critically in relation to established histories of photography. Based on concrete inventories of images and on biographic documentation, my approach is a materialistic-sociological one, joined with discourse analysis and genealogy. On a meta-level the specific difficulties of research on the subject are commented. By all means, my aim is to determine the role of early professional women photographers in a realistic way, beyond the common topoi.