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  • The New Woman International: Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s through the 1960s ed. by Elizabeth Otto and Vanessa Rocco
  • Liz Conor
The New Woman International: Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s through the 1960s. Elizabeth Otto and Vanessa Rocco, eds. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012. Pp. vii + 345. $75.00 (cloth); $35.00 (paper).

In an early photograph of my grandmother, she appears in a drop-waist dress, a cloche hat, and a snake bracelet. While researching types of modern femininity and industrialized image production, I ventured to ask her if she had been a flapper. She recoiled as though slapped. Yet she undoubtedly had cause to identify with the New Woman type. After a stint as a nurse, she worked as a court reporter (though writing under a male pseudonym). Then she and Grandfather set up a tourism venture, running Bren Gun Carriers and then buses to their hostels in the Victorian alps of Australia. She also set up a gallery in her rural town and was an enthusiastic amateur local historian. Flappers, she reproached me, were “silly girls,” uninspired by professional achievement, uninterested in social or political reform, art, history, and—I sensed this from her disdain—of dubious morality.

Her reaction bespoke a confusion of categories I think remains unresolved for scholars of modernity. What is clear from the types New Woman, Modern Girl, and flapper is that classification and typologies were vital to the assignation and articulation of modern gendered and raced identities, which were in the main visually wrought. But the categorization of identity effects into typologies is such a central facet of modern ways of seeing and being, epistemologies and cultural production, that we often fail to perceive their workings. Types and typologies exploded under modernity’s splitting, standardizing, and calibrating of data produced by natural science, medicine, legislative governance, bureaucracy, information, and industrial technologies. Yet despite the force of these categories, typologies remain un-historicized. Classification shares this structural absence with print. Despite print materials forming the basis for historical source, print culture itself often remains unexamined and un-historicized.

Type and typing—classification and print—are unarticulated and unexamined frameworks in many recent cultural histories of modern femininity (including my own), even when these popular assignations determine the object of study and become “heuristics” for modern cultural forms and their historical circumstances.1 Types, from Mogas to Business Girls, are identified as types, yet the peculiar operation of typology in modernity as an overarching and determining epistemology remains unexamined. Similarly, since it was very often in print that photographs were published, or films were advertised, or film stars featured, print history is increasingly entering into analysis of modern visual culture. For instance, the New Woman type peaked in Australian print in 1895 as an empirical entity. Yet she did not embody or encapsulate other types of modern feminine subject positions, but was quite distinct, as an age designation, from the Modern Girl. She bore a closer relation to the Business Girl due to her professional allegiances, but she was quite anathema to the leisure-oriented flapper. These and many other modern feminine types were not variables of the New Woman. They were coterminous and shared a number of features, but they referenced distinct (though related) subject positions.

The New Woman International ranges across a number of such types of modern femininity as “embodiments” of the New Woman as defined and disseminated by the new technological media of photography and film. The collection brings together essays that examine the changing public exposure of the New Woman and her diverse expressions in distinct but increasingly linked localities—although predominantly in Germany and the United States—thereby demonstrating this type’s international presence as a “global phenomenon” and a “universally recognizable icon of change,” due in particular to her distinctive appearance (1). The volume focuses on [End Page 604] visual production and the New Woman’s public visibility in these highly engaging and nuanced studies, some of which uncover unknown or little-known archives. Two such notables are Clare Rogan’s study of Germaine Krull’s portfolios and Gianna Carotenuto’s excellent breakdown of portraits of...


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pp. 604-606
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