Part photography book, part historical document, Carmen Winant’s new publication shows women engaging with the act of photography
Carmen Winant’s new publication, the lengthily titled Notes on Fundamental Joy; seeking the elimination of oppression through the social and political transformation of the patriarchy that otherwise threatens to bury us, is a study of image-making and its connections with feminism. The Ohio-based artist and writer is well-versed in found imagery and how it can be feminist: her previous work has variously involved images of women in a 1970s Oregon female-owned commune (Lesbian Lands), women practising self-defence (Looking Forward to Being Attacked), and women in labour (My Birth). “Feminism is a filter through which I live my life,” Winant said in an interview with AnOther last year.
The imagery Winant compiles in Notes on Fundamental Joy shows women engaging with the act of photography, whether being photographed or holding a camera to shoot another person. Furthermore, the images in question were all taken in feminist and lesbian communes that existed in the Pacific Northwest, USA, in the early 1980s, at which darkroom and photography workshops were held. Speaking to AnOther for our Autumn/Winter 2018 issue, Winant discussed discovering such images while working on her installation Lesbian Lands: “I came across an image of a woman, nude, and she’s taking a photograph of herself in the mirror. I was so bowled over by it. I learnt through my research that photography was central to many of the communes – each one built a photography studio and they had what they called ‘ovulars’, they didn’t call them seminars,” she explained. “Women for so long had been pictured by men, and a big part of reclaiming their lives was about inventing new languages. But I think it was also about documenting.”
With text by Winant and the artist and writer Ariel Goldberg, Notes on Fundamental Joy is both a photography book, an archival study, and a reflection on the importance of such feminist histories and movements. Printed on extremely light, almost see-through paper, emphasis is placed the photography as a collection, with images from other pages just visible as you move through the book. The result showcases how women have historically been able to use photography as a tool for harnessing autonomy. By compiling these historical images, Winant is deftly refracting feminism from decades past for a contemporary audience.