Once you start looking for the Only Woman, she isn’t difficult to find. We’ve seen her before – in that one shot from Life magazine, pictured amongst famous abstract expressionists. Or there! Spotted as a main member in New York’s Algonquin Round Table amongst a group of humorists, critics, playwrights and creators of the blossoming world of fashion magazines, like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.
Once you start to look for her, she’s there. Doctors, filmmakers, politicians painters – throughout history, all these groups of men are pictured with one woman. Who is she? Immy Humes traces her throughout history in her new book, The Only Woman (Phaidon). Let’s share a glimpse of it here…
Hedda Stern (New York, 1951)
This is artist Hedda Sterne, pictured amongst well-known painters – Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem De Kooning. The men were aiming to look ‘respectable’ rather than ‘Bohemian’ for a shot taken during their protest against the Metropolitan’s retrograde attitude against abstract art.
Hedda Sterne quoted in The Only Woman: “When we arrived, each chair had a name on it. But there was no chair for me. It was deliberate…”
Hedda said the men were furious that she was in the photograph, implying the presence of a woman took away from the ‘seriousness of it all.’
Anna De Noailles (Paris, 1922)
Anna was a Romanian-Greek princess by blood and by marriage, a French countess. She was an acclaimed novelist and poet with an extraordinary career. She was a feminist with strong views on female sexuality, a pacifist, and a believer in women’s suffrage.
This photograph is true testament to Anna’s incredible range as a writer. There she is, pictured next to Einstein, at a luncheon held in his honour after he had visited Paris to lecture on the theory of relativity. Amongst them, a group of distinguished scientists, statesmen and scholars. Anna, a true force of feminine energy, is pictured as a rose amongst the thorns.
Ming Smith (New York, 1973)
Photographer Ming Smith is pictured above with members of the Kamoinge Workshop Collective, a group of black photographers formed in 1963. Ming became the youngest member and the first woman to join the group. It remained that way for another twenty years. Ming’s works included portraits of African American artists including Grace Jones, Sun Ra and Tina Turner. She was also known for her conceptual self-portraits and street photography.
Dorothy Parker (New York, 1938)
Pictured above is writer Dorothy Parker, the only woman in New York’s Algonquin Round Table (also known as Vicious Cycle) – a group of humorists, critics, playwrights and creators of the blossoming world of fashion magazines, like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. While Parker wasn’t the only woman in the group, the spotlight often fell on her as one of the founders of Vicious Cycle. Parker was celebrated as a ‘new’ kind of woman who was independent and sexually liberated with an edge.
A quote from The Only Woman (available on shelves now) says:
“When challenged to use the word horticulture in a sentence, she replied: ‘you can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.'”
Feature Image: Savanna Douglas