The Llano Estacado from the Eye of a Native Daughter
"Many enter the field of photography with the impulse to record a scene. They often fail to realize that what they wish to do is to record the emotion felt upon viewing that scene...a mere record photograph in no way reflects that emotion." Laura Gilpin.
Gaines Co TX, Mennonite Women in Cotton Field, 2017, by Sisco-Cook
A Woman's Eye in Landscape Photography
In her 1975 introduction to The Woman’s Eye, Anne Wilkes Tucker, museum curator of photographic works and editor, questioned whether or not certain sensibilities are uniquely feminine. She asked if the feminine could be deciphered in a particular individual’s art.Early landscape photographer Lara Gilpin saw no difference between men and women. She insisted that quality had nothing to do with gender—“either you are a good photographer or you’re not.” Interestingly, Laura Gilpin was not nationally recognized until the 1970s. She began photographing in the early 1900s. “In the 1920s she couldn’t give her landscapes away.” I am not sure if it is provable, but—at the very least—a difference exists in how women’s landscape photographs are exhibited and purchased. In 2017 very few female landscape photographers support themselves solely through the sale of their work.
Hall County TX, HWY 86 and TX 70 Crossroads, 2017, by Sisco-Cook
Photography and the art world have changed since Tucker’s book in 1975, but the status of women artists in American society has only slightly improved over the last forty-one years. This is especially true in the field of landscape photography. The American West was and still is defined by the eyes of males. Since the beginning of photography we have mostly been shown the American West through the lens of a male photographer. Ansel Adams’ landscape posters and calendars of the dramatic scenery of Yosemite National Park hang in our kitchens and offices. American West photos are expected to express the expansiveness of the land, the intense scenic beauty and to eliminate all traces of human activity. To some degree this is what Americans have been taught to expect, and it is what they seem to purchase.
Reagan County TX, Big Lake Downtown, 2016 by Sisco-Cook
Should the American society be educated to think about seeing landscapes through the eyes of a female’s élan? Several female landscape photographers have been recognized and collected. The problem is that few people in America know about the women who could stand toe to toe with Adams: Anne Brigman, Linda Connor, Barbara Crane, Judy Dater, Mary Beth Edelson, Marion Faller, Linda Gammell, Lynn Geesaman, Laura Gilpin, Betty Hahn, Cynthia MacAdams, Liliane De Cock Morgan, Joan Myers, Marion Patterson, Kathryn Paul, Mary Peck, Meridel Rubenstein, Geraldine Sharpe, Clara E. Sipprell, Gail Skoff, Evon Streetman, Vida, Alisa Wells and Marion Post Wolcott to name only some. Their work is striking and compelling but, for the most part, unknown to the general public.
Lea County New Mexico, Water for Sale, 2017 by Sisco-Cook
Gretchen Garner wrote in her introductory essay on the catalog, Reclaiming Paradise: American Women Photograph the Land: “It often seems that landscape photographs are windows on the world, clear views that any of us might have seen had we stood in the photographer’s shoes. As we read these photographs more deeply, though, asking more of them, we realize that, if we are looking through a window, then we are looking first through a powerful screen of interpretation. This screen is woven of many threads, a complex warp and weft that directs our vision. The warp is made of ideas about the land and about landscape pictures—ideas received from the culture, new ideas of the photographer. The weft, on the other hand, is the individual sensibility, the will to form, the imaginative response of the picture-maker. The work of art is the unity woven of imagination, idea and the world itself.”
Randall County TX, Hwy 1151, Old School Playground, 2017 by Sisco-Cook
The question remains, does a woman view the land differently than a man? Are a woman’s ideas about the land and about how it should be photographed different from those of a male photographer? Does a woman’s individual sensibility form a different response to what she sees as the picture-maker? These are the questions I am considering as I travel up and down the roads of the Llano Estacado and capture my memories of growing up on the High Plains as a native daughter.
Wilbarger County TX , HWY 287 W 2017 by Sisco-Cook
"What I consider really fine landscapes are very few and far between," Laura Gilpin wrote to a friend in 1956. "I consider this field one of the greatest challenges and it is the principal reason I live in the west. I . . . am willing to drive many miles, expose a lot of film, wait untold hours, camp out to be somewhere at sunrise, make many return trips to get what I am after." Laura Gilpin to Edna Bennett, 12 December 1956. Source: Laura Gilpin: An Enduring Grace by Martha A. Sandwei –1986