Call for Papers: Photography & Resistance

by: , September 28, 2020

© Image by Kali Spitzer from ‘Resilience and Resistance’ (2015).

MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture invites authors with expertise in visual and cultural studies, as well as in related disciplines, to contribute to our new focus issue on photography and resistance. The issue will be co-edited with Dr Kylie Thomas, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie, Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

We are particularly interested in contributions that critically illuminate the lives and work of women and non-binary photographers, particularly those who have drawn on the insights and practices of intersectional feminism and anti-racism.

Background & Inspiration

Photography, as Yvonne Vera writes, ‘has often brought forth the most loaded fraction of time, a calcification of the most unequal, brutal, and undemocratic moment of human encounter’ (Vera 1999). It has also been used as a form of resistance to repressive regimes, to oppose war and violence, and as a means of challenging heteronormative patriarchy. It can serve as a tool of critique, granting visibility to events, people or demonstrations of power that are otherwise not intended to be seen. And, feminist and LGBTQ+ photographers have taken up cameras to produce entirely new visual vocabularies, to reimagine the world and challenge hegemonic ways of seeing.

How women and non-binary photographers made use of the medium as a form of resistance came into clear view at the time of the Second World War. One example of photographers working at that time was Claude Cahun, whose photomontages reinvented the human form and refused normative conceptions of the body.

In 1937, Cahun moved to the Isle of Jersey with her partner Suzanne Malherbe, who practised as an artist under the name Marcel Moore. From the start of the German occupation of the island in July 1940 until they were arrested in 1944 and sentenced to death for their resistance activities, Cahun and Moore produced pamphlets and visual materials that they distributed across the island in defiance of the Nazi occupation (Thynne 2010).

Elsewhere, photographers such as Emmy Andriesse, Eva Besnyö and Violette Cornelius formed a photographers’ organisation in the Dutch resistance movement, known as De Ondergedoken Camera (The Hidden Camera). And, once she obtained forged papers, Andriesse, who was Jewish, documented the occupation of Amsterdam at the risk of being murdered by the Nazis (Baring 2013).

Later, in the United States, Doris Derby, Diana Davies, Ruth-Marion Baruch, and Maria Varela documented the Civil Rights Movement (Speltz 2016).

In the US, Nan Goldin’s intimate portraits of her friends, shot over several decades and through the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, refused state-prescribed moralising and the silencing of alternative forms of kinship (Junge 2016).

Another visual activist, Zanele Muholi has used photography as a way not only to honour the lives of LGBTQI+ Black Africans, but also as a form of advocacy in campaigns against homophobic hate crimes (Baderoon 2011; Lewin 2019).

More recently, Nona Faustine’s ‘White Shoes’ series (2014) consisted of images of the artist in locations around New York City that evoked the repressed history of slavery in the United States. Her work reclaimed the Black female body as a source and site of resistance against the violence of both the past and the present (Diabate 2020).

By no means has such work been limited to the West. For example, Her Pixel Story in Kashmir, the Thuma Collective in Myanmar, and the Kaali Collective in Bangladesh are contemporary photography collectives making use of the medium to resist repressive regimes.

In South Africa, the 1980s saw Lesley Lawson, Deseni Moodliar, Zubeida Vallie and Gille de Vlieg joining Afrapix, the anti-apartheid photography collective. Many of their images drew attention to the vital role played by women in the struggle for freedom in South Africa (Lawson 1985; Comley, Hallett & Ntsoma 2006).

In the last decade, women and non-binary activist-photographers have taken part in resistance movements across the world, from the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter. Recent exhibitions, such as ‘Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance. Act 2’, at the De La Warr Pavilion (2018), ‘Another Eye: Women Refugee Photographers’ in Britain after 1933 at Four Corners (2020), and a major solo show of the work of Zanele Muholi at the Tate Modern, (2020), all testify to the growing interest in this field.

However, the ways in which women and non-binary artists, writers, (art) historians, thinkers and activists have made use of photography as a form of resistance remain under-researched. Therefore, to contribute to the field of feminist studies, this focus issue of MAI intends to honour female resistance in photography and critically engage with such work via contemporary and historical analysis.

Suggested (but not Exclusive) Areas of Examination:

  • Feminist/LGBTQI+/anti-racist artists and activists’ photography as a form of resistance (formal, content, discursive & circulation analysis)
  • Women and non-binary photographers documenting conflict, protest and political violence
  • Circulation and reception of photographs by women and non-binary photographers during times of conflict and war (feminist publications/posters/activism/resistance archives)
  • Women and non-binary photographers who participated in resistance movements during the Second World War
  • Women and non-binary photographers who formed part of, and documented anti-hegemonic (anti-colonial, anti-communist, anti-capitalist, anti-apartheid) struggles
  • Photographers who have visualised their bodies as forms of resistance to racist, heteronormative patriarchy (such as Berni Searle, Nona Faustine, Zanele Muholi)
  • Photographers whose work provides a form of resistance to cultural amnesia and systemic erasures
  • Contributions that focus on the under-researched topic of the work of women and non-binary photographers from the Majority World.

300-500-word Abstracts Deadline: 12 December 2020

Full Articles Deadline: 30 May 2021

MAI considers submissions in the following formats:

  • academic research articles (6000-8000 words)
  • interviews (1000-3000 words)
  • creative writing (poems, short stories, creative responses, max 3000 words)
  • video essays (5-10 min + a brief supporting statement 800-1000 words)
  • photographs, visual/audiovisual or interactive art

All articles will be peer-reviewed.

Proposed publication date: the first half of 2022.

MAI formatting guidelines:

Please send your abstracts to &

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