Eight Girls Taking Pictures
Whitney Otto’s novel, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, points the camera at the lives of eight photographers, women who live out the juxtaposition between making art and making babies. Spanning the 20th century, the women come from all walks of life, truly a montage of the struggles of the female artist. Six of the women are portraits of real-life photographers, including Imogen Cunningham, Tina Modotti, Lee Miller, Grete Stern, Ruth Orkin, Ellen Auerbach and Madame Yevonde. The other two women in the book are purely fictional.
Not only does the sweep of the novel cover a century in time, it also covers the globe. Berlin, London, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and Rome are brought into full focus in Otto’s deft hands. But it is the lens of feminism which sharpens the book. Otto does not shrink back from the difficult, often impossible circumstances under which these various women work to fulfill their artistic goals. Nor does she demean the roles love and motherhood play in both constraining and inspiring the artists. Otto delivers a nuanced, skillful, heartbreaking novel about the lives of women who want more and must be more than society will allow. Yet there is no strident anger here; instead, you’ll find snapshots of joy and wonder at being alive in such a world. You’ll find love and loss and success and failure. You’ll find women whose work elevates domesticity to its own art form and those for whom the home is truly a frame from which they cannot escape. In the end, this novel is a picture of the lives of women artists who throb with, and are hungry for, life. An engaging, provocative read filled with intelligent, well-focused prose.