Object Women

The woman as image, as icon, as object: the history of photography is replete with female figures who hover between personhood and objecthood, between animacy and inanimacy. But photography’s object women are also women who object, resisting their objectification in unexpected ways.

Object Women is a digital art history project exploring the representation of women from early photography to the present. Images were released daily on Instagram from March to May 2018, accompanied by brief written reflections. The project is now available online in perpetuity via Instagram or as a digital download, and Alix is working on expanding it into a book-length study titled Photographic Women. The essay introducing the project is here; another article explaining how Object Women is situated in relation to the history of photography appeared on the Oxford University Press blog. In February 2020, Alix was invited to discuss the project in a conversation about the uses of Instagram for art and scholarship at ASAP/J as well as at Instagram: A Symposium, held at the National Museum Cardiff (see Beth Pyner’s recap of the event in Wales Arts Review).

The project was also featured at rhystranter.com and, after its display as a digital exhibit at the 2018 Modernist Studies Association Conference, in the Modernist Review:

“It was heartening to see scholars engage the digital humanities to broaden their pedagogical scope. Exemplary of this is Object Women, a recently completed project interrogating the relationship between photography and gender via Instagram. Embracing the digital technologies used by students and scholars in their everyday lives, Beeston has carved out a space that expands critical dialogue while fostering conversations with the audience. Such work builds on the open access scholarship of the Modernist Archives Publishing Project and the Modernist Journals Project while signalling that accessible interfaces augment rather than cheapen complex critical discussion.”

Object Women was supported by the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University and Wales Arts Review. All images are used by generous permission of the rights holders; credit lines are given on the individual image posts and as a full list available to download. Many of the original objects can be found in the collections of the George Eastman Museum. A detailed report on the impact and importance of the project was prepared by Dr Lauren O’Hagan in June 2018, and can be accessed here.