Since 2017, Bashkortostan-born photographer Gulnara Samoilova has been on a quest to empower women in photography. She started with a small group on Instagram dedicated to their work, but she soon expanded the effort to include a website, traveling exhibitions, an artist residency—and now her new book, Women Street Photographers. Published earlier this month, the book highlights 100 such photographers—both amateur and professional—from 31 countries, ranging in age from 20 to 70.
It couldn’t be more perfectly timed. Following a year of lockdowns and quarantines, it’s a reminder of a time before Covid-19, when people could go outside, meet with friends and family, and travel freely. Looking at these images now, they feel intimate—flashbacks to the days before masks and social distancing were necessary to survive. Coming on the heels of a worldwide vaccine rollout, they also feel like an affirmation that our previous sense of normalcy is still within reach.
Even in its more mundane moments, Samoilova’s book also asks readers to recognize the unique challenges these women confront. Street photography involves capturing interesting public encounters and nuanced narratives. While each person has their own distinct approach, all street photography requires some amount of courage. These photographers regularly navigate complex interactions with their subjects, some of which are nonverbal. Sometimes they need to be quick and nimble, other times patient. But most of all, it’s incredibly important to be present. In the time it takes a photographer to remove their lens cap, the moment they’re trying to capture might disappear.
As we close out Women’s Futures Month, WIRED connected with Samoilova to discuss her book, making photographs during Covid-19, and why it’s still essential to highlight the work of women creatives.
A Future Without the ‘Woman’ Descriptor
One day it might be possible for women in all professions, including photography, to stop having their gender associated with their work. Right now, that’s not the way things are. Being a woman is a vastly different experience depending on where and how you live. Some countries still require women to obtain their husband’s permission to vote or leave their home. Even in places where women have de jure equality, there are still barriers that keep them from using their talents. In Samoilova’s book, Melissa Breyer explains why it was important to include the “women” descriptor when discussing the street photographers featured. “Despite this continuing increase in women around the world picking up a camera, women still remain underrepresented in photography and other areas of the arts. When women are given platforms for their artistic work, it is often under the subcategory of their sex: ‘Women Artists,’ rather than just ‘Artists,’” Breyer writes. “In many artistic mediums, the inclusion of this caveat feels patronizing and irrelevant; a judgment of the artist’s work tempered by their biographical background in a way not experienced by their male counterparts. However, with street photographers this acknowledgment feels not only necessary but celebratory; these images were not created in the safety of a studio, but on city streets and village backroads around the world, where in the past it has not always been possible for women to take photographs—and take up space.”